Abbas fires all his advisers amid financial crunch

Abbas fires all his advisers amid financial crunch

Ramallah does not provide further details on move, prompted by tax dispute with Israel; PA president demands cabinet return raises

PA President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 29, 2019. (Majdi Mohammed / POOL / AFP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on April 29, 2019. (Majdi Mohammed / POOL / AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has fired all of his advisers, his office said Monday, amid a financial crisis in the West Bank that has prompted deep salary cuts.

Abbas’s office did not provide further details on the number of advisers or the costs involved, pointing only to a brief statement issued through the official PA news agency, WAFA.

The move comes amid a spending crunch following Israel’s decision in February to withhold around $10 million a month in tax transfers.

Israel collects some $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports.

It then transfers the money to the PA government.

The amount it deducted — $138 million for the year — corresponds to Israel’s tally of total Palestinian Authority monthly payments to terror convicts in Israeli jails and families of slain terrorists, in 2018.

Illustrative: Palestinian security prisoners in Ofer Prison, north of Jerusalem, August 20, 2008. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

Prisoners who have carried out attacks on Israelis are among those receiving the payments, and Israel views that as a direct financial incentive to carry out further terror attacks against Israelis.

Palestinians view prisoners as fighting against Israel’s control of the West Bank — even those who targeted civilians — and say the funds support families that have lost their main breadwinners.

Abbas has accused Israel of blackmail and refused to take any of the tax transfers, which account for some 65 percent of PA revenues.

The PA has cut salaries for most its tens of thousands of employees by half to keep the government afloat.

On top of the tax dispute, the United States has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians via various programs.

Jihad Harb, a Palestinian political analyst, said it appeared Abbas had decided to sack his advisers after receiving a report in June on payments to ministers and officials.

“It is clear that president Abbas received the report from the committee that examined the salaries and benefits of employees,” Harb told AFP.

He “wants to reduce his office’s spending by taking austerity measures to confront the current budget crisis.”

In a separate decision, Abbas ordered former prime minister Rami Hamdallah and other cabinet ministers to return bonuses.

Documents leaked earlier this year showed that the technocratic former Cabinet gave its members lavish payouts. The documents showed that ministers’ pay had climbed from $3,000 a month to $5,000 — a 67% raise — and that the prime minister’s salary was raised to $6,000 a month.

A $10,000 housing bonus intended for ministers living outside Ramallah, where the Palestinian Authority is headquartered, was also given to all ministers, including those with homes in the West Bank city. The government also inflated the exchange rate, giving them a 17% premium.

Abbas had secretly approved the raises, overriding a 2004 law fixing ministerial salaries. The raises were applied retroactively to 2014, when the Cabinet took office, resulting in bonuses worth tens of thousands of dollars.

The PA president’s decision to make the ministers return the raises only applies to those they took retroactively, WAFA reported.

The revelations have angered many in the West Bank, where the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has been forced to slash the salaries of government employees.

Hamdallah defended the payments when the documents were leaked in June, saying Abbas approved the request after taking into account rising costs of living. There was no immediate comment from him after Abbas asked for the money back.

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