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25 April 2002
A World Free of Poverty


The Palestinians are seeking more than $1 billion in emergency and other aid at a meeting of international donors in Norway on Thursday, BBC Online reports.

Norwegian Foreign Minister Jan Petersen said experts would map out emergency needs for the Palestinians in the wake of the onslaught by the Israeli army. They would also reassert support for the embattled Palestinian Authority. However the Palestinians say there have been no guarantees from Israel it would not destroy again any infrastructure that was rebuilt.Representatives from 21 countries are attending the one-day talks in Oslo including the US, Russia and the European Union. Palestinian Planning Minister Nabil Shaath said the World Bank had estimated that the Palestinian needed about $1.7 billion in aid for 2002, to help stabilize the economy. He hoped the meeting would pledge the outstanding $800 million, the remainder having already been promised by Arab states.

In addition, the three weeks of Israeli military operations had caused damage estimated at $500m, and this was needed immediately. "We're talking about the losses of buildings, houses, water connections. We're talking about property, about electricity, roads, private homes and so on," Reuters quotes Shaath as saying.

Petersen said Norway, which helped broker the now wrecked 1993 Oslo peace accords between Israelis and Palestinians, hoped donors would be willing to open their wallets to help reconstruction even in areas that could again be flattened. "I think we all see that it's important to get going again and important to ensure an economic basis for the Palestinian Authority," he said, adding that a lot of emergency aid would not go to infrastructure.

AFP adds Petersen said his country would give over 500 million kroner (€65.6 million) to the Palestinian Authority this year, including 96.5 million which would be pledged Thursday. Petersen recalled that the international donors' meeting had been planned long ago, but noted its importance and timeliness "due to the dramatic situation" in the Middle East.

Informal bilateral talks took place Wednesday between the delegations, which included the UN, the United States, the European Union, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Norway and the World Bank. On Thursday, the representatives will hold a group discussion which Palestinian officials hope will conclude with a pledge of emergency relief. Others attending include representatives from the International Monetary Fund, the Arab League, Russia, Canada, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan.

In related news, Frankfurter Rundschau (Germany) reports that after a discussion in Berlin with Shaath, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, the German Development Minister, said that in the coming year, Palestine would receive around €47 million from Germany in development aid. €2 Million would be needed for humanitarian emergency aid and transferred to the UN and Caritas and €17 Million for youth employment and schools reconstructions.

The news comes as Keith Marsden, a Geneva-based economist that has previously worked for the ILO and the World Bank, writes in the Wall Street Journal Europe that according to the World Bank, the living standards of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were higher than in most Arab countries in 1999. Palestinian income per head was nearly double Syria's, more than four times Yemen's, and 10 percent higher than Jordan's (one of the better off Arab states.) Only the oil-rich Gulf States and more Western-oriented Lebanon were more affluent.

Yet the West Bank had been a relatively backward region of Jordan until 1967, when Israel took over. Several factors explain the subsequent transformation. Closer integration with the Israeli economy has been a major contributor. Another significant factor is the flow of official aid from Western donors.

Given the animosity created by the recent atrocities, a return to the pre-October 2000 situation seems unlikely. A different set of relationship with Israel and the rest of the world will have to be developed if a Palestinian state is to become viable. Furthermore, Western aid donors may begin to question whether it is just or equitable that Palestinians receive nine times more aid per head than people living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their average incomes are little more than a quarter of Palestinians'.

The inescapable conclusion, says Marsden, is that fellow Arab countries will have to show greater solidarity than in the past. This will require policy changes in several areas, including trade policy, foreign direct investment, foreign aid and financial transfers. Policy reforms and resource reallocations along these lines will surely yield greater benefits to the "Arab Nation" than a continuation of its present confrontation with Israel, Marsden says.

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