LIBYA: Arabs pledge $500 million to Palestinians in East Jerusalem
Arab foreign ministers gathered in the Libyan city of Surt in preparation for Saturday's Arab League summit announced their plan to more than triple aid to Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from $150 million to $500 million in response to the construction of new Israeli settlements, Secretary General Amr Moussa told reporters Friday.
The request for more aid was made by the Palestinian Authority, which would presumably be responsible for distributing the money.
Other proposals included urging the United Nations to condemn Jerusalem settlement construction, a travel ban on Israeli politicians, stronger protections for the Al Aqsa Mosque and other holy sites and official documentation of Palestinian land confiscated by Israel, Al Jazeera reported. Some delegates even suggested taking the "land for peace" proposal endorsed by Arab states in 2002 off the table.
Arab leaders appear emboldened by President Obama's renewed stand against Israel's intention to continue building in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state. The American president made his frustrations clear when he reportedly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "let me know if there is anything new" after a tense meeting in Washington that failed to resolve the crisis, according to the Times of London.
This latest settlement plans, some announced during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to Israel, were seen as an insult and rebuke not only to the United States but also the Arab League, which approved renewed peace talks earlier this month amid fears that escalating violence in the West Bank could spark a third intifada, or uprising. The Palestinian issue is expected to be among the most important items on the agenda for Saturday's summit.
Arab leaders now appear to be taking their cues from the White House, which has dug its heels in against Israel after failing to secure a settlement freeze last year. Reactions in the Arab press suggested the crisis in U.S.–Israel relations has improved Obama's image, although many remain skeptical that anything positive will come out of the row.
"It is time to stop accusing Barack Obama of 'failure' because he did not deliver the solution he promised to the Arabs quickly and on a silver platter," wrote Raghida Dargham (Arabic link) in the Saudi-funded pan-Arab daily Al Hayat. "Enough sarcasm and cynicism. It is time for a new way of thinking."
Dargham accused Netanyahu of underestimating President Obama, who met with the Israeli politician immediately after scoring a major victory in healthcare reform and striking an important nuclear deal with Russia.
But Abdel Majeed Sweilim, writing Thursday in Al-Ayyam, a Palestinian newspaper tied to the Palestinian Authority, seemed wary of the U.S.–Israeli rift.
"Bibi will return thwarted, and he will certainly not have good news for his friends," he wrote (Arabic link). "But by the same token, the American administration does not have any good news for us or for the Arabs who will attend [the Arab League Summit] regarding a total settlement freeze in East Jerusalem."
He added, "The Americans have obtained from Netanyahu more than he admits, but less than what is necessary or possible. We will give them less than they want, but more than is necessary. Does Netanyahu return from a partial-defeat? Have we achieved a half-victory? Or is it the other way round?"
-- Meris Lutz in BeirutPhoto: Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, center right, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, center left, leaving the foreign ministers meeting in preparation for the upcoming Arab League Summit in Surt, Libya. Credit: Associated Press / Nasser Nasser