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Peace Has Its Price : Gaza and West Bank require billions in aid

September 16, 1993

Those who have for so many years called for justice for the Palestinians and peace and reconciliation between Arabs and Israelis now have the chance--the obligation, in truth--to put their money where their professed sentiments are.

Wars and low-level hostilities like the Palestinian intifada have been costly for all sides. But the once-in-a-generation chance now at hand to end the sterile cycle of violence and win the peace will also be costly. It would be a political tragedy if a world that can only benefit from peace between Arabs and Israelis fails to do its share.

THE POLITICS: In a real sense making the Israeli-Palestinian agreement on self-rule work involves a race against time. It's vital that both Israelis and Palestinians begin to see in short order that peaceful coexistence is tangibly in their interests. In the absence of early positive results the rejectionists in both camps--right-wing Israelis who say the agreement gives away too much, radical Palestinians and their external sponsors who say it grants too little--seem certain to find increasing support for their opposition.

The overcrowded and impoverished Gaza Strip especially needs a large and quick infusion of development aid and private investment. Lacking resources and with massive unemployment, Gaza desperately needs infrastructure, job-producing industries, schools and health facilities. Jericho, which joins Gaza in the first phase of self-rule, is in better shape, but like the rest of the West Bank it suffers from a weak economy. Overall, says the World Bank in a new report, Gaza and the West Bank will need at least $3 billion in development aid and billions more in private investment in coming years.

THE ECONOMICS: Where will the money come from? The European Community says it can contribute up to $600 million. Japan is being lobbied by Washington to help out. Some increase in U.S. aid--perhaps of necessity modest for now--will also be sought, including more security assistance to Israel to help ease its deep concerns about how even a partial pullback might affect its safety.

King Fahd of Saudi Arabia isn't about to open his purse to Israel, but certainly he and the ruling sultans and sheiks of the Arabian Peninsula are able to contribute generously to Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. As an earnest of their support for the peace process they should also act to end their 45-year-old economic boycott of Israel.

The overall initial aid requirement can be measured in the low billions, not peanuts exactly, but minuscule compared to what still more years of confrontation and violence would cost the region and the world. Economics now looms large as a key to making this bold new experiment in peaceful coexistence work.

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