P.A. raises $7.4 billion from donors

The Palestinian Authority raised $7.4 billion in pledges from international donor states.

Representatives of some 90 countries who gathered Monday in Paris pledged $7.4 billion, topping the goal of $5.5 billion by P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.

The money is earmarked for Abbas’ administration in the West Bank in hope of building up its institutions and affluence, thereby driving Palestinians in the impoverished Gaza Strip to vote out their Islamic Hamas rulers.

Hamas, languishing in international isolation since it routed Abbas’ Fatah in Gaza in June, described the Paris fund-raising drive as a “declaration of war.”

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who pledged $555 million for 2008 on behalf of the Bush administration, described the donor meeting as a sequel to last month’s Annapolis peace conference led by Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

“This is the most promising opportunity to seek peace that we have had in nearly seven years, and we need to seize it,” Rice said.

Abbas used the Paris forum to repeat his call on Israel to stop building West Bank settlements and remove military checkpoints so Palestinians can move about more freely.

Israel’s representative at the meeting, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, repeated Jerusalem’s statement that concessions cannot come at the cost of security.

Richard Prasquier, the chairman of the French Jewish umbrella group CRIF, said an improved economic situation for the Palestinians will help peace efforts by stabilizing the Abbas government. He also said  raising the quality of life for Palestinians will bring peaceful coexistence with Israelis closer.

Listener forums on Jewish radio stations in Paris were full of callers discussing the conference.

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