In a recent Conflict Zone interview, acclaimed journalist Tim Sebastian grilled veteran Palestinian Authority negotiator Saeb Erekat. While Erekat may not remember the interview as his finest hour, it could—and should have—been much worse had Sebastian pointed out a number of ludicrous statements that Erekat made.
During the interview, Erekat argued that the Palestinian Authority is “a true democracy,” that Mahmoud Abbas “won 62 percent of the vote” in the 2005 elections for head of the P.A., and that “Hamas carried out a coup d’état in Gaza” in 2007.
Closer examination of these claims shows their inherent contradictions.
While Abbas did indeed win 62 percent of the 2005 vote to be elected head of the P.A. (i.e., the Palestinian President), Erekat “forgot” that according to P.A. law, the chairman of the P.A. is elected to a four-year term. Since Abbas is about to start his 14th year of that four-year term, it is irrelevant to point to the level of Abbas’s support in order to substantiate the claim that the P.A. is a “true democracy.”
When examining Erekat’s claim about the Hamas “coup d’état” in the Gaza Strip, Erekat again “forgot” that Hamas won 74 seats of the 132 seat Palestinian Legislative Council in the last P.A. general elections held 13 years ago. Hamas therefore formed the legitimate P.A. government. As a result of immense international pressure threatening to cut off a vast amount of aid to the P.A., it was Abbas who deposed the democratically elected Hamas terrorist organization.
Accordingly, when Hamas violently seized control of the Gaza Strip from Abbas’s so-called “technocrat government” in the summer of 2007, Hamas was simply reasserting the mandate that it had been granted by the Palestinian population in democratic elections—control which had temporarily been usurped by Abbas.
When the party that wins the outright majority of the democratic election assumes control, it is not called a “coup d’état,” it’s called “true democracy,”
Finally, on this point, despite Sebastian’s question, Erekat refused to clarify when the next P.A. general elections would be held. Apparently, for the P.A., holding general elections twice in 25 years is a sign of a “true democracy.”
When Sebastian pushed Erekat on the subject of the punitive measures taken by Abbas to punish Hamas for its “coup d’état” in the Gaza Strip, Erekat was once again “creative” with the truth. Rejecting Sebastian’s accusation, he claimed that the P.A. spends almost half ($96 million) of its $196 million a month income evenly between the P.A.-controlled areas in Judea and Samaria and the Gaza Strip.
Simple math indicates Erekat claims that the P.A.’s annual income is about $2.352 billion. Scrutiny of this figure shows a number of anomalies.
First, the official P.A. budget for 2018 was actually closer to $5 billion.
Second, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) calculated that the approximately $350 million the P.A. allocated to finance its “pay to slay” policy in 2018 (the policy by which the P.A. pays financial rewards to terrorists and their families) amounted to a little more than 7 percent of the entire official P.A. budget. If one were to accept Erekat’s “revised” P.A. income of $2.352 billion, it would mean that in reality, the P.A. squanders nearly 15 percent of its entire budget on this repugnant policy rather than feed its population.
Third, according to statistics obtained by Palestinian Media Watch, the income from taxes Israel collected on the P.A.’s behalf in 2017 was approximately $2.5 billion. Does the P.A. not collect other taxes from its people, e.g., income tax, health tax, VAT or any other taxes for that matter?
The bottom line is that after 25 years of rule, the P.A. is still light years away from establishing itself as a “true democracy.” When it attempted to act like one, the Palestinian people elected an internationally recognized terrorist organization to represent them. Western democracies may chose to ignore the Palestinians’ choice, but it is nonetheless a reality.
Aside from its failed democratic process, the P.A.’s financial policy is also a major contributor to its dismal woes. Instead of supporting the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip, Abbas uses P.A. finances to punish Gaza Strip residents for their democratic choice to elect Hamas, while simultaneously squandering vast amounts of the PA’s income to reward terrorism. All the while, the P.A. is constantly pushing its hand out to receive additional international aid.
From an Israeli perspective, it is unclear which of the two options is the lesser evil: a deal with the Abbas dictatorship that prefers rewarding terrorism over providing the basic needs of its population or an embrace of the democratic election of a homicidal, Islamic fundamentalist terror organization that denies Israel’s right to exist and calls daily for the murder of Jews.
Neither option is a recipe to achieving the long-awaited peace.
Lt. Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the director of legal strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position, he served as director of the military prosecution in Judea and Samaria.