Arab support of PA starts with funding

The Palestinian Authority has challenged its traditional patrons in the United States. Arab countries in particular should help to make up the budget shortfall.

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As a percentage, Arab donations to the UN agency that funnels aid to the Palestinians - the Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East - are skyrocketing. Between 2006 and 2010, pledges from Arab states jumped by 93 per cent.

But in relative terms, the numbers are less impressive. Of the $973 million (Dh3.5 billion) pledged to the agency last year, just 15 per cent came from Arab and Muslim countries. In the top 20 donors, there are only three Arab entities: Saudi Arabia, the Kuwait Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Islamic Development Bank.

Now comes an opportunity to help the agency. Palestinians went to the United Nations last month to achieve a symbolic victory that they have been unable to achieve through negotiations: recognition of a Palestinian state. Palestine has been upgraded to non-member observer status at the world body, a victory that has brought widespread support from the Palestinian people. But it has also meant economic pain for its government. On Sunday, President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian Authority faces a $100 million budgetary shortfall after Israel halted the transfer of customs duties in retaliation.

"We are in a collapsing state now," Mr Abbas told Arab League delegates gathered in Doha. "So you have to offer this safety net." There were no immediate binding promises from Arab countries to fill that gap.

There were signs, however, that Arab leaders recognise that a new course is needed. Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jaber Al Thani suggested that the Arab Peace Initiative, tabled since 2002, might be withdrawn. There is a widespread belief that the current Quartet - the US, UN, European Union and Russia - has been a failure. As The National's columnist Faisal Al Yafai writes today, consensus is building that the peace process desperately needs Arab representation.

Talks will take time. What Palestinians require immediately is funding for food and salaries. Rightly, such aid has been criticised as fostering an aid-dependent state - but under occupation, there is little alternative.

Arab pledges to Palestinians have been historically low compared to western countries - led by the United States - which has resulted in undue western influence. Palestinian issues are a perennial concern for every Arab country. The current funding crisis is not only an urgent need, but also an opportunity to redress a decades-old imbalance.