Palestinian President Constructing $13 Million Palace

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is constructing a $13 million palace in the West Bank, despite the country being crippled by financial woes.

The project, titled the Presidential Guest Palace in Surda, Ramallah, is listed as an ongoing project on the official website of the Palestinian Economic Council for Development & Reconstruction (PECDAR). It is due to take two years to complete, though the project's start date is not clear from the website.

The complex will include a 4,700-square-metre guest palace and two helipads, as well as a 4,000-square-metre administrative building. It will be constructed over a total land area of 27,000 square metres. PECDAR said on the website that the project will be financed by the Palestinian Ministry of Finance.

The objectives of PECDAR, as listed on its website, include "coordinating the flow of international assistance for the benefit of the Palestinian people" and "identifying investment projects and other activities to be financed by the donor countries." It is accountable to a Board of Trustees, headed up by President Abbas. Most of the other ongoing projects listed on PECDAR's website are being funded by foreign donors, including a $4.5 million drug warehouse in Nablus being funded by the French government and a $7.2 million judicial court complex in Hebron, funded by the Government of Canada.

PECDAR was not immediately available to comment on the purpose of the palace and how it would benefit Palestinian people.

Palestine has been beset by financial crises throughout 2015. The Palestinian government adopted an emergency budget in March after donor countries failed to transfer $5.4 billion in aid that had been pledged in October, following the 2014 Israel-Gaza war. Palestine was also hit by Israel's decision to freeze monthly Palestinian tax revenues of $127 million in protest of Palestine's decision to apply for membership of the International Criminal Court and seek war crime charges against Israel. In April, Israel agreed to release the tax revenues, which the Palestinian Authority (PA) uses to pay civil servants' salaries.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which works with Palestinian refugees, is also facing what is has described as its "most severe financial crisis ever." UNRWA is appealing for $100 million to begin the 2015-2016 academic year—if this amount is not raised, some 500,000 Palestinian children may not be able to attend school. According to the CIA World Factbook, the West Bank's GDP per capita stands at $4,900, compared to $33,400 in Israel and $54,800 in the United States.

Israeli news site Arutz Sheva, which reported the project, said the fact that the palace was considered a national priority "throws into further relief the massive corruption in the PA." However, the cost of the palace is dwarfed by that being spent on the construction of a new combined residence and office in Jerusalem for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The project, approved by the Israeli government in May 2014, is estimated to cost $188 million.