WEST BANK: U.S. comes to the rescue
The United States on Wednesday proved once again that it is a friend the Palestinian Authority can rely on in times of difficulty, at least economically. Politically, the Palestinians are not so sure.
After a brief signing ceremony at Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s office in Ramallah, the U.S. forwarded to the Palestinian Authority $150 million for budget support.
Even though the amount is only a fraction of what Israel gets every year from the U.S., which amounts to billions of dollars, Fayyad nevertheless warmly welcomed the support, considering it a lifesaver.
“We really appreciate this assistance because it is highly responsive to our needs,” said Fayyad. “We have faced quite serious financial difficulty for the past few months that made our life extremely difficult,” he said.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined the event from Washington via a video conference connection. She started her speech by criticizing Israel for continuing to build in what she described as “sensitive areas of East Jerusalem.”
She said the U.S. was “deeply disappointed” by this policy, which was “counterproductive to our efforts to resume negotiations” between the Palestinians and Israel.
The short-lived talks ended abruptly late in September when Israel refused to extend a 10-month moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements.
The Palestinians were also strongly critical of Israel’s latest announcement that it intends to build 1,300 Jewish housing units in East Jerusalem. Israeli news reports also have said that Israel is moving ahead with 800 units in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas decided Wednesday to ask the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency session to discuss Israel’s construction on land that Israel occupied in June 1967 and which Palestinians hope will be their future state.
Clinton applauded Abbas and Fayyad for their efforts to consolidate what she termed as “a credible partner for peace.”
“I want to congratulate President Abbas and you, Prime Minister, on everything that your government has accomplished. It is a testament to your leadership and skill as well as to the talents and determination of the Palestinian people themselves,” she said.
The $150-million budget support is part of a $225 million the U.S. has pumped into the Palestinian budget this year and part of an overall $600-million financial support to the Palestinian people.
“This figure underscores the strong determination of the American people and this administration to stand with our Palestinian friends even during difficult economic times, as we have here at home,” said Clinton.
“This new funding will help the Palestinian Authority pay down its debt, continue to deliver services and security to its people and keep the progress going,” she said.
But the Palestinians want more than just financial support. They want Israel’s No. 1 ally to help rein in a government that is taking 17 years of peace process down the drain and the region down the path of war and strife.
“Madam Secretary,” said Fayyad addressing Clinton, “in the period ahead we certainly will continue to look to you for continued strong leadership as you continue to try hard to put together elements that are necessary to have a strong political process, a credible political process, one that is capable of delivering that which we all want to see happen, an end to the Israeli occupation.”
-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank
Photo: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah and Secretary Clinton from Washington via video conference. Credit: Mustafa Abu Dayya, prime minister's office