Arabs 'will help Palestine' after $200m cut in US aid

 

A senior Fatah official has strongly criticised the "unbelievable" decision of the US Congress to withhold nearly $200m (£130m) in aid to the Palestinians but insisted yesterday that he expected Arab countries to make up any shortfall.

Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the UN last month, claimed that Muslim countries had promised to make up for any cut in funds made in retaliation against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's bid for recognition.

Mr Shtayyeh suggested that the congressional block on the funds earmarked for 2011, as disclosed by TheIndependent on Saturday, was particularly embarrassing for the US because even Israel was continuing, so far, to remit customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. He told the Maan news agency that the block had been imposed six weeks ago but he thought it was unlikely to be sustained. He added: "It is unbelievable that any parliament imposes sanctions on a people just because that people seeks self-determination and independence."

The Obama administration is negotiating with congressional leaders in the hope of releasing the funds, destined for a series of mainly USAID-funded programmes ranging from food and healthcare to state-building.

Dan Margalit, a leading columnist on Israel Hayom, a newspaper broadly supportive of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said the move was a "reasonable fine". Mr Margalit said Mr Abbas had become a "spoiled child" of the Arab world, had violated the Oslo accords and had ignored "American entreaties" by pursuing UN membership. But Yossi Sarid wrote in the liberal daily Haaretz that while the US administration had issued a "stammered and muffled" condemnation of Israel's plans to expand a controversial settlement in east Jerusalem, the US Congress had imposed immediate sanctions against what Middle East mediators had called a "legitimate initiative" by Palestinians.

He said: "That is how the United States seeks a responsible and balanced position and the status of an 'honest broker' in the region."

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