Let me start by also thanking you for gathering here tonight. I have been to Ramallah on a number of occasions now and always greatly look forward to our exchanges. I am delighted to be back and have the opportunity to speak to you again.
As you may be aware, the UK currently provides the Palestinian Authority with direct financial assistance that totals approximately 30 million pounds per year. I am proud that we are one of the few donors that consistently delivers guaranteed support to the Palestinian Government which we do on a quarterly basis. Our funding is channelled through a World Bank Trust Fund and is linked to a programme of government reforms. This on-going commitment allows the PA to maintain autonomy over its finances which is a sign of our continuing trust in the Palestinian Authority.
Alongside organisations like the World Bank, and IMF we wholeheartedly support the PA in its continuing work to run an effective state. It has proved its capability to deliver services and security. Our endorsement of the PA’s efforts is also an endorsement of your hard work in helping to build a viable Palestinian State.
The role of civil society in supporting and holding governments to account is undoubtedly a critical one. The situation we find ourselves in here is unique. Whilst we are confident that the PA has the capacity to run an effective state, we are aware that there is no functioning legislature and the elections which President Abbas seeks are overdue. The reasons for this are both complex and political. For this reason I value even more the role that you as civil society play in making sure that your leaders are accountable to you.
Your vibrancy, skills and support are vital to ensuring that the PA manages its scarce resources on your behalf in a responsible and efficient way. This is of course important to you but also to donors and their tax payers, including mine in the UK. Part of my answer to those in the UK who ask why we are supporting the PA, is that the work that you do helps to ensure that the aid we and others provide is used for the purposes it was given.
But, I believe that the role you play in society goes beyond holding the PA to account for its resources, important though this is.
Civil society organisations such as yours are vital to promoting tolerance and the lasting peace that we all want to see. I know that you will agree with me that your role in challenging behaviour - wherever you may see it - that makes peace less likely is critical. Thanks to you and your organisations the vulnerable are being protected and young people are growing up with a sense of hope and belonging. Young people’s views, in particular, are critical to shaping a long-lasting, credible Palestinian State, and I applaud the important work you undertake to engage them.
On this basis, I am pleased to announce new UK funding to the sum of two million pounds over the next two years. Through DFID’s ‘Supporting Stability and Promoting Democracy Programme’ we will endeavour to help the Palestinian Authority to become more open and accountable.
I am delighted that the British Council and a number of local and international organisations won the contract to deliver this programme on DFID’s behalf. Amongst other things our new programme will support organisations like yours to track public spending, help under-represented groups to be heard, and support young people, particularly women, in their engagement with decision makers.
Lastly, I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my government’s position on the Middle East Peace Process. The Foreign Secretary has made clear that there is no more urgent a foreign policy priority in 2013 than restarting constructive negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Continuing to provide support to you and the PA therefore remains at the forefront of our agenda.
I thank you again for inviting me here today and I look forward to returning later this year to see the continuing effects of your hard work.