EU may double PA annual aid

The move would help Palestinians build a credible government and develop trade with their neighbors.

The European Commission on Wednesday proposed doubling its annual aid for the Palestinians - now totaling some 250 million a year - to help them build a credible government and develop trade with Israel and other neighbors. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner called on other donors to follow suit, telling reporters: "We must not let the chance created by the Gaza withdrawal slip through our fingers." She said a hefty rise in aid was needed in the 2006-2008 period to fund reform of the Palestinian civil service, finance election observer missions, rebuild battered air and seaports in the Gaza Strip, help Palestinians find markets for their goods and secure investments. In total, the EU and its 25 member states donate 500 million a year in aid to the Palestinians. More than half of that comes from the EU budget. James Wolfensohn, the Mideast envoy representing the United States, Russia, the UN and the EU - the so-called Quartet that has authored the road map peace plan - has called for a doubling of international aid for the Palestinians. For the EU, that would mean an annual rise of 200 million to 300 million for a combined contribution of 700 million to 800 million from the EU and its member nations. In a report asking EU governments to double their portion of the aid, Ferrero-Waldner said the European Commission was "determined to pull its weight, in facing up to the new opportunities and challenges post-disengagement." She insisted on two conditions: Other donors must also double their aid, and Israel and the Palestinians must put their shoulders to the wheel on the stuttering peace process that foresees an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. "I hope that this approach will be endorsed by [the EU governments] so that we can maximize our impact together," said Ferrero-Waldner. "We count on other donors to do likewise. Europe is ready to be a major partner for peace, as long as real efforts are made by all parties to create the climate for success." In her report to the 25 EU governments, Ferrero-Waldner sketched out a strategy for the 2006-2008 period that would cover political and economic help to enable the Palestinians put in place a government with credible judicial, taxation and other branches. "A key issue for the development of the Palestinian Authority is the question of political and economic viability of the future state," the report said. EU aid for the Palestinians in 2005 will total 280 million (US$340 million) after a special emergency package was added worth 60 million (US$73 million) to help upgrade the Gaza airport, develop the seaport and build housing.