Billions pledged for Palestinians

Donors worldwide support peace effort

December 18, 2007|By Geraldine Baum | Geraldine Baum,LOS ANGELES TIMES

PARIS -- Representatives from around the world endorsed the latest U.S.-backed Mideast peace initiative yesterday, pledging to support the crippled Palestinian economy at a crucial moment when its moderate leaders are engaged in peace talks with Israel.

During a one-day conference, 90 nations and international organizations pledged to donate $7.4 billion to shore up the Palestinians, almost $2 billion more than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had originally sought to prepare the area for statehood over the next three years.

Europeans promised about half of the money; Arab nations, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead, pledged 20 percent; the United States and Canada accounted for 11 percent; and international organizations promised 11 percent.

The conference was held at a pivotal moment, as Israel and the Abbas government are promising to engage in an intensive yearlong effort to reach a final peace agreement. It began last month at a meeting in Annapolis and was followed up at a meeting Wednesday. Abbas represents a moderate approach endorsed by the United States and other Western powers.

Though they offered financial support to bolster the nascent peace process, France, Britain, Germany and other nations sharply rebuked Israel for its settlement activities and for maintaining checkpoints that have made trade and economic recovery in the Palestinian territories difficult.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called on Israel to freeze its settlement activities and to ease checkpoint restrictions. German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier told German television that the Israelis had to stick to their promise to halt the construction of settlements. The British linked their donation to a request that Israel lift trade and travel restrictions that the World Bank and Red Cross say are critical to economic well-being in the area.

In a speech to the donors, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel endorses Abbas' reform plan but that the checkpoints are needed for security. She said nothing about Israel's announcement that 300 homes will be built in a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, but she reaffirmed Israel's intention of living up to a 2003 commitment to end settlement activity.

"We want the obstacles to Palestinian economy and daily life to be removed," Livni told the donors. "We have no desire to control Palestinian lives ... but we know that making every effort to improve quality of life also means making every effort to end the threat to life posed by terror and violence."

Abbas began the day by presenting a reform and development plan to donors that spells out the ways money would be spent. Seventy percent, he said, would be earmarked to meet a payroll for 110,000 civil servants and other day-to-day needs.

Geraldine Baum writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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