Arafat Tells Conference: "Explosion Is Not Far Away"
Voice of Palestine
Mr Chairman: We extend our heartfelt greetings and appreciation to Belgium - its government and people - as we meet in its beautiful capital, Brussels, the capital of the European Union [EU]. Brussels hosts this important meeting for the donors, whom I thank for their presence and participation in helping our people shoulder their responsibilities and overcome the difficulties facing them in building their homeland, institutions and future.
Palestinian authority is "the only party that is paying the price of peace"
Allow me to address you with frankness and to say at the beginning that we are the only party that is paying the price of peace. Meanwhile, the other parties are benefiting - in fact they have already benefited - from the peace process. Nobody can deny the fact that the Palestinian problem is the most difficult and most important problem, as well as the basis of conflict in the region. This means that the Palestinian peace plan needs more important support.
The signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington and Cairo, and the generous promises that were made by the donors at the beginning of October, have created high expectations among our people who believed that freedom, independence and prosperity were coming. However, the implementation of the accord and its difficulties, and the delay in the move towards the next stage in the West Bank and then the policies of closure and collective punishment carried out by Israel following any operation carried out by extremists from both sides, have created a very difficult political and economic situation.
The delay in receiving aid from the donors has further complicated the situation. We are facing a devastated infrastructure, a very high unemployment rate, real poverty and the task of building institutions without funds. This is a very difficult task. The political difficulties and the delay in receiving funds has produced a serious and tense situation in our country. This situation only benefits the forces that seek to obstruct and strike at the peace process. This exacerbating situation is one about which I warned you, as well as my people, at the beginning of the peace process, when I raised the following slogan: Either we build a Singapore in our country or fall into the trap of the tragic Somali model. If we fall into this trap, serious damage will be inflicted on our people and on all peoples surrounding us. The damage will also undermine our hopes for peace, stability, prosperity, joint development and building a developed Middle East economy that supports and safeguards peace.
Significant achievements made despite difficult circumstances
We are fully aware that the responsibility is ours in the first place . Since the beginning, we launched a real attempt to solve our problems and to build institutions of self-reliance. However, I would like to ask you: What investor would come to a closed area to invest his money under such circumstances? The circumstances under which we began to set up our national authority in Gaza and Jericho are very difficult. We moved to Gaza; within a few weeks, 5,000 Palestinian police came from all Arab countries in a large logistics operation that many countries could not have carried out. We dispatched this force to Gaza and Jericho when the Israeli forces withdrew from there . We achieved - despite our small resources - security, peace and freedom for the Palestinian people and implemented the accord concluded with the Israelis with sincerity and commitment.
We found a destroyed civilian structure and a devastated civilian administration, particularly in the most important fields: security, financial information, taxes, economy, industry, transportation, public services and in other fields. We started building and we chose the personnel and trained and categorized them in a very short period of time.
You can recall the history of the independence of several other peoples to draw a comparison. We were helped by qualified Palestinian individuals, in which our people take pride. We established the Palestinian Monetary Authority and several scientific, cultural, health, economic and tax institutions, which began their work in a good manner. Of course, you know what it means to enrol 700,000 pupils in schools in the West Bank and Gaza without any aid, and we take pride in this despite the great difficulties. However, the difficulty of building in the absence of funds has made the issue very complex indeed.
We built an institution for economic development, PECDAR [Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction]. We also established a Finance Ministry out of nothing. We also established ministries for planning, social affairs, housing, transport and health, which work under very difficult conditions. We also established an important computer centre and various government institutions. For the first time in the Palestinian people's contemporary history, we took control of the Palestinian people's education in the West Bank and Gaza. We also assumed the management of hospitals and other institutions, such as the Palestinian energy, water and environment authorities and, recently, the Palestinian Monetary Authority.
We had to deal with the problem of 137,000 young men and women who suffered in the occupation's jails and detention centres and 118,000 wounded during the intifadah. So it was very important to reconsider everything that existed at the time to help in the rehabilitation, reconstruction and restructuring to ensure a better future for them and for our homeland.
Despite all this, we realize that we still have a long way to go to reach our goals and aspirations.
"Not a single cent is spent without supervision"
You have rightly asked us to carry out our work with the maximum degree of credibility, accountability and responsibility. I believe that now you can see that not a single cent is spent without supervision, control and auditing from your side and the side that represents you. This is something necessary for our people and government, and not just a response to a rightful international desire.
A few days ago, the first nucleus of the Palestinian monetary establishment was formed, and we published a law on encouraging investments. We support the private sector and are working for a free system and free market, and we urge all kinds of investors.
We have restored relations with all Israeli data establishments in order to develop a way for dealing with taxes and revenues. Mr Rabin has agreed to help us in tax collection through providing us with some experts. You see that the training programmes are continuous - day and night - at the highest possible level. However, all this requires time, effort and money. The effort is made in spite of the short time, but regrettably, money is not available.
Israeli delay on elections issue constitutes "a huge obstacle"
Our attempts to build establishments based on pluralism and democracy are confronted with a huge obstacle; namely, Israel's delaying the conclusion of an agreement on elections in the West Bank and Gaza.
Expediting the holding of elections will create the sound framework for participation in decisionmaking, will realize the people's supervision through the elected council and will give legitimacy to all our other establishments. Elections will give political and moral stability and protect the economy. Therefore, we ask you to help us in this field, and we ask the Israelis to expedite implementing their commitments in this respect.
We are aware of their dire need for security, but this can be overcome through joint cooperation between us and them.
What has been paid is "very slight" compared with what has been promised
With all our appreciation and thanks to all of you for the promises regarding what you will offer and for what you have actually offered to our people over so many years, we ask you to look at the abstract figures to realize that what has been implemented compared with what was pledged is still very slight. Forgive me for saying that there is a great difference between the promises, commitments, and payments. Here, I am comparing between what has effectively been paid and what has been promised.
Ladies and gentlemen: I am aware of the difficulties facing aid programmes throughout the world. Likewise, I am aware that there is an international competition for available aid funds. Similarly, I am aware that meeting the domestic requirements of your peoples is an urgent issue which you must address, using your own revenues. I am also aware that practical aid programmes now basically cover long-term development requirements. Nonetheless, I appeal to you to examine our particularly difficult circumstances, which render us the most underprivileged of all, compared with all other world states. For we are the only people who are still living under occupation. We continue to suffer under occupation. Moreover, we have thus far been denied the right to self-determination. At present, and for the first time, we are building a framework for our National Authority in the most difficult circumstances. The world shoulders a political, moral and financial responsibility towards our people, who are paying a price owing to the failure to implement the international resolutions pertaining to their just cause.
Hence, there is a need for your aid in all political and economic areas in order to enable us to build our institutions and cover our budget's deficit so that we may address all the challenges, which are not only posed to us, but to the entire peace process as well.
Unemployment in West Bank and Gaza creates "an explosive situation"
The difficulties that we are facing, which I have already mentioned - chief among which are the closure of the territories and denying our workers access to their work sites - exacerbate the unemployment suffered in the occupied Palestinian territories, which exceeds 58 per cent of the work force, all of whom are young people. Seventy per cent of our people are below 18 years old. Most of our workers are below 30 years old. Such unemployment on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza is bound to create an explosive situation whose consequences neither we nor you can bear, particularly since you know that the signs of near starvation have been seen in some of our areas.
Therefore, we need projects that can rapidly create job opportunities. We also need rapid accomplishments to improve the infrastructure and promote economic production, as well as exports. Similarly, we need genuine development in the aid mechanisms, modalities, strategies and priorities. We need rapid, intensive and job-creating aid. Such aid must help build institutions and be capable of addressing our priorities.
We need a mechanism for coordination between us and you, one that can resolve problems quickly, away from red tape. Such a mechanism should not allow problems to accumulate. Difficulties should not neutralize such a mechanism.
Promise to meet all donors' requirements in full; "explosion is not far away"
For our part, we promise you that we shall meet in full all your requirements in terms of all that can promote credibility, effectiveness and accountability so that you may rest assured that all the amounts released are properly used to achieve the purposes they are designed to serve. However, please act soon, for the situation cannot stand any delays. The explosion is not far away. It should be inconceivable for us to wait until we see the explosion blowing up all peace opportunities. What is at stake is the future of this sensitive region. It is the realization or frustration of hope. What is at stake is promoting and entrenching the peace of the brave. Can we build a just peace, achieve true stability and bring about prosperity for all our peoples, or shall we slide into a cycle of violence, hatred and enmity?
We have struggled to achieve just and comprehensive peace in the region. In the same vein, we have endeavoured to achieve freedom, independence and fraternity among the peoples of the region. We have also sought to achieve prosperity for all peoples of the region. Right now, we look to you and appeal to you to help us move to safe shores so that we may proceed towards the building of a happy future for us and for all our neighbours.
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