(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
The mechanism being developed by the European Union will be crafted in such a way as to encourage Israel to funnel the Palestinian Authority tax revenues it is withholding through its channels and toward Palestinian humanitarian aid, EC Ambassador Ramiro Cibrian-Uzal said Monday.
As ministers from the 25 European Union countries gathered in Brussels to discuss the details of the mechanism, among other issues, Cibrian-Uzal also said the EU was unlikely to support a non-negotiated definition of Israel's permanent borders.
His comments came as part of an interview with The Jerusalem Post that will be published in full on Thursday.
In regards to the funding mechanism the EC is developing to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to the Palestinians while preventing the flow of money to the Hamas-led government, Cibrian-Uzal said the EU is seeking consensus among the Quartet members in terms of its scope and shape. A major objective, he said, was to provide a conduit for Israel to release the $55 million a month in tax revenues it collects for the PA toward humanitarian aid in the PA territories.
"The modus operandi of the Quartet was that no member of the Quartet explicitly vetoes this over objections." He added that obtaining Israel's release of the funds was "a major objective, not the only objective" in the EU's development of the mechanism.
At its meeting in New York last week, the Quartet - the US, EU, Russia and UN - decided to allow the EU to develop "a temporary international mechanism limited in duration and scope, and fully accountable, that ensures direct delivery of any assistance to the Palestinian people," its statement said.
In Brussels on Monday, EU foreign ministers discussed the fund. One official said it was possible to bring the fund into working order by June.
"The situation is bad, the sooner we are able to put everything together" the better, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters as he arrived for the meeting.
Despite Europe's intentions to move swiftly, it may take some time to develop the complex scheme which skirts the PA government yet provides the transparency and accountability the international community is demanding.
While the EU would like the World Bank to assist in developing the mechanism, and then running it, the bank has said establishing it would take months, not weeks. The current mechanism the World Bank has in place, the Emergency Services Support Project, relies on the Hamas-controlled PA Ministry of Finance, with which Israel and the Quartet refuse to deal.
Other issues involve who will donate the money the Palestinians need if the Israel cannot be convinced to release the funds. The US has already developed its own mechanism, relying on pre-approved non-governmental aid organizations and its own USAID bureau to channel the $245m. it is spending on Palestinian aid projects in 2006.
Cibrian-Uzal said Europe was also close to its limit on funding it could provide the PA this year.
"We would like to put everything in the same box, the money that comes from every donor," Solana said. "We have to talk to the World Bank to see if they want to be the agency that launches the mechanism."
As for the political situation, Cibrian-Uzal said that despite Hamas's electoral victory, Europe still favors negotiations between Israel and the PA as represented by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
"We believe that a stable agreement and a stable peace, a lasting peace, can only be the result of negotiations between the parties," he said. "There is some discussion going on in the sense that Hamas and the PA government [could] accept the results of a referendum on the negotiations. So it is not so black-and-white and, of course, Hamas has not categorically said it will refuse to hold a referendum on the results of negotiations conducted by the president."
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, he said, should carry out his electoral pledge to attempt negotiations with the PA before moving ahead with his convergence plan. He said that, for the time being, Europe would not consent to Israel setting its borders unilaterally, as Olmert said he intended to do if negotiations with the PA do not bear fruit.
"The European position is that the EU will recognize changes to the '67 borders only as a result of agreements between the parties, and I don't think there has been a change in that position," Cibrian-Uzal said.
But were Israel to move to withdraw from territory in the West Bank that the international community considers "occupied," Europe would likely provide political support so long as it did not impede the possibility of a negotiated peace at a later date, he said.
AP contributed to this report.