Fatah leader: Arab countries will cover shortfall if US blocks aid

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — Arab countries will cover a budgetary shortfall if the United States blocks aid to the Palestinian Authority, a senior Fatah official said Saturday.

Muhammad Shtayyeh told Ma’an that Arab and Islamic countries had promised to fund the PA if the US followed through on threats to cut aid over the Palestinian bid for full UN membership.

The UK newspaper The Independent reported Saturday that the US Congress had blocked nearly $200 million in aid for the PA in response to President Mahmoud Abbas’ request to join the UN.

Shtayyeh said the US Congress decided to block the aid six weeks ago, but that it was “unlikely” that Washington would stick to the decision.

But, “if the US administration wants to cut aid, then each session has a different discussion,” Shtayyeh said, adding that it was “unbelievable” that the US would take such a step.

“It is regrettable that the Congress blocked that money, as it is unbelievable to exchange political positions for money.

“It is unbelievable that any Parliament imposes sanctions on a people just because that people seeks self-determination and independence.”

Shtayyeh noted that while the US Congress had decided to withdraw Palestinian aid, Israel had not stopped delivering Palestinian tax revenue to the PA.

“This is very embarrassing to the US,” he said.

An Israeli government report submitted to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee in September urged the international community to continue funding the PA, warning that a financial crisis in the West Bank was exacerbated by a decline in donor aid.

US pro-Israel lobby groups have also urged Washington not to cut funding to the PA, warning that sanctions could undermine US-funded security cooperation between Israel and the PA.

Shtayyeh noted that the US Congress implemented a similar decision in 2006 when Hamas won the elections, despite a consensus that the vote was democratic.

He said the US administration had managed to bypass Congress’ decision and continued to send money to the PA by channeling funds allocated to Iraq to the West Bank government.

Meanwhile, he expected the European Union to continue funding as the EU did not “use their money to blackmail Palestinians.”

The EU announced Saturday that it would transfer €9.9 million to the PA on Monday, representing its third quarterly payment to fund the government’s social protection program.

Shtayyeh said the effect of US sanctions on the PA should not be overestimated as most of the funds were allocated to NGOs and the private sector.

But Palestinian Monetary Authority Governor Jihad al-Wazir told Reuters in September that the withdrawal of US aid would have “a major impact on the economic situation in the West Bank.”

“Really, the risk of a PA collapse is very real under the financial strain, without US assistance, without donor assistance in general,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit.

If the US were to withdraw aid to the PA, al-Wazir said it is unlikely to be made up by other donor countries.

“I think it will be highly, very difficult at this stage, because Arab support also hasn’t been forthcoming as much as it should have when it comes to budget support,” said al-Wazir, who oversees operations in both the West Bank and Gaza.

PA officials have blamed a shortfall in aid from Arab states for the PA’s current fiscal crisis. In the last three months, the authority has twice failed to pay salaries to its 150,000 employees on time and in full.

Palestinian and American officials are currently embroiled in a diplomatic struggle at the United Nations as Palestine’s bid for membership awaits a Security Council vote.

Washington has vowed to veto the application, but it would not need to exercise this option if the PLO fails to secure nine votes from the 15-member council.

(www.maannews.net / 01.10.2011)

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