In the Knesset yesterday Ariel Sharon said that Israel's precondition for a resumption of peace negotiations is a cessation of Palestinian hostilities; he did not speak of the aim of subsequent negotiations.

It was interesting that Mr Sharon did not also demand Yassir Arafat's removal – was this because of the hostility towards Arafat shown by Hamas and Islamic Jihad loyalists on Monday that led him to cancel his planned visit to their Jenin stronghold?

Has Sharon now realised that while there may be problems with Arafat they pale into insignifance compared with the problems that would follow if Israel succeeded in toppling him?

In the past week Israel has also made clear its own conditions for renewed negotiations.
Mr Sharon has said quite categorically that there will be no action to halt the expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied land while he is prime minister. Yet a freeze on setttlement building was one of the first requirements for the peace process set out in the Mitchell report of early last year to which the United States, Israel and the Palestinians are theoretically committed. A second Israeli condition emerged at the weekend when Mr Sharon's own political party rejected his wishes and voted that there would be no Palestinian state – “Not under Arafat, nor under another leadership, not today, not tomorrow”.

Yet the objective of a Palestinian state has been supported by the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and moderate Arab nations.
The prospects for long–term peace are therefore poor. It will not be achieved by insistence on short–term cease–fires as a prelude to negotiations on political issues. Only a political settlement will secure long–term peace.

Ray Fleming

Mater of conscience

First the good news. The United States became the world's largest donor of development aid last year; it increased its contributions to the Third World, through the United Nations and other aid agencies and in direct payments to individual countries, from US$9.96 billion in 2000 to $10.9 billion. Now for the bad news.

The United States remains firmly at the bottom of the table in terms of aid given as a proportion of gross national product, a position it has occupied ever since the target of 0.7 per cent of GNP was set by the United Nations in the 1970s.

The US gives 0.1 per cent of GNP for development aid.
Very few countries have reached the 0.7 per cent target – Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden make up the role of honour. Britain currently gives 0.3 per cent and at the recent European Union summit in Barcelona all member states agreed to boost their aid programmes to 0.39 per cent of GNP by 2006 as a step to the higher UN target.

Overall, these are shameful and shaming figures made worse by the fact that the total of aid money provided by the 22 national members of the Organisation for Economic Co–operation and Development (OECD) – the rich nations' club – fell by 1.4 per cent last year from the 2001 level. Have we no collective conscience?



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