Palestinian Human Rights Activist Says Corruption and Failure to Invest in West Bank Economy Are Biggest Obstacles to a Palestinian State
“The Palestinian Authority has failed to lay the groundwork for a state,” Palestinian journalist and human rights activist Bassem Eid told a Los Angeles audience June 16. He was completing a national speaking tour that began last fall and included some 27 college campuses. “It is counterproductive for European countries to recognize a Palestinian state when the elements of such a state do not exist. Even if such proposals had legal weight, they would give us not a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a three state solution. In addition to Israel we would have Hamas’s Islamic emirate in Gaza and Mahmoud Abbas’s small empire in the West Bank. But in any case the economic infrastructure has not been created to sustain a state and the Palestinian leadership is deeply mired in corruption and undemocratic practices.”
Bassem Eid was born in East Jerusalem in 1958, when it was part of Jordan. He spent his first 33 years living in the Shuafat refugee camp. Today he lives in Jericho in the West Bank, “under the Palestinian Authority’s jurisdiction,” he points out.
In the late 1980s he was a senior field researcher for B’Tselem, the left-wing Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Through this on-the-ground involvement he saw up close the pattern of personal corruption and undemocratic practice of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, and the newer Islamist Hamas group. They suffer, he has often said, from the same self-aggrandizing and dictatorial bent that plagues most of the Arab world, both in its governments and in its major opposition movements.
This led him in 1996 in Jerusalem to found the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, which sought to reform the Palestinian leaderships. He remains militantly pro-Palestinian, but sees the best chance for a decent future for his people in peace and economic cooperation with Israel.
He opened his talk, in a Los Angeles home, with the situation is Gaza. “There are really only four forces with a serious interest in what happens in Gaza,” he said. “Two of those aim to prevent reconstruction from the damage during the Hamas-Israel war of 2014: Those are Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. Their motive is their hope to destroy Hamas. For Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas is an intolerable rival. For Egypt, Hamas is an affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood and has had a hand in the anti-Egyptian terrorism in the Sinai. So where there were more than 100 tunnels into Egypt from Gaza, Egypt’s President Sisi has destroyed every one of them. The Rafah crossing into Egypt was open only 20 days in 2015, during which 20,000 Gazans were allowed into Egypt, compared to 400,000 in 2014.
“The other two are committed to rebuilding Gaza. They are Hamas and Israel, though beyond the reconstruction they have different aims. Almost all of Gaza’s supplies come through Israel.”
The United States and the countries of Europe, Eid said, pour hundreds of millions of dollars into support to the Palestinian Authority, with essentially no attempt to monitor how the money is spent. It has largely gone to enrich the Fatah central leadership. “There was a poll taken recently by a respected Palestinian organization. It found that 96% of Palestinians in the West Bank believe that the PA is corrupt. Practically the only dissenters are Abbas and his family.”
Bassem Eid said he saw no short term political solution to the status of the Palestinians. “There is no other political party or movement than those running things now. I have sometimes suggested, as a replacement for Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah leader in Gaza who is now living in exile in Dubai. When I say this to Palestinians they respond, ‘But he is corrupt too!’ Yes, that is true, but he is younger and has more energy.”
For Bassem Eid, the pathway to a Palestinian state is economic, not at this stage political or military. “To have a state you have to have an economy, an infrastructure. With all the donated millions the PA has not built a single university, a single clinic.”
The worst consequence of the PA’s failure to invest in an independent economy, in Eid’s view, is that it has made the central leaders dependent on the foreign subsidies for continuing their power and high standard of living. And the best way to ensure that the contributions keep coming is to prolong the conflict with Israel. Where Hamas on religious grounds declares itself determined to eradicate Israel altogether, for the Palestinian Authority it has become a pattern of perpetual incitement of hatred of the Israelis.
“The United Nations is complicit in this. They run UNRWA” (United Nations Relief and Works Agency, dedicated solely to support of the original Palestinian refugees from 1948 and their descendants). “The UNRWA textbooks are filled with calls to violence against the Jews and denial that Jews have any history in the region. Children raised on this are not going to consider making peace.”
A member of the audience here asked, “But aren’t the textbooks written by Palestinian UNRWA staff members?”
Bassem Eid responded, “Yes, but who pays their salary? I had sections of these books translated into English. And I went to Washington and showed them to officials in the American administration. They nodded their heads but months later they ruled that there was nothing wrong with the UNRWA textbooks. So I hold the funders, American and European, responsible for funding the incitement of Palestinian children. The Europeans and Americans think they can come up with proposals that will end the conflict. They can’t. This will have to be solved by the Palestinians and the Israelis themselves. And the Palestinians need to take responsibility for themselves and commit themselves to a peaceful future.”
He said that the leaders of most of the Arab states also use Israel as a scapegoat to divert their people from undemocratic, incompetent, and repressive regimes at home. But as a number of these states have come unraveled into various kinds of civil war – Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Libya – “I have found that the safest place to live in the Middle East is in the so-called occupied territories, in the West Bank, where I and my family live now.”
This brought the speaker to the anti-Israel BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions). “This is a movement, which is making headway on American and European campuses, promoted by Students for Justice in Palestine. It is not a pro-Palestinian movement but an anti-Semitic movement aimed at the destruction of Israel. Palestinians can’t possibly boycott Israel. The great majority of our trade is with Israel. Our families depend on jobs and goods from Israel; 92,000 West Bank Palestinians go to work in Israel every day, and 15,000 more work for Israeli companies in the West Bank. Salaries in Israel are 5 times higher than those paid by Palestinian companies or the PA.”
One of the best known examples of the BDS campaign involved the SodaStream company. SodaStrean makes machines for the home that add carbonation and flavoring to plain water. One of their larger plants was located at Maale Adumim in the West Bank. There were 500 Palestinian workers at that plant, earning standard Israeli wages, far higher than in the surrounding economy. After a bitter BDS campaign against the company, SodaStream reluctantly closed their West Bank plant, where all 500 of their Palestinian workers lost their jobs. Bassem Eid commented:
“This was a serious loss for us Palestinians. Most of us are more interested in feeding our families and living a better life than in this kind of negative politics. It didn’t hurt SodaStream. Their business has grown three-fold since they closed their West Bank plant.”
In the discussion period someone asked Bassem Eid if his life was threatened because of his criticisms of the Palestinian leadership and close ties to Israeli media. He responded:
“I am a journalist, not a politician. I have never belonged to any political party. In 1996 Yasser Arafat had me arrested. I was in jail for 24 hours when someone got the word to President Bill Clinton. Secretary of State Warren Christopher phoned Arafat. He told Arafat, ‘I want him released in five minutes.’ And I have never been arrested since.”
Bassem Eid’s speaking tour was sponsored by CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. While most of his appearances in America went as planned, he was met by a concerted attack by pro-BDS thugs in Chicago. They shouted him down at the University of Chicago on February 19, where he had to be escorted from the room by police, while one of the protesters shouted death threats in Arabic. A later meeting at nearby DePaul University was also broken up, and a meeting at Northwestern University, moved to the Hillel building, had to be canceled when some of the same strong arm squad appeared. In recounting some of this during the Los Angeles meeting Bassem Eid called his attackers “gangsters.”
For Further Reading: A Dozen Authors Worth Following
While the greatest threat facing humanity today is the unfolding ecological crisis, comprised of population overshoot, resource depletion, and global warming, an expanding regional crisis is the growth of various intolerant and violent currents within Islam, struggling to become dominant in the Middle East-North Africa. The Islamic State is only the most dramatic of these. They include the Iranian theocracy, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and its affiliates, the Taliban, Boko Haram, multitudes of individuals and grouplets inspired by Saudi Arabian Wahhabism and various stripes of Salafism, and, among the Palestinians, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
While much of the Middle East is now in flames, dwarfing the Israel-Palestine conflict, religious intolerance on the Muslim side, that will not accept any non-Muslim minority in the region, is in my opinion the principal reason the conflict with the Jews has not been resolved. Notably, in addition to the animosity toward Jews we have seen that Christians, who, like the Jews, long predate Islam in the region, have shrunk from 20% of Middle Eastern population in the early 20th Century to 4 or 5% today, through ever more violent persecution.
At the same time, we are seeing a revival of anti-Semitism. This is widespread in the Muslim world, where Muslim scriptural sources are cited along with materials imported into the Middle East originated by the German Nazis and other European anti-Semitic movements. This danger is augmented by a large section of the liberal left Europe and America that has accepted the Stalinist falsehood that the Jewish state is a colonial settler state that should be destroyed. This calumny simply ignores the actual history, in which Israel was created by a fusion between native Jews and refugees fleeing persecution in Europe, and was soon augmented by a huge number of native Middle Eastern and North African Jews ethnically cleansed by the Arab, Turkish, and Iranian regimes.
Many people write intelligently on these issues. Here I would like to suggest a dozen who I have found to be particularly clear, factual, and informative. They are all sympathetic to the survival of the Israeli Jewish state. None are uncritical defenders of the Israeli government. Most are liberals, and some are fairly far to the left. Most, like the late Christopher Hitchens, are highly critical of that section of the Western left that defends Islamic radicalism in the name of anti-imperialism. Ten of them are on Facebook, where I am their Facebook friend, including Bassem Eid. They are here in alphabetical order.
- Paul Berman. Author of Terror and Liberalism and The Flight of the Intellectuals. Contributing editor to The New Republic, and Distinguished Writer in Residence at New York University.
- Gabriel Noah Brahm. Coauthor of The Case Against Academic Boycotts of Israel. Associate Professor of Literature and Cultural Studies, University of California at Santa Cruz, and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy.
- Nick Cohen, columnist for The Observer and author of What’s Left? How the Left Lost Its Way.
- Bassem Eid. Palestinian human rights activist and journalist. Outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority and of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.
- Terry Glavin, Canadian author and journalist. He writes for The Ottawa Citizen. His books include Come from the Shadows: The Long and Lonely Struggle for Peace in Afghanistan, and The Sixth Extinction: Journeys Among the Lost and Left Behind. As a journalist he has traveled to Central America, China, the Eastern Himalayas, the Russian Far East, Afghanistan, and Israel.
- Jeffrey Herf. Author of Undeclared Wars with Israel: East Germany and the West German Far Left, 1967-1989, and Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World. Professor of Modern European History at the University of Maryland.
- David Hirsh. Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths College, University of London. A leading British voice against the new rise of anti-Semitism and the BDS movement.
- David Horovitz. British born Israeli journalist and founding of The Times of Israel. He is the author of Still Life with Bombers: Israel in the Age of Terrorism, and Shalom, Friend, a biography of Yitzhak Rabin.
- Alan Johnson. Senior Research Fellow at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM) and editor of BICOM’s journal, Fathom. He was a coauthor of the Euston Manifesto, and advocates a social democratic antitotalitarianism.
- Bernard-Henri Levy. Perhaps France’s most prominent intellectual. He was ranked by the Jerusalem Post as 45th of the world’s 50 most prominent Jews. He is the author of Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism.
- Jonathan Spyer. Director of the Rubin Center, Herzliya, Israel, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from the London School of Economics, is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict. His daring war correspondence from Syria and Iraq has been widely published in major media such as The Guardian.
- Khaled Abu Toameh. Israeli Arab journalist. He writes for the Jerusalem Post and for the New York based Gatestone Institute. He is also a documentary film maker and a producer for NBC News.