Tony Blair has found that it doesn’t take too much to wipe the smile off one’s face when trying to resolve the competing Arab and Jewish claims to the territory once called Palestine - known today as Israel, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza.
The razzle dazzle of the International Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian State held in Paris in December last year under Mr Blair’s Co-Chairmanship saw US$7.4 billion pledged over three years by the international community to meet a hastily put together plan prepared by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
By the time the Chair and two co-chairs of the Paris Conference convened again in Paris in January to review current progress, another $300 million had been added to the pledges.
However Arab Donor countries - whom one would expect to be among the most concerned to see the creation of the Palestinian State - had only contributed 20% of the pledged funds. They were clearly indicating with their cheque books that they were not too confident that the Palestinian State proposed by President George Bush was likely to eventuate - after 5 years of intense diplomatic pressure had failed to bring it to even the first stage of implementation.
On the other hand Europe had pledged 53% of the funds - indicating the huge stake they were prepared to invest in seeing the creation of yet another Arab State - the 23rd - to be located between Israel and Jordan by the end of this year. Their optimism in December is hard to fathom.
The months following since then have seen a sober realism that this money cannot solve the problem whilst the political issues remain unresolved. Indeed these donors appear destined to see their money follow the billions of dollars that have disappeared over the last 15 years with no appreciable improvement in the living conditions of the people for whom this largesse is now specifically intended.
The warning bells were sounded at the United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People held in Amman on 18-19 February when the following remarks were recorded:
“The Donor Coordination Adviser, Office of the Special Envoy of the Quartet (Tony Blair) in Jerusalem, Tor Wennesland, said he had hoped that he could have been able to flag some major success stories at the Seminar. His office was moving seriously forward on some major sectors and hoped those efforts would become specific and concrete and visible soon, but Mr. Blair was trying to achieve economic revitalization in a situation where the capacity of the Palestinian Authority was seriously constrained. In short, ‘the work we have been doing has been a major walk up a very steep hill”
Mr Wennesland warned:
“There would not be any sustainable growth in the Palestinian areas before there was a negotiated political solution to the final status issues. That meant that what was being done now would be of a temporary nature. There were limits as to what could be achieved on the economic and development side, given the current constraints. That was the challenge and the reality.”
“A major part of the ‘Blair vision’ had been to revitalize the private sector in the Palestinian Territory, but ‘we are not there yet’ [www.reliefweb.int].
Those donors who started honouring their pledges in the first days of January must now be concerned at their decision to part with their money so quickly. They should be worried about their money ending up in the bottomless pit of corruption that has enveloped the Palestinian Authority and appears likely to occur once again following this latest bonanza to emerge from Paris.
Tony Blair however is undeterred and is now seeking still further funds to add to the Paris pledges despite the warnings sounded by his Donor Co-Ordination Adviser just three weeks ago.
He has now urged private sector investors to attend a conference in Bethlehem in May saying “Palestine is open for business”
“The world is invited to the party we are throwing” added Prime Minister Fayyad. “From the depths of all this misery, we Palestinians are determined to authorise and to build that state despite all obstacles.”
Mr Blair sees the Bethlehem conference as the private sector partner to the Paris Donors Conference. However private investors will no doubt heed the lead taken by the Arab countries and listen very carefully to what Mr Wennesland had to say before being induced into investing their money with the Palestinian Authority.
Mr Blair will be launching the Tony Blair Faith Foundation later this year. The foundation will promote understanding between the major faiths and increase understanding of the role of faith in the modern world.
Mr Blair has certainly taken a quantum leap of faith in dealing with the Palestinian Authority and one can only wish him the “best of British”
The odds however are that he will end up with egg on his face - like so many people of goodwill who preceded him and found that when push came to shove the Palestinian Authority was unprepared to abandon its demand for return of all of the West Bank and Gaza and for millions of Arabs to be given the right to live in Israel.
Until these issues are resolved donor countries and private investors would be well advised to retain their funds firmly under their control. Perhaps this kind of monetary boycott might induce some change in the intransigent attitude of the Palestinian Authority and create the breakthrough that has so far eluded everyone who has tried.
With only nine months to go any such prospect of success looks bleak indeed