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September 15, 2022 11:42 am
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Follow the Money: Media Absent as Palestinian Authority Fails to Meet ‘Minimum’ US Transparency Requirements

avatar by Akiva Van Koningsveld

Opinion

PA President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting in Ramallah, in the West Bank August 18, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool

Ever since the establishment of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) under the Oslo Accords, international aid has accounted for a significant proportion of its budget. Even after the United States cut off assistance following the passing of anti-terror legislation in 2019, the PA continued to receive some $900 million in aid annually from other countries, with its total government expenditure estimated at $4.73 billion.

According to 2020 data published by the World Bank, development aid constitutes over one-tenth of the West Bank and Gaza’s entire gross national income. By comparison, in crisis-afflicted Lebanon, this number stands at only 5.7 percent.

Meanwhile, over the past 20 months, the Biden administration has announced the restoration of $831 million in US funding to the Palestinians, further solidifying what some have called a “donor-based economy.”

When Washington declared its intention to resume assistance in April 2021, with additional aid pledged in July of this year, the media were all over the story. In fact, since the initial announcement, a sample of 18 major English-language news outlets produced almost 300 articles that mentioned the US aid plans. Headlines included ‘”After bitter Trump years, Palestinians’ thank America’ again,” “UN agency praises new US aid for Palestinians at ‘critical moment’,” and “Editorial: Biden is right to resume aid to the Palestinians.”

Yet these same media organizations have entirely ignored a recent State Department report that seemingly once again casts serious doubt on the legality of President Biden’s renewed support for the Arab population of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

On September 9, the State Department released its 2022 Fiscal Transparency Report to Congress, which evaluates whether governments around the world, as well as the Palestinian Authority, meet the minimum standards for financial transparency. Regarding Mahmoud Abbas’ autocratic PA regime, the document noted that:

During the review period, the Palestinian Authority made its enacted budget public, but not within a reasonable period of time, and the data was incomplete… The Palestinian Authority published monthly budget execution reports that provided a substantially full picture of its expenditures and revenue streams. The information in the reports was considered reliable and reasonably accurate. However, information on debt obligations was incomplete.” [Emphasis added]

The State Department also wrote that Ramallah’s supreme audit institution “lacked independence,” that its statements were not publicly available within a reasonable period, and that audits did not cover the entire annual budget. The PA did not make significant progress toward improving fiscal transparency in the past year, Washington concluded, calling again on Abbas to implement changes.

At the same time, the State Department vowed that all financial assistance to the West Bank and Gaza would be provided “consistent with US law,” implying a certain level of transparency and insight into the monetary dealings of those who rule the territories.

Crucially, the publication of the Fiscal Transparency Report came only days before US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides claimed at a Jerusalem Post conference that the Biden administration “support[s] and enforce[s] the Taylor Force Act.”

The Taylor Force Act (TFA) was passed by Congress and signed into law in 2018 following the murder of Taylor Force, a 28-year-old US Army veteran murdered in a Palestinian stabbing frenzy in Jaffa.

This bill was enacted to prevent taxpayer money from reaching convicted terrorists through the PA’s controversial “Pay-for-Slay” program, which provides “salaries” to those who commit attacks against Jews and Israelis, with more money being doled out on a monthly basis to terrorists who shed the most blood.

The TFA puts severe restrictions on the White House’s direct support of the Palestinian Authority, other than in certain narrowly defined cases. In principle, funds can only be transferred once the PA (1) takes steps to end acts of violence, (2) completely terminates the “Pay-for-Slay” practice, and (3) investigates and publicly denounces violent attacks.

Obviously, none of these conditions have been met.

In 2021, Ramallah paid no less than NIS 841 million ($245 million) to terrorists, in line with Abbas’ statement that the PA will continue its payouts to terrorists even if left with “one penny.” In a sign of his dedication to violence, the Palestinian president said that his people regard “martyrs” as “stars in the sky of the Palestinian national struggle.”

Moreover, HonestReporting has repeatedly highlighted the fact that Palestinian Authority law mandates that at least 7% of the annual budget must be spent on paying terrorists and their families (see herehere, and here). While public records concerning this decree have now been erased, Member of Knesset Avi Dichter, who is fluent in Arabic, confirmed in 2018 that the law exists.

All in all, the PA’s apparent lack of fiscal transparency — paired with its legally anchored commitment to financially rewarding terrorism and a well-documented history of diverting funds to confuse donors — raises the question of whether US assistance for the West Bank and Gaza will indeed provide “critical relief to those in great need,” as the US administration contends.

Or will Washington’s millions, meant in part to foster “Israeli-Palestinian understanding,” instead fill the coffers of convicted Palestinian terrorists and the corrupt PA tyrants who incite them to violence?

It is up to the press to speak truth to power and ask tough questions about the spending of taxpayers’ money.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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