Statement by Norway at the AHLC Meeting in Brussels

High Representative, Ministers, Excellences, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with great pleasure I welcome you to this meeting of the AHLC in Brussels.

Let me thank my good friend and co-sponsor of the AHLC, High Representative Federica Mogherini for kindly hosting us in Brussels.

I am also happy to wish a warm welcome to special representative Jason Greenblatt and our second co-sponsor, the US.

Let me extend a warm welcome to the ministers from the PA, Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, Water Minister Mazen Gneim and acting Energy Minister Zafer Milhem, and to the Minister for regional cooperation in Israel, Tzachi Hanegby.

Delegates and friends, I have three main messages:

First,

There was a clear message of renewed effort to engage in a political process to find an agreed two-state solution which came out of the meeting between President Trump and President Abbas yesterday. That was equally the case with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s meeting on 15 February.

The purpose of the AHLC is to underpin such political efforts.

Therefore, the AHLC should send a strong message of support today: We stand ready to continue our financial and technical assistance in building the necessary institutional and economic foundations. We will lend our political leverage for the political process to succeed. 

Second,

Last year, Norway proposed a threefold agenda for the AHLC: to focus on fiscal sustainability, economic development, and Gaza reconstruction and recovery.

The fiscal performance by the PA improved in 2016. For 2017, the PA budget projects an unsustainable financing gap. The external budget support has dropped considerably. There is no easy way to neither reduce the expenditures nor increase the domestic income.

I urge the donors to increase their budget support, and the PA to show maximum budget restraint while accelerating necessary reforms. It is critical to improve the collection of taxes and VAT and close the outstanding fiscal issues.

I welcome the constructive discussions between the two parties on fiscal sector stability, especially the recent decision by Israel to maintaining banking relations, as well as continued progress towards bringing the Palestinian government’s Anti- Money Laundering regime in line with international standards, with support from international partners.

On economic development, there has been insufficient progress. The electricity agreement reached last fall was a positive breakthrough, but we are concerned about delays in its implementation. There is huge potential for practical work that would change the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

I call on Israel to open for Palestinian economic activities in Area C.

It is possible to provide the West Bank and Gaza with sufficient energy and water within a reasonable timeframe. The necessary measures have been identified.

We need focused and better coordinated efforts between the parties, and between the parties and the donors. We need planning, financing and implementation. We need to improve the collection of end-user payment for services delivered.

Norway is looking forward to the launch of new local aid donor coordination structure shortly, in line with the new National Policy Agenda. This will provide leadership and focus our work.

Third,

I am deeply worried for Gaza. Two million people live there. Their situation is precarious in economic, political and humanitarian terms.

I am concerned with the unacceptable practice by Hamas of taxing the supplies provided by the PA, and to levy additional customs on all imported goods into Gaza.

I urge all parties to de-escalate the situation, and to take into consideration the needs of the people.

In the donor conference in Cairo in 2014, we pledged to transform Gaza, and not only to reconstruct. We can and must do more. I call on the donors to make good on their pledges in Cairo.

Dear friends,

We can deliver on our threefold agenda. We can change the situation for the people in the West Bank and Gaza. By doing so, we also prepare the ground for a renewed political process which can improve the situation for both peoples.