Nations pledge $1.2 billion to Palestinians

Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair greets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in London on Tuesday.
Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair greets Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in London on Tuesday. John D. McHugh / Pool via AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Palestinian finance minister said Tuesday that donor nations have promised $1.2 billion this year to help the new government of Mahmoud Abbas establish itself after four years of ruinous conflict with Israel, and he expects to get additional aid from Arab states.

Salam Fayyad told The Associated Press much of the money would cover operating costs of the Palestinian Authority, whose monthly $40 million deficit raised questions about its ability to pay tens of thousands of security officers who will be crucial as Abbas tries to impose control and keep militant groups quiet.

Part of the aid apparently will pay pensions for retiring some members of the security forces, which Abbas promised Tuesday to reform and streamline — reducing their number from a dozen to perhaps three branches and putting them under the control of a single Cabinet minister.

Fayyad commented after emerging from a one-day international conference on Palestinian restructuring that sought to capitalize on a dramatic change in atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinians since the death of Yasser Arafat and Abbas’ election as his successor.

'Satisfied with the results'
Although the gathering was not billed as a “pledging conference,” Palestinian officials made clear they expected concrete assistance to help relieve their dire economic situation. They also sought promises that if they delivered reforms, and calm, Israel would be pushed to resume peace talks.

“We came to the conference wanting a lift and I think we got it,” Fayyad said. “We are very satisfied with the results. ... We hoped to get political and economic support from the international community, and thank God, we got it.”

In recent years, foreign donations have provided more than half of the Palestinian Authority’s roughly $1.7 billion annual budget. Fayyad said that as a result of the conference, the Palestinian Authority can now rely on at least $1.2 billion in donations for 2005 — and they hope to get more.

Biggest donor would be Europe
He said the sum included $391 million from the United States. That figure, which could not be immediately confirmed with U.S. officials, would be four times the previous level of U.S. aid — a reflection of the strong support for Abbas from the Bush administration, which like Israel boycotted dealings with Arafat.

Most of the rest of the $1.2 billion would come from European nations, Fayyad said.

He said Arab nations would be approached for aid at another conference in coming weeks and expressed optimism that the Palestinians could raise an additional $500 million.

Fayyad said that beyond helping with the Palestinian Authority’s budget, some donor nations “will be sending missions in the course of the next two weeks to the field to identify projects and possible use of funds.”

Much depends on whether Abbas succeeded at the conference in allaying concerns about the Palestinian Authority’s problems with graft and mismanagement.

Call for financial accountability
Nigel Roberts, the top World Bank representative in the West Bank and Gaza, said Monday that both sides of the conflict needed to take concrete steps to use new money wisely — the Palestinian Authority on increasing security and reforming government, and Israel on easing security measures to enable the Palestinian economy to function.

“If you pledge now and let it go in without essentially holding either party accountable, you are wasting your money,” Roberts told AP. “We are 10 years into this process. We have spent a lot of money here. ... Let’s get it right this time.”

At the conference, Abbas also promised to track down and punish the perpetrators of Friday’s suicide bombing that killed five people in Tel Aviv.

“We assure you that we have begun taking a series of actions to find out the saboteurs and those responsible for this operation, and are chasing them down and punishing then,” he said.