Mayor of Hebron seeks to un-freeze US aid

Friday 18/03/2016
Hebron Mayor Daoud Zatari

Washington - Despair is increasing among young Palestin­ians due to abysmal economic prospects and growing security con­cerns, Hebron Mayor Daoud Zatari said.
Zatari recently travelled to Wash­ington to urge the US Congress to re­lease $290 million in aid the Obama administration promised to the Pal­estinian Authority (PA) in 2015.
The mayor’s warning comes as violence is escalating across the Holy Land. An American tourist was stabbed to death in Israel on March 8th, one in a series of Palestinian knife attacks, shootings and attacks in which drivers rammed cars into pedestrians dating to September. The Palestinian attacks were trig­gered by clashes over access to Je­rusalem’s Aqsa mosque. At least 28 Israelis and 176 Palestinians have been killed in the incidents.
Zatari, speaking February 25th at the Middle East Institute in Wash­ington, told of the growing unrest after he met US congressmen. But he dismissed suggestions of a new intifada, insisting young Palestin­ians were acting on their own out of frustration and anger.
“I disagree with anyone who says it is an intifada or an uprising, be­cause none of the political streams were behind what has happened,” he said. “But young people are send­ing a message to Israelis: ‘Enough is enough. We’re fed up. We have no future. No jobs.’ Thousands of our young graduates and universities are unemployed.”
Zatari has served as dean at two universities in the Palestinian ter­ritories. He said that of the thou­sands of students whose gradua­tion he had overseen, most were unemployed in an economy that he described as crippled by Israeli checkpoints, land seizures, settle­ments, water shortages and the Is­raeli separation wall.
“Why can’t our prime minister build the economy? Because our borders are all controlled by Israe­lis. Air, sea and land,” he said, add­ing that Palestinian factory owners have been leaving because they are unable to import raw materials.
“They have a hard time releasing raw material out of the [Israeli-con­trolled] port. It will undergo a very complicated process for security checks. I’m talking about practice, not talking for the sake of talking,” he said.
Zatari described daily hardships of Hebron residents, such as driving 35 minutes around the closure of Al- Shuhada Street in what should be a 5-minute crossing.
Al-Shuhada is a 1km stretch that was Hebron’s main commercial and wholesale hub until 1994 when Is­raeli authorities closed it after Pal­estinian riots following an attack in which an Israeli terrorist killed 29 Palestinians during Friday prayers.
“We’re talking about a total of 1,200 shops that remain closed,” the mayor said. “The Israeli Army also took over the old vegetable mar­ket and the bus station [which now serves as an army checkpoint].”
Americans for Peace Now, a Jew­ish organisation that supports a two-state solution, alluded to a gen­eral and rising sense of anger and disenchantment among Palestin­ians in its condemnation of the lat­est wave of violence.
“This terrible escalation… is a re­minder that Israel’s security threats are not limited to tanks, fighter planes and missiles… but are also attributed to the festering occupa­tion, its ongoing rule over millions of disenfranchised, oppressed, an­gry Palestinians who can’t see hope of a better future,” the organisation said in a statement.
Zatari said rebuilding the Pales­tinian economy poses many chal­lenges, among them the reliance on outside support, with the US Agency for International Develop­ment (USAID) being one of the main lifelines.
About $370 million was allocated to the PA in 2014 through what the US Congress terms the Economic Support Fund. Half of the funds dis­pensed usually goes to pay PA elec­tricity and water bills to Israel and Jordan. The other half pays for de­velopment projects run by USAID.
In 2015, the amount was cut to $290 million for various reasons. Some insiders say funds were di­verted from the PA to Amman, which has seen its US aid rise to $1 billion per year to support Syrian refugees in Jordan.
Opinions vary as to why the funds for the Palestinians were being held up by Congress. Zatari said it was in retaliation for the PA’s request for statehood at the United Nations. Some Washington insiders said Congress is retaliating for the PA’s efforts to build a war crimes case against Israel with the International Criminal Court.
The PA receives more than $1 bil­lion in aid from the European Un­ion, the largest donor.