image Photo: Reuters, Flash90

Sweden: PA corruption hinders aid

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde stated that “widespread corruption” in “Palestine” is “an obstacle” for Stockholm’s “ambitions to help with economic development.”

By Erin Viner

This, according to Radio Sweden following Linde’s meetings in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki on Tuesday. “Foreign Minister meets Palestinians, points at corruption” headlined the channel’s report.

“If we are going to be able to completely support economic development, we of course cannot have corruption on such a level as there is in Palestine,” Linde told Sweden’s public broadcaster.

As the European Union’s largest single donor nation of to the Palestinian Authority (PA), Stockholm has an overall budget allocation of some $180 million in development assistance set for disbursement between 2020 and 2024.

Sweden, which was also the first EU country to recognize “Palestine” as a “state” in 2014, has rarely delivered such criticism of its beneficiary.

Nearly 83% of Palestinians believe there is corruption in PA institutions according to the latest survey conducted by the Palestinian Center for Polling and Survey Research.

Allegations of nepotism, fraud and embezzlement have been directed at Palestinian leaders since the establishment of the PA in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accord peace process with Israel. The Committee on Foreign Affairs at the United States House of Representatives released a severe report entitled “Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment” in 2012 that documented serious charges concerning financial transgressions committed by Abbas, his sons Yasser and Tareq, the Palestine Investment Fund and others.

In apparent efforts to preserve ties to its patron, Ramallah’s presidential office released a statement following the visit, saying that Foreign Minister Linde “stressed that Sweden will continue to provide support to the Palestinian people to build the institutions of the Palestinian state.”

Following suit, the Palestinian Premier released a statement reading, “We are proud of our relationship with Sweden, whether bilateral or as part of the European Union. We hope that it will serve as a model for the rest of Europe.”

Despite publication of Linde’s comments on the state-funded Swedish broadcaster, the PA’s Social Development Minister sought to discredit corruptions against the Abbas-led Fatah controller of the PA as so-called “fake news” he claimed had been fabricated by the faction’s Palestinian rival, the Islamist Hamas-rulers of Gaza.

“Ann Linde is our personal friend, and a long-time member of the Social Democratic Party, who are our comrades and partners in the Socialist Internationale… it is impossible that she would make such a statement,” said Minister Ahmad Majdalani, who is also a longtime Abbas advisor, to the independent Palestinian Wattan network.

The 85-year-old Abbas, who was elected to a 4-year term in 2005, cancelled the the  first slated Palestinian elections to be held in 15 years to elect a new parliament in May and president in July.

Hundreds of angry Palestinians marched on the presidential compound in Ramallah demanding Abbas resign over the death of Nizar al-Banat last June while in PA custody, following his open accusations of of  corruption in the territory. The 43-year-old activist who had 100,000 followers on Facebook, had condemned Abbas’ decision to call off the elections, and had called PA officials mercenaries for canceling its coronavirus vaccine exchange deal with Israel earlier this month. According to of an autopsy concluded by Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), Banat died “an unnatural death.” Banat’s family told Reuters that PA security forces beat him with iron bars after breaking into their house in the West Bank city of Hebron during his arrest. The incident marked a significant demonstration of public distrust by Palestinians.

Swedish Foreign Minister Linde held her West Bank talks after holding earlier meetings in Jerusalem, marking the first such visit to Israel by a Stockholm’s top diplomat in a decade.

Israeli Foreign Minister and Alternate Premier Yair Lapid held a telephone conversation with his Swedish counterpart last month that bridged a 7-year-rift between the countries, ” which he said “symbolizes the relaunching of relations at this level.” Diplomatic ties broke off in 2014 when then-Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman condemned Sweden’s recognition of Palestine and briefly recalled Israel’s ambassador from the Scandavian country for consultations, while declaring he would boycott the slated visit to Jerusalem by his counterpart at the time, Margot Wallström, who ultimately cancelled the trip January 2015.

“Sweden and Israel have a deep and long-standing friendship, with ties in trade and in culture. We also have a few disagreements,” said Lapid during Linde’s visit to Jerusalem, noting that, “In recent years, these disagreements have caused us to move apart. Today, we are changing this.”

“In our conversations, Minister, we agreed that friends don’t have to agree on everything. In my view, part of friendship is the ability to hear criticism, to hear different opinions on both sides,” Israel’s top diplomat told Minister Linde, adding, “I appreciate what you told me – that behind the criticism, lies a deep Swedish commitment to Israel’s security, and to the right of the Jews to establish a state for ourselves in our historic homeland.”

Lapid, who is the descendant of Holocaust survivors, also noted that revered Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg had saved the lives of his father and grandmother. “He took them under his protection, and he saved their lives,” stressed the Israeli Minister, underscoring, “And if not for that one brave Swedish diplomat, I would not be standing here today.” He then thanked Linde for her nation’s commitment to fight the hatred of the Jewish People at the recent Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.

Saying that “the ties between us are not limited to the past, or to politics. We have a common desire to develop and advance, to realize the economic and social potential between our countries. To cultivate and grow connections in technology and trade, culture, and tourism,” Lapid concluded his remarks by expressing his belief that “because of the page we are turning here today, there will be a whole new book of friendship and cooperation.”

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also hosted a diplomatic working meeting with Minister Linde during her visit to Jerusalem, where he welcomed the strengthening of ties between the two nations and encouraged Sweden to actively support the Jewish State’s efforts for peace and normalization with more states in the region.