Abbas: 'Convergence' will lead to war

PA chair blasts unilateral moves; US: PA must take responsibility for policies.

abbas 88 AP (photo credit: AP)
abbas 88 AP
(photo credit: AP)
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Friday in an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian that Olmert's "convergence plan" will only bring more war to the region. Abbas added that Olmert's plan will only endanger the chances of reaching a long term agreement, since it bypasses negotiations with the Palestinians. His statement followed a decision by the the United States to cancel or suspend up to $411 million in Palestinian aid rather than risk that the money might go to the Palestinian Authority's new Hamas leadership. At the same time, the United States said it would redirect some of that money to humanitarian projects for impoverished Palestinians. Humanitarian aid will rise by 57 percent to $287 million over several years, the department said. Another $13 million will go for new safeguarding procedures, including a special inspector-general, to ensure that even humanitarian aid funneled through the UN Relief Works Agency and approved charities does not end up in Hamas' hands, the department said. The money being cut or suspended includes funds for public works construction, training public officials and revitalizing the economy. Of the $411 million, $165 million is under review by US officials. The United States began a review of its aid package to the Palestinians shortly after the Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January, and already has eliminated direct aid to the Palestinian Authority. "It is our desire to help provide for the basic humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement read to reporters by department spokesman Sean McCormack. But, she added, "The new Palestinian government must take responsibility for the consequences of its policies." The United States has long channeled most of its assistance to the Palestinians through indirect means, to humanitarian efforts such as food, maternal and child health programs and education, and for projects that only indirectly benefited the Palestinian government. These include such projects as roads, water works and training programs for judges, electoral workers and others. The United States will redirect about $100 million from canceled projects to humanitarian assistance, the official said. Some of the remaining pot of approximately $140 million will be eaten up in the process of ending or disengaging from those projects, but it is not clear where all the money will go. The official said the State Department would consult with Congress on the next move. Congress has already approved all the spending under review, and has not yet considered how to apportion new money now that Hamas is in place. The West has been threatening to cut nearly $1 billion in annual aid to the Palestinians since the election, which turned out the Fatah Party that Washington had hoped could gradually move toward peace with Israel. Hamas has refused to renounce violence or recognize Israel's right to exist. Without money from the Arab world, Europe and the United States, a Hamas-led government would be nearly broke. President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have said Washington would not give aid to a Hamas-led government unless it changed its policies. Also Friday, the European Union's executive office cut off direct aid payments to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The decision - condemned by Hamas officials, but welcomed by the Israeli government as a sign of a growing international consensus - effectively stops the next installment of some $36.9 million in projects aimed at funding hospitals, utilities and education run by the United Nations, Red Cross and other groups. As with the United States, the vast majority of the EU's aid package does not go to the Palestinian Authority government. However, the decision has symbolic value and will add to the pressure on the Hamas leadership. The funds are considered vital to keep the Palestinian economy afloat - and the impact could be even stronger if EU foreign ministers decide at a meeting Monday to also freeze their governments' bilateral aid to the Palestinians. Britain and the Netherlands have already taken such a step. EU aid to the Palestinians totals more than $600 million per year and the bloc is the Palestinians' largest donor. The frozen EU funds amount to half of that annual figure, with the rest coming from the bilateral agreements to be scrutinized at Monday's EU meeting. Hamas condemned the move, which came at a time of intense maneuvering among Palestinian leaders to find a way out of the new government's isolation. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said the EU move to freeze funds "will increase the suffering" of Palestinians.