Arab Government Contributions to the Palestinian Authority
April 16, 2006
Western reticence to continue direct funding of the Palestinian Authority (PA), following the electoral success of Hamas, has helped turn the focus towards the contributions of Arab governments to the Palestinians.
The World Bank has noted in several of its reports, including that of November 2005, how many member states of the Arab League have consistently failed to deliver in part or in whole on their promises to the PA. The shortfall is in the hundreds of millions, if not more.
As recently as the end of March 2006, Arab leaders met in Khartoum. They pledged US$50 million a month to the Palestinians with possibly more to come.
However, within two weeks of the conference, the PA President and Prime Minister, Muhammed Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh respectively, were already being quoted as being unsure when or even whether Arab governments will deliver on their pledges. Typically, Abbas declared during a state visit in Casablanca to meet the King of Morocco that:
"Arab states have announced their clear commitment to pay financial aid due for the past six months and the next six months. We hope they will make good on the commitment as soon as possible so as to prevent catastrophe."
For all their resources and their close emotional proximity to the issue, the Arab states continue to pledge little, both in absolute terms and relative to groups like the EU, and then they deliver even less. Even the most threatening of regimes, Iran, which so loudly supports the Palestinian agenda, has only committed a one-off donation of around $50 million, although here too the money has yet to arrive in Ramallah.
This evasion of responsibilities by Middle East rulers raises a clear question: Why don't they carry out the promises to a people, whose cause they have espoused for decades with a continuous flow of positive rhetoric?
One is left to wonder if the Arab world is really sending out a "collective warning" relating to the issues of accountability and corruption. These are the very concerns, which dominates the campaigning of the Funding for Peace Coalition, but are continually ignored by the diplomats of Brussels. Why do they not want to listen?
What follow is a commentary of the Khartoum Conference, as reviewed in the leading Egytian newspaper "Al Ahram".
Tug of war
Ibrahim Nafie examines the double bind of Arab aid to the Palestinians and the position of Hamas The final declaration of the Khartoum Arab Summit calls for the adoption of two important positions concerning the Palestinian cause: that the Palestinian people's will, as expressed through democratic elections, be respected, and that there be no halt in economic aid. Unfortunately, neither of these resolutions forms a practical challenge to the European Union or the United States.
Democracy can have no meaning if its results are refused simply because they do not conform to some people's wishes. And when it comes to material support, the Western position is essentially a policy of collective punishment of the Palestinian people for voting in Hamas. This policy contradicts international law.
If Arab nations are to gain credibility they need to do more than adopt a resolution to continue aid and increase its amount. They need to act on that resolution. Arab states had earlier promised to provide the Palestinians with $50 million a month. Unfortunately, much of that sum was not forthcoming. Now the position is even more critical, a result of the stand being taken by Western governments on aid to the Palestinians, and the continuing practices of the Israeli occupation.
The Palestinian acting finance minister has said that confusion now governs the financial situation, and for several reasons. Israel has stopped returning tax receipts to the value of $55 million per month. There is also an estimated shortfall of $1.071 billion in the Palestinian Authority budget as donor nations withhold aid. As a result, many government employees have yet to receive their February salaries.
This is in addition to the losses Palestinians face as a result of crossing closures. It is estimated that the Gaza Strip has lost $20 million in exports owing to crossing closures in the first three months of this year. To this figure must be added the costs incurred by the paralysis of production that results from the inability to import raw materials despite American-Palestinian-Israeli agreements on commercial traffic.
Hamas implored the Khartoum Arab Summit to increase aid. Khaled Mashal, the head of Hamas's political office, says that the government will need more than $170 million a month, a bulk of which goes towards paying salaries. During their meeting last Sunday in Khartoum, Arab foreign ministers inserted a paragraph into the draft final declaration -- to be discussed by leaders -- calling for $55million per month in aid to the Palestinians.
Saudi Arabia is the only Arab state that has met its obligations to the Palestinians in full. The position of the remaining Arab states varies between those who have not paid the full amounts they promised, and those who have paid nothing at all. Since 2003 Arab states have actually provided $761 million to the Palestinian Authority, a third of the sum they promised. It is a situation that left the PA dependent on EU and US funding.
The final declaration of the Arab Summit is almost certain to restate the Arab peace initiative as formulated in Beirut. This presents problems for Arab states seeking to increase support to the Palestinian people given Hamas's refusal to recognise Israel or accept the interim peace agreements. The problems are compounded by the inclusion in the draft final declaration of a clause rejecting unilateral Israeli plans to withdraw from some military bases in the West Bank and draw borders without negotiating with the Palestinians. The rejection is based on a clear understanding that such unilateral moves will not bring peace: rather, they are designed to consolidate Israeli control over the Palestinians, via its control of roads, ports and crossings and, by extension, the income on which Palestinians depend to survive. But the Arab position also acknowledges the necessity of there being a party ready to negotiate with Israel. That, finally, depends on the position adopted by Hamas.
Left: Yasser Arafat