Peace task force asks Palestinians to reform


An international task force helping Palestinian authorities reform said Friday it was seriously concerned about conditions in Palestinian territories and called for humanitarian workers to be granted unfettered access.

In a statement wrapping up two days of talks in Paris, the task force also said support from international donors was “critical to building the foundations of a viable, independent Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.”

The task force groups the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia along with donors Japan, Norway, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The group first met July 10 in London.

During the Paris talks, task force officials met with Palestinian ministers and Israeli government representatives to discuss measures needed to further Palestinian reforms, the statement said.

“Given its impact on Palestinian reform efforts, the task force also discussed serious concerns about the deteriorating Palestinian humanitarian situation,” the statement said.

It called for “full, safe and unfettered access for international and humanitarian personnel.”

The 22-month Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, curfews and travel restrictions have wrecked the Palestinian economy and imposed severe hardships on Palestinians. International aid agencies have warned that some suffer malnutrition. Thousands of families depend on food handouts from international aid organizations.

The working-level meeting in Paris, organized by Norway, reviewed Palestinian reforms in seven areas — elections, financial accountability, local government, judicial reform, market economics, civil society and government ministries and the civil service, the task force’s statement said. Please see REFORM on page

It did not give details on progress but said the group discussed “the need for continued Palestinian commitment to the reform process, Israeli facilitation and support from the international community.”

U.S. President George W. Bush has called for widespread reforms inside the Palestinian Authority and new Palestinian leadership as prerequisites for a Palestinian state. Israel and the United States have accused Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat of stoking the violence that for the past two years has torpedoed Mideast peace.

Arafat’s Palestinian Authority has responded to Bush’s demands with a 100-day reform program and said it would hold presidential and parliamentary elections in January. Arafat, 73, has not said whether he would run, but he is expected to be in the race.