Palestinians to Seek $4 Billion at Oslo Aid Talks

The Palestinian Authority will ask donor countries at a meeting in Oslo for about $4 billion over three years to stave off an economic crisis, Palestinian officials in Ramallah said Monday. The two-day conference opens Wednesday.

They said the Palestinian Authority would seek the money to finance infrastructure projects including air and sea ports, to help with the 2005 budget and to create jobs.

"We need $1.3 to $1.4 billion a year," Economy Minister Maher al-Masri said. "We will present our plan to the donor countries and then discussions will start. They will decide how to respond to our plan in a separate meeting in January."

UN Middle East envoy Terje Roed-Larsen has said the PA needs $650 million in foreign aid by June. The Oslo conference of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates aid to the Palestinians, could raise some of it.

International aid to the PA has fallen sharply because donors could not see how their money was being spent, Palestinian officials and Western diplomats said. But the Palestinians are making progress on reforms, diplomats said.

Palestinian officials said they hoped European Union members, the United States and Japan would give $1 billion for the construction of infrastructure such as a Gaza sea port and airport, new industrial zones and other development projects.

Their plan also earmarked $325 million for budgeted salary payments and $510 million for loans to help the private sector. Part of the money would be allocated to job creation.

The World Bank has said nearly half of the 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live in poverty on less than $2 a day, and up to 600,000 cannot afford basic necessities. It said international donations averaging $950 million a year from 2001 to 2003 had warded off economic disaster, but that "donor fatigue" loomed as unrest persisted, although the level of violence had fallen.