By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Contrary to Western conventional wisdom, the nature of Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority – which is burdened by a mere 17% favorability in the US, compared with Israel's 70% - has turned most Palestinians against Mahmoud Abbas, has led most Jerusalem Arabs to prefer Israeli sovereignty, and catapulted Hamas to prominence on the Palestinian Street.
The nature of the KGB-graduate Mahmoud Abbas regime has been defined by a rare combination of endemic corruption, kleptomania ("Mr. 20%" is Mahmoud Abbas' nickname), nepotism, hate-education, incitement, terrorism, anti-US and pro-Venezuela, Russia and China worldview, non-compliance with internal and external agreements, and egregious violations of civil liberties, which has fueled Muslim emigration and the flight of Christian Arabs from Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Ramallah.
The nature of the Palestinian Authority has been shaped - since its establishment in 1993 - by Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians, who were imported from terrorist camps in Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia, imposing themselves ruthlessly upon the indigenous Arabs of Judea and Samaria. In 2003, I was rebuked by a prominent Palestinian: "We shall never forgive the Jewish State for imposing upon us the Tunisia-based PLO Sodom and Gomorrah!"
Irrespective of the nature of the Palestinian Authority, the US has been, by far, its largest single-state donor (averaging $500mn, annually, in economic and security assistance), in addition to leading the pack of donors to UNRWA ($250mn in 2014), which has not reduced the threat of incitement and hate-education-driven Palestinian terrorism. It has not inclined Palestinians towards peaceful coexistence with the Jewish State, nor has it advanced the cause of democracy and human rights in the Palestinian Authority.
In September 1993, on the eve of the conclusion of the Oslo Accord, Elias Freij, the Christian Mayor of Bethlehem, and additional Christian leaders from Bethlehem and Beit Jala, (unsuccessfully) implored Prime Minister Rabin to refrain from transferring both towns – which were included in the Jerusalem District during the Ottoman, British and Jordanian rule - to the emerging Palestinian Authority. They expected severe repression of Christian Arabs, by the Palestinian Authority, which would cause Bethlehem and Beit Jala to be "top heavy on churches, but very low on Christians." And indeed, Bethlehem's Christian majority has been reduced to a 15% minority.
Before the signing of the Oslo Accord, I introduced the New York Times' William Safire to a former mayor of Beit Jala, Farah al-Araj, who predicted that "the current state of affairs will produce a larger community of Beit Jala Christians in Belize, Central America than Christians left in Beit Jala." In 2015, Christian emigrants from Beit Jala achieve prominence in Belize, politically and financially, while those remaining in Beit Jala are repressed religiously and physically.
Mahmoud Abbas' stashed accounts and nepotism were highlighted by the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian Stephen Lendman, who accused Abbas of "bribes, secret investments and hidden bank accounts…. earning $1mn monthly…. Abbas holds several Jordanian accounts… not under any national or international scrutiny…. Abbas urged Moscow to supply him with a new advanced presidential jet…. His sons, Tarek and Yasser, profit handsomely from all PA projects…." According to Jonathan Schanzer, "the conspicuous wealth of Abbas' own sons, Yasser and Tarek, has become a source of quiet controversy in Palestinian society…. Yasser enjoys a monopoly on the sale of US-made cigarettes…. Chairs a Palestinian engineering conglomerate… boasting $35mn annual revenues…. Tarek is just as ambitious in the business world…."
Bassam Eid, the founder of the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, concludes that "the Palestinians need strong democratic institutions and an end to human rights violations…. [However,] Abbas runs a corrupt dictatorship, using international funds to consolidate his own administration, rather than to develop the Palestinian economy. In East Jerusalem, the PA is so mistrusted that most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israel rule…."
American interests, morality and common sense behoove the US Congress to precondition further foreign aid, to the Palestinian Authority, upon dramatic transformation of its conduct.