The Clinton administration Thursday summoned the wealthy nations of Europe and the Middle East to a conference in Washington later this month in an effort to raise billions of dollars to give the Palestinians a taste of the fruits of peace.
“President Clinton has invited some 50 nations and multilateral organizations to attend the conference at the foreign minister and minister level,” State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said.
He said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will preside over the gathering.
The administration announced the conference a few hours after the Israeli Cabinet gave final approval to a plan for a further troop withdrawal from the West Bank, as required under the Wye Plantation agreement signed last month. The Palestinian Authority has promised parallel steps to prevent the use of territory it controls as a base for terrorist attacks on Israel.
“Both sides are in fact carrying out their obligations under the terms of the agreement,” Rubin said.
The administration has already promised to increase its annual $3 billion in aid to Israel to help defray the cost of the redeployment. The administration has also pledged additional aid to the Palestinians, although it has not yet said how much will go to either party.
Although countries attending the Nov. 30 “pledging conference” will also be invited to give money to the Israelis, U.S. officials said they expect most of the money to go to the Palestinians, who lack Israel’s financial resources.
Rubin declined to reveal Washington’s goal for the meeting but expressed hope that participants will contribute at least as much as the $2.3 billion promised at a similar conference in 1993 after Israel and the Palestinians signed the peace agreement negotiated in Oslo and signed on the White House lawn.
“I do expect to have a multibillion [dollar] goal for this,” Rubin said.
Rubin said a few more than 10 countries have already agreed to attend, including four Arab states: Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan. Officials said Saudi Arabia and the other oil-rich Arab kingdoms of the Persian Gulf are also expected to attend.
Rubin said that $2.3 billion was pledged at the 1993 conference and that the participants have promised $1.6 billion since then, raising the total to $3.9 billion.
He said $2.1 billion of the pledged money has already been delivered to the Palestinian Authority. U.S. aid to the Palestinians has totaled $345 million since 1993, although congressional restrictions have blocked U.S. aid in recent years.
The purpose of economic aid to the Palestinians, Rubin said, is to give them concrete benefits from peace and to create a situation in which both Israel and the Palestinians enjoy an improved standard of living because of their peace deals.
“As each fulfills its responsibilities, we will see the situation on the ground changing in concrete terms,” Rubin said. “And we will also, we hope, see the building of the kind of relationship so necessary to forge peace over the long term.”