FOR Palestinian representatives at the Mideast peace talks,
addressing economic issues has become essential to resolving
While they are anxious to achieve "concrete results," including
self-rule in the Israeli-occupied territories, they are also eager
for economic rewards based on their participation in the peace
process and resulting accords.
But while the West is responding with aid, Palestinians are
critical of the way it is being delivered and Gulf states are
reluctant to ante up.
"I call economic development the support system for the peace
process," says Saeb Erakat, vice-chairman of the Palestinian
delegation and a politics professor at An-Najah University in
Nablus, on the West Bank. "How can you negotiate, after all, when
the economic atmosphere in the occupied territories is so poor?"
Washington, the host for the talks, has worked hard to keep the
process on track. Last week, the United States State Department
announced plans to transfer $14 million directly to the West Bank
and Gaza to help create job opportunities for Palestinians.
Encouraged by the US, the European Community pledged another $6
million. And in late April, the US asked Saudi Arabia - the
Palestinians' greatest benefactor in the past - to resume financial
aid to the Palestinians to help ensure their return to the
In order to maintain momentum, the US will follow through
quickly on its commitment, says Peter Gubser, president of American
Near East Refugee Aid, a nongovernmental organization that
administers economic and social development projects in the West
Bank, Gaza, and other areas in the Middle East. "The Americans want
to spend it as quickly and as soberly as possible, and they are
contacting groups that work in the area," he says.
BUT Mr. Erakat says the assistance is misplaced. The donors, he
says, "want to create more cheap labor, but we have no money to
cover the operating costs of our institutions - our universities,
hospitals, churches, and youth organizations."
A United Nations report issued Monday points to dire conditions
among Palestinians living in the territories. According to the UN
Development Program (UNDP), their income has fallen 36 percent over
the past five years, and unemployment has jumped to 40 percent. It
also cited "a gross negligence of infrastructure."
The UNDP attributes the decline to economic disruptions caused
by the Palestinian-organized uprising (intifadah) against Israel,
the loss of roughly $450 million in remittances from Palestinian
workers who were expelled from other Gulf states during the Gulf
war, and some $750 million in aid cuts by Arab donors who were were
angered by the Palestinian Liberation Organization's (PLO) strong
endorsement of Iraq in the Gulf war. …