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European diplomatic officials working on humanitarian and development projects in the Palestinian territories expressed growing concern this week over the future of their work if, as seems probable, the approximately 70,000 members of the Palestinian Authority security services will not receive salaries for the next two months.
The fate of several EU-financed development projects, especially security-related ones, were in the balance as the PA-based officials awaited decisions from their governments on whether to continue with spending plans for the coming months.
European officials predicted a split between the European Union and America on the degree of flexibility each would allow itself on funding, perhaps as soon as the end of March, when a decision will be required on whether to fund the PA security services in time for the April salaries.
According to European officials responsible for monitoring development aid budgets, both the EU and US were trying to find creative ways of "funding the PA without funding the PA," with the Europeans finding it a little easier to "square the circle" than the Americans.
According to the Scandinavian official quoted above, EU laws regarding terror groups were "about as strict as America's laws are, but for Europe, there is more nuance and flexibility in interpretation of those laws."
Both the US State Department and the EU have classified Hamas as a terrorist organization, making it illegal for them to fund a Hamas-controlled entity.
The PA made its monthly payroll in early March, but it was unclear if money would be available for the April payday. Several European diplomats closely involved in development work with the PA and NGOs in the territories told The Jerusalem Post this week that their operations were in a "holding pattern" while they waited for instructions from their respective foreign ministries. Many expressed doubts that a formula could be worked out to fund Palestinian institutions without funding a Hamas-led PA before next month's wage deadline.
The PA could face financial collapse as soon as the end of this month. Such a crisis was expected at the end of April at the latest, if there was no sign that salaries would be paid in May.
Many diplomats pinned their hopes on a dramatic "moderation" of the Hamas terror organization.
"Hamas is a moderate group, relatively speaking," a Scandinavian diplomat directly involved in funding development projects in the Gaza Strip and West Bank told the Post this week. The diplomat asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to comment on the financial status of projects in the Palestinian territories.
"There are several projects we fund in the Gaza Strip, and there is great uncertainty now if we will be able to continue funding them. Right now, we're sitting on the budgets, and people are asking if we'll have budgets to work with next month. Hamas is a pragmatic group, and relatively moderate compared to what you will have here if the Palestinian security forces are not provided with salaries. They have mouths to feed. There are about 1 million people who rely on those 70,000 getting their salaries. When they run out of options, they will turn to alternative source of funding," the diplomat said.
Hamas leaders have said that if the US and EU, which provide the vast majority of financial assistance for the Palestinian Authority, withdrew their funding, the group would accept money from Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas was touring European capitals this week trying to persuade the EU to continue its funding, which is still under his supervision. Hamas said it would announce the makeup of its cabinet by the end of this week, after the resolution of coalition talks with Fatah. Abbas remained the key factor in the funding debate, with the EU and US wanting to avoid a Palestinian humanitarian crisis. They were trying to find a way to say, "Look, we're funding the PA under its President Mahmoud Abbas, not a PA run by Hamas," European diplomats said.
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