Arabs pledge same amount of funds for Palestinians

KHARTOUM — Arab foreign ministers on Sunday renewed a previous commitment to provide the Palestinian Authority with $50 a month to cover for a budget deficit when Hamas takes office.

Concluding a two-day preparatory meeting for the Tuesday-Wednesday Arab summit here, the ministers left open the possibility of giving more later if the Palestinians need it.

They rejected “the pretexts [for cutting aid] and point out the dangerous negative repercussions it would have on the economic and social circumstances of the Palestinian people and on stability and security in the region,” according to a resolution, which also urged the international community to continue aid to the PA.

The Arab diplomats asked the PA to prepare a report on the amount of aid it will lose if donors cut aid and submit it to Arab governments “to take an appropriate decision.”

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser Kidwa said Palestinians were up against really hard times.

“The Arab states are aware of the status quo and the situation we are facing if we do not cover our budget by extra funds. But they are not obliged to increase the aid,” Kidwa said, warning of “serious difficulties and hard times.”

“There is an attack against the Palestinian people by Israel and other sides that benefit from imposing a new situation on us,” he said, adding that the Palestinians will have to cope.

In Kuwait City, Hamas’ politburo chief Khaled Mishaal was quoted by Agence France-Presse as telling a press conference that the needed monthly spending is $170 million, including $115 million for wages. “We hope that our Arab brothers will take the initiative to provide this aid as soon as possible… because the February salaries of many employees have not been paid yet,” Mishaal said.

The Palestinian delegation had said it needed at least $130 million a month if the US and EU carry out on threats to cut off aid when the Islamist group Hamas takes office.

The requested funds were expected to pay for Palestinians’ salaries as well as cope with Israel’s refusal to hand over about $55 million a month which Tel Aviv collects in taxes and customs on behalf of the Palestinians.

Excluding Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, most Arab countries did not meet their financial commitments to the Palestinians.

The Arab foreign ministers, meanwhile, rejected in another resolution any unilateral measures by Israel, in what was regarded as a clear reference to acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s statements that he would define Israel’s borders without dealing with a Hamas government.

They also endorsed a resolution reaffirming commitment to the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative that offers normal relations with Israel in return for its withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967 and return of Palestinian refugees. Israel has rejected the initiative.

The summit was expected to be attended by most Arab leaders including Saudi’s King Abdullah and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Earlier reports had said the two leaders along with Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi and Oman’s Sultan Qaboos as well as Tunisia’s Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali were not attending the summit. Qadhafi Arab leaders were also expected to endorse other resolutions on Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan as well as revamping the Arab League.

On Iraq, Arab ministers pledged a more substantial involvement in political process of the violence-torn country as well as diplomatic presence in Baghdad soon. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari had criticised Arab countries’ absence and demanded more practical support. Ministers also included an article that urges Arab countries to cancel Iraq’s debts estimated at billions of dollars.

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