- Issam Abu Issa* is a Palestinian who wanted to have the right to vote in this week’s Palestinian election yet was denied the right to do so.
At the urging of the Palestinian leadership, Issa was barred by Israel from receiving a visa to enter Israel.
In 1996, Issa had founded the Palestine International Bank (PIB), headquartered in Ramallah, with the aim of providing much needed capital to nurture Palestinian businesses â€” except that his bank was commandeered away from him by Yassir Arafat’s personal economics advisor, Muhammad Rashid. In Issa’s words, “Rather than use donor funds for their intended purposes, Arafat regularly diverted money to his own accounts”.
And on November 28, 1999, Arafat issued a decree dissolving the Palestine International Bank’s board of directors. Meanwhile, Rashid, and the late Yossi Ginosar, a former Israeli security officer opened Swiss bank accounts and deposit funds into them derived from both PA-financed companies and Israeli tax rebates to the Palestinian treasury.
The state-controlled Palestine Monetary Authority took over Issam’s bank, and with Arafat’s blessing and written approval.
Now, with Arafat’s passing, and with the dawn of new elections, Issam Abu Issa hoped to come back, to vote in the Palestinian elections, and to lead a reform movement inside the Palestinian community
I met Mr. Issam Abu Issa in London, only three days before the Palestinian election. He was only too pleased to meet an Israeli journalist, and made only one request: To find out why he was being denied a visa. I called everyone possible in Israeli officialdom, yet no Israeli official was forthcoming with a reason.
Abu Issa had a theory as to why that was. He said that “perhaps Muhammad Rashid still holds power over both the Palestinian Authority and over Israel at the same time”. And, in Abu Issa’s words. “if Rashid still runs the show”, it is a sign that the anti-reformers are still in charge, both among the Palestinians and among the Israelis”.
Abu Issa wanted to come to the US to express his concerns, but he is blocked there also from getting a visa.
Last February, Abu Issa discovered the hard way that his message was also not welcome in the US. When he arrived at JFK International Airport in New York on his way to testify about PA corruption before the U.S. House Financial Services Committee. he was arrested and, in his words, “cuffed at the wrists and ankles and repeatedly interrogated by agents who accused him of laundering $6 million from the PIB on behalf of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was then deported from the US and, ever since, has been denied a visa.
Abu Issa, in London, wonders aloud s to whether his being barred from entry into the US and into Israel would indicate that both the U.S. and Israeli are now launching a “joint anti-reform” effort. While it is true that the Palestinian Arab people have conducted democratic elections on Sunday, the checks and balances that characterize western democracies abroad seem to be lacking in Ramallah and the emerging Palestinian entity.
* Issam Abu Issa, former chairman of the Palestine International Bank, currently resides in Qatar. He is founder of the Palestinian National Coalition for Democracy and Independence, a Palestinian democratic reform movement.