Differences of opinion have emerged in Europe over the parameters of the "funding mechanism" the European Commission has been asked to develop to transfer funds to the Palestinian Authority, European officials said Wednesday.
The decision to set up the temporary funding vehicle was made at a meeting of the Middle East Quartet in New York on May 9, and European Commission officials met in Brussels last week to begin discussing the issue. The matter is expected to be high on the agenda of talks to be held in Jerusalem early next week with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
One European official said the disagreements revolve around whether the funds should be limited to emergency uses, or whether they should be channeled into the PA to support the health and educational systems there.
For instance, the official said, one suggestion was to transfer medical goods and equipment into the PA, but not to pay the salaries of doctors and nurses. "But if the doctors and nurses don't go to work because they are not getting paid, what good are the supplies?" the official asked.
While some in the EU see the proposed mechanism as a way to prop up the health system in the PA, others want money to go to the educational system as well. This raises other questions; should the money go to pay the salaries of teachers who are teaching curricula drawn up by the Hamas-led education ministry?
European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner has said she hoped the mechanism would be in place by the end of June, a goal some European officials have deemed "overly optimistic." That fund could be run by an international organization like the World Bank.
A senior US government official said Wednesday that the international donors plan to channel emergency aid to Palestinians would not include money to pay employees of the Hamas-led PA.
Neither Washington nor the European Union, Russia and the United Nations was interested in paying salaries of tens of thousands of Palestinian government workers, said Scott Carpenter, deputy US assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs.
The workers have not received pay for three months due to international economic sanctions imposed after Hamas took power.
"I don't think anyone at this stage in the Quartet is talking about wages, so no one is talking about providing direct wages to any one in the Palestinian Authority," Carpenter said after talks with EU officials.
He said the EU would put forward detailed proposals in three or four weeks on how donors can provide aid.
"The clear spirit of the international community is... that we want to get something together quickly. We want to see it move forward, but we also want to see it done right," Carpenter said.
His comments came as the PA said Wednesday it does not have enough money to pay its workers, pulling back from a pledge to being paying long-overdue salaries.
Carpenter said the aid mechanism will initially be limited to test if it works in ensuring money does not end up in the hands of the Hamas-controlled government.
"Everyone wants to see what it looks like, and that includes the Arab governments in this as well, what will it look like, how you will guarantee transparency, how you will track the payments,," he said. EU officials said Monday that a first round of talks among experts from international donors failed to finalize details of the plan.
Brussels and Washington say the money should be used to support schools, hospitals and other essential services. Palestinian officials want to use the money to pay the salaries of 165,000 government employees, including teachers, health workers and security personnel.