Europeans keep finding new ways to transfer money to the PA in general and Chairman Arafat in particular. The revelation in February 2004 how 4 European governments are transferring money to Palestinian agencies, which actually oppose their own official policies, only highlights the horrendous lack of transparency.
It is now becoming increasingly apparent that Europeans have been warned for years about the Palestinians inability to reform. So why is Arafat continuously presented as a man to be trusted? Why the need for the whitewash?http://online.wsj.com/article/0,,SB107930212294954827,00.html
In 1997, the Swedish government's development agency asked Middle East expert Sune Persson to conduct a study on the Palestinian Authority. His conclusions were devastating. "No Swedish funds should be given to the corrupt Palestinian Authority," Mr. Persson wrote, because the money has "promoted the construction of yet another police state."
Stockholm's reaction was swift. It classified the study until it was uncovered by press reports. The government says the secrecy was necessary to avoid "hurting Sweden's relations with the Palestinians." That's "standard procedure also in the rest of Europe," it added.
Sweeping Arafat's dirt underneath the carpet is indeed "standard procedure" in Europe where many seem to view despotism as the normal course of affairs in the Arab world. Hence the cynicism with which much of Europe greeted U.S. President George W. Bush's pro-democracy initiative for the Middle East. This cynicism stems from a cultural snobbery that sees Arab societies unfit for democracy. Such views may explain Europe's unfettered support for Arafat, which made the creation of yet another "police state" a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Europe justifies its continued support for Arafat by hiding behind legalistic arguments. Arafat is the Palestinians' "legitimate" leader is the often-repeated mantra, giving a whole new meaning to the concept of legitimacy. Arafat held elections only once, in 1996, after having taken control of the media and eliminating any meaningful opposition.
In the same legalistic spirit, we expect investigations into the PA's possible abuse of EU funds, particularly the ?200 million in direct budget aid, to end in a whitewash. Among the evidence the European Commission's fraud office, Olaf, studied were documents the Israelis found in Arafat's headquarters, and which we were told Olaf assumes to be authentic.
Some of them showed Arafat's signature on checks addressed to terrorists, a smoking gun if ever there was one. But according to our sources, investigators told a European parliamentary committee that without the receipts proving the terrorists really received the payments, Arafat's signatures isn't proof beyond reasonable doubt. However, some committee members aren't inclined to give Arafat the benefit of the doubt when they present their own conclusions later this month -- nor do they think European governments can plead innocent for having financed a corrupt regime. The burden of proof must be on Arafat to show that the PA spends every single dime on its people. It isn't the donors' job to back up every corruption charge with a terrorist's sworn affidavit.
We reported on these pages last week that the U.K., the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and Norway are financing a PLO propaganda unit. This triggered a written question from British MP James Clappison to his government. The U.K. and Danish development ministers defended the payments in a joint letter to this paper but failed to answer how the PLO unit could possible promote peace, as they claimed, when its main task appears to be the spread of anti-Israeli propaganda.
For example, key staffers at this unit perpetuated the lie that Israelis committed massacres in Jenin in 2002, a charge of which Israel was cleared by the U.N. It is hard to think of another event, or to be more precise, non-event, that has done more damage to the peace process by fueling the hatred of ordinary Palestinians against Israel than this fabrication.
In a further twist, the Swedish aid to the PLO unit was authorized and classified by the same agency that suppressed the report on Arafat's regime. Swedish lawmakers have called for an investigation. Swedish parliamentarian Ewa Bjorling comments on this in the column here
In the U.S., where President Bush has led the call for PA reforms and to sideline Arafat, aid to the Palestinians has been far more limited and generally doesn't go to the PA's budget. Still, there are fresh concerns, triggered by separate IMF, World Bank and French reports and investigations into hundreds of millions of dollars that have disappeared from the PA budget. Congressmen Rahm Emanuel and Mike Pence called for congressional hearings.
So a lot of people are becoming more inquisitive. European bureaucrats intent on whitewashing Arafat must become aware that their efforts no longer go unnoticed.
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