Patten clinched judiciary reform vow from Arafat in return for aid package

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Series Details Vol.7, No.23, 7.6.01, p4
Publication Date 07/06/2001
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Date: 07/06/01

By John Shelley

European Commission President Romano Prodi and external relations chief Chris Patten exacted a tough price from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in return for sanctioning EU aid of €60 million, it has emerged.

European Voice has learned that Arafat sealed the deal by promising to approve laws to enshrine the independence of the Palestinian Authority's judiciary.

The Commission believes he will now have to abolish the territories' infamous military courts, which have ordered the execution of five Palestinians accused of 'collaboration' with Israel since January. "This [military justice] is something that has been one of our major criticisms of the Palestinian Authority," said Patten's spokesman Gunnar Wiegand.

The breakthrough came during last week's visit to Brussels by Arafat and his minister for international cooperation, Nabil Shaath.

At a meeting with the Union President and External Relations Commissioner, Arafat signed an agreement which will see the EU plug part of the gap in the Palestinian budget, caused by Israel withholding tax and customs duties.

Under the deal, the Palestinians have agreed to a strictly-controlled austerity budget in return for direct aid to pay salaries and keep basic education and health services going.

The €60 million will be released in stages over the next six months, subject to controls ordered by the International Monetary Fund to ensure it is being properly spent. The extra cost - the judicial independence pledge - only emerged this week.

Chawki Armali, the Palestinian delegate to the EU, said yesterday (6 June) it was unlikely Arafat had sufficient time to sign the new laws but confirmed that he had promised to do so in the "near future".

A planned trip to Brussels by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was cancelled this week after a suicide bomb attack outside a Tel Aviv nightclub last Friday left 17 dead and more than 90 wounded.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, has urged a new peace initiative in the next few days if the current ceasefire holds.

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