Report: Abbas Controlling Multi Billion Dollar Fund that Hasn’t Had a CEO in 15 Years

October 19, 2015

4 min read

The Palestinian National Fund has existed since the 1960s, but its leaders keep its operations out of the limelight. It manages billions of dollars, has not appointed an active CEO for 15 years to allow the PA Chairman to retain control over it. Part of the money is funneled to PA officials and funds anti-Israel activities, including organizing rallies in support of the boycott against Israel, Calcalist reported Sunday.

Israelis tend to view Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a gray and weak leader who lost his control and influence on the Palestinian street, and therefore may no longer be relevant. That may be true, but at least one area in the Palestinian arena the veteran, 80-year-old leader continues to hold tremendous power — he effectively controls the billions of dollars of the Palestinian National Fund, the most important economic institution in the PA, whose activity is conducted mainly in the dark and which has been linked in recent years to a near-complete lack of transparency and widespread corruption. Abbas decides where Palestinian money is directed in the domestic arena, be it for the benefit of the PA resident or to other, more clandestine activities.

Pursuant to the PLO rules, the Palestinian National Fund should be managed by a special council, and its chairman should be a member of the PLO executive committee. In practice, over the past 15 years the fund has been run without Chairman, in violation of PLO rules. A decade ago, then PLO chairman Abbas appointed Ramzi Khouri, head of the office of Yasser Arafat, as CEO. With Arafat gone, Khouri has been a sworn Abbas loyalist. This means that in practice Abbas controls the fund money, and the flow of its funding for anti-Israel propaganda and activities is being carried out with his knowledge and approval.

The Palestinian National Fund is currently funded by donations received from states, organizations, and individuals, as well as from returns on investments in economic projects (companies, real estate, etc.) all over the world, especially in Arab countries. Its exact scope is unknown, but it is estimated at tens of billions of dollars. One of the activities the fund finances is the war of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority against Israel’s international legitimacy.

Although the size of the annual budget for this cause is not known, it appears to be a fairly high on the fund’s list of priorities. Last August, when Chairman of the PLO Foreign Affairs Department Tayseer Khaled received the freed prisoner Khader Adnan in his office in Ramallah. Khaled announced that the priority of his department is “to expand the international boycott against the ‘state of occupation,’ to prosecute Israeli war criminals in the international court and to preventing the Judaization of Jerusalem.” Visitors to the website of the PLO Department of Foreign Affairs can see these priorities plainly, with regular reports from all over the globe on boycott initiatives against Israel and other material portraying Israel in a negative light. Last week the PLO called on Palestinian communities abroad to organize rallies to support for the Palestinian people in Jerusalem.

But the same fund is being used by Abbas to reign in insubordinate PLO members. Last year it was reported that due to disagreements between Abbas and the PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo, the PA Chairman decided to take revenge on the latter and revoked his powers associated with the National Trust funds. Sources close to Abbas explained the move by the authority in the fact that supervising the fund is not the responsibility of the PLO secretary general.

Another example: last year, it was reported that Abbas had ordered stopping allocations to the Popular Front—a PLO member—from the budgets of the National Trust. He did so in response to criticism from this group over security cooperation with Israel in Judea and Samaria.

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on July 23, 2014, before the two sat down for a discussion about a cease-fire in fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. (Photo: US State Department)
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on July 23, 2014. (Photo: US State Department)

The fund helps the PLO and Abbas enlist the support of the Palestinian refugees in neighboring countries. For example, the National Trust is funded medical care for Palestinian refugees in the refugee camps in Lebanon to the tune of millions of dollars a year. It also offers scholarships to Palestinian students abroad.

The PNF, which among other things is responsible for financing the activities of Palestinian embassies around the world, has become the petty cash of Palestinian diplomats and their families. For example, a document posted on social networks, signed by the Palestinian ambassador to Ankara Nabil Maarouf, he is asking the fund to cover the costs of his son’s nose job, the sum of $4,770.

Another report says the Palestinian ambassador in Vienna decided to promote his personal chauffeur to be in charge of embassy funds. The cost of this appointment, approved by the National Trust, comes to about $24 thousand. The reason for the surprising promotion: the previous finance man refused to approve the new ambassador’s irregular personal expenses.

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