Fahmi Shabaneh is an odd candidate for dissident status. Shabaneh is a Jerusalemite who joined the Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Service (GIS) in 1994.
Working for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and GIS commander Tawfik Tirawi, Shabaneh was tasked with investigating Arab Jerusalemites suspected of selling land to Jews. Such sales are a capital offense in the PA. Since 1994 scores of Arabs have been the victims of extrajudicial executions after having been fingered by the likes of Shabaneh.
A few years ago, Abbas and Tirawi gave Shabaneh a new assignment. They put him in charge of an anti-corruption unit responsible for investigating corrupt activities carried out by PA officials. They probably assumed a team player like Shabaneh understood what he was supposed to do.
Just as Abbas’s predecessor Yassir Arafat reportedly had full dossiers on all of his underlings and used damning information to keep them loyal to him, so Abbas probably believed that Shabaneh’s information was his to use or ignore as he saw fit.
For awhile, Abbas’s faith was well-placed. Shabaneh collected massive amounts of information on senior PA officials detailing their illegal activities. These activities included the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars in international aid; illegal seizure of lands and homes and monetary and sexual extortion of their fellow Palestinians.
Over time, Shabaneh became disillusioned with his boss. Abbas appointed him to his job around the time he was elected PA Chairman in 2005. Abbas ran on an anti-corruption platform. Shabaneh’s information demonstrated that Abbas presided over a criminal syndicate posing as a government. And yet rather than arrest his corrupt, criminal associates, Abbas promoted them.
Abbas continued promoting his corrupt colleagues even after Hamas’s 2006 electoral victory. That win owed to a significant degree to the widespread public revulsion with Fatah’s rampant corruption.
With Israel and the US lining up to support him after the Hamas victory, Abbas sat on his hands. Enjoying his new status as the irreplaceable "moderate," Abbas allowed his advisors and colleagues to continue enriching themselves with the international donor funds which skyrocketed after Hamas’s victory.
Since 2006, despite the billions of dollars in international aid showered on Fatah, Hamas has consistently led Fatah in opinion polls. Rather than clean up their act, Abbas and his Fatah colleagues have sought to ingratiate themselves with their public by ratcheting up their incitement against Israel. And since Abbas has been deemed irreplaceable, the same West that turns a blind eye to his corruption, refuses to criticize his encouragement of terrorism. And this makes sense. How can the West question the only thing standing in the way of a Hamas takeover of Judea and Samaria?
Recently, Shabaneh decided he had had enough. The time had come to expose what he knows. But he ran into an unanticipated difficulty. No one wanted to know. As he put it, Arab and Western journalists wouldn’t touch his story for fear of being "punished" by the PA.
In his words, Western journalists "don’t want to hear negative things about Fatah and Abbas." Lacking other options, Shabaneh brought his information to the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh.
On January 29, the Post published Abu Toameh’s interview with Shabaneh on our front page. Among other impressive scoops, Shabaneh related that Abbas’s associates purloined $3.2 million in cash that the US gave Abbas ahead of the 2006 elections. He told Abu Toameh how PA officials who were virtually penniless in 1994 now have tens and even hundreds of millions of dollars in their private accounts. He related how he watched in horror as Abbas promoted the very officials he reported on. And he showed Abu Toameh a video of Abbas’s chief of staff Rafik Husseini naked in the bedroom of a Christian woman who sought employment with the PA.
If Shabaneh’s stories were about Israeli or Western officials, there is no doubt that they would have been picked up by every self-respecting news organization in the world. If he had been talking about Israelis, officials from Washington to Brussels to the UN would be loudly calling for official investigations. But since he was talking about the Palestinians no one cared.
The State Department had nothing to say. The EU had nothing to say. The New York Times acted as if his revelations were about nothing more than a sex scandal.
As for Abbas and his cronies, they were quick to blame the Jews. They accused Shabaneh — their trusted henchman when it came to land sales to Jews — of being an Israeli agent. And when Channel 10 announced it was broadcasting Husseini’s romp in the sack, Abbas demanded that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu bar the broadcast, (apparently forgetting that unlike his PA-controlled media, Israel’s media organs are free).
Shabaneh’s odyssey from PA regime loyalist to dissident is an interesting tale. But what is more noteworthy than his personal journey is the world’s indifference to his revelations.
Just as the mountains of evidence that Fatah officials — including Shabaneh’s boss Tirawi — have been actively involved in terrorist attacks against Israel have been systematically ignored by successive US administrations, Israeli governments and EU foreign policy chiefs, so no one wants to think about the fact that Fatah is a criminal syndicate. The implications are too devastating.
Since at least 1994, successive US administrations goaded by the EU have made supporting Fatah and the PA the centerpiece of their Middle East policy. They want to receive proof that Fatah is a terrorist organization which operates like a criminal organization like they want — in the immortal words of former EU Middle East envoy Christopher Patten — "a hole in [their] head."
As for the Western media, their lack of interest in Shabaneh’s revelation serves as a reminder of just how mendacious much of the reportage about the Palestinians and Israel is. For the past 16 years, the American and European media have turned blind eyes to Palestinian misbehavior while expansively reporting every allegation against Israel — no matter how flimsy or obviously false. When the history of the media’s coverage of the Middle East is written it will constitute one of the darkest chapters in Western media history.
But while the American and European allegiance to the fable of the Fatah as the anchor of the two-state solution accounts for the indifference of both to Shabaneh’s disclosures, what accounts for the Netanyahu government’s behavior in this matter?
Shortly after the Post first published Shabaneh’s story, the PA issued an arrest warrant against him. He was charged among other things with "harming the national interests" of the Palestinians.
But Abbas’s henchmen couldn’t put their hands on him.
Israel had already arrested him.
Shabaneh was booked for among other things, illegally working for the PA. It is illegal for Israeli residents to work for the PA. But oddly, although Israeli authorities have known whom he worked for since 1994, until his disclosures were made public, they never saw any pressing need to arrest or prosecute him.
Official Israel has nothing to say about Shabaneh’s information. Instead, in the wake of his disclosures, everyone from Netanyahu to Defense Minister Ehud Barak has continued to daily proclaim their dedication to reaching a peace accord with Abbas. This even as Abbas and his cronies accuse Israel of using the "traitorous" Shabaneh to pressure Abbas into negotiating with Israel.
There are two explanations for Israel’s behavior. First there is the fact the presence of Barak and his Labor Party in the government makes it impossible for Netanyahu and his Likud Party to abandon the failed two-state paradigm of dealing the PA. If Netanyahu and his colleagues were to point out that the PA is a kleptocracy and its senior officials enable in terror and escalate incitement to deflect their public’s attention away from their criminality, (as well as because they want to destroy Israel), then Labor may bolt the coalition.
Beyond that, there is no doubt that an Israeli denunciation of Abbas and his mafia would enrage the US and EU. Apparently, Netanyahu — who to please President Barack Obama accepted the two-state paradigm in spite of the fact that he opposes it, and suspended Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria despite the fact that knows it is wrong — is loathe to pick a fight by pointing out the obvious fact that the PA is a corrupt band of repressive thieves.
Shabaneh argues that due to PA corruption, Hamas remains the preferred alternative for Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. In his view, the only reason Hamas has yet to take over Judea and Samaria is the IDF presence in the areas.
The strategic implications of his statement are clear. Far from being a bulwark against Hamas, Abbas empowers the Iranian-backed jihadist force. The only bulwark against Hamas is Israel.
What this means is that Israel must end its support for Abbas. Every day he remains in power, he perpetuates a myth of Palestinian moderation. As a supposed moderate, he claims that Israel should curtail its counter terror operations and let his own "moderate" forces take over.
To strengthen Abbas, the US pressures Israel to curtail its counter-terror operations in Judea and Samaria. To please the US, Israel in turn cuts back its operations.
Abbas’s men for their part fight Hamas but they also terrorize journalists, merchants and plain civilians who fall in their path and so strengthen Hamas. To ratchet up public support for Fatah, Abbas escalates PA incitement against Israel. This then encourages his own forces to attack Israelis — as happened last week when one of his security forces murdered IDF Sgt. Ihab Hatib. And so it goes.
It is clear that Barak will threaten to bolt the coalition if Netanyahu decides to cut off Abbas. But if he left, where would he go? Barak has nowhere to go. He will not be reelected to lead his party. And if Labor leaves the coalition, Netanyahu would still be far from losing his majority in Knesset.
As for angering the White House, the fact of the matter is that by pointing out that Abbas is not a credible leader, Israel will make it more difficult for Obama and his advisors to coerce Israel into making further concessions that will only further empower Hamas.
Shabaneh told the Post that he fully expects the PA to try to kill him. But in a way, the yawns that greeted his story are his best life insurance policy. Until the world stops believing that Fatah is indispensible, no one will listen to the Shabanehs of the world and so the PA has no reason to kill him.
Just as the Post was the only media organ that would publish his story, so the Israeli government is the only government that can force the rest of the world to recognize that Abbas is not an ally. But to do that, the government itself must finally break with the fairy tale of Fatah moderation.JWR contributor Caroline B. Glick is the senior Middle East Fellow at the Center for Security Policy in Washington, DC and the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post.