The British government has recently signed a 'memorandum of understanding' with the Palestinian Authority (PA) pledging funds to the tune of £156 million, to be delivered over the next two years. The agreement was signed by the Prime Minister of the PA, Salam Fayyad, in Ramallah and countersigned by Douglas Alexander, Britain's Secretary of State for International Development via a video link on Wednesday 10th February. The new development agreement between Britain and the PA sets out four main objectives that are to be prioritised with the development funds, including the reduction of poverty and the provision of support for Palestinians' own development priorities. This commitment of support by the British government is commendable and has been welcomed widely. Nevertheless, the memorandum comes at a time of mounting allegations and revelations of widespread corruption within the PA, including the theft by individual officials of financial aid given by donor states.
In interviews with the Israeli media this week, former Palestinian intelligence officer Fahmi Shabaneh, disclosed information and evidence of extensive financial corruption as well as sexual misconduct within the PA. In separate interviews with the Jerusalem Post and Israeli television's Channel 10, Shabaneh provided documentary proof of his allegations and revealed that certain Fatah officials were guilty of stealing millions of dollars, including the embezzlement of much of the $3.2 million US payment to Fatah ahead of the 2006 legislative elections. Khalid Amayreh, an investigative journalist based in Ramallah, said that whilst the names of these corrupt officials are widely known in the West Bank, due to the police-state atmosphere present in the territory many fear retaliation from Fatah security officials and so remain quiet. Amayreh also suggests that the US government did not pursue investigations of corruption in case they would "embarrass and weaken the Abbas regime" even further.
Shabaneh, who was appointed by Abbas himself to fight corruption within the PA, drew the corruption to the attention of Abbas and the PA justice system, including several cases of senior officials taking "millions of dollars" under false pretexts. However, the justice system did not pursue the cases, fearful of reprisals from the suspects, it is alleged.
At a time when Britain is still recovering following the economic recession, questions must be asked about how appropriate it is for the government to provide millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to an Authority that is known to be so corrupt. Justice and stability for the Palestinian people in their day-to-day lives is way overdue, and accountability should rightly be at the core of all British-PA agreements. The British government should insist that an independent body carries out a meticulous investigation into these revelations and that the ousting of corrupt officials has to be a priority for the good of Palestinians across the occupied West Bank who deserve a leadership that will protect and honour them. As Shabaneh mentions, "It's hard to find people in the West Bank who support the PA; people are fed up with the financial corruption. Had it not been for the presence of the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, Hamas would have done there what it did in the Gaza Strip."
British charities have to complete very strict risk management and due diligence procedures when passing money to overseas bodies. Can the British government give an assurance that similar procedures have been carried out for this donation to the coffers of the Palestinian Authority?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.