Yesterday, we likened Fatah’s “administration” of the Gaza Strip to that of Tammany Hall, the Democratic political machine that dominated New York City–and looted its coffers–in the 1860s and 1870s. Under the leadership of William Marcy “Boss” Tweed, the Democratic pols of Tammany Hall elevated “honest graft” and corruption to an art form.
Tweed’s scheme was simple, yet extraordinarily profitable. His organization helped businessmen obtain municipal contracts; the vendors then overcharged the city by 15-65%, with the overage going to Tweed and his associates. Tweed reportedly made $10 million on a courthouse construction project that should have cost the city only $3 million. Over a two-year period (1868-1870) Tweed and Tammany Hall stole between $75 and $200 million from New York City, quadrupling its debt load. Boss Tweed and many of his cronies were eventually caught and imprisoned, but most of the money was never recovered.
Despite his successful plundering of the city treasury, Mr. Tweed apparently missed a chance at graft on a truly grand scale, and better yet, immunity from prosecution. Had he been born a century later and half-a-world away, Boss Tweed would be right at home in the ranks of Fatah, participating in theft and corruption that he would certainly approve of. As we noted yesterday, Yasser Arafat, the self-proclaimed President of the Palestinian people, became a rich man as a terrorist and political leader. By some accounts, he amassed a personal fortune approaching $1 billion, using some of the same tactics popularized by Tammany Hall: awarding inflated contracts to cronies and skimming off the top, or simply diverting “aid” from foreign sources to his own bank accounts.
Fatah underlinings have also profited from decades of rampant corruption, as illustrated in an anecdote from Scott Johnson at Powerline. A few days ago, Mr. Johnson had a conversation with Ralph Nurnberger, a man with years of experience in the Middle East affairs as a teacher, legislative liaison, lobbyist and government official.
Mr. Nurnberger is also a long-time friend of Vice-President Al Gore. After the Oslo Peace Accords were signed in 1993, Nurnberger and Gore were part of a group that established “Builders for Peace,” a non-government organization that would promote private development on land controlled by the Palestinian Authority. Nurnberger became the organization’s first staff director.
While Builders for Peace considered a number of projects, the biggest was a proposed Marriott beachfront resort. The hotel chain was interested, and so was the Palestinian Authority. Mr. Nurnberger was directed to meet with Yasser Arafat’s “financial advisor” to get the ball rolling. Scott Johnson tells what happened next:
Nurnberger’s meeting with Arafat’s “financial advisor” was a short one. The “financial advisor” told Nurnberger that he needed $10 million. Nurnberger asked for what. The advisor told him that he needed it for his Swiss bank account. “If you want to do something you need to provide us with funds,” he said. Nurnberger told him that he didn’t have the money and he wouldn’t give it to him if he did. Thus ended the Marriott Gaza project.
Nurnberger left Builders for Peace shortly thereafter and the organization limped on for a few more years before it closed its doors for lack of funds. Nurnberger’s 1993 optimism has been tempered by subsequent events. “I had Arafat wrong,” he frankly acknowledges. He nevertheless still speculates with a combination of enthusiasm and regret what the Marriott project might have meant for the residents of Gaza.
When I spoke with Nurnberger on Monday he concluded with an observation based on his own experience: “People who think that if we support Fatah we will somehow create [a benign] Fatahland are deluding themselves.”
Mr. Nurnberger deserves credit for his honesty–an attribute that still eludes most of our government in analyzing the Gaza mess. While Nurnberger recognizes Fatah for the thoroughly corrupt, duplicitous organization that it is, a number of American officials (including President Bush, Secretary of State Rice and Democratic members of Congress) are willing to throw more money at a “movement” that has enriched its leaders, sponsored terrorist attacks against Israel, and left most Palestinians in poverty. Now, we’re being told that propping up Fatah is our only hope for preventing Hamas’ expansion into the West Bank, and eventual domination of that region as well.
As we noted yesterday, there are other solutions for this problem, but they don’t involve propping up Mahmoud Abbas, or sending Fatah millions of additional dollars in U.S. aid. As far as we can tell, these “serious” options for the Gaza crises aren’t on the table–at least publicly.