As originally published in the Philadelphia Bulletin
By David Bedein and John Rossomando
Congress Needs Better Oversight On Monies Dedicated For The Palestinians
JERUSALEM - Documentation showing the Palestinian Authority (PA) routinely transfers American, European and Israeli aid monies to Hamas and harbors terrorist groups such as Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade has a prominent local congressman calling for tighter congressional oversight.
U.S. Rep. Joseph A. Sestak Jr., D-7th, says Congress has too often passed the buck to the Executive Branch when it comes to overseeing how the monies are distributed, especially in the light of the 2007 Mecca revenue-sharing agreement between the PA and Hamas, which is still in force. The agreement established financial ties between the PA and Hamas, an organization the U.S. government lists as a terrorist organization, whereby the former pays the latter’s civil servants and military forces.
Recently, new documentation has surfaced that U.S.-backed Palestinian security forces on the West Bank had confessed to having harbored Islamic Jihad terrorists, which highlighted the PA’s lack of enthusiasm when it comes to cracking down on terrorists.
He says only congressional oversight hearings into the reported abuses of U.S. aid to the Palestinians can give the American public and the world the answers they need about how the money is being spent.
“We should have accountability to ensure the money goes to the Palestinian people and organizations such as UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency) are held accountable,” Mr. Sestak said. “Having money siphoned off is something we can’t abide by, and it is not something that American taxpayers want.”
Assisting those who are in need of material aid is something Mr. Sestak says is a basic American ideal, but it isn’t something that should be done without strings attached or close oversight to ensure those who need the aid actually receive it.
“It is an important issue that money flows to the Palestinian people and that we deal with organizations that don’t deal with Hamas,” he said. “The Palestinian Authority is a difficult issue because there needs to be a fine balance.”
Corruption has long been a serious problem for the PA, evidenced by allegations Yasser Arafat amassed a multibillion fortune during his 40 years at the helm of the ruling Fatah movement - money that has yet to be accounted for.
If the U.S. can’t work with the UNRWA because of evidence it allows Hamas and other Palestinian groups to infiltrate it and divert the aid for nefarious purposes, Mr. Sestak said the U.S. should find other groups to work with groups such as the Red Cross/Red Crescent to deliver the aid free from Hamas interference.
Mr. Sestak says lessons in accountability from the Iraq war related to publicized contractor abuses and misappropriation of funds is just as applicable with the Palestinians. The abuse of funds by contractors such as Kellogg, Brown & Root, he said, showed what can happen when Congress abdicates its oversight responsibilities to the Executive Branch. The firm overcharged the Pentagon to the tune of $1 billion according to a 2005 audit.
“On the subcommittee I am on, we do required oversight for Iraq once a month, and the problem with foreign aid is we don’t do enough,” he said. “The challenge we had with the execution of things in Iraq [in the beginning] was there wasn’t enough oversight.
“We have to make sure the public is informed and there is transparent accountability.”
He believes having America play a strong role in the Middle East is the answer to many of the incitements the PA has shown toward Israel. These have included using Israeli-provided frequencies to broadcast pro-terror anti-Israel programming on the PA-run Palestinian Broadcasting Company (PBC), which is directly answerable to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The PBC also routinely calls for the “liberation” all of the former British Mandate of Palestine from Israeli control.
Additionally, the public relations agencies that promote the pa provide a seemingly moderate image for the PA in English and in other languages, while its leaders turn around and continue to spout virulent anti-Israel rhetoric that praise terrorists and call for Palestinians to liberate all of Palestine and destroy Israel in Arabic. The PA’s message, in Arabic, to its own people goes virtually ignored.
The Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Sept. 13, 1993 promise to annul portions of its charter calling for the destruction of Israel stand as a prime example because the Palestinian National Council (PNC) never ratified the agreement. An Arabic-language video tape and transcript of the April 26, 1996 PNC session that was supposed to have annulled the PLO’s call for Israel’s destruction show no such action happened.
Instead, Arafat altered the PNC’s meeting agenda and deleted the paragraph, which would have rescinded the call for Israel’s destruction.
“We have been the missing element for far too long, and we have been absent in the region with our leadership,” Mr. Sestak said. “We are the strongest ally of Israel, and what President [George W.] Bush did at the Annapolis Conference should have been done all along... We have been outsourcing our leadership to the European Union for far too long.
“It doesn’t work when you don’t have an accountable police force and one side is broadcasting [inflammatory material]. It just doesn’t hold.”
Mr. Sestak sees an analogy between the Palestinian-Israeli situation and the one that existed during the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union because the latter frequently engaged in similar deceptions that were put into check by American determination. He said he believes the U.S. should no more abandon the peace process any more than it abandoned the nuclear reduction talks with the Soviet Union, which ultimately proved successful.
“When we were sitting at the table with the our translators with the Soviets, we could tell when they were mistranslating for us,” he said. “With the Soviet Union, it was not dissimilar. When there was a different nuance on what we agreed upon, we didn’t walk away. We worked hard.”
He said a carrot-and-stick approach needs to be employed with the Palestinians to force them to act in good faith, rewarding them when they keep their word and sanctioning them when they do otherwise.
“We need to protect Israel at all costs, but we need to work as an honest broker,” Mr. Sestak said.
As a result, he said, the U.S. needs to ensure that both sides are participants in the process, rather than having a U.S. administration dictating terms without their participation.
“We are the ones appropriating the money, and before we let the Executive Branch see how well the money is being appropriated,” Mr. Sestak said. “We should be doing a lot more; we should be doing a lot better job at counterterrorism and a much better job showing how contracts get executed.
“Congress has a bigger role to play.”
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com and John Rossomando can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org