fayyad olmert 298 AP.
(photo credit: )
The world's seven wealthiest nations pledged their commitment Saturday to helping the Palestinian Authority spur economic development, stressing that it was crucial for lasting peace in the Middle East.
Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayad and Israel's Vice Premier and Finance Minister Ehud Olmert met this weekend with the G-7 finance ministers in London to discuss financial support for the Palestinians following Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
James Wolfensohn, the envoy representing the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU were also at the talks.
European Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia, who attended the summit, described the talks as "very positive and optimistic."
"We all believe that we have a window of opportunity to give a step forward to the peace process in the Middle East both at the political level and the economic level," he said.
Britain's Treasury chief Gordon Brown, who led the talks, said a private sector investors' conference would be held in London on Dec. 13. The meeting, to be attended by Palestinian and Israeli businessmen and investors from all over the world, will explore ways to revive the Palestinian economy.
The G-7 said in a statement Saturday that "economic development of the West Bank and Gaza is an indispensable element of lasting peace in the region." The officials said they were committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority with its "medium term development plan."
The ministers also "welcomed recent progress on access issues" - referring to the Palestinians taking charge of a border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
Fayad said the Palestinian Authority was in "urgent need of financial support" and was "facing a big financial crisis which requires an immediate response from the donor countries."
He said he reminded the ministers that the G-8 - the G-7 plus Russia - had agreed at its summit in Gleneagles, Scotland earlier this year on an aid deal of up to US$3 billion per year for the Palestinian Authority over the next three years.
"We told them ... it's time to turn these promises into practice," Fayad added.
Fayad said he also raised the issue of Israeli checkpoints and other restrictions choking the Palestinian economy.
On Dec. 14, also in London, the Palestinians will present their Economic Development Plan to a delegation from donor countries. The donor countries insist the plan must prioritize Palestinian needs from 2006-2008, including areas such as infrastructure, education and health care. The donor countries meet in March to decide how much money to give the Palestinian Authority.