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PA Corruption Probe: Maybe, Maybe Not

Ramallah's vaunted corruption probe proves to be more politics than principles as lawmakers say it all depends on unity talks with Hamas
By Gabe Kahn.
First Publish: 12/21/2011, 7:48 PM

The Palestinian Authority Anti-Corruption Committee is set to interrogate several corrupt cabinet ministers in Ramallah - but only if unity talks between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo fail.

"Within the coming 48 hours, we will find out whether the Palestinian internal unity is achievable or not, and we will act accordingly," Fatah representative Najat Abu Bakr told Gulf News when asked about the probe.

"We have already planned a war against members of the current Palestinian cabinet, and we will use all possible means to sack the corrupted ministers," she said, adding that at least seven ministers will be targeted in addition to two who previously stepped down.

Abu Bakr added that the Fatah Parliamentary Block and other deputies have already sent a letter to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas officially informing him they intend to "wage a war and conduct grave public campaigns" against the corrupt ministers.

"We have solid proof against those ministers who have never been assessed and their performance will be evaluated by the PLC," she said.

"This is the most corrupt government in the Palestinian history," she added.

The history of the Palestinian Authority – only eighteen years in length – has been noted for extensive corruption from the outset.

PA officials have long sought to recover some $1 billion in pilfered funds from Suha Arafat, the widow of Fatah's iconic arch-terrorist and PA founder Yasser Arafat.

So widespread was corruption under Arafat that in 1997 he ordered all further corruption reports kept secret.

His successor, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, has also been accused of fostering widespread corruption, but has not been targeted in the current anti-corruption probe. This despite numerous reports in recent years of PA funds in Amman and Cairo being plundered by Abbas.

PA prime minister Salam Fayyad has pushed for the probe with increasing vigor as more and more foreign donors - whose charity is the lifeblood of his government in Ramallah - fail to fufill their pledges.

Concerns over corruption combined with the global economic downturn also made it impossible for Fayyad to raise some $5 billion he sought for his "state-building" initiatives.

However, Fatah and Hamas factions have agreed to discuss issues related to forming a unity government on January 26th.

Abu Bakr says systematic corruption in the government includes huge sums of money allocated to employees of the Finance Ministry.

In addition, several female employees at the Ministry of Women Affairs were sacked after complaining of sexual harassment by a minister who has kept his job.

Observers described the decision not to pursue criminal charges for widespread graft and embezzlement should a unity government be formed as "strange."