CAIRO – Infuriated by the latest American veto that block a mere international condemnation of the Beit Hanun massacre, Arab foreign ministers decided Sunday, November 12, to break a US-led international aid freeze imposed on the Palestinian Authority and start stepping up payments.
"We decided not to cooperate with it. There will no longer be an international siege," Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told a news conference after an emergency meeting.
"Arab banks are to transfer the funds without abiding by any restrictions imposed on the banks," said Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa.
"Arab banks must transfer the funds," he stressed.
The cash-strapped Palestinian Authority has been practically bankrupt since its two biggest donors — the United States and European Union — suspended direct aid after Hamas was voted to power.
Since then, tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants have gone unpaid, greatly affecting the livelihood in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Arab and regional banks have refused to transfer funds donated to the Palestinian government or to its workforce fearing US sanctions.
In their final statement, the Arab foreign ministers voiced their "utmost indignation" at the veto used by the United States Saturday, November 11, to block a resolution condemning the Beit Hanun carnage.
Twenty Palestinian civilians, including eight children and four women, were killed Wednesday, November 8, and up to 50 others were wounded when Israel shelled their homes in the already battered town of Beit Hanun.
Ten of the UN Security Council’s 15 members voted in favor of an amended text, introduced by Qatar on behalf of Arab member states, and four — Britain, Denmark, Japan and Slovakia — abstained.
The text would have condemned Israel’s military operations in Gaza, particularly the Beit Hanun incident, along with the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel.
It would have also called on Israel "to immediately cease its military operations that endanger the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, and to immediately withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip to positions prior to June 28, 2006."
The Qatari draft would have directed the UN secretary general to set up a fact-finding mission on the Beit Hanun attack within 30 days.
But the "no" vote cast by US Ambassador John Bolton was enough to kill the resolution to the immediate satisfaction of Israel.
The Beit Hanun carnage drew worldwide condemnation and led to calls for an immediate halt to a long-running Israel onslaught in Gaza Strip, that has left more than 300 Palestinians dead since it was unleashed in June.
As one of the council’s five permanent members along with Britain, China, France and Russia, the US has veto power which it has now used 82 times, including 41 times to shield Israel from censure.
Its previous use of the veto was in July to block a draft resolution that would have condemned Israel’s military onslaught in Gaza as "disproportionate force" and would have demanded a halt to Israeli operations in the impoverished territory.
"The decision taken by the Arab League today constitutes an important political support to the Palestinians," said Zahar. (Reuters)
Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud Zahar hailed the decision.
He stressed it could pave the way for the formation of a national unity government and a lifting of the international boycott.
"The Arab decision to lift the blockade is extremely important, it means that Arabs will revert to using the usual means to transfer aid," he told reporters.
Zahar recognized that "it will take time" before funds start flowing back to the Palestinian Authority’s empty coffers but stressed that "the decision will facilitate the formation of Palestinian national unity government."
"We will build on this Arab decision to break the blockade to seek a lifting of the international blockade," said Zahar, who was attending his first Arab foreign ministers meeting at the League headquarters.
"The decision taken by the Arab League today constitutes an important political support to the Palestinians," he said.
Zahar announced that Kuwait had just transferred 30 million dollars to the PA but did not specify how.
The Palestinian foreign minister said earlier Sunday that the costs of rebuilding the north Gaza town of Beit Hanun after deadly Israeli shelling amounts to 50 million dollars.
"The Beit Hanun region is a devastated zone which will require around 50 million dollars to rebuild all that was destroyed after the latest Israeli offensive, and to lend urgent and immediate help to the families of the martyrs and the wounded."