Arab, European leaders vow ‘new era’ of cooperation

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and European Council President Donald Tusk attend the final session of the first joint European Union and Arab League summit in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh. (AFP)
Updated 26 February 2019
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Arab, European leaders vow ‘new era’ of cooperation

  • Leaders pledged to boost stability and prosperity in both regions and beyond

SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Arab and European leaders ended their first summit on Monday pledging to launch a “new era” of cooperation on issues ranging from counter-terrorism to migration.
About 40 Arab League and EU leaders stressed at their two-day summit in Sharm El-Sheikh how their challenges were interlinked and required joint efforts to meet them.
In a final statement, the leaders pledged to “embark on a new era of cooperation and coordination” that would boost stability and prosperity in both regions and beyond, all within a rules-based international order.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the summit host, highlighted common interests on counter-terrorism, migration, economic development and efforts for peace in Yemen, Syria, Libya as well as between Israel and the Palestinians.
However, there were differences on how to deal with Iran. One Western diplomat said several Arab countries wanted a firmer position on Tehran in the final summit statement, but the Europeans refused.
Both sides agreed on the need to work together to manage migrant and refugee flows as well as fight extremists, though Europe is itself divided on migration.
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the summit was important for acknowledging cultural, religious and other differences while trying to find “joint solutions,” such as in Syria.
He said the summit was a way to establish personal contacts and lay the groundwork for future talks.
German Chancellor Angel Merkel said: “The fate of the European Union depends to a significant degree on the fate of the countries of the Arab League.
“We saw this in the context of migration, of refugees, and therefore the task is to nurture multilateral cooperation, even if at times there are very different viewpoints.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel repeated an EU admission that it should have long ago held full summits with leaders of a neighboring region whose fates are linked.
“The situations in this region cause instability, insecurity, first of all for the region itself,” Michel said.
“There are countries that have numerous refugees following conflicts in the region, in Syria for example, but that also has an impact in Europe.”


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 56 min 26 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”