Yalla Peace: Palestinian financial problems

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Yalla Peace: Palestinian financial problems

Recently, Israel has withheld large sums of funds from the Palestinians,
putting the daily lives of more than 174,000 Palestinian government employees in peril.

Much is made of the fact that the late president Yasser Arafat controlled billions in funds that were used to support the Palestinian struggle for statehood and freedom.

And since it also involved politics, more than a few people asserted there was corruption, asking how could one man be in charge of so much money? When George Washington led the American revolution against the British in the mid-18th century, he also controlled a vast sum of money, in the tens of millions, which back then was the equivalent of hundreds of millions, maybe even billions.

The point being that Arafat was our leader at a precarious time. Revolutions are just that, revolutions, not formal governments with elections or transparency. In fact, Arafat did what Washington did, hiding the funds as best as he could so that the British – or Israel and the United States in the case of the Palestinians – could not confiscate it and undermine the revolution.

But Arafat ended the revolution to pursue a mirage of peace with Israel, moving into the occupied West Bank in 1994. In the 10 years that followed, peace was impossible and the funds remained partially hidden, as they should have.

There is no sovereign Palestine state today, but rather a quasi-administration that is subject to the political whims of Israel. And those whims can be punitive.

Recently, Israel has withheld large sums of funds from the Palestinians, putting the daily lives of more than 174,000 Palestinian government employees in peril.

Vicious anti-Arab members of the US Congress, led by the likes of Ileana Ros- Lehtinin, have done everything they can to financially choke the PA.

This week in an interview, Ramallah-based journalist Mohammed Najib offered an interesting perspective that should not be lost in this controversy.

Under pressure to find funds to pay its employees, Arafat’s hapless successor President Mahmoud Abbas reached out to find some of the lost Arafat treasure. The person he contacted last year was Mohammed Rashid, the Iraqi Kurd who was Arafat’s financial adviser.

Rashid went from pauper to wealthy prince and now lives in London, although Najib reports there are rumors he has a home in Haifa in Israel. Reluctant to face Abbas, Rashid declined. The Palestinian Anti-Corruption Commission issued indictments of Rashid accusing him of 12 counts of corruption and embezzlement.

They reached out to Interpol to issue an arrest warrant, but since Palestine is not a sovereign country, Interpol declined.

Rashid was quick to respond, attacking Abbas and asserting that Abbas had embezzled money himself from this revolutionary treasure trove that everyone believes exists but no one so far has been able to trace clearly.

The financial crisis, many believe, also is behind the collapse of the attempted unity government that Abbas pursued with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hamas is seeking to Islamicize the West Bank, as they have done in Gaza, and Abbas eventually backed out.

Hamas wants a presence in the West Bank but refuses to allow the secular Abbas government to have a presence in the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas treachery is more transparent than the issue of where the money is.

Hamas is also hypocritical. They have historically accused the PA of corruption and a lack of financial transparency but everyone knows that Hamas is not that transparent about its own funding, either.

With the Arab World in turmoil as the “Arab Spring” fast wilting into an Arab Winter, the flow of funds from Palestine’s “Arab Brothers” have also ceased.

Abbas needs to pay his employees, or his government could collapse, and if his government collapses, so to will the hopes for peace further deteriorate. Najib says the PA faces a $1.2 billion budget shortfall. Even in the world of Facebook wealth, that’s still a lot of money.

It seems like the hopes for peace are dependent on so many undependable factors making it so unlikely.

Whenever you have government, you also have corruption. The two go hand in hand. You see it in the United States and the West, and you see it often in Israel, too. So why is it surprising that we see it in Palestine? Of course we will.

But it is troubling for a poverty-stricken public to see their leaders go from revolutionaries to wealthy entrepreneurs. How did Abbas build up an equity thought to be in the hundreds of millions? And how does a guy like Rashid become the world’s “wealthiest non-Palestinian Palestinian?” It’s one of the true miracles of government and public service. It’s called “Virgin wealth” in politics and discussions of political financial corruption. It’s one of those miracles that happens in government.

Poor public servant enters politics and suddenly becomes wealthy, not by saving their small government payroll checks, but through other means, and through other opportunities that come from power and clout.

Well, the Middle East is the place where miracles first began, so it is appropriate that the miracle of the “virgin wealth” might miraculously appear there.

Although just once it would be nice to have a good miracle, like seeing an end to the occupation, this 64th year of the Palestinian Catastrophe and the nearly two decades of the failed peace process.

Seems that it is easier to see a politician get rich than to see a miracle of peace in the Middle East.

The writer is an award winning Palestinian American columnist and Chicago radio talk show host.

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Ray Hanania

Ray Hanania is an award winning former Chicago City Hall reporter and Columnist who began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He covered Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992 (Mayor Daley to Mayor Daley) and has expanded to writing for newspapers around the world focussed on Middle East and American politics.

Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.

Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).

Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.

Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.

Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.

Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.

His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania

Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com