Bronwen Maddox
Time (Commentary)
December 18, 2007 - 12:28pm

Today's conference in Paris, a drive to breathe life into the Palestinian economy, is as easily derided as last month's summit in Annapolis, but it is worth much more.

There are three particularly valuable consequences. The first is that, judging by yesterday's pledges, the meeting will raise most of the $5.6 billion over three years that Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Prime Minister, has requested. That should provide some immediate relief from deteriorating conditions in the West Bank, although the package offers essentially nothing to Gaza. The US's aim in its donation is to show Palestinians that life is better in the West Bank than in Hamas-controlled Gaza, and so to “reward” moderates and punish supporters of militants.

Second, Fayyad, an internationally respected economist, has promised deep reforms of the Palestinian bureaucracy, which under Yassir Arafat had an immaculate record of corruption and inefficiency. “Usually in the past we wrote a cheque and we didn't know where it was spent”, said Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Minister. This time, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will issue reports every three months to help the donors to track the money — although there remain important questions about how it should be spent.

Third, giving the money will focus donors' minds on the paralysed politics of the region, and help to stop their attention wandering. That is particularly useful in the case of the Arab donors, assuming that their cash follows their promises (as it has not always done).

But on its own the cash is not enough to bring the revival the conference wants. Without substantial and urgent changes by Israel to its lockdown control of Palestinian movement on the West Bank, the area will remain as the World Bank now describes it: a “shattered economic space” incapable of much activity.

The revival now needs a response from Israel that goes beyond its insistance that it cannot compromise its own security, and cannot relax controls until Palestinian security is able to ensure that no terrorism attempts follow. “The central issue is the Palestinian Authority's ability to deal as it should with the subject of security, to eradicate the terror organisations”, said Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister.

None of the donors has disputed Israel's right to protect its people against suicide bombers and rocket attacks. It has every reason to point out how often those followed broken promises by Palestinian leaders. But to pretend that it can seal itself off from a population living so near by, in worsening conditions, with soaring resentment, is delusion.

As the World Bank reports, the ability of Palestinians on the West Bank to carry out commercial life has been choked off by the permits from Israeli authorities required to travel between the main towns, and hundreds of checkpoints that make travel unpredictable even with a permit. The bank acknowledges Israeli security concerns, but also argues that the restrictions exist to protect Jewish settlers in the West Bank “at the expense of the Palestinian population”.

Israel now needs to address these concerns in detail. Many, for example, might grant it the principle of its separation barrier but contest the route. But the answer that Israel cannot contemplate any change at all in its control network is no answer at all. The risk is that the funds raised by this conference can be used for nothing but humanitarian aid, because economic life dwindles further, while the militants steadily win over the moderates even on the West Bank.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017