US to provide $60m in Palestinian aid, withhold $65m

A Palestinian protester kicks a tire following protests against US. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (AP)
Updated 16 January 2018
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US to provide $60m in Palestinian aid, withhold $65m

WASHINGTON: The United States will give a UN agency $60 million in aid for Palestinians but withhold a further $65 million for now, a US official said on Tuesday as the Trump administration appeared to carry out a threat it made two weeks ago to cut funding.
While saying the decision would sustain schools and health services, the US official echoed US President Donald Trump in calling on other nations to provide more funds because he believes the United States pays more than its share.
The decision to keep back some money is likely to compound the difficulty of reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and to further undermine Arabs’ faith that the United States can act as an impartial arbitrator, particularly following Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement reversing decades of US policy and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
A Palestinian official quickly criticized Washington’s decision to keep back some of the money and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was unaware of any change on aid but he was “very concerned” about the possibility of a cut in funding.
The US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) that will receive the money needed to be fundamentally reevaluated “in the way it operates and the way it is funded.”
“Without the funds we are providing today, UNRWA operations were at risk of running out of funds and closing down. The funds provided by the United States will prevent that from happening for the immediate future,” the official said, saying the additional “$65 million will be held for future consideration.”
In a Twitter post on Jan. 2, Trump said that Washington gives the Palestinians “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.
“They don’t even want to negotiate a long overdue peace treaty with Israel ... with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?” Trump added in his tweet.
While the US official did not link the US decision to Trump’s tweet, he made a point often advanced by the president by saying the United States had been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades and demanded other nations do more.
“It is time other countries, some of them quite wealthy, step in and do their part to advance regional security and stability,” the official said.
Trump’s aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid after the tweet, a second US official said. But those opposed to the idea argued that it could further destabilize the region, the official said.
“This decision confirms the US administration is continuing in wiping out the rights of the Palestinian people,” Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef told Reuters.
“First was declaring Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and today the refugee issue,” he said.
Historically, US administrations had said the status of Jerusalem must be decided in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The city is holy to three major monotheistic faiths.
At the United Nations, Guterres told reporters that the services provided by UNRWA were “of extreme importance, not only for the wellbeing of these populations ... but also in my opinion and an opinion that is shared by most international observers, including some Israeli ones, it is an important factor of stability.”
“So if UNRWA will not be in a position to provide the vital services and the emergency forms of support that UNRWA has been providing this will create a very, very serious problem and we will do everything we can to avoid this situation,” he said.


Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

Updated 22 October 2018
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Istanbul summit aimed at avoiding new humanitarian disaster in Idlib

  • The event will focus on ‘harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict’
  • Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to attend a critical four-way summit on Syria in Istanbul next Saturday. 

They will discuss recent developments in the war-torn country as well as projections for a political settlement.

Experts have underlined the importance of this summit in providing a strong push for key EU countries to work together with regional players to end the years-long conflict in Syria as it will gather the four countries’ leaders at the highest level.

The summit will focus on the recent developments in the opposition-held northwestern province of Idlib, and the parameters of a possible political settlement.

The ways for preventing a new refugee inflow from Idlib into Europe via Turkey, which is home to about 3.5 million Syrian residents, following a possible offensive by the Assad regime will also be raised as a topic that mainly concerns France and Germany and pushes them to work more closely with Turkey and Russia.

The summit will also aim at “harmonizing joint efforts for finding a lasting solution to the conflict,” presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin announced on Friday.

Germany and France welcomed the Turkey-Russia deal on Idlib that had set Oct. 15 as the deadline for removing all radical groups from a demilitarized zone in the province. Although the withdrawal of some opposition groups from the zone has not been accomplished in due time, Ankara and Moscow have agreed to extend the deadline for Idlib, which is still a strategic area where the opposition holds out.

“Turkey and Russia want the status quo for Idlib. Although the jihadists have not withdrawn from the demilitarized zone, Russia is turning a blind eye,” said Fabrice Balanche, an associate professor and research director at the University of Lyon II.

“Turkey will make some efforts to save face. Turkish proxies have withdrawn because Turkey pays wages, so they must obey, but for the jihadists it is more complicated,” he told Arab News.

According to Balanche, without the complicity of Turkey, the Syrian regime cannot take over the north of the country.

“In exchange, Turkey wants a buffer zone in the north, all along its border. The main objective is, of course, to eliminate the Syrian Kurdish YPG from the border as it has already done in Afrin. A secondary objective is to protect its opposition allies and the Turkmen minorities, many in the province of Idlib but also between Azaz and Jarablus,” he said.

But the summit also shows that these four countries need each other in the Syrian theater as each of them has stakes regarding the settlement of the crisis.

Emre Ersen, a Syria analyst at Marmara University in Istanbul, said the main goal of the summit is to provide a major diplomatic boost to the ongoing Astana and Sochi peace processes, which have so far been led mainly by Turkey, Russia and Iran.

“A second and maybe even more important goal is to include France and Germany in the reconstruction efforts in Syria once the civil war is over,” he told Arab News.

Considering the cost of the reconstruction, estimated at about $400 billion, Ankara, Moscow and Tehran are not ready to take this enormous financial burden without the financial support of the West, Ersen said.

“Both Paris and Berlin hope that Ankara’s ongoing efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib can be successful. If the settlement in Idlib does not work, everybody is aware that this may lead to a big refugee crisis for both Turkey and Europe once again,” he added.

Martina Fietz, deputy spokeswoman for the German government, told a news conference in Berlin that her country is also hopeful about the forthcoming summit’s potential contribution to the stabilization of Idlib’s de-escalation zone.

“Progress in the UN-led political process, in particular the commencement of the work of the constitutional commission, will be discussed,” she said.

The chief foreign policy advisers of the quartet have met in Istanbul in recent weeks to discuss the agenda of the summit.