Part 4: Separation of Powers in Ramallah
Part 3: Business and Businessmen in Palestine
Part 2: Fatah and Hamas – what’s the problem?
Yasser Abbas is the second son of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen, after the given name of his oldest son, Mazen, who died following surgery in Qatar some years ago). He is also an international businessman who is based in Palestinian West Bank, but who also travels frequently.
Last December, he spoke to me at length in his office in Ramallah about his businesses (Falcon Holding Company), his views, and the development of Palestine.
A few days later, when Israel launched a massive military attack against Gaza — Operation Cast Lead — from 27 December to 18 January, I took a decision not to publish anything from the interview at the time, in case it might have inadvertently made anyone more vulnerable, or anything worse.
Now, as Fatah and Hamas are on the verge of possible reconciliation — or a possible slide to the worse — Yasser Abbas’ views give us an insight into the mind-set in Ramallah:
(Marian Houk) Question: In every country in the world, of course, Presidents and leaders have relatives who make their living. But the question is – your position gives you so much more influence, how do you decide, for you what’s ethical, and what’s not ethical? How do you make these decisions? How do you decide how you’re going to function?
(Yasser Abbas) Answer: Well, first of all, the first company that I’ve ever established in my life – no, it’s not the first company, I established one in Canada, but maybe the second company I established in my life was in Palestine, in Ramallah, 1996, when Mahmoud Abbas was not the President, not the Prime Minister. He was Secretary-General of the PLO. I decided to open a company, and to go and compete like any other company in the market. And there you go, it happened. And from 1996 until 2000, we had those rosy years that we’ve never seen back again. Everybody was working. So we went and started bidding, and we started making relations with international companies coming from outside, like any other engineering office. So, that’s the way I started, and that’s the way I do business here, in Palestine. I can claim that all my projects that I take are competitive bidding. Nobody has any privilege to me, personally, to come and tell me, “I will give you this”, or “I will give you that”. Nobody has any power to do so. I have no power over anyone, and I mean anyone, to tell them, “This project is mine, nobody touches it”. Or, “I have a concession on such-and-such sector, and nobody touches”. I don’t have that. I challenge, I challenge, though you, publicly, anyone – anyone – who can come to me and point his finger at me to tell me, “I, or we, or such-and-such agency or ministry, gave you the job”, or “I have a concession on any sector of this economy”. I challenge him.
After the coup, Hamas – before they went into the Presidential headquarters – they went into my store, and they robbed it: goods, desks, office equipments, computers, worth half a million dollars. So I had the great lost [the greatest loss], money-wise, out of all the Palestinians, as an individual.
Q: Yours was the greatest loss?
A: Yes – as an individual. I’m talking about, as an individual. Maybe other companies lost much more than me, companies.
Q: What was the company?
A: Falcon, Falcon Tobacco Company – we are the importers of British-American tobacco. We have negotiated this, and it is one company, and it is not the monopoly of the importation of cigarettes in the world. I hope you understand this. British-American is one company. Philip Morris is another company. Gauloise is another company. And all the other importation from Israel is another company. So. it’s a big, broad market. BAT – British-American Tobacco – happens to be one of the largest in the world. We are their importers since nine years. Hamas went into my stores and robbed all my stores, and our loss was greater than any other.
Q: They took cigarettes?
A: Yes, and they sold them in the market. That’s one of the things.
Q: You know, when I was there, right after the coup, first we were met when we arrived in the parking lot by these people who careened up, some of them had black uniforms, and some of them looked like Taliban … with different layers of robes, and vests, and turbans. It was a little bit tense. And then, I asked them where they got the car – and they said, “from Abu Mazen”…
A. You know, they took Abu Mazen’s house.
Q: This is what I wanted to tell you. Then, we went to the house.
Continue reading Fatah and Hamas – Yasser Abbas and the house built for his father, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Gaza