In the wake of the Arab Spring, U.S. leaders have promised to reverse the United States’ long reliance on autocratic, unrepresentative leaders who enrich themselves at the expense of their citizens. There’s only one problem: Just as top American officials have been making these lofty promises, new details are emerging of how close family members of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, a major U.S. partner in the Middle East, have grown wealthy. Have they enriched themselves at the expense of regular Palestinians — and even U.S. taxpayers?
Abbas’s wealth recently became a source of controversy during the investigation of Mohammed Rachid, an economic advisor to the late Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, in a high-profile corruption probe. Last month, Palestinian officials charged Rachid with siphoning off millions of dollars in public funds; his trial is set to begin on June 7.
According to a former Palestinian advisor, Abbas holds a grudge against Rachid dating back to the peace talks during the waning days of the Clinton era. In that intense period, Rachid was an advocate of working with Israel to find a solution, while Abbas called diplomacy a “trap that was laid for us.” Abbas also resented Rachid because he was an Iraqi Kurd — not even a Palestinian — who had gained Arafat’s trust and was part of his inner circle, while Abbas was on the outside looking in. “There was a huge amount of jealousy,” the former advisor said.
With his back up against a wall, Rachid has now fired back at the Palestinian president with claims that Abbas himself has socked away $100 million in ill-gotten gains.
In stalking Rachid, whether or not the charges have merit, Abbas may have opened up a Pandora’s box. The conspicuous wealth of Abbas’s own sons, Yasser and Tarek, has become a source of quiet controversy in Palestinian society since at least 2009, when Reuters first published a series of articles tying the sons to several business deals, including a few that had U.S. taxpayer support.