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July 1, 2020 3:28 am

Nepotism and Corruption Are Eroding Public Support for the PA

avatar by Yoni Ben Menachem / JNS.org

Opinion

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas looks on as PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh sits next to him as Abbas delivers a speech, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Jan. 28, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Raneen Sawafta / File.

JNS.orgThe Palestinian street in the West Bank is still reeling from the corruption revealed by Yasser Jadallah, the former director of the Political Department in Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas’ office. First was the Palestinian aid money stolen by senior PA officials, and now a new nepotism scandal is rocking the PA leadership.

According to Fatah sources, PA Health Minister Dr. Mai al-Kaila, who is close to Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs and a close associate of Abbas, has in recent days appointed several relatives of senior PA officials to senior positions in the Palestinian Health Ministry.

Wa’el al-Sheikh, the nephew of Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, was appointed deputy director-general of the Health Ministry. Moatasem Mohsin, son of Fatah leadership member Jamal Mohsin, was appointed director of the Health Department in Ramallah and Al-Bireh. And Dr. Maha Awad, the sister of the previous health minister, Jawad Awad, was appointed director of the Women’s Health Unit.

The news of the appointments was leaked to social networks. The PA did not deny it, and the rage grew on the Palestinian street, especially since the PA has withheld salaries for tens of thousands of their own workers because of the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, the PA leadership is still being given generous benefits and large salaries.

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A wave of denunciations and unrelenting criticism filled social networks in the PA territories on June 23.

Alaa Abu Diab, a satirist, posted on his Facebook account a call to the PA to establish a “Ministry for the Children of Senior PA Members” so that the PA could quickly appoint relatives. “Give them salaries and jobs, just keep them away from the fields of health, education, agriculture, and all government offices that can affect people’s lives, health, our future and future generations,” he wrote.

The public outrage forced the PA to respond quickly to these new appointments. PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced at his weekly government meeting that a new committee will review all appointments in government offices. He said that senior appointments require the approval of Abbas and the Palestinian government, and claimed that all promotions in the government ministries were stopped about a year ago because of the PA’s financial distress.

The Palestinian street isn’t buying it, however, and does not believe anything will come out of this newly established review committee. Palestinians believe that the move was designed to act as a “tranquilizer” to contain the widespread outrage and then to dissolve the issue.

The phenomenon of nepotism is not new to the PA; it has existed since the PA was established after the signing of the Oslo Accords. However, nepotism has gained momentum in recent years during the reign of Abbas.

Palestinians explain that the PA chairman forgives nepotism among his associates because he needs their support as well as protection for his own corruption, and for the meteoric advance of his two sons in the business world and their accumulated wealth.

There are also plenty of examples of nepotism practiced by Abbas’ close associates, such as Gen. Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian General Intelligence, who is considered to be a potential successor to Abbas. According to sources in the PA, Faraj’s wife Amal serves as the chief of financial audit in her position of director-general, while his son Bashar served as an officer in the Palestinian police, and then became division chief of the International and National Relations division of the Financial Follow-up Unit.

However, according to Fatah sources, it is Abbas adviser Mahmoud al-Habash who ranks first when it comes to PA nepotism. His son was appointed to become director-general of the Prosecutor’s Office, while his daughter was appointed to be the director-general of Religious Affairs. His brother was appointed to handle the hajj pilgrimage of the Palestinian embassy in Saudi Arabia, while another daughter was appointed as second secretary of the Palestinian embassy in Turkey, after working with al-Habash in his office.

Abbas’ brother-in-law was appointed, according to PA sources, to the post of director-general of the Islamic Waqf office. According to Fatah officials, PA senior officials Majed Faraj and Hussein al-Sheikh have a major influence on the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyadh al-Maliki. Al-Maliki is favored by Abbas and is responsible for a series of appointments of their associates in the Palestinian Foreign Service.

Nepotism is rife throughout Arab regimes in the Middle East, so the Palestinian public has accepted it as part of the custom of Arab rulers in the region. However, when it is accompanied by such severe corruption, especially when the economic situation in the West Bank is so grave, it becomes the scandal of the day and a source of hostility toward Abbas’ government.

This is one of the reasons Abbas might find it difficult to rally the support of the West Bank citizenry in anticipation of the Israeli extension of sovereignty. He may find that Palestinians are in no hurry to respond to calls by the PA leadership or Fatah since many residents are fed up with the corruption and nepotism in the PA.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel 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.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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