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Arab League chief says to work on PA 'safety net'

Dec. 29, 2012 5:08 P.M. (Updated: Dec. 31, 2012 7:04 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The head of the Arab League said on a rare visit to the West Bank on Saturday that he was still working on securing pledged funds from Arab states to the beleaguered Palestinian Authority.

Describing the PA's financial crisis as "crippling," Nabil al-Arabi told reporters in Ramallah: "Palestine is in need of material and political support."

"Arab countries agreed at their Baghdad summit (in March) for an Arab safety net of $100 million dollars each month, but unfortunately none of this has been achieved yet," he said.

Al-Arabi said he had agreed in a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas certain steps to work out a solution to this problem, without elaborating. The leaders also discussed Abbas' next political steps, which are supported by the Arab League as well as Europe, he said.

Egyptian foreign minister Muhammad Kamal Amr accompanied Al-Arabi to the West Bank, and said he delivered an invitation to Abbas to visit Egypt as soon as possible.

Other Arab foreign ministers were slated to join, but the broader delegation was postponed this week. PLO official Wasil Abu Yousif blamed the US for pressuring Arab states to boycott the PA after its success in a UN vote upgrading Palestine to non-member state last month.

Al-Arabi said the problem was scheduling.

"I have been informed by all Arab countries that once we agree on a date, we will all come to Palestine to congratulate the Palestinian president and the Palestinian people on recognition of Palestine as a non-member state in the UN," he told reporters.

Gaza visits

Al-Arabi is the first Arab League Chief to visit Ramallah, but he and other prominent Arab and Islamic leaders, including the Egyptian prime minister, met Abbas' Hamas rivals in Gaza during their brief war with Israel last month.

Hamas, which split from the West Bank after it seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, also won a diplomatic coup by receiving Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, ruler of the oil-rich Gulf state of Qatar, who pledged $400 million in aid for the impoverished territory in September.

The emir postponed a visit to Ramallah he had announced this month, disappointing West Bank officials who had hoped he would arrive bearing financial pledges.

The Gaza visits broke years of diplomatic quarantine for Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel or relinquish its arms, and increased the isolation of the Western-backed Ramallah government.

West Bank officials have watched with worry as uprisings in the Arab world divert attention from their diplomatic strategy, which has failed to achieve an independent Palestinian state.

Hamas militants, by contrast, have been heartened as fellow-Islamists rise to power in Egypt and elsewhere.

Abbas has accused Israel of "piracy" after it withheld customs revenues it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, citing months of utilities bills Ramallah owes Israeli companies.

The financial crisis has forced the Palestinian Authority to delay salary payments to West Bank employees, who have gone on strike in protest.

Reuters contributed to this report
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