Palestinian president appeals for urgent Arab aid

The Palestinian president is urging Arab nations to provide major financial assistance to cover a new monthly $100 million budgetary shortfall after U.N. recognition of Palestinian claims to statehood - the result of a punitive Israeli measure.

The appeal by Mahmoud Abbas reflects the severe financial fallout from last month's landmark vote in the U.N. and a fresh push by Palestinians to take advantage of the international momentum to rally Arab backing for peace talks and possible concessions by Israel.

Israel halted the tax transfer funds - customs duties collected on behalf of Palestinians - after last month's U.N. vote to recognize a Palestinian state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war.

"We are in a collapsing state now. We can't pay our salaries. So you have to offer this safety net. Do you agree, are you committed and how much will you pledge?" he told Arab League delegates meeting in Qatar's capital, Doha. "We have to know your position soon."

Abbas has been facing added pressures after rival Hamas in Gaza received major pledges of aid from Qatar's emir in October.

Last week, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad called on wealthy Arab countries to send $240 million a month to keep the government afloat. Since its creation in 1994, the Palestinian Authority has always had trouble paying its bills, owing to Israeli restrictions and its own inefficiency and corruption. Israel said it would use the $100 million to pay down the huge debts the Palestinian government owes Israeli entities, especially the electricity company.

Although there were no public promises of funds at the Doha meeting, Palestinian officials said they were encouraged by Arab League plans to create a special committee to help guide future negotiations with Israel. The move appeared as a direct swipe at the failure by the so-called Quartet of Mideast mediators - the U.S., UN, European Union and Russia - to move Israeli-Palestinian peace talks ahead and rein in Israeli plans to expand settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

"This is a new day," said Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, referring to the UN vote. "This requires a new Arab plan."