World Powers Gather in Paris to Bankroll Palestinian State

Delegations from the world's powers meet in Paris on Monday to agree on an aid package worth billions of dollars to stabilize the Palestinian economy and give political impetus to the newly relaunched peace process with Israel.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy (L) welcomes at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas (R) for a meeting prior an international donors conference aimed at reviving the Palestinian economy (Photo: AFP)

Ninety international delegations are attending the one-day Conference of Donors for a Palestinian State, the biggest of its kind since 1996, which aims to shore up the process jumpstarted in the US city of Annapolis last month.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas hopes to win pledges for 5.6 billion dollars (3.85 billion euros), the sum he says is needed to underwrite a Palestinian state and stave off severe hardship in the territories.

The amount the Palestinians needed for 2008 was "around 1.6 to 1.7 billion," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told journalists accompanying her on the plane to Paris.

Sources in her delegation said the United States was prepared to shoulder one third of the financial burden in 2008 by forking up 550 million dollars. The German government, meanwhile, promised 200 million dollars by 2010.

"This is an historically large figure. I think this is the largest assistance package that we have ever done for the Palestinians," a senior US official told journalists on condition of anonymity.

Among the delegates gathering at a conference centre by the Arc de Triomphe are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and former British prime minister Tony Blair.

Blair, the international envoy for the Middle East Quartet, said in an interview published Monday in The Financial Times that he was "reasonably confident" that Palestinian requests for aid would be met at the donor conference.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni represents Israel, which is under pressure to lift restrictions on freedom of movement in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to allow the Palestinian Authority's plan to take shape.

Speaking to AFP on the eve of the meeting, Livni said that "the creation of a Palestinian state and the modernization of the Palestinian economy are in the interests of Israel, just as stopping terrorism is in the interests of the Palestinians."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy will open the proceedings, at Abbas' side, with a speech at 9:30 am (0830 GMT), before handing over to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for the rest of the day.

"It is urgent to stabilize the Palestinian economy and implement measures on the ground that will improve the daily lives of Palestinians," said Sarkozy's spokesman David Martinon.

Some 70 percent of pledged funds will go to stabilizing the Palestinian budget, and the rest on development projects.

Conference members are expected to urge Israel -- which operates 550 checkpoints in the West Bank -- to gradually lift restrictions on movement between Palestinian towns and villages, while asking the Palestinians for a big push to improve security conditions.

Source: AFP

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