Palestinian Authority 'Surprised' by Qatari Pledge to Give $480 Million in Aid

The move could not have come without the Trump administration's agreement, or at least its blind eye, senior Palestinian officials say

Khalifa al-Kuwari, director of the Qatar Fund for Development, cuts the ribbon during the opening ceremony of a new hospital in Gaza City, April 22, 2019.
AP

Palestinian Authority officials said Tuesday they were taken by surprise by Qatar's pledge to give $480 million to the Palestinians. 

Officials in Ramallah noted that the decision to appeal to Qatar for financial support marks a change in approach from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose ties with Saudi Arabia are tighter.

The Qatari funds to the PA and Gaza are slated for education, health and humanitarian support.

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A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that aid of this scope, which has political ramifications, could not have come to fruition without getting the green light from the White House. Or, at least, a blind eye on the U.S. government's part in the interest of avoiding the Palestinian Authority's collapse.

The senior official said that despite the fact that Qatar is not a major player in the Middle East, "It's a very wealthy player that can help in a crisis."

Sources close to Abbas say that he had no choice but to turn to Qatar, in light of the severe crisis the PA is experiencing. "For almost a month, the PA warned and turned to Arab states and did not receive an answer," the sources added.

A Palestinian political source who was involved in the matter said that until last week, the PA was frustrated by the fact that the Arab League had yet to respond to requests regarding implementing a decision to supply the PA with financial security. The Arab League decided on the aid about a month ago in Tunis. Abbas then decided to send Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh and Finance Minister Shukri Bishara to Doha, to meet with Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad and other officials.

The PA is now waiting for the financial aid to go into effect, in order to improve its economic situation. "We need to wait and check that the money will actually come and we're not just talking about a promise," a Palestinian economist told Haaretz. "We need to see if this is direct aid to the PA, or money earmarked to be transferred according to projects and parameters designated in advance."

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem told Haaretz that the PA will use the funds to promote projects in the West Bank and Gaza, which will be carried out with help from international organizations, including the UN.

Civil Affairs Minister al-Sheikh wrote on Twitter that the entire amount will be under the control of the PA, and that it is intended for health and education, as well as providing electricity and humanitarian aid in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh clarified that out of the $480 million, $50 million is a grant, and $250 million is a loan that will be paid out in $21 million monthly installments. The remaining $180 million will be transferred to Gaza, to be overseen by the Qatari Fund for Development for humanitarian projects.

A Gazan economist, who is said to be affiliated with Hamas, told Haaretz that a rough calculation brings the amount of expected Qatari aid to more than the funds Israel has deducted from the PA's taxes over three years.

The Qatari money will give the PA some breathing room and allow it to function properly, he added. The economist also noted that the PA may have to pay a political price for the aid, and that Saudi Arabia's and the UAE's response will also have to be taken into account. Saudi Arabia is the most generous supporter of the PA, to the tune of $220 million a year.