‘Corruption will let Hamas take W. Bank' By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
Dramatic warning delivered by Abbas’s former corruption-buster Fahmi Shabaneh.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the corrupt officials who used to work for his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, and that’s why Hamas will one day take control of the West Bank, Fahmi Shabaneh, who was appointed by Abbas four years ago to root out corruption in the Palestinian Authority, said on Thursday.
In an exclusive interview with The Jerusalem Post, Shabaneh, who until recently was in charge of the Anti-Corruption Department in the PA’s General Intelligence Service (GIS), warned that what happened in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, when Hamas managed to overthrow the Fatah-controlled regime, is likely to recur in the West Bank.
“Had it not been for the presence of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, Hamas would have done what they did in the Gaza Strip,” Shabaneh told the Post. “It’s hard to find people in the West Bank who support the Palestinian Authority. People are fed up with the financial corruption and mismanagement of the Palestinian Authority.”
Shabaneh said that many Palestinians in the West Bank have lost hope that the PA would one day be reformed. “The Palestinian Authority is very corrupt and needs to be overhauled,” he said.
Shabaneh cited several specific cases of alleged corruption within Fatah and the PA in the course of the interview, including asserting that Fatah personnel stole much of a $3.2 million donation given by the US to Fatah ahead of the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary election, won by Hamas, which had been intended to improve Fatah’s image and boost its chances of winning.
Shabaneh, a resident of east Jerusalem who worked as a lawyer before joining the GIS as its legal adviser after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, said he was forced to quit his anti-corruption job several months ago after exposing a sex scandal involving one of Abbas’s top aides in Ramallah in 2009.
Video footage and other documents presented to the Post by Shabaneh show the aide lying naked in bed after being lured to an apartment in Ramallah by an east Jerusalem woman.
The footage shows Shabaneh and other armed security agents storming the bedroom, much to the surprise of the Abbas aide who is heard uttering: “Thank God it’s you and not the Israelis.”
Shabaneh said in the interview, the first of its kind with a high-ranking PA security official, that he and his men had been operating on instructions from their boss, Gen. Tawfik Tirawi, the former head of the GIS. Tirwai, for his part, denied that he had authorized Shabaneh to spy on the Abbas aide.
The top aide, who is one of the closest advisers to Abbas, was caught on tape making derogatory remarks against Abbas and Arafat. “President Abbas has no charisma” and is “not in control,” he was quoted as saying. The aide was also caught on tape denouncing Arafat as one of the biggest dajjals (swindlers).
After the revelations, which were brought to Abbas’s attention and were embarrassing for the PA president, Shabaneh was removed from his anti-corruption post and reassigned as head of the GIS’s internal security force. More recently, he was promoted to overall commander of the GIS in the area.
Shortly afterwards, however, Shabaneh was arrested by Israeli police on suspicion of recruiting east Jerusalem residents to the GIS, spying on Israel, chasing suspected “collaborators” and Arabs involved in real estate deals with Jews, and threatening and blackmailing the senior Abbas aide.
Shabaneh has since been released from prison and most of the charges against him dropped. Today he remains under house arrest and is banned from entering the West Bank. The only charge he faces today is membership in a Palestinian military organization – a charge he claims is absurd given the fact that about 1,200 residents of east Jerusalem serve in the various security branches of the PA.
Shabaneh said that he had no doubt that his arrest by Israel was carried out at the request of “someone high in Abbas’s office to punish me for fighting corruption and exposing sex scandals involving not only the senior aide, but many other officials as well.”
He said that the decision to arrest him and prosecute him was also absurd because was always aware of his work and status in the PA security forces and never did anything to him.
“For many years I worked as legal adviser to the General Intelligence Apparatus and no one ever asked me anything,” Shabaneh noted. “When I was commander of the force in the area the Israelis even used to coordinate a lot with us.”
Shabaneh insisted that the decision to pursue corrupt officials in Abbas’s inner circle was part of the PA president’s declared policy to combat financial corruption. “In his pre-election platform, President Abbas promised to end financial corruption and implement major reforms, but he hasn’t done much since then,” he said. “Unfortunately, Abbas has surrounded himself with many of the thieves and officials who were involved in theft of public funds and who became icons of financial corruption.”
Shabaneh said that as head of the anti-corruption unit he and his men succeeded in exposing dozens of cases involving senior officials who had stolen public funds but were never held accountable.
“Some of the most senior Palestinian officials didn’t have even $3,000 in their pocket when they arrived [after the signing of the Oslo Accords],” Shabaneh said. “Yet we discovered that some of them had tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in their bank accounts.
Until today we didn’t hear about one official who was brought to trial for stealing money from the PA, although we had transferred many of the cases to the Palestinian prosecutor-general.”
Questioned as to why he had decided to go public now, Shabaneh said: “I’m not criticizing the Palestinian Authority simply because I like to criticize, but because I want to see a state of law, one with no room for corruption. I was offered $100,000 not to expose the last sex scandal, but I chose not to accept the bribe. I’m the one who resigned after my arrest, because after all that I’ve seen I no longer believe that Abbas’s authority can be reformed.
Asked whether PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is working to establish good government, Shabaneh said: “Salam Fayyad is a good man and I have a lot of respect for him. He’s really working to build professional institutions and good government, but the corrupt Fatah people around Abbas are doing their utmost to thwart his efforts.”
He added: “Even Abbas tried in the beginning, but the corrupt officials working with him didn’t allow him to make progress.”
Shabaneh also said he had managed to track down some of the financial aid that went missing during and after the period of Arafat’s death.
“I discovered, for example, that several senior officials had taken millions of dollars from the Palestinian leadership under the pretext that they wanted to purchase land that would otherwise be confiscated by Israel,” he said.
“Our investigations revealed that many of the purported land deals were fictitious transactions and we even forced one official to return more than $800,000. We had another case where a senior Fatah official and his brother pocketed about $2.5m. which they took from Arafat under the pretext that they wanted to purchase land in the West Bank before Israel lays its hand on it.
Asked whether he believed outside donors should stop channeling funds to Abbas, he said his advice to the donor countries “is to follow up on their donations to examine how and where the money is being spent. We caught some officials who stole about $700,000 from the donors to study the atmosphere in . Why do we need to spend such a huge amount of money on something trivial like this when many people are suffering and have nothing to eat or feed their children?”
Was he serious about Hamas taking over the ? “Yes, no question about that,” he said. “It will happen one day if the state of corruption and anarchy continue in the West Bank .
“Why do you think Hamas kicked us out of the Gaza Strip? Because the people there were fed up with the corruption and bad government of Fatah. What do you think the people in the Gaza Strip used to think when they saw a colonel in the Palestinian Authority driving in a big motorcade and surrounded by dozens of bodyguards and assistants?”
Did he see no chance that Fatah would reform? “As long as the same corrupt guys are running the show we shouldn’t expect real changes,” said Shabaneh.
“Before the 2006 parliamentary election, the Americans gave Fatah $3.2m. to improve the party’s image and boost its chances of winning. But the Fatah people even stole most of the money that was intended to help them improve their image and reputation. These corrupt officials know no limits. They even used to forge Arafat’s signature to obtain money by fraud,” he said.
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