With no sign of an end to six months of draining violence with Israel, the Palestinians will try to inject new vigor into their demands for international protection and economic aid when Arab leaders meet on Tuesday, March 27, in Amman, officials and analysts said.
Just five months after the last Arab summit in Cairo, which promised both moral and cash support for the then fresh uprising, the Palestinians will urge "stronger" words and "more action" from the new gathering.
"Last time, the Arab leaders were not under the impression that this intifada will continue for long, like most people," said Palestinian analyst Ghassan Khatib, director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center. "But now, with the intifada continuing until now and with (the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon and his dangerous policies on the situation in general, I think they will be more serious," he said.
More than 440 people have died, most of them Palestinians, since the intifada, or uprising, broke out in late September after a visit by Sharon to a sensitive holy site in east Jerusalem when he was an opposition leader.
Since the hard-line right-winger took power on March 7, numerous Arab officials have said they fear there will be no quick end to the violence, which has been draining the Palestinians both physically and economically.
On Thursday, a Palestinian Authority statement urged the summit to throw its weight behind proposals at the United Nations Security Council to send an international observer force to protect the Palestinians. The appeal amounts to a diplomatic challenge to Israel, which strongly opposes outside intervention.
But diplomats say a Palestinian-inspired resolution to authorize the force, which non-aligned countries brought before the Security Council on Tuesday, has virtually no chance of approval, despite European support, because the United States is certain to veto it.
Israel has imposed a punishing military blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the uprising erupted on September 28, preventing Palestinians from working in Israel and taking a heavy economic toll on them.
Khatib said international protection, which Arab leaders voiced support for at the Cairo summit in October just three weeks after the intifada erupted, had become the "most immediate need" of the Palestinians. But "different Palestinians have different priorities," he pointed out.
Supporters of the radical Palestinians Hamas movement, which is opposed to Arafat's peace deals with Israel, demonstrated in Bethlehem on Friday dressed as suicide bombers, demanding the Arab summit declare war on Israel.
At the last Arab summit, ordinary Palestinians complained of "watered down" resolutions and said it had done nothing to help their cause. Within the Palestinian Authority, others are putting the emphasis on financial support from the Arab world and its oil-rich Gulf states. "Their words will be stronger, but I think they will also take more action, for example they will be more practical in terms of financial support this time," Khatib said.
Palestinian number two Mahmud Abbas told the press recently that he wanted to see the "materialization" of a billion dollars of funds pledged by the Cairo summit. The Palestinians have complained they have so far received only one percent of the promised money. "We're also asking for economic support in the form of welcoming Palestinian workers into Arab countries that use foreign workforces," Abbas said.
During the October Cairo summit, several Arab countries refused to provide direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, which they charged was rife with corruption and lacking accountability. Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo earlier this month said the summit would also discuss the possibility of extending a monthly loan of $40 million to support the Palestinians' budget deficit.
It will also consider abandoning the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank (IBD), accused of slow management of the two funds set up by the last summit, as the mechanism for handling the money, they decided.
And with Israel's authorization of more Jewish settlement buildings inside the Palestinian territories this week, the Arab summit is also sure to reiterate its strong political stand against Israel. — (AFP, Jerusalem)
by Peter King
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)