Thursday, April 01, 2021

01-Apr-21: What, as elections approach, do Palestinian Arabs think about their society's corruption?

Screen shot from a YouTube clip called "Super Rich Palestinians"

Here's how the opening paragraph of a brief but concentrated report entitled "Corruption in the Palestinian Authority" reads:

"Corruption is endemic in the Palestinian Authority, the private sector and NGOs. It is spreading across all sections of Palestinian society."

The work of a Palestinian Arab organization - AMAN, The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity, based in Gaza and Ramallah - the report takes readers on a walk through a depressing landscape, touching on massive misappropriation of funds by senior officials, corrupt actions on the part of the highest-level judges, embezzlement in the Palestinian Arab intelligence agencies, the widespread smuggling of medications, the distribution of counterfeit drugs. 

"Stamping out corruption is an urgent need", its authors say. 

"There is no doubt that corruption is not new to the Palestinian Authority and that it has been endemic since the very beginning in Ramallah... This corruption began from the first moment that the PA began to gather the Palestinian people’s money and aid and pour it into the Fatah budget, even though this money was given to the Palestinian people, not the PA or its officials who have divided it amongst themselves."

The name of the revered Palestinian Arab leader Yasser Arafat is, not surprisingly, sprinkled among the charges. So is that of the current president, Mahmoud Abbas. And not in a kind and gentle way. 

The report was published in 2013. Has progress been made since then? Not if the events unfolding in the current chapter involving vaccines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic are anything to go by.

Jake Wallis Simons, in an exposé publish on March 9, 2021 in The Spectator ["Corruption affects everything in Palestine – even vaccines"], suggests that the situation remains grim.

Visit certain parts of the West Bank and you’ll encounter mansions owned by senior officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA). By any standards – let alone those to which ordinary citizens are accustomed – they are impressive, with arches, colonnades and tall windows. If you’d been watching them in recent weeks, you might have seen vaccines being quietly delivered to these residences in unmarked cars, having been skimmed off the supply intended for medical workers.

Those, at least, were the allegations made by a number of Palestinian human rights and civil society groups. Last week, the Palestinian health ministry was forced to come clean. In a statement, the ministry admitted that 10 per cent of the 12,000 doses it had received had been put aside for government ministers and members of the PLO’s executive committee.

The rest, it claimed, had been given to workers treating Covid patients and employees of the health ministry. Aside from the 200 doses that were sent to the Jordanian royal court, that is. And those reserved for presidential guards. And those that had been given to the Palestinian national football team... 

According to AMAN, a Palestinian anti-corruption body linked to Transparency International, almost 70 per cent of Palestinians believe that their government institutions are corrupt. An EU report found that embezzlement had led to a loss of £1.7 billion of aid money between 2008 and 2012 alone. Huge sums are spent on fake companies and projects, including – in 2017 – a non-existent airline...
The Spectator piece (that's just an extract above) is a revealing essay, an easy and short read but with some important messages for the many who take an interest in the Middle East and its conflicts. It reflects a concern about which we have written (often) since shortly after our child's murder at the hands of Palestinian Arab terrorists in the service of Hamas. 

Jake's bottom line is one we share: 
It’s high time for those on the Left to stop using the conflict to burnish their own political credentials and consider the real roots of the problem.
To which we would add: And it's time foreign governments, especially of donor countries providing aid to the Abbas regime in Ramallah, realize the funds they hand over so casually are part of the solution to what ails Palestinian Arab society. 

We think there are lots of people who think the same way: ordinary Palestinian Arabs.

Getting a real and reliable sense of what they feel about important issues is harder than most people would imagine. This has to do with the massive distortions, the centralized control of Palestine's media, the fear of the multiple overlapping security forces, the relative ineffectiveness of the institutions of justice, and other similar dark realities. 

And also the way "government jobs, which are prized due to the weak private economy, are awarded on the basis of cronyism rather than merit" [source]. The latest data show [here] that unemployment in Hamas-controlled Gaza is a fraction under 50% and rising. For the West Bank, we're still checking and will update. If you were in their shoes, how ready would you be to go finding fault with public officials who perhaps hold the key to your salary-earning job and perhaps those of your spouse and/or children?

We have focused over several years on Palestinian Arab studies of Palestinian Arab views via the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (commonly called PSR). We summarized their published reports for the first time a little over eight years ago ["15-Jan-13: Update on the Palestinian Arab Terrorism Index"]. And since then about a dozen more times [click here].

In a blog post some five and a half years ago, we posed these question about opinion measurement:
Polls are fine and useful and so on but there's another way of gauging public opinion that most of the world uses regularly. When were the last elections in either of the two Palestinian Arab entities? Why are elections such a low priority for people ruled by autocratic regimes, living with significantly un-free media, and ostensibly desperate to have their voices heard? ["03-Nov-15: What do they mean when the Palestinian Arabs say they oppose terror?"]
We're addressing this now because there are indications (and the matter is by no means certain) we're going to find out soon. 
Mercedes-Benz Palestine

The most recent PSR poll, published a week ago, is timed to throw light on where Palestinian Arab opinions stands as an exceedingly rare event - Palestinian Authority elections - seems to be appearing on the horizon. The full text of the PSR's Public Opinion Poll Number 79, released March 23, 2021, is online here

Actually, they are preparing for three separate but related upcoming elections: (1) For the Palestinian Legislative Council on May 22, 2021. (2) For President of the Palestinian National Authority on July 31, 2021; and (3) for the Palestinian National Council of the PLO on August 31, 2021,

Our interest is mainly limited to a sub-set of the analysis: what do its subjects think about corruption in the Palestinian Authority? 

Here's what the PSR data tell us about the views of Palestinian Arab adults, via a sample of 1,200 polled face-to-face in 120 randomly-selected Palestinian Arab locations by Palestinian Arab interviewers speaking in Arabic during the period between March 14 and March 19, 2021:
  • The perception of corruption in PA institutions: 84% 
  • The perception of corruption in the Hamas-controlled institutions of the Gaza Strip: 70%
  • Asked to assume that the PA (meaning Fatah) wins the elections, 36% of those polled say PA corruption will get larger; 16% say PA corruption will decrease. And though the poll report doesn't say this, we assume the remaining 48% expressed no opinion. If we're right, that's almost half the Palestinian Arab population who would rather not say. That may be the nmost significant statistic to emerge from this study. So now note the next bullet: 
  • Related to corruption as Jake Wallis Simons explains above, nearly two-thirds of Palestinian Arabs (62%) say the vaccination process in the West Bank lacks transparency and justice. The percentage who say it is transparent and just is 33%. Evidently on vaccination, almost no one lacks an opinion.
  • Also COVID-19-related: those dissatisfied with the PA's measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus are fully 50%. (Further break-down: In the West Bank which is ruled by Fatah/PA officials, those dis-satisfied are 61%. In the Gaza Strip which is dominated by Hamas, the dis-satisfied are 34%.) And 47% are satisfied.  

There's much more to think about, as there always is, in the PSR poll results. But the only other part we want to highlight at this point concerns overall goals and overall problems. Somewhat surprisingly, the problems and the goals seem not to match up - a phenomenon we have seen over and again among the Palestinian Arabs, (It's worth a short essay but not today.)

Main Palestinian Arab goals, according to PSR:

  1. "To end Israeli occupation in the areas occupied in 1967 and build a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital: 43% 
  2. "To obtain the right of return of refugees to their 1948 towns and villages": 31%
  3. "To establish a democratic political system that respects freedoms and rights of Palestinians": 14%
  4. "To build a pious or moral individual and a religious society, one that applies all Islamic teachings": 11%

And the most serious problem confronting Palestinian society today?:

  1. Poverty and unemployment: 30%
  2. Curbing the spread of corruption in public institutions: 25%
  3. "The continuation of occupation and settlement activities" of the Israelis: 24%
  4. "The continued  siege of the Gaza Strip and the closure of its crossings": 13%
  5. "The lack of national unity": 6%

We'll know we're getting to a better place with our Arab neighbors when their goals align with their problems. Till then, there's not much room for optimism.

[This post, like many others before it, has been translated into the Polish language ("Co Palestyńczycy w obliczu zbliżających się wyborów myślą o korupcji w ich społeczeństwie?") by courtesy of Malgorzata Koraszewska over on the Listy z naszego sadu website. Our sincere thanks to her, and great appreciation to readers of this blog in Poland.]

No comments: