Palestinian Authority critic says armed faction threatened to kill him

Fadi Elsalameen, who accused the Palestinian president of corruption, says Fatah stopping critics before elections

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An outspoken critic of corruption in the Palestinian Authority accused the body's armed wing of sending him death threats.

Self-styled anti-corruption activist Fadi Elsalameen said that Kataib Shuahada Al Aqsa (Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade) threatened to kill him.

The group is linked to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party.

The alleged threat – if confirmed – highlights the uphill struggle independent figures could face in breaking the monopoly that Fatah and its Gaza-based rival Hamas have over Palestinian politics before the approaching elections.

Mr Elsalameen shared with his more than one million Facebook followers what appeared to be a statement from the armed faction threatening to shoot him "without hesitation".

"With the elections now, they are trying to scare off people who are targeting them," he told The National.

Palestinian Authority critic Fadi El Salameen. Courtesy: Facebook (please make sure we get the permission from the user before we use this image)
Palestinian Authority critic Fadi Elsalameen. Courtesy: Facebook

The National could not verify the authenticity of the purported statement and the Palestinian Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Mr Elsalameen, a US citizen, grew up in Hebron where he joined the New York-based dialogue and leadership initiative Seeds of Peace, before becoming a vocal critic of the Palestinian Authority.

He cultivated a strong presence on social media and in international media, raising questions about the source of Mr Abbas’s funding.

Now a non-resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Mr Elsalameen said the threat was issued after he travelled to Jerusalem in March to visit his family.

In the purported statement by Al Aqsa Brigades, Mr Elsalameen is accused of visiting his home town in Hebron with Israeli security protection.

“I took a big risk and visited the West Bank with no security. None of what the statement says is true.”

But, he said, the attempted intimidation is common for critics of the Palestinian president or his party.

“The classic way the Palestinian Authority deals with anyone who talks about corruption is to target them instead of answering the issue,” he said.

International condemnation

Former US State Department Middle East adviser, Aaron David Miller, called on the US government to ensure Mr Elsalameen's safety.
"The Palestinian Authority or whoever is targeting him ought to stand down. And the Biden administration should intercede with Palestinian Authority to protect a US citizen," he said on Twitter.

Former US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said Mr Elsalameen's allegations did not bode well for the Palestinian Authority's steps to hold the first democratic elections in more than a decade.

“If this is where the Palestinian Authority elections are headed, the international community won’t be able to view them as legitimate,” she said.

Mr Abbas's Fatah party, which rules over the West Bank, is accused of consolidating power in the run-up to the legislative and presidential elections.

They recently expelled former Palestinian president Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Nasser Al Kidwa, from the party for fielding a rival electoral list for the May vote.

Mr Abbas's official tenure in office expired in 2009 but was extended indefinitely by the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

A tarnished history

The Palestinian Authority’s public image has been hit by years of stagnation, political bickering and a widespread belief that the body is corrupt.

A March 2021 poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in the West Bank and Gaza Strip found that among 1,200 adults, 84 per cent believed that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt.

Of those polled, 36 per cent said they believed corruption would rise under another Fatah-led government while just 16 per cent expected it to decline.

But there was no agreement on whether this would improve or not under Hamas.

Were Hamas to win, 26 per cent said they would expect corruption to decrease and 28 per cent said they expected it would increase.

In 2012, Mr Abbas's son, Yasser, sued Jonathan Schanzer, the senior vice president of research at the US-based Foundation for Defence of Democracies, for an article in Foreign Policy accusing him of siphoning US taxpayer money to fund family projects.

A federal court dismissed the lawsuit.

"As public scrutiny over his business and political activity has increased, Mr Abbas has used the threat of defamation litigation to counter bad press," US District Judge Emmet Sullivan said after nine months of deliberations.

"Between 2008 and 2010, Mr Abbas and his family filed defamation lawsuits or threatened to sue for libel on three separate occasions against an Israeli television channel, Reuters, and Al-Jazeera," the judge said

In 2017, a Palestinian official told the Associated Press that Mr Abbas decided not to move into a $6 million Presidential Palace in Ramallah for fear of a public backlash.

The project has since been converted to a cultural centre.