Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday called on Israel to freeze
West Bank settlements without excuses, using the high-profile platform of an international donors conference to deliver his appeal.
"I'll be eager to implement all our commitments under the road map, and I expect the Israeli side to do the same, comprehensively, and without excuses, by us or by them," Abbas told some 90 donor countries and international organizations gathered in Paris. "I expect them to stop all settlement activities, without exceptions."
Delegations are expected to offer around $5.6 billion on Monday to help lift the Palestinian economy and underpin the renewed Middle East peace talks.
At the start of the conference, French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged fast international support toward creating a Palestinian state in opening a conference of world donors, calling this a turning point in Middle East peace efforts.
"What we must do now is work together before the end of 2008 for the creation of an independent, democratic, viable Palestinian state, Sarkozy said in a speech to representatives at the conference.
The one-day meeting is the financial sequel to the launch last month of the first peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians in seven years. The talks are aimed at achieving an agreement on Palestinian statehood by the end of 2008.
"To turn this dream into reality we have organized this conference in Paris," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told Europe 1 radio earlier Monday, before the summit began.
"It is not just a question of money. It is a donors conference but also a political conference," he added.
Kouchner also urged ordinary Palestinians to turn their backs on extremism and support Abbas.
"We need to show moderate Palestinians that democracy is the only solution to live in peace," he said.
The European Union will pledge $650 million in aid to the Palestinians for 2008, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Monday.
Ferrero-Waldner couldn't say yet how much the EU - a key donor to the Palestinians - would contribute in 2009 and 2010 but said it would be a high level.
Meanwhile, Japan on Monday said it would pledge $120 million to the Palestinians, Israel Radio reported.
The Palestinian Authority has received donations totaling about $10 billion from the international community since 1993.
The foreign ministers of all the Arab states other than those of Yemen, Iraq and Syria - which are apparently not planning to provide the Palestinians with financial assistance at present - will be participating.
While the meeting will focus on plans to boost the Palestinian economy, envoys from dozens of countries are expected also to discuss outstanding contentious issues.
Delegates to the conference are also likely to issue a statement calling on Israel to remove roadblocks in the West Bank, European diplomatic sources said over the weekend.
Representatives from the Arab states taking part in the conference are expected to criticize Israel sharply over the issues of roadblocks, the closure of border crossings into Gaza, and the planned construction in the disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa.
"We need a clear-cut Israeli decision concerning this issue," said Palestinian spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the dispute was "ever more reason that it's time to get an agreement" and appealed to both sides not to "consider every bump in the road to be a barrier."
"There is an assumption here that there is not going to be turbulence in this process. There is. I don't care how much you talk to people before, I don't care how much work you do. There will be turbulence," Rice told reporters as she flew to Paris.
Int'l donors to PA to urge Israel to remove W. Bank roadblocks
An Israeli diplomatic official said Sunday that Israel is prepared to remove West Bank roadblocks. "There is Israeli willingness to remove roadblocks, and the subject was also raised while the PA's economic plan was being formulated, in coordination with Defense Minister Ehud Barak," the official said.
At the same time, members of the Israeli delegation noted that the country's security needs must be taken into consideration. The government is also expected to be open to continuing to transfer tax revenues, collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, to the Palestinian government.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will be addressing the conference, told reporters in Paris on Sunday that Har Homa construction was not a new undertaking and that it was important to progress toward the shared Israeli-Palestinian goal rather than getting caught up in mutual accusations.
Livni also said Israel is a full partner in the process that will lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state. The foreign minister is scheduled to meet Monday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
In the days preceding the conference, Palestinian spokesmen and the World Bank emphasized their demand that Israeli roadblocks be removed to allow people and goods to move more freely within the West Bank.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad said freedom of movement was necessary for his economic plan to succeed, and he and Abbas are due to call on Israel to remove the blockade from the Gaza Strip as part of an effort to revive the Palestinian economy there.
Fayad's plan calls for some 70 percent of the requested financial aid to go toward the Palestinian Authority's ongoing expenses, such as salaries and welfare payments, with the rest going toward development projects, including industrial parks and factories in the West Bank and Gaza.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is slated to make the first speech at the conference, which is due to begin at 10:30 A.M. Israel time. He will be followed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is expected to call for active international involvement in the region. Abbas has revised the speech previously outlined in Haaretz and is slated to make an explicit reference to Israel's announcement following last month's Annapolis conference that it would be building some 300 new housing units in Har Homa.