Abbas announces broad probe into Palestinian NGOs
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Abbas announces broad probe into Palestinian NGOs

Move presented as boost to transparency and state-building, but anti-graft group says it's politically motivated intimidation

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

The Muqata'a in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/PalestinianLiberator/File)
The Muqata'a in Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons/PalestinianLiberator/File)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered an investigation into the legal status of 2,800 non-government organizations and associations in the Palestinian territories, in a professed attempt to boost Palestinian nation-building efforts internationally.

“We would like to make all state institutions transparent and accountable, because if transparency and accountability prevail, we will have the respectable state we are worthy of,” Abbas told a gathering in Ramallah on Sunday marking international anti-corruption day.

The Palestinian legislature passed an anti-graft law in 2005, renamed the anti-corruption law in 2010. It stipulated the creation of a governmental anti-corruption commission as well as an anti-corruption court.

At the event in Ramallah, anti-corruption commissioner Rafiq Natshe said he had been appointed by Abbas to investigate 2,800 nonprofits and NGOs registered in the Palestinian Authority.

“The commission will examine their legal standing and check whether they abide by the law and have the proper licensing, and where their funding comes from. We will inspect their budgets in order to organize them and rectify their state of affairs,” Natshe was quoted as saying by Jerusalem-based daily Al-Quds.

“It makes no sense for a state to fund and open associations with no oversight. That way, you find 30 legal institutions and 30 women’s institutions. We welcome civil society institutions that require organization and order to become more powerful and effective,” he added.

Azmi Shuaibi (left) speaks to Palestinian politicians Ahmad Qureia and Saeb Erekat in Ramallah, July 17, 2004 (photo credit: AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)
Azmi Shuaibi (left) speaks to Palestinian politicians Ahmad Qureia and Saeb Erekat in Ramallah, July 17, 2004 (photo credit: AP/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

But Azmi Shuaibi, commissioner of Aman, the local chapter of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International, said that since the vast majority of Palestinian corruption existed in the government sector, targeting NGOs amounted to a government onslaught on Palestinian civil society.

“This is an opportunistic move by the security establishment to curtail civil society and control public opinion,” Shuaibi told The Times of Israel in a telephone conversation. “The cases tried in the anti-corruption court reveal that 90 percent of all corruption cases occur in government, either central or local.”

The Palestinian territories are in a better state than the wider Arab world in terms of corruption, Shuaibi said, thanks to their more developed civil society and higher level of free speech. However, they still lag far behind Western democracies, especially in freedom of information. A freedom of information bill is being held up by a defunct Legislative Council that hasn’t convened in over seven years.

Mohammed Dahlan in 2006. (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)
Former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan (photo credit: Michal Fattal/Flash90)

The PA’s anti-corruption institutions aim to tackle government graft as well. Two former ministers, economy minister Hassan Abu Libdeh and agriculture minister Ismail D’eiq, are currently being investigated by the court on charges of embezzlement reaching NIS 45 million ($11.27 million). In 2012, Abbas ordered the commission to launch an investigation into his political rival, former Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan. On Sunday commissioner Natshe said that Dahlan’s case would be brought before the court as well.

But Shuaibi said that the courts are stalling on the cases of the ministers and haven’t moved beyond procedural sittings over the past three years.

“The trials could still take years before a ruling is issued, because the accusations haven’t been discussed yet,” he said, noting that gag orders have been placed on the proceedings. “They say that the suspects have the right to defend their innocence until proven guilty, but delayed justice is no justice at all.”

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