The Palestinian Authority’s missing billions

P.A. donor countries must demand that it explain its squandering of billions in aid on non-functioning bodies and terrorist organizations.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 3, 2019. Photo by Flash90.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting with journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 3, 2019. Photo by Flash90.
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch
Lt. Col. (res.) Maurice Hirsch is the director of the Initiative for Palestinian Authority Accountability and Reform in the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; a senior legal analyst for Human Rights Voices; and a member of the Israel Defense and Security Forum.
The Palestinian Authority has received tens of billions of dollars of international aid since its creation. While the P.A. has constantly complained about its financial difficulties, scrutiny of its financial records for the years 2011–2018 shows that the P.A. transferred over $2 billion to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) during that period, some of which was then passed on to terrorist organizations. In that same period, the P.A. also spent over $126 million to fund its non-functioning institutions.

The PLO, which is headed by P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, is an umbrella organization for several Palestinian groups. The largest and most dominant member is Abbas’s Fatah party. Other members include groups designated as terrorist organizations by the United States and European Union, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Palestinian Liberation Front. PLO members are entitled to and receive funding from the PLO.

While international donors have demanded financial transparency from the P.A., the PLO is not subject to any such restriction. Accordingly, it is impossible to know what happens to the billions of dollars of donor money the P.A. has given to the PLO over the years, and continues to give today.

Only on sporadic occasions are the financial workings of the PLO exposed. In June 2018, for example, senior PFLP official Maher Mazhar complained that the group was not getting its monthly allocation from the PLO.

Denying the claim, PLO Executive Committee member and Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad confirmed that Abbas and the Palestinian National Fund—the financial branch of the PLO—are responsible for funding the PFLP, and stressed that the allocations had not been stopped.

While al-Ahmad denied the claims of the PFLP in 2018, Palestinian media reports show that on occasion, Abbas did withhold PLO funding from the PFLP. According to a report in the official PA Ma’an News Agency, he did so in 2016—because the PFLP had criticized him.

In short, the PA has systematically used U.S. and E.U. money to fund organizations that these donors have designated as terrorist organizations. While the United States has stopped its direct aid to the P.A., the European Union funding continues. Clearly, while it is impossible to prove that a given dollar or euro donated to the PA has found its way into the accounts of the PFLP/PLF, it is clear that donations to the P.A. can easily be diverted to these illegitimate groups.

Needless to say, Abbas’s own Fatah party has also been the recipient of money donated to the PA for the needs of the Palestinian people. At this stage, Hamas is refusing to join the PLO. Had it agreed to do so, the international donor aid would also be funding this internationally designated terrorist organization.

While the term of the P.A. chairman is limited by Palestinian law to four years with an option (subject to election) of one additional four-year term, Abbas is now in the 15th year of his first four-year term.

The term of the P.A. Parliament is similarly limited to a maximum of four years. As a result of the internal conflict between Abbas’s Fatah and its rival Hamas, the last elections for the P.A. Parliament were held in 2006. While Hamas won 74 of the 132 P.A. Parliament seats, in practice, the parliament has not met since shortly after the elections.

A few months after the convening of the parliament, Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel from Gaza and attacked an Israeli army unit, killing two soldiers and kidnapping a third, Gilad Schalit. Israel responded to the kidnapping of Schalit and other Hamas terrorist attacks by arresting the Hamas members of the P.A. Parliament residing in the P.A.-controlled areas in the West Bank and in Jerusalem, thereby disrupting the function of the parliament.

Simultaneously, the international community faced a dilemma regarding how to continue funding the P.A. while it was controlled by an internationally designated terrorist organization. Abbas, whose Fatah party had lost control of the parliament in the elections, seized the opportunity and deposed the Hamas-led government. Hamas refused to accept Abbas’s actions, and in the summer of 2007 violently seized control of the Gaza Strip, in some instances throwing Fatah members to their deaths from the roofs of buildings.

While the Hamas members of parliament have already finished serving their sentences and have been released from the Israeli prisons, as a result of the rift between Fatah and Hamas, which continues to this day, the P.A. Parliament has not returned to function and no new elections have been held.

Notwithstanding the absence of any elections for over a decade and the complete lack of parliamentary activity, P.A. financial records show that for the years 2011–2018 (inclusive) the P.A. spent no less than $29.9 million on its “Central Election Committee.” Similarly, the P.A. spent no less than $96.6 million on its “Legislative Council”—i.e., the P.A. Parliament.

Notably, when Abbas decided in December 2018 that the continued reference to those elected in 2006 as members of the “Legislative Council” no longer served his or his Fatah’s purposes, he simply decided to dissolve the parliament.

Needless to say, all of the above figures are in addition to the hundreds of millions of shekels the P.A. has spent over the years funding its “pay-for-slay” terrorist reward policy.

In conclusion, the requirement that the P.A. adhere to even basic standards of financial transparency is only useful if something is actually done with that information. If the countries that donate considerable sums to the P.A .do not demand that it explain why it squandered billions of shekels of aid—including by providing funding to non-functioning bodies and terrorist organizations—as it cries poverty and begs for aid, then it will continue to use and abuse their goodwill.

Allowing the P.A. to continue these practices does nothing to achieve any peace-related goal. To the contrary, when international donors turn a blind eye to the P.A.’s obvious abuses, they simply embolden and facilitate the P.A.’s deepening of the rifts between it and Israel.

Col. (res) Maurice Hirsch is the Head of Legal Strategies for Palestinian Media Watch. He served for 19 years in the IDF Military Advocate General Corps. In his last position he served as Director of the Military Prosecution in Judea and Samaria.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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