Quartet Agrees on Ways to Get Aid to Palestinians


By Sue Pleming

May 9, 2006

The quartet of Middle East peace brokers agreed on Tuesday on a new way to get direct aid to the Palestinians, who have seen most foreign aid frozen since the election of the militant group Hamas. The United States, which has taken a tough stand against Hamas, caved to pressure from quartet members Russia, the European Union and the United Nations that a "temporary international mechanism" was needed to avoid the financial collapse of the Palestinian Authority and more violence.

After Hamas won elections and formed a government in March, the United States and the European Union cut off direct financial aid for the Palestinian Authority. The authority has been unable to receive funds from abroad because local, regional and international banks fear sanctions by the United States, which considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

The case by Russia, the European Union and the United Nations was argued forcefully during a day of meetings that included discussions with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia who warned of civil war if the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority was left to collapse. "The quartet expressed its willingness to endorse a temporary international mechanism that is limited in scope and duration, operates with full transparency and accountability," said the quartet statement of the plan to get aid more quickly to the Palestinian Authority.

No figures were given and the European Union will take the lead in working out details, the quartet said, adding there would be a meeting in Brussels next week to discuss the plan. The monthly Palestinian Authority budget is $180 million of which the international community has been paying about two-thirds. Diplomats said one option could be to use the World Bank or another financial institution to channel aid, but this had not yet been agreed.


The move comes after the World Bank warned on Monday the Palestinian Authority could face a breakdown in law and order and basic services unless foreign donors step in to pay the salaries of about 165,000 civil servants. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States stressed such a plan would be for a limited period. "It is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people so they do not suffer deprivation," Rice told a news conference at the United Nations with other quartet members at her side. "The thrust of the statement is that the international community is still trying to respond to the needs of the Palestinian people," Rice added.

The United States also announced an additional $10 million in U.S. funding for medical supplies and equipment for the Palestinians but this would be directed through U.N. agencies and would not reach a Hamas government. Saeb Erekat, a senior aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, gave a guarded response to the announcement. "We had hoped the quartet would announce immediate continuation of aid to the Palestinian people because the continuation of the suspension of aid is leading to a humanitarian catastrophe," said Erekat."

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who had been pushing for the initiative, said the goal was to try and avoid a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. "If you need a hospital to be run, and someone has to be paid, he will be paid," Solana said.

Details were very sketchy over how such as mechanism would work and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said it should begin as soon as possible and be reviewed after three months. Russia has been more open to dealing with Hamas and Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov defended this stand by his government, which the United States has privately criticized. "Of course we feel it is essential to work with the government of Hamas," said Lavrov.

Additional reporting by Irwin Arieff and Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations and the Jerusalem Bureau

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