Al-Ahram Weekly Online   30 March - 5 April 2006
Issue No. 788
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Ibrahim Nafie

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.

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