The most hopeful aspect of the 43-nation consortium that pledged $2 billion aid over five years to economic development in embryonic Palestine is that Saudi Arabia promised $100 million in the first year.
Since autonomy was agreed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, this aid is not only tacit recognition of Israel but of the PLO as well. Cautious Saudi Arabia never recognized Israel, but it funded the PLO until the latter supported Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Following that, Saudi Arabia, always afraid of subversive elements in Arab society that might destabilize its own kingdom, consigned the PLO to perdition. This pledge is the first sign of relenting.
On other fronts, the Middle East agreement is moving forward. President Clinton maneuvered Foreign Minister Shimon Peres of Israel and Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan into a public handshake. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel is to hold his first working meeting with Chairman Yasser Arafat of the PLO in Cairo today. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is the enthusiastic host of this one.
In addition to such Arab opponents of the peace process as Iraq, and those on the fence such as Syria, there are nations that should have joined in the aid effort and have not. The refusal of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait to pledge, ironically, is based on their lingering hostility to the PLO, not to Israel.
Unfortunately, the Arab Boycott Office in Damascus, funded by Saudi Arabia, is being kept in existence ostensibly as leverage on Israel. That is a mistake. Israeli concessions would more likely come in a spirit of joint effort than from a vestige of hostility.
The donors' meeting showed a strong commitment to make the Israel-PLO accord a success. The U.S. pledged $500 million over five years, and the European Community $600 million. Israel, itself an aid recipient, pledged $75 million. Japan and the Nordic countries pledged substantial amounts. Should Saudi Arabia's $100 million turn into an annual amount, as hinted, it would equal U.S. aid.
The accord is gaining more adherents among Israelis and Palestinians. For it to work, as both sides recognized from the start, it must be an economic success for the Palestinians.
Fortunately, both sides and the world community mean business.