Arafat's Trip to Jericho

YASSER ARAFAT'S arrival by helicopter to Jericho, following his visit to Gaza, carried unintentional symbolism: After the initial euphoria over last September's signing of the interim peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and beyond the globetrotting to carry on the talks over implementation, the organization must come down to earth and govern.

An initial step in that direction took place July 5, when Mr. Arafat swore in members of the Palestinian Authority, the body of ministers that will govern until democratic elections can be held. Even so, evidence of the limits to self-rule imposed by the interim agreement were evident. One of the ministers to be installed was absent; Israel refused to approve his appointment.

Key priorities are the economies of the semiautonomous territories. Following the signing of the accords in September, the World Bank and other donors pledged $2.4 billion in aid, to be spread over five years. Countries have offered some immediate cash to keep the governing authority afloat until it can begin to levy the taxes to pay for services. How economic development is handled - the speed with which aid comes and how responsibly it is managed - bears not only on meeting the expectations of Palestinians, but on how quickly the governing authority can solidify public support. Hamas, an Islamist group that sprang out of the intifadah and opposes the peace agreements, has spent the last seven years building a network of schools, sports and health-care facilities, and other projects. The group is positioning itself as an alternative to the PLO.

Unfortunately, Arafat did not help matters when he criticized donors for attaching conditions that would help guard against corruption and diversion of funds. Contributors need to feel reasonably certain that their money is being well-spent. Hence the targeting of much of the $2.4 billion to specific projects. Expressing disdain toward the World Bank for ``asking me to make my people pay taxes'' as the Israelis did suggests the need for a reality check on government finances. He should temper his criticism.

Yet his frustration is understandable. Rebuilding areas that have endured 27 years of Israeli occupation is no easy task and must begin as soon as possible.

A timely release of money from donors is critical.

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