Clinton presses Arab nations to bolster aid to Palestinians

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 22, 2010

UNITED NATIONS - On the sidelines of a U.N. anti-poverty meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed Arab officials Tuesday to bolster their financial contributions to the Palestinian Authority and to support the nascent peace talks more visibly.

The Palestinian Authority has received much of its budget support from the European Union and the United States, with oil-rich Arab countries lagging in supplying the amounts they had pledged. The situation has become even more acute this year, Palestinian sources said, as the Palestinian Authority has embarked on a two-year effort to build the governmental institutions needed for statehood.

Clinton raised the question of aid to the Palestinians directly with the emir of Qatar during a lengthy meeting Tuesday, according to State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. "She did encourage Qatar to make a contribution and to encourage others to do as well," he said.

Qatar, where some top officials of the militant group Hamas own homes, cut off all funding to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas seized exclusive control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and a power-sharing agreement with the Fatah movement collapsed. Qatar had briefly increased its contributions when Hamas was in the government, after years of providing little or no money.

Clinton also pressed for more aid when she met with members of an Arab League committee charged with pursuing an Arab proposal offering Israel recognition after a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Arab diplomats, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have said there is little trust that the Palestinian Authority will use the contributions wisely, even though Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a veteran of the International Monetary Fund and has introduced new standards of accountability and financial management. Arab diplomats have said they also resent the tight grip Israel has maintained on the Palestinian territories.

U.S. officials say the Fayyad's institution-building effort has made those complaints much less valid. This week, they have highlighted a recent assessment by the World Bank that if the Palestinian Authority "maintains its current performance in institution building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future."

Moreover, despite the progress, the Palestinian authorities "still have significant needs" and Arab governments should help make up the gap, Crowley said.

Clinton is also pressing Arabs to highlight their peace plan, known as the Arab League Initiative. The proposal, first made in 2002, would extend recognition to Israel if it withdrew to the borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and took other steps generally unacceptable to Israeli governments. But Arab officials privately say - and U.S. officials concur - that the plan holds forth the promise of full diplomatic recognition of Israel if the Palestinians reach a peace deal that is acceptable to them.

During a stop in Amman, Jordan, last week, Clinton lauded the Arab plan as a "remarkable document." Speaking at a news conference, Clinton said, "I'm not sure many Arabs nor many Israelis have read it, and I would commend to you, particularly those of you in the media, read this document that was begun as a wholly Arab initiative. And it holds out the very promise that we seek."

U.S. officials, led by special envoy George J. Mitchell, continued to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, seeking a way to keep peace talks going despite the expiration this month of an Israeli moratorium on settlement building.Israeli requests that the Palestinians take some reciprocal step, such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, led to a sharp disagreement between Fayyad and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, according to a tweet sent out by Ayalon.

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