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THE ISRAEL REPORT

January/February 2001
Western Wall

Corrupt Palestinian Officials Said Fleeing in Fear for Their Lives

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Intifada activists warn that if Yasser Arafat goes on ignoring calls to act against allegedly corrupt Palestinian Authority officials, they will take the law into their own hands.

Arafat is under growing pressure to get rid of senior officials whose names are linked with the embezzlement of public funds, bribery and abuse of power. The anti-corruption campaign is being spearheaded by members of Arafat's mainstream Fatah faction. Sources in Gaza and Ramallah have told The Report that several "corrupt" bureaucrats, including one of Arafat's top administrators and a bank official, have fled to neighboring countries, fearing for their lives.

Dozens of representatives of the multi-factional intifada leadership met with Arafat recently and urged him to "declare an all-out war against corruption." One of the participants, Ziad Abu Amr, who chairs the Political Committee of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), talks of a popular demand to bring those tainted with scandal to trial. "If we want the intifada to continue," he says, "we must reorganize the Palestinian home from inside."

Arafat promised to "study" the allegations, but as of mid-February there was no change.

The "Al-Aqsa Brigades," a shady group affiliated with Fatah, took credit for the assassination of Hisham Makki, the head of the PA's broadcasting authority, who was gunned down in Gaza in January. Arafat immediately froze Makki's personal bank accounts, estimated at $17 million. Makki is alleged to have taken bribes and sold government-owned equipment. His assailants, believed to be members of one of the Palestinian security organizations, have never been caught.

Leaflets distributed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in mid-February by Arafat loyalists threatened to "chop off the heads" of corrupt PA officials.

The Arab League has meanwhile refused to transfer millions of dollars in aid to the PA for fear that top officials would lay their hands on the money.

Ironically, some Palestinians believe that Ariel Sharon could end up doing the job for Fatah, exposing PA corruption in order to discredit the intifada. Unconfirmed reports in Arab newspapers suggest that Israel has details of secret bank accounts belonging to PA officials as well as compromising photos of some of them with prostitutes. Ehud Barak's government chose not to publish the information so as not to burn bridges with potential peace partners.

PA leaders who suspect they are on Sharon's list have sent messages to him, Palestinian sources say, pledging to do their utmost to quash terror. Two PA security heads are said to have resumed clandestine security coordination with Israeli security forces to avoid being branded as corrupt.

"Arafat must listen to the SOS calls made by our people and try to save the sinking ship," declares Husam Khader, a PLC member and anti-corruption campaigner from Nablus's Balata refugee camp.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post
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