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Bitter truth shatters Palestinians' dream

ISTANBUL | 9/12/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Arab nations are failing to support Palestinians, the World Bank says as the EU heavy-weight Germany deals a blow to their statehood hopes

Neighboring Arab countries have failed to support Palestinians’ institution-building efforts with donor aid despite their pro-Palestinian rhetoric, the World Bank has said in a new report. According to the report, the Palestinian Authority faces a “severe fiscal crisis” due to declining donor aid, most of which comes from European donors.

The German foreign ministermeanwhile dealt a new blow Monday to Palestinians’ hopes of statehood recognition, saying “negotiations and not confrontation” were the only way forward. The comments, which a Palestinian official said were “not positive,” come following discouraging statements from the United States.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Monday negotiations were the only way to ensure Israel’s security as well as an independent state for the Palestinians.

“Germany wants Israel to live within safe and secure borders. It also wants a viable independent state for the Palestinians,” the state-run Petra news agency quoted Westerwelle as saying during a meeting with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh. “Achieving this requires negotiations and not confrontation.”

“With a view to a possible Palestinian request to the U.N., the decisive question was what would serve the peace process and what would hamper it.” Westerwelle was expected to meet later on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The German position on the Palestinian Authority’s plans to seek full membership in the U.N. is “not positive,” a senior Palestinian official said Monday after Westerwelle’s statements. Riyad Malki, foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority, said his German counterpart Westerwelle, told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Germany does not support the Palestinian’s U.N. bid, according to WAFA Palestine News Agency.

“Germany’s position, like a number of other European Union countries, is not positive,” Malki told Voice of Palestine radio. The Foreign Ministry statement released Monday, as Westerwelle was due to arrive in Israel from neighboring Jordan and as the Arab League was meeting in Cairo to discuss the Palestinian gambit, did not explicitly counsel Abbas to drop the plan.

Russia supports bid

Palestinian President Abbas was expected to visit Cairo to attend an Arab League meeting later Monday and for talks with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who stopped in Egypt on her way to Israel. At talks in Poland earlier this month EU foreign ministers urged both Israel and the Palestinians to return to direct peace talks while offering to take a lead role in hammering out a solution acceptable to all sides. “Our idea is to work to find the grounds for a resolution that would be acceptable to the different parties,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The Palestinians’ determination to push for U.N. membership has triggered wide concerns in Israel, where Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday called for the 15-member inner security Cabinet.

State television said Abbas and Ashton arrived separately in Cairo and quoted top Palestinian official Nabil Shaath as saying that the diplomatic flurry was a “positive” sign for the U.N. membership bid. Russia supports the Palestinian bid to win U.N. statehood despite resistance from Israel and the United States, Moscow’s ambassador to the U.N. said Monday. Washington said it would veto any bid to the Security Council, arguing that a Palestinian state should be set up only through negotiations.

Arab aid for Palestinians dries up, World Bank report says

The Palestinian Authority has made “substantial progress” in its institution-building efforts, but “a severe fiscal crisis” threatens these important gains, the World Bank said Monday in its latest report on the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The report emphasized that Arab countries have cut aid to Palestinians substantially - despite their rhetoric of supporting Palestinian rights.

The World Bank report, published Monday, will be presented to a forum of donors to the Palestinian Authority on Sept. 18. Two days later, Palestinians are expected to present their bid for membership in the United Nations.

In its previous reports, the Bank warned that the economic growth experienced in the West Bank and Gaza in 2008-2011 was unsustainable and driven primarily by donor aid. In Monday’s report, it noted such aid is declining as well. The Palestinian Authority’s 2011 budget called for external support of $967 million. However, in the first half of the year, it only received $293 million.

Retreating figures

“Arab donors provided less than $80 million in the first half of 2011, compared to $231 million in 2010, $462 million in 2009 and $446 million in 2008,” the World Bank said. “In addition, development aid was only $43 million – well below the $180 million the Palestinian Authority committed for development projects.”

“Arab countries have committed to billions in aid in past years that never materialized,” said Said Hirsh, an economist at Capital Economics. As Hamas is seen as an ally of Iran, it is unlikely to get any support from the Arab camp, according to Hirsh, who himself is of Palestinian origin. The London-based economist also disputed the report’s praise of Palestinian institutions. “The Palestinian Authority’s institutional infrastructure is still highly corrupt,” he told the Hürriyet Daily News. “This makes many Arab countries reluctant to send financial aid. Plus, Israeli restrictions mean that the Palestinian Authority has little control of its activities. So it is difficult for Arab donors to ensure that their aid reaches its intended recipients and is spent appropriately.”

“One reason could be that the Arab world has become fed up with the Palestinian problem,” international-relations expert Mensur Akgün told the Daily News. “There are also problems arising from the ongoing animosity between Palestinian forces. Of course, one cannot also say that the aid sent is managed well.”

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