The Palestinian street in the West Bank is still reeling from the corruption revealed by Yasser Jadallah, the former director of the Political Department in Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s office. First was the Palestinian aid money stolen by senior P.A. officials, and now a new nepotism scandal is rocking the P.A. leadership.
According to Fatah sources, P.A. Health Minister Dr. Mai al-Kaila, who is close to Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the P.A. General Authority of Civil Affairs and a close associate of Abbas, has in recent days appointed several relatives of senior P.A. officials to senior positions in the Palestinian Health Ministry.
Wa’el al-Sheikh, the nephew of Minister Hussein al-Sheikh, was appointed deputy director-general of the Health Ministry. Moatasem Mohsin, son of Fatah leadership member Jamal Mohsin, was appointed director of the Health Department in Ramallah and Al-Bireh. Dr. Maha Awad, the sister of the previous health minister, Jawad Awad, was appointed director of the Women’s Health Unit.
The news of the appointments was leaked to social networks. The P.A. did not deny it, and the rage grew on the Palestinian street, especially since the P.A. has withheld salaries for tens of thousands of their own workers because of the coronavirus crisis. At the same time, the P.A. leadership is given generous benefits and large salaries.
A wave of denunciations and unrelenting criticism filled social networks in the P.A. on June 23.
Alaa Abu Diab, a satirist, posted on his Facebook account a call to the P.A. to establish a “Ministry for the Children of Senior P.A. Members” so that the P.A. could quickly appoint relatives. “Give them salaries and jobs, just keep them away from the fields of health, education, agriculture and all government offices that can affect people’s lives, health, our future and future generations,” he wrote.
The public outrage forced the P.A. to respond quickly to these new appointments.
P.A. Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh announced at his weekly government meeting on June 22 that a new committee will review all appointments in government offices.
He said the senior appointments require the approval of Abbas and the Palestinian government, and claimed that all promotions in the government ministries were stopped about a year ago because of the P.A.’s financial distress.
The Palestinian street isn’t buying it, however, and does not believe anything will come out of this newly established review committee. Palestinians believe that the move was designed to act as a “tranquilizer” to contain the widespread outrage and then to dissolve the issue.
The phenomenon of nepotism is not new to the P.A.; it has existed since the P.A. was established after the signing of the Oslo Accords. However, nepotism has gained momentum in recent years during the reign of Abbas.
Palestinians explain that the P.A. chairman forgives nepotism among his associates because he needs their support as well as protection for his own corruption, and for the meteoric advance of his two sons in the business world and their accumulated wealth.
There are plenty of examples of nepotism practiced by Abbas’s close associates, such as Gen. Majed Faraj, the head of Palestinian General Intelligence, who is considered to be a potential successor to Abbas.
According to sources in the P.A., Faraj’s wife Amal serves as the chief of financial audit in the position of director-general, while his son Bashar, who served as an officer in the Palestinian Police, then became division chief of the International and National Relations division of the Financial Follow-up Unit.
However, according to Fatah sources, it is Abbas adviser Mahmoud al-Habash who ranks first when it comes to P.A. nepotism. His son was appointed to become director-general of the Prosecutor’s Office, while his daughter was appointed to be the director-general of Religious Affairs. His brother was appointed to handle the hajj pilgrimage of the Palestinian embassy in Saudi Arabia, while another daughter was appointed as second secretary of the Palestinian embassy in Turkey, after working with him in his office.
Abbas’s brother-in-law was appointed, according to P.A. sources, to the post of director-general of the Islamic Waqf office.
According to Fatah officials, P.A. senior officials Majed Faraj and Hussein al-Sheikh have a major influence on the Palestinian foreign minister, Riyadh al-Maliki. Al-Maliki is favored by Abbas and is responsible for a series of appointments of their associates in the Palestinian Foreign Service.
Nepotism is rife throughout Arab regimes in the Middle East, so the Palestinian public has accepted it as part of the custom of Arab rulers in the region. However, when it is accompanied by such severe corruption, especially when the economic situation in the West Bank is so grave, it becomes the scandal of the day and a source of hostility toward Abbas’s government.
This is one of the reasons Abbas will find it difficult to rally the support of the West Bank citizenry in anticipation of the Israeli extension of sovereignty. He may find that Palestinians are in no hurry to respond to calls by the P.A. leadership or Fatah since many residents are fed up with the corruption and nepotism in the P.A.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as director general and chief editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.