Time to Balance the Books

U.S. President Donald Trump recently tweeted a clear, long overdue message to Mahmoud Abbas; in effect: you can’t have it both ways.

Offended by Trump’s December speech, which clearly left Jerusalem’s final boundaries to be negotiated by both sides, Abbas overreacted with trademark false accusations, and a huffy rebuttal of the U.S. role as peace broker.

Like the proverbial farmer sawing off a tree limb but forgetting he’s sitting on it, Abbas overlooked the billions in U.S. aid funneled to the PA since the mid-’90s, which last year alone totaled more than $730 million in all sectors—economic and humanitarian, security and justice, and UNRWA. Abbas’s tantrum backfired. It’s payback time.

Trump recently tweeted: “We pay the Palestinians hundreds of millions of dollars a year and get no appreciation or respect. They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel. So why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

It’s about time America balanced these books.

The PA has long misappropriated U.S. and European aid to support jailed terrorists and their families at more than half its annual budget—$300 million annually, and more than $1 billion in the last four years. Convicted terrorists even got a 13 percent raise last year (their families gained 4 percent), according to Palestinian Media Watch. Though safeguards have attached to U.S. aid, some observers cite that evidence indicates that the attempted controls did not significantly alter this practice, according to Jim Zanotti, for the Congressional Research Service.

But that’s not all. PA leaders also siphon off foreign assistance for personal enrichment for themselves, family members and cronies at the expense of the Palestinian people.

The intent of development assistance is to “help the Palestinians build the physical and social infrastructure to enable the emergence of a sustainable, prosperous society. But few seriously questioned how much money is sent and how it is used,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tsipi Hotovely told The Wall Street Journal.

Aid from Europe has also been misappropriated. The Times of London quoted an EU report on the “loss” of development assistance due to “bribes and misuse of aid” amounting to €2 billion ($2,405,421,820) to the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 2008 to 2012.

The Palestinian Authority’s abject trail of corruption began upon its inception in 1994, as money and aid for the Palestinian people were funneled to the Fatah budget, said Sawsan Ramahi for Al-Monitor. “Money meant for the establishment of a state quickly turned into balances in Swiss bank accounts, personal projects in neighboring countries and partnerships.”

It surprised no one that the Panama Papers exposé of tax evasion and money laundering by international elites included leading Palestinian Authority figures, Adnan Abu Amer reported for Al Monitor. Just one example: Abbas’s son Tareq secretly owns, in partnership with the PA, a holding company in the British Virgin Islands worth more than $1 million. In addition to money laundering and tax evasion, there also has been theft of public money, bribes, transfer of government land to officials for private use and more, he said.

“The Panama Papers confirm that the PA is a nongovernmental entity,” Palestinian author Adel Samara said. Its model more closely resembles the infrastructure and clientelism of the Sicilian Mafia, which built its crime empire on illegal profits using bribes, extortion, threats, violence and murder—and perpetrated its ranks by recruiting young boys and turning them into “soldiers” who did the dirty work and were lowest and least paid on the food chain.

“Corruption in the PA … gives the Palestinian ruling elite a strategic tool to control the popular bases … maintain the status quo, dominate political and economic assets, and implement its political agenda without facing any effective opposition,” Amer said.

The Trump administration and the U.S. Congress—which recently passed the Taylor Force Act—are taking a good hard look at U.S. support for the PA and UNRWA. The president understands that perpetuating previous failed U.S. policies could be catastrophic, especially with Abbas at the helm.