Kerry says Tony Blair has 300 businessmen planning to raise $4 billion for the West Bank Palestinians

After the build-up that led to the Swiss-based World Economic Forum’s session at Jordan’s Dead Sea on Saturday and Sunday — it was hard to understand why, at least during the speeches of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Abbas waived a copy of the Arab Peace Initiative in the air and asked Israelis to actually read it. It was not clear why. [Later it did become clear that the reason was the incentive it gives to Israel for withdrawing from the West Bank: recognition + full normal relations including trade with the entire Arab and Muslim world.]

Peres spoke about being born in an age of agriculture and living in a world of technology, where all good things could happen to the region if only there were peace. It was not clear why. [Peres contradicted the Israeli government’s current disapproval and said the Arab Peace Initiative was a strategic opportunity…] It was not clear why.  But, his reasons seem to be the same as Abbas’.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry started to talk, and seemed to have not much new to say; he thanked a lot of people and spoke about the Arab Spring. It was not clear why.

Then, Kerry said, he wanted to give ” I want to say a special thank you to the Quartet Representative, former Prime Minister Tony Blair… he is working diligently on a special project that I want to share with you in a few minutes”…

It was all downhill from there…

US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013
US State Dept photo - Kerry greets Blair at WEF Dead Sea, Jordan meeting 26 May 2013

Photo from the US State Dept “Amman and Dead Sea, Jordan” Flikr set, here.

Kerry said: “No one doubts that this is a very complex moment in international relations. But still, I don’t think that there is any secret about the conditions that are necessary for peace and stability to succeed. Those are: good governance, security, and economic opportunity. And so the real question for all of us, for President Abbas, President Peres, Prime Minister Netanyahu, all of us, is a very simple one: Will we, despite the historic hurdles, have the courage to make the choices that we know we need to make in order to break the stalemate and provide a change of life for people in this region?”

Then, Kerry announced the creation of an investment fund to be financed with a possible $4 billion dollars to spur private-sector development in the West Bank [though he did also mention  4 million people, though it was not clear who: if Kerry meant Palestinians only, that would include the West Bank population of some 2.8 million  and Gaza with some 1.5 million…]

It was clear that Kerry’s remarks were the real reason all those people were there, in the meeting at the Dead Sea in Jordan on a Sunday afternoon…and Abbas and Peres were just there to prop up the show.

Kerry then explained the still-vague Blair super-project:
“I have asked Quartet Representative Tony Blair and many business leaders to join together. And Prime Minister Blair is shaping what I believe could be a groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also, significantly, transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.

It is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo, more than 20 years ago now. And this, the intention of this plan, of all of its participants, is not to make it merely transformative, but frankly, to make it enormously powerful in the shaping of the possibilities of the future so that it is more transformative than incremental and different from anything that we have seen before.

To achieve that, these leaders have brought together a group of business experts, who have donated their time, who have come from around the world over the course of the last six weeks to make this project real and tangible and formidable – as we say, shovel-ready. They have come from all over the world because they believe in peace, and because they believe prosperity is both a promise and a product of peace.

This group includes leaders of some of the world’s largest corporations, I’m pleased to say. It includes renowned investors and some of the most brilliant business analysts out there – and some of the most committed. One of these senior business leaders actually just celebrated his 69th birthday in Jerusalem at the Colony Hotel after spending a 14-hour day in the West Bank trying to figure it out.

When others ask them, all of them, why they’re here, doing this on their own time, the unanimous answer is: ‘Because we want a better future for both Israeli children and Palestinian children’.

Their plan begins with encouraging local, regional and international business leaders to, and to encourage government leaders in various parts of the world. I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

The preliminary results already reported to me by Prime Minister Blair and by the folks working with him are stunning: These experts believe that we can increase the Palestinian GDP by as much as 50 percent over three years. Their most optimistic estimates foresee enough new jobs to cut unemployment by nearly two-thirds – to 8 percent, down from 21 percent today – and to increase the median annual wage along with it, by as much as 40 percent.

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The latest World Bank report on Palestinian economy — told in Tweets

The most interesting report to last week’s Ad Hoc Liaison Committee [AHLC] meeting of major Donors to the Palestinian Authority was that of the World Bank, published in advance on 15 March.

Here is a summary of some of the World Bank points, told in Tweets [by @marianhouk]

********************************************************************************

* The PA has now a “total domestic debt to NIS 4.15 billion [$1.1 billion}”, meaning it has “almost reached the limit” for the domestic banks

* World Bank: in 2011 the PA borrowed from the local banking sector + delayed payments to its private sector, but “unlikely” this can continue

* Palestinian Authority 2012 budget isn’t yet published, but World Bank predicts a gap between needs + funding of over half a billion dollars

* The World Bank worries a “continuation of the current trend of reduction in donor aid would likely aggravate the Palestinian fiscal crisis”

* World Bank [circular reasoning]: West Bank growth slowed due to “falling donor support” + “the uncertainty caused by the PA’s fiscal crisis”

* World Bank: “The Israeli Min of Finance withheld large amt from 4th Q clearance revenues to cover some electricity + net lending arrears

* Israel told World Bank that some PA municipalities have recently not been paying their bills to the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) b/c…

* because the Palestinian Authority has been having trouble making all required transfers to local governments.. [to pay what they owe to IEC]

* Got it? Israel’s Min of Finance complains IEC is getting paid late by villages in the West Bank b/c PA has shortfall in donor funding…

* [or b/c Israel delays transfer to the PA of the VAT+ customs duties Israel collected at its ports + points of entry on behalf of PA]

* “Tax clearance revenues collected by Israel at ports + transferred monthly to the PA constitute the largest source of PA revenues” [70%]

* “However, the PA believes that there is widespread undervaluation + that Israeli Customs rarely questions declarations of WB&G bound goods”

* “Moreover, even if the Israeli authorities penalize Palestinian importers for under-invoicing declarations”, these fines are not given to PA

* …”because the Israeli authorities do not view them as part of the revenue arrangement” – World Bank report to donors for meeting next week

* So, the PA wants Israel’s Finance Ministry to turn over info on tax invoices issued by Israelis to Palestinian traders, including from Gaza

* Palestinian Central Statistics Bureau estimates that Israel imports to PA + Gaza in 2011 were US $2.85 billion [but only Israel knows the real figures]

* The PA is suspicions about this: In 2006, when PA tax officials worked in Gaza, VAT receipts from Gaza were abt 17%… but only 6% in 2010.

* Meanwhile, PA gets a bit less from Israeli-collected VAT on imports of fuel because Gaza decided to buy fuel less expensively from Egypt…

* The PA is also annoyed that Israel raised Allenby Bridge travel fees from $26 to $40, but still only gives $14 to PA [= 60 million NIS lost]

* Israel withheld VAT transfers to the Palestinian Authority in May + November, while US withheld funding from August [due to UN bid], so…

* So, the World Bank warns, failing to support the PA now may “jeopardize the PA’s progress” in building the institutions of a future

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A concise explantion of why the Gaza Power Plant shut down again today, causing significant electrical shortages in central Gaza

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights [PCHR] in Gaza has offered a concise explanation of the complete and unconscionable mess that has been made in a complicated situation that resulted in today’s shut-down, once again, of the only power plant in Gaza, which supplies one-third of the electricity needed by some 1.5 million souls in the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely-populated areas on earth, which has in effect become a large open-air holding pen.

But first, some essential background:

The Gaza Power Plant was constructed in the optimistic years of the Oslo process.

Hamas pulled off a surprise victory in the January 2006 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Fatah was furious. As punishment for the pro-Hamas vote, almost all aid was cut off to the Palestinian Authority [in both the West Bank and Gaza] by the large international donors, particularly but not exclusively those represented in the Quartet [the U.S., Russian Federation, the EU + the UN, which is not a donor but when it works on the ground is mainly an implementing body]

During this donor cut-off, for some 18 months, Palestinian Authority [PA] employees were paid no salaries, and relied on bank loans arranged by the PA but on which the employees had to pay interest.

In the midst of that turmoil and hardship, in late June 2006, the Gaza Power Plant was bombed by the Israeli Air Force, in reprisal for a cross-border raid by Palestinian militants on the Kerem Shalom area [just outside the southeastern corner of the Gaza Strip, where the borders of Egypt’s Sinai, Israel’s Negev Desert, and the Gaza Strip all meet], during which IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit was seized and taken into Gaza, [where he was held prisoner until his release in a prisoner exchange with Hamas brokered by Egypt in 2011].

For the six sweltering summer months of 2006, there was very limited electricity in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has supplied some 20 percent of the daily need in Gaza through 11 feeder lines at the northern and western perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Egypt now supplies 17% cross border from Egyptian Rafah to Gazan Rafah [the city of Rafah is divided into two], up from 11 percent earlier.

The Gaza Power Plant was not repaired until November 2006.

It then began to supply most of the balance of energy needed, to the central Gazan Strip area, where Gaza City is located, and where some 500,000 of the inhabitants of Gaza live. At the time that the Gaza Power Plant came back on line in late 2006, the European Union began to pay subsidies of some 10 million dollars a month or so needed to import from Israel [via Nahal Oz] the industrial diesel fuel needed to run the reconstructed Gaza Power Plant.

The PA ordered the fuel supplies for Gaza from Israel, the sole supplier, and the EU paid for them…

Continue reading “A concise explantion of why the Gaza Power Plant shut down again today, causing significant electrical shortages in central Gaza”

Donor Opium: making an argument that needs hearing

Here is an interesting film critical of the role that donor funding has played in making and keeping Palestinians aid-dependent in the occupied West Bank, Donor Opium:

It was produced by Palestinians in the West Bank with funding from the German Rosa Luxemburg Foundation [named after a committed 19th Marxist who starved CORR: see above, here was clubbed and shot to death ].

And, it contains insightful analysis by Palestinian critics of the current situation that does not usually make its way into the mainstream media:
Linda Tabar – Bir Zeit University Center for Development Studies
Iyad ar-Riyahi – Bisan Center for Research and Development
Khaled Nakhleh – Development Expert
Khaled Sabawi – Palestinian entrepreneur
Sani Abdel-Shafei – Business consultant in Gaza

Among the interesting facts: some $9 billion dollars in donor aid has flowed, if not flooded, into the occupied Palestinian territory [West Bank + Gaza] since the start of the Oslo process in late 1993, yet 30% of Palestinians are still classified as poor, and half of them are classified as very poor.

Since the arrival of Salam Fayyad as PA Finance Minister [and also Prime Minister since 2007],
Palestinians in Ramallah alone have signed up for credit that puts them $3 billion in debt

Some 30% of the Palestinian GDP comes from foreign/donor aid.

And, some 20% of the Palestinian budget is spent on security…

UPDATE: More on the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation work in Palestine, from the organization’s website, here:

    “For almost 20 years, the international community has been declaring to work towards “the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel”. Billions of dollars have been spent, thousands of projects implemented and civil society initiatives supported. Yet, there is no state, but an artificially fragmented society in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, in A-, B-, and C-Zones, and beyond. There is a lot of talk about ‘development’, but actual research points to the fact that the Palestinians have been de-developed with the help of international aid

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Part of the trouble with this place…

Take a look at this article, published here:

Look at the headline:

The Children of Shu’fat Camp Rejoice at “Animals” Muppet Show

.

OK. Now, read the article itself. It’s not so long.

It appears, from careful reading, that this WAFA article was produced entirely on the basis of a press release from UNRWA.

In fact, the original UNRWA press release is posted here — and it’s exact title is:

Children of Shu’fat Camp enjoy animals muppet show


[note that UNRWA prefers to use the word “enjoy].

———————————————-

QUESTIONS THIS POSES:

There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever in this article as written that any correspondent of WAFA — the [yes, official] Palestine News [sic] & Info Agency — was present.

So, how would WAFA be able to know whether the children of Shu’fat [Shoafat] Camp “rejoiced”, or not?
[And, why is “animals” in quotation marks?]

Is this a genuine human interest story — or is it, as seems completely clear, institutional promotion?
[UNRWA, Spanish offices in Jerusalem]?

Why would UNRWA + WAFA be so enthusiastic about the appearance of a Spanish performing troupe?  Is it because any infusion of donor money and interest, however self-serving, must be applauded?

Ah, yes. Here it is, this is exactly what it says in the story below. In the words of the Deputy Consul General of Spain Javier Gutierrez: “It is a good opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the ‘Spanish government and UNRWA since Spanish government is a main partner and donor for UNRWA”.

So, this is the “Thank you”… with, of course, the pat on UNRWA’s own back. The Spanish offices mentioned in the WAFA article [and in the UNRWA press release] gets something nice to show the folks back home in the monthly, quarterly and yearly reports. And, of course, so does UNRWA, as this highlights [entirely on UNRWA’s terms] the “good” work that UNRWA wants you to know it does…

But, it is, certainly, almost unthinkable that UNRWA and/or WAFA [and/or the Spanish Cooperation Bureau] would promote any similar performance by a Palestinian puppet show… More than that, there’s no way a Palestinian puppet troupe would be able to get, easily, funding for its work — certainly never to the same level that this Spanish troupe receives… not from UNRWA, and not from Spain.

And, what can you say about a news agency that does this?

Continue reading “Part of the trouble with this place…”

The Rafah Crossing + the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access

Egypt formally reopened the Rafah crossing today.

Journalists on the scene report that the numbers of Palestinians crossing were fewer than anticipated — apparently partly because of suspicions based on long experience that things might not work out as expected, and partly because of a shortage of money among many in Gaza.

It was one of the top stories on the international agenda today.

The Egyptian decision to reopen the Rafah Crossing appears to be unilateral – though carried out after considerable behind-the-scenes consultations.

By all indications negotiations are still continuing.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts suggest that the Egyptian move appears to be a reward to Hamas in exchange for the essential concessions and compromise that allowed agreement on reconciliation between it and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian movements who have been feuding as each controls a different part of the occupied Palestinian territory.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said in Washington last week with surprising equanimity that the American government was confident that Egypt could handle the security situation at Rafah…

The earlier regime at the Rafah crossing was established in the wake of Israel’s unilateral 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza.

The 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access which technically prevailed at the Rafah border crossing between Rafah and Egypt until today was negotiated over several months with considerable difficulty, and was only be brought to conclusion after the personal intervention of then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an all-night marathon session, on her birthday, 15 November.   It was intended to govern Israel’s immediate relationship to Gaza – which Israel argued was no longer occupied.

Within ten days, the EU managed to put together and deploy the EUBAM border-monitoring mission, and a liaison Office was set up, where EU observers worked together with Israeli and Palestinian Authority personnel.

In addition, Israeli security officials monitored the situation at Rafah in real time by live transmission of video surveillance, and by on-line computer transmissions of all the ID card numbers of the people who were crossing in either direction, Berger said.

One aspect of the Agreement that was constantly violated was the provision that “the passages will operate continuously”.

But, as it happened, the Agreement on Movement and Access was barely implemented, and for a very limited time only.

If Israel told the EUBAM observers to stay home, for example, for security reasons, the Rafah crossing would have to be closed.

The EU Representative to the Palestinian Authority, Christian Berger, explained in an interview in his office in East Jerusalem yesterday that it was originally supposed to cover both people and goods: “the original Agreement of 2005 foresaw that exports could take place right away, and if I remember one truck or two trucks were actually exported in December 2005 to Cairo. If I’m not mistaken, it was children’s toys. And then, nothing much happened. Imports were a different story: imports from the beginning had to come via Kerem Shalom [the Agreement did forsee capacity-building for handling imports direct at Rafah, after a period of one year] … However, during the period of one year, it was foreseen that with the help of the European Union but also with the help of the Israeli customs officials, Palestinian officials would be trained so they could [eventually] handle the imports themselves directly from Egypt. And at the end of that one-year period, an assessment would have been done, to find out whether the capacity was there for handling the imports. There was also a reference in the agreement for cars to be checked – traffic of private cars. Both things never happened – not at all, no. So, imports didn’t happen, and the training didn’t happen, and also the training and the capacity-building for cars didn’t happen”.

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PA announces, Israel confirms, release of PA tax funds to bank, salaries (to be) paid

There has been a collective holding of breath in Ramallah and the West Bank for the past 12 days, waiting to see if Palestinian Authority salaries would be paid.

They have been held up this month after the announcement of a Fatah reconciliation agreement with Hamas — considered by Israel [and the U.S., as well as other members of the Quartet, major donor countries to the Palestinian Authority] as a terrorist group.

Israel’s Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz said he would not release the money as expected because some of it could end up in the hands of Hamas.

The salaries – for between 150,000 employees in the West Bank, and an addition number of at least 30,000 paid not to work since Hamas has been in power in Gaza after its rout of Fatah/Palestinian Preventive Security Forces in mid-June 2007 — are due on the 5th of every month.

On the 4th of the month, Ramallah sources said that Israeli money would be paid — this was stated just hours after the White House announcement that President Obama would receive Prime Minister Netanyahu in the White House on May 20 (now, this coming Friday). They just didn’t say when the money would be paid, but the assumption was that it would be immediately.

U.S. Administration officials public, though even-toned, statements noting that as a new Palestinian national unity government had not been yet formed, there was no reason to withhold any money at this point.

A few days later, the Palestinian Authority [PA] Ministry of Finance called the bank in Ramallah to see if the Israeli refund payments had arrived. The answer, apparently, was “No”.

PA Prime Minister then made a series of daily statements, calling on Israel, then Arab governments who had not yet paid full amounts pledged, then on the international community to send money.

The EU immediately put money in the bank — but still the PA salaries were not paid.

The money was in the bank, but the Prime Minister and probably also the President wanted to maintain pressure on all parties…

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Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

This was a surprise.

The announcement came at the end of the day, in the early evening. Reuters broke the story. Hamas and Fatah, meeting in Cairo, had reached agreement on reconciliation. Further details were not immediately available, and only a few pieces of information filtered out as evening became night, and later.

With the lack of information, there was much scepticism.

And, signs of possible trouble just ahead.

Isabelle Kershner (and four other correspondents in Cairo, Gaza and Washington) wrote in the New York Times that “In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.  ‘The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas’, Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, ‘Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly’.  The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands”. This story is published here.

One Twitterer (from Gaza) called Netanyahu a “Drama Queen” after these remarks.

A Tweet from the Palestinian President’s office said, in response to Netanyahu’s remarks: @MahmoudAbbas – #Netanyahu has to choose between #Peace or #Settlement’s construction.

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What donor money goes for: Palestinian security in Ramallah interrogated hospitalized hunger strike

Since 12 March — three days before the protest on 15 March calling for national unity and elections to the Palestine National Council — a group of young men has been on hunger strike in Ramallah’s central Manara Square  (which is really a circle).

On March 15, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah in Gaza endorsed the call for reconciliation and called for a meeting.   The next day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in Ramallah said he was willing to go to Gaza if it would bring reconciliation.   So, the hunger strikers broke their fast, which initially lasted four days.

They waited patiently, but nothing happened.

So, they resumed their fast a few days later — and about four have been fasting for about two weeks continuously now.

On Saturday, one of them required medical attention.

This is the account published by Ma’an News Agency:

Alaa Qdimat, 21, fainted late Saturday and was taken to the Red Crescent hospital, activists said.

Protesters said Palestinian Authority police went to the hospital and took Qdimat to an investigation room to question him, despite his deteriorating health.

Qdimat said police interrogated him for over an hour, questioning him about the purpose of the hunger strike and threatening to arrest him as a ‘security risk’.

He said police also asked him who was behind the protests, and who was paying the strikers.

‘The 21 days that we have been here prove that no-one is behind us and no-one is paying us’, Qdimat said.  ‘We are still committed to go all the way’, he added.

After his interrogation, Qdimat was released from the hospital and he returned to the protest tent in Ramallah’s Al-Manara square “.

This account is posted here

Turkish President stands firm on Israeli responsibility for Flotilla fiasco

An Associated Press report published in Haaretz informs us that: “Turkish President Abdullah Gul said late Monday that Israel’s deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla would have sparked war ‘in old times’.”

Indeed.

Gul repeated his country’s demand, made following the Israeli naval attack at sea on the Freedom Flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean, that Israel “must adhere to international law and take public responsibility for the attack”.

In an interview with AP in New York, where Gul is one of many world leaders attending a special high-level session of the UN General Assembly, he said: “It is not possible to act as though this incident did not take place … In the old world, in the old times, if such an incident were to take place, wars would follow … But in our world today, it is international law that has to be taken into consideration … It is up to Israel. They have to do what is necessary since they are the ones that created the incident,” he added”.

The AP report said that senior Israeli sources had confirmed that Gul had made an Israeli apology a condition for meeting Israel’s President Shimon Peres in New York. Gul did not tell AP that this was a Turkish condition, but AP noted that “Peres said … that the planned meeting was scrapped because Turkey had set unacceptable conditions”.

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