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August 28, 2019 5:21 am

Abbas Has Missed the Bus

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

Opinion

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas at a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on Feb. 13, 2017. Photo: Flash90.

JNS.orgPalestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas announced on August 19 that all of his advisers had completed their work, regardless of their level and titles. In short, he fired them.

At the same time, Abbas ordered former PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the ministers of the previous government to return the salary increases they had received, amounting from $100,000 to $120,000 each. (The pay increases were originally approved by Abbas himself, in contravention of Palestinian law.)

Abbas’ decision was announced via the official PA news agency Wafa, with no further explanation.

Abbas had employed dozens of advisers in various capacities. Among the most prominent were Nabil Shaath, adviser on international affairs; Mahmoud al-Habash, adviser on religious affairs; Gen. Ismail Jaber, adviser on security affairs; Ali Mahana, legislative adviser; and Majdi al-Haldi, adviser on foreign affairs.

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Details on the salary increases were leaked to social-media channels in the territories several months ago, arousing much anger because, at that time, the wages of other PA officials had been cut by 50 percent. On the Palestinian street, the raises were perceived as a clear example of PA leadership corruption.

When the increases were revealed, Abbas hurriedly announced that it was all a mistake and promised to put it right. However, only this month has he taken any practical steps towards doing so.

Hamdallah issued a press release on August 20, blaming Abbas for giving the original order to increase ministers’ salaries, which Hamdallah claimed had been done without his knowledge.

Abbas’ move to dismiss his advisers came without any warning. The Palestinian street welcomed the action; yet to many, it’s a case of too little, too late. Corruption, many believe, has already spread throughout the PA hierarchy. The source of this corruption, some say, is Abbas himself and his two sons, Yasser and Tarek.

At the same time, Fatah sources are not sure whether Abbas has in fact fired all of his advisers, because his announcement did not include a list of names and functions. Abbas likely remained vague here because some of his associates have been defined as “advisers” so they can receive large salaries and perks such as an office, a car, and so forth.

It’s not yet clear if Abbas will appoint new advisers in place of those who were fired. Senior Fatah officials report that it is also not certain what Abbas’ announcement means for Mohammed Mustafa, who was Abbas’ economics adviser. Mustafa was also an adviser to Abbas and his two sons on business matters, and is considered to be a very close associate of the Abbas family, knowing its financial secrets.

With this decision, Abbas is attempting to shake off his image as a corrupt leader, but he faces an uphill battle. The Palestinian public will not soon forget that he was the one who approved the unusual salary hike for the ministers, breaking Palestinian law, to purchase their loyalty and a blind eye to his corruption and that of his two sons, which is well-known in the territories.

Abbas’ associates claim the decision was the result of the harsh financial crisis suffered by the PA, due to the cessation of US financial aid and the PA’s refusal to accept tax money collected for it by Israel.

Abbas wants to appear as if he is “tightening his belt,” because the PA is heading towards a severe economic crisis, but his hasty decision shows he is under heavy pressure and confused. Anger on the Palestinian street continues to mount following recent events on the Temple Mount and in the Wadi al-Hummus neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, where Israel razed illegal buildings. The heads of the Palestinian security forces believe Palestinians are on the verge of an explosion that could also turn against the PA leadership.

When it comes to convincing Palestinian society he is not corrupt, however, Abbas has already missed the bus. He will go down in Palestinian history as a corrupt dictator who created dissent within Palestinian society and achieved nothing in the struggle against Israel.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israeli radio and television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

A version of this article first appeared at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website.

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