Israel accepts resumption of aid to Palestinians
GAZA, May 10: Israel today accepted a decision by major West Asia peace brokers to resume aid payments to the Palestinian Authority a move that could ease the intense economic pressure on the Hamas-led government.
The Authority relies hugely on foreign aid to pay public sector salaries and run health and welfare services, and the powers decided reluctantly yesterday that there was no other way to stave off a possible collapse into anarchy.
It was not clear whether they would find a way to channel funds through the overall Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, without having them administered by Hamas an Islamic militant group officially sworn to Israel's destruction.
But Israel, which had pushed hard and successfully for financial assistance to the Palestinians to be severed after the Hamas-led administration took power in March, took the view that this would be possible.
''As far as we are concerned, the Quartet's decision to give further humanitarian support to the Palestinian Authority, bypassing the Hamas government, is definitely okay,'' Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Army Radio.
Russia, the European Union and the United Nations had all put pressure on the United States, which has taken the toughest stand against Hamas, to agree to ease the boycott.
The powers agreed that aid payments would be resumed for a three-month trial period, through a ''transparent'' mechanism that has yet to be worked out.
It is expected that salaries to the Palestinian Authority's 165,000 employees, unpaid since March, will be paid. The monthly wage bill totals around 150 million dollars.
''If you need a hospital to be run, and someone has to be paid, he will be paid,'' EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the initiative was announced.
The decision would appear to reflect a view held by UN officials that payment of salaries amounts to humanitarian support for the largely impoverished Palestinian population. Humanitarian support was never intended to be cut off. Local, regional and international banks have stopped dealing with the Palestinian Authority because they fear sanctions by the United States, which classes Hamas as a terrorist group.
The Quartet agreed to channel aid through what it termed an international mechanism. Diplomats said one option could be to use the World Bank or another financial institution.
Israel is also withholding around 55 million dollars a month in tax receipts that it collects on the Palestinians' behalf, and has frequently closed the main commercial goods terminal on its border with Gaza, citing security concerns.
It was not clear what terms might be attached to the Quartet's move. Hamas signalled today that it was no closer to accepting Western demands that it recognise Israel, renounce violence and abide by existing peace agreements.
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, a leader of Hamas, said those conditions ''aim to push the Palestinian government to make concessions that harm (Palestinian) rights and red lines and give the (Israeli) occupation legitimacy''.
Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghazi Hamad said a statement would be issued today responding to the Quartet decision.
Hamas has largely abided by a ceasefire for over a year but says talks with the Jewish state would be a waste of time.
If peacemaking with the Palestinians remains frozen, Israel has pledged to set its own borders by 2010 taking in the major Jewish settlements that cover large parts of the occupied West Bank while removing smaller, isolated ones.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said yesterday he might wait up to six months to see if progress could be made on peace before taking such unilateral steps.
Justice Minister Haim Ramon told Army Radio today that once Israel decided to go forward alone, ''final borders'' could be set as soon as the end of 2008.
Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia have warned of civil war long before then if the Palestinian Authority is left to collapse because of lack of finance.