Palestine, Israel, and Corruption: Where’s the Glass House?

That the Palestinian Authority needs to conduct reforms has been known to Palestinians for several years. That the Palestinian Authority needs to do a better job at answering to Palestinians before answering to others has also been widely known. That anyone other than a Palestinian makes such demands for reforms is to epitomize the pinnacle of arrogance.

For 20 months, Palestinians have been marginalized, lectured to, brought into the simplistic Axis of Evil by one Ari Fleischer (White House Spokesman), referred to in the most derogatory terms by Israeli government officials, accused of not giving a damn about the lives of their children, told they teach hate though the Israeli bulldozers send the message through louder, and so on and so on. Now, the Palestinian Authority is to make reforms with assistance from none other than the Central Intelligence Agency.

This is the same agency that previously worked with Palestinian security forces in promoting Israeli security even though it resulted in hundreds of Palestinians being arrested without charge. This might come as an unbelievable shock to Israeli and American government officials, but the primary job of a nation’s security force is to promote the security of its own citizens.

The issue of needed reforms and corruption is an internal Palestinian matter. It is one that the Palestinians themselves have been venting about and publicizing . . . to their credit (after all, such actions are rarely seen in the Arab World). But since internal Palestinian matters are to become fodder for the world, why not examine Israel’s long history of criminal investigations into corruption for the amusement and patronization of others?

While Benjamin Netanyahu has become a self-ingratiating fixture for many American talk shows, it is only natural to look at the man who was voted out of office and often referred to as a “liar” by Israelis throughout his reign as Israel’s Prime Minister.

In April of 1997, Israeli police stunned the country by saying they recommended Netanyahu be tried for fraud and breach of trust. Prosecutors pored for days over police recommendations to try Netanyahu over the appointment of political crony Roni Bar-On as attorney general in January. Bar-On resigned only hours after the appointment amid public outcry that he was not fit for the job.

Criminal proceedings have been opened against current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for alleged violations of political fund-raising laws. Sharon and his son, Omri, will be expected to answer questions about a sum of approximately US$1.5 million. The money was reportedly funneled through a straw corporation into Sharon�s 1999 campaign for head of his Likud Party. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak also faced a criminal investigation over finance practices in his 1999 campaign for prime minister.

There was the famous Weizman-Seroussi Scandal. It was revealed that former President Ezer Weizman had accepted almost half a million dollars from French millionaire, Edward Seroussi, while serving in the Knesset. According to reporter, Yoav Yitzhak, the money was put into several trust funds in Weizman’s name and run by his lawyer, Hanina Brandes. Yitzhak’s article alleged that Weizman and his family illegally used the money, even after he had been elected president.

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Shimon Peres Center for Peace gave money to United Nations envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, in 1999 following the “progress” of the defunct Oslo Peace Accords. The relationship between Peres’s institution, Larsen, and the Foreign Minister is a clear conflict of interest.

In one of the biggest cases of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) corruption, retired Admiral Micha Ram, was investigated for accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Cardion, Incorporated of Plainview, New York. In exchange, he allegedly advised the company on how to sell its goods to the navy. Due to the serious nature, the FBI even investigated.

And as of the last two weeks, the Los Angeles Times reported that Israeli police are investigating the recent purchase by businessman Gad Ze’evi of 20% of Bezeq from Cable and Wireless for $630 million. The police said that they have also questioned Russian millionaire Michael Cherney, lawyer Peter Gad Naschitz, and businessman Ze’ev Rom over allegations of bribery in the Communications Ministry. Former Communications Minister, Ben-Eliezer said that his officials had acted in full accordance with the law, and conducted a proper background check into Ze’evi.”

On yet another front, the Israeli Police just completed the investigations of non-profit organizations connected with the Likud and United Torah Judaism (UTJ) parties, and submitted the findings to the State Attorney’s Office. The Jerusalem Post reported that the Police are recommending the indictment of former Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza director-general Aharon Domb for fraud, as well as Yehiel Turgemann, a candidate for the UTJ in the last Knesset elections, for corruption.

In sum, Israel hardly lives in a glass house. But let’s assume that American and Israeli media were on some sort of unprecedented witch-hunt of Israeli government officials, there’s still the important issue of major benefits to Israeli partnerships with Palestinian Authority monopolies. In fact, to appreciate the Palestinian Authority’s reliance on a previously blossoming Israeli economy, and the Israeli businessmen who helped the corruption along, consider the following:

The US State Department has noted there are 27 monopolies. These monopolies control everything from flour to gasoline to meat to cigarettes.

All gasoline sold in Palestine is under control of Israel’s Dor Energia. The monopoly is controlled by Muhammad Rashid, financial advisor to Yasser Arafat, and Yossi Ginossar, former head of the investigation branch of Shin Bet.

According to researcher, Michael Schwartz, “before the Paris economic accords, Israel supplied gasoline to the Palestinians through the Pedesco consortium, consisting of three companies: Paz, Delek and Sonol. Pedesco had contracts to supply several gasoline stations in the Territories until the year 2000. But in 1994, with the coming of Palestinian self-rule, members of Jibril Rajoub’s Preventive Security Services (one of the militias) notified gasoline stations all over the Territories that they were to buy only from Dor. Rajoub’s security men forcibly kept Pedesco trucks from selling their gas.”

It is interesting to note that in March 1993, the Israeli Supreme Court rejected the appointment of Yossi Ginossar as director general of the Housing Ministry because he had been involved in the Izzat Nafso and Bus 300 affairs – the Shin Bet’s shocking interrogation of a Druze officer, as well as the murder of two captured Palestinian.

Morgan Strong, who appeared on the Sixty Minutes news show regarding corruption in Palestine, says that the importation and sale of cigarettes is controlled by among others, Yossi Ginossar and Muhammad Rashid. Seagram heir, chairman of Koor Industries Ltd., — Israel’s largest holding company — Charles Bronfman and Muhammad Rashid control the cement monopoly. Bronfman has been known to give tens of millions to Israel’s economy.

Israeli/Palestinian partners control the remainders of the monopolies. And without any competition, these monopolies have only served to drive prices for the most basic products to outrageous levels for the average Palestinian ‘Joe.’

Yes, indeed, reforms are needed. But an Israeli government official lecturing to Palestinians about such needs is not only inappropriate and condescending, but it is also hypocritical. Hypocritical because of the apparent rampant corruption in the high offices of Israeli politicians. Hypocritical because of the benefits reaped to Israelis as a result of the morally decrepit relationship between Israeli partners and the Palestinian Authority.

In conclusion, nobody stands to gain from reforms more than the Palestinian people. And nobody has made such demands more than the Palestinian people.

The message to outsiders: Leave internal Palestinian matters for the Palestinians. They’ll take care of their own. Besides, hasn’t there been enough damage by those claiming to want a Palestinian democracy and reforms?

Sherri Muzher, who holds a Jurist Doctor in International and Comparative Law, is a Palestinian-American activist and free lance journalist.

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