Avi Issacharoff, Assaf Uni
December 17, 2007 - 1:29pm

The international donors conference to the Palestinian Authority is expected to issue a statement here today calling on Israel to remove roadblocks in the West Bank, European diplomatic sources said over the weekend.

Representatives of the participating Arab countries are expected to criticize Israel sharply over the issues of roadblocks, the Gaza closure and construction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.

The PA is hoping the donors conference will raise pledges for the unprecedented sum of $5.6 billion over the next three years.

An Israeli diplomatic official said yesterday that Israel is prepared to remove West Bank roadblocks. "There is Israeli willingness to remove roadblocks, and the subject was also raised while the PA's economic plan was being formulated, in coordination with Defense Minister Ehud Barak," the official said.

At the same time, members of the Israeli delegation noted that the country's security needs must be taken into consideration. The government is also expected to be open to continuing to transfer Palestinian tax funds to the Palestinian Authority.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will be addressing the conference, told reporters here yesterday that Har Homa construction was not a new undertaking and that it was important to progress toward the shared Israeli-Palestinian goal rather than getting caught up in mutual accusations. She also said Israel is a full partner in the process that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. Livni is scheduled to meet with United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is also attending the meeting, tomorrow.

In the days preceding the conference, Palestinian spokesmen and the World Bank emphasized their demand that Israeli roadblocks be removed to allow people and goods to move more freely within the West Bank.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said freedom of movement was necessary for his economic plan to succeed, and he and Abbas are due to call on Israel to remove the blockade from the Gaza Strip as part of an effort to revive the Palestinian economy there.

Fayyad's plan calls for some 70 percent of the requested financial aid to go toward the Palestinian Authority's ongoing expenses, such as salaries and welfare payments, with the rest going toward development projects, including industrial parks and factories in the West Bank and Gaza.

Meanwhile, Palestinian sources said they expect the PA to win pledges for some 80 percent of the sum they are requesting. Britain and the United States are expected to pledge some $500 million each, and the European Union is expected to pledge between $500 million and $700 million. Japan is expected to pledge a similar amount. Germany announced yesterday that it would pledge about $300 million. It is not yet clear how much money the Arab states will donate.

The Palestinian Authority has received donations totaling about $10 billion from the international community since 1993.

More than 90 representatives of countries and international organizations will be participating in the donors conference, which is the largest since 1996. The foreign ministers of all the Arab states other than those of Yemen, Iraq and Syria - which are apparently not planning to provide the Palestinians with financial assistance at present - will be participating.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is slated to make the first speech at the conference, which is due to begin at 10:30 A.M. Israel time. He will be followed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to call for active international involvement in the region. Abbas has revised the speech previously outlined in Haaretz and is slated to make an explicit reference to Israel's announcement following last month's Annapolis conference that it would be building 300 new housing units in Har Homa.

Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will also speak at the conference.


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