But this doesn’t mean the Palestinians should get a free pass. Specifically, Abbas’s recent diplomatic adventurism should not go unpunished. He manufactured the recent crisis at the UN. He also has presided over a corrupt political and economic system.
Until now, fear of an ascendant Hamas has prevented Washington from challenging Abbas. Because the Obama White House cannot identify a legitimate and moderate successor to Abbas, and because Hamas appears to be the only alternative, the PLO journeyman has been free to consolidate power—and, according to some, abuse it.
One egregious example is the Palestine Investment Fund, a sovereign wealth fund that Abbas controls through a board he handpicked and whose by-laws he rewrote. Since 2006, the PIF has awarded contracts exclusively to Abbas’s cronies, including his sons, Yasser and Tareq.
The Abbas family is now said to be worth millions, with lavish property holdings and investments throughout the Middle East.
Moreover, the Abbas machine quietly enriches Hamas as it enriches itself. According to a former Palestinian Authority adviser, Yasser Abbas staffed the Karni Crossing cargo terminal in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip with the stated purpose of ensuring that goods and aid reached Gaza without reaching Hamas. But the customs and border unit at the crossing is not on the Palestinian Authority payroll, and it abuses its monopoly on Gaza’s only cargo terminal to pocket fees and kick them back to Hamas.
The PA also funds an electric power plant in Gaza but allows Hamas to collect the bills. In other words, Hamas raises funds for its operations by billing Gazans for electricity generated by the PA.
What’s needed here is not a wholesale cut in aid, which would punish the Palestinians who have been powerless under Abbas, but a concerted effort to root out PA corruption. This would include U.S. Government Accountability Office audits of Abbas’s presidential budget, international oversight of the PIF, and a much closer look at the troubling financial relationship between the Abbas machine and Hamas in Gaza.
Such an effort would not necessarily mean the end of Abbas’s rule—though his term ended in 2009—but it would entail curtailing his personal power while excising the cancerous parts of Palestinian aid. It would also put Washington back in the driver’s seat during an era of waning American power, keeping Europeans and other regional actors at bay.
Most importantly, it would give the White House and Congress what they both seek: new leverage over the wayward Palestinian leadership.