Bush Waives Decade-old Law Banning Aid to PNA
Bush Waives Decade-old Law Banning Direct US Aid to PNA
EU Pledges Additional Aid to Palestinians
President George W. Bush waived a decade-old law banning direct US aid to the Palestine National Authority (PNA), a show of confidence in the new administration of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, the State Department said.
“The president has confidence in his leadership,'' White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Pretoria, South Africa, where he's traveling with Bush. “Internal Palestinian politics is complicated for Palestinians, let alone the rest of the world.''
AIPAC and other US pro-Israel lobbies have been recently launching campaigns to prevent the US Administration from providing direct aid to the PNA.
The chief Palestinian representative in Washington Hassan Abdel Rahman hailed the US move.
“It is the right thing to do,'' he said. “We have accountability now, we have transparency, and I hope that the Congress will soon repeal those laws.''
The aid waiver shows that concerns about mismanagement of funds have eased after efforts by Finance Minister Salam Fayyad to untangle the Palestinian Authority's finances under the PNA’s 100-day reforms plan, which was hindered by the Israeli reoccupation of the PNA territories.
The United States will now provide direct aid to the PNA for humanitarian projects and to support the Palestinian reforms, the White House said Wednesday.
“The funds will be used for humanitarian purposes, to alleviate suffering and to improve the Palestinian economy,” White House national security spokesman Michael Anton said.
The initial amount of the aid package will reach about 20 million dollars, said the spokesman, citing “considerable support in Congress” for the significant shift in US policy.
Until now, US aid to the Palestinians was given to private groups, known as non-governmental organizations, and the United Nations.
The spokesperson said that the move aimed to support Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmud Abbas and help him pursue reforms of the PNA.
“Obviously, none of this would have happened without significant reforms in the Palestinian Authority, especially in the finance ministry,” Anton said.
“We have confidence in Palestinian finance minister (Salam) Fayad, and we have confidence that he will use these funds in a transparent manner.”
“We believe it's important to act now to reinforce the positive progress, to signal support for prime minister Abbas, for finance minister Fayad, to help them establish their authority on the ground,” said State Department spokesman Phil Reeker.
The push for direct aid accelerated after a recent trip to the region by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, during which Fayad made an impassioned plea to Rice for direct assistance, The Washington Post reported.
After Rice’s visit, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had confirmed that Washington was looking into the possibility of funneling direct aid to the Palestinians.
But Fleischer had cautioned that any direct assistance would be “contingent on a number of factors,” tied to the “roadmap,” which aims to create an independent Palestinian state by 2005.
The US has pledged to give at least $75 million a year to help develop the West Bank and Gaza since the 1994 Oslo peace accords, most of it going to organizations as diverse as Care International and the accounting firm Deloitte & Touche Tohmatsu.
Last year, such groups received $275 million.
Since the beginning of the intifada, or uprising, in September 2000, Palestinian unemployment has jumped to 38 percent from 10 percent. Income losses are estimated at $2.4 billion, with $300 million in infrastructure damages, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Most of the non-US donor money going to the territories currently goes to the day-to-day running of the PNA, supporting schools, police and government.
Such aid has steadily risen from $482 million in 1999 to a high of $1.26 billion in 2002, which at $360 per person was the largest per capita assistance for any people since World War II, according to the World Bank.
The World Bank projects that 2004 funding will fall to $919 million.
“I’m hoping that the political opportunity will offer a windfall of another $200 (million) to $400 million,” said Nigel Roberts, director of the World Bank’s West Bank and Gaza Strip programs.
“We’d like to see other donor countries follow the U.S. lead with this $30 million.”
EU Pledges Additional Aid to Palestinians
Separately, the European Union (EU) pledged an additional 10 million euros Tuesday, bringing its contribution this year to more than 100 million euros, to assist Palestinians in the occupied territory and Lebanon.
The EU is by far the largest donor to the region with almost $380 million last year from the EU collectively and from individual countries, according to the World Bank.
The Arab League was the second largest donor with $316 million in 2002, according the World Bank. Last week Egypt announced 5 million Egyptian pounds, or $1 million, in fresh funds for the Palestinians, according to the league.
The money destined for Palestinians in Lebanon is to finance projects to aid women and children, and for psychological aid to young people.
Lebanon is home to 380,000 Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
Since the start of the Intifada in September 2000 the European Commission Humanitarian Aid Office has allocated €100m to Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territory.