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US urges Arab states to fund Palestinians after Hamas victory
· White House fears chaos if support is cut off
· Danger of cash vacuum poses dilemma for west
Ewen MacAskill, Jonathan Steele and Nicholas Watt in Brussels
Tuesday January 31, 2006
Guardian - http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,5387614-117700,00.html
The US is urging Arab states to continue funding a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority even though Washington is threatening to cut its own aid.
Western diplomats said yesterday the US had already contacted Arab governments that give the Palestinian Authority support and requested them to go on with it.
The US position behind the scenes contrasts with its public position, in which George Bush has said it will cut aid to the Palestinian Authority unless Hamas renounces violence and stops demanding the destruction of Israel.
The US plea to the Arab world is because it does not want the West Bank and Gaza to descend into chaos as a result of choking off aid.
The US also fears that if it stops funding, countries such as Iran or Syria could step into the breach, enhancing their image in the Islamic world just as Washington seeks to isolate them.
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, speaking to reporters on her flight to London for a series of diplomatic meetings, said: "We would sincerely hope that people would take the implications of a Palestinian government that would be cut off from assistance and not try to fill that gap."
Ms Rice held a meeting last night in London with representatives of the Quartet Group - the US, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union - to discuss the dilemma posed by Hamas's election victory.
Hamas, responsible for most of the suicide bombings against Israel until it accepted a ceasefire last year, won an outright majority in last week's parliamentary election.
US aid forms only a small part of the £1bn budget of the Palestinian Authority. The European Union is the biggest donor.
Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia are some of the main Arab funders to the Palestinian Authority, either through direct aid or in supporting projects such as training its security forces.
Washington wants to use its aid as a lever to extract concessions from Hamas but realises this could backfire politically. It also recognises the humanitarian needs of Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank. Ms Rice said: "We will have to look at that on a kind of case-by-case basis in terms of humanitarian needs. We are going to review all our assistance programmes."
European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels yesterday, postponed a decision on funding. They warned Hamas that £280m of aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip could be in jeopardy.
But EU foreign ministers issued a carefully worded statement, which stopped short of making outright demands, in the hope of strengthening the hand of moderate elements in Hamas.
At the end of talks in Brussels the foreign ministers declared: "Violence and terror are incompatible with democratic processes and [we] urged Hamas and all other factions to renounce violence, to recognise Israel's right to exist and to disarm. [We] expect the newly elected [Palestinian parliament] to support the formation of a government committed to a peaceful and negotiated solution of the conflict with Israel based on existing agreements."
The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called for aid not to be cut. "I stressed the importance of the continuation of financial and other types of support by the donor countries," he told a joint news conference yesterday with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, who was visiting Ramallah.
The Palestinian militant group Hamas is also appealing to Muslim and Arab states to make up any shortfall in aid to the Palestinian Authority should the US and the European Union cut off funding.
Writing in today's Guardian, Khalid Mish'al, the organisation's leader in exile, criticised the US and the European Union for threatening to impose "collective punishment" on the Palestinians.
Mr Mish'al, who is based in Damascus, says the US and the European Union failed the test of democracy by threatening to withhold funds from freely elected parliamentary representatives.
He said: "Our message to the Muslim and Arab nations is this: you have a responsibility to stand by your Palestinian brothers and sisters whose sacrifices are made on behalf of all of you.
"Our people in Palestine should not need to wait for any aid from countries that attach humiliating conditions to every dollar or euro they pay despite their historical and moral responsibility for our plight.
"We expect you to step in and compensate the Palestinian people for any loss of aid and we demand that you lift all restrictions on civil society institutions that wish to fund raise for the Palestinian cause."
The Palestinian Authority is heavily dependent on foreign assistance. With western aid suddenly in question following Hamas's victory in legislative elections, the Palestinians could face a serious financial crisis. The Palestinian finances are:
2005 total: $1.96bn (£1.1bn)
Total annual aid: About $1bn
EU and individual European nations: $570m - $270m for salaries of Palestinian workers and $300m for development and infrastructure projects.
US: $300m exclusively for development projects
Saudi Arabia: $46m
2005 (projected): $396m
Customs duties and value added tax collected by Israel: $660m
· Sources: Palestinian finance ministry and World Bank
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006
Don't blame Bush: this is Arafat's fault
By Con Coughlin
A proscribed terrorist group wins the Palestinian elections and who gets the blame? Well, George W Bush of course. The American President must take the rap on two counts.
First, his naïve notion that Western-style democracy can be exported to the Arab world has given the terrorists an opportunity to consolidate their hold over what is left of the Palestinian body politic.
Second, the reluctance of the White House to engage in a purposeful dialogue with the more moderate leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President and the head of the secular Fatah political party, has forced the legions of desperate, impoverished Palestinians into the hands of Islamic hardliners.Posted by tstubbs at January 30, 2006 07:52 PM | Trackback