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Despite initial reports, it is not clear that the United States will be able to veto the shape and scope of the mechanism being developed by the European Commission to provide humanitarian aid to the Palestinians while bypassing the Hamas government.
If, in the end, the US does not approve the mechanism, it is possible that a splintering of funding strategies within the Quartet will emerge, leading to the payment of Palestinian Authority salaries by Europe and other international donors.
European Commission officials in Brussels told The Jerusalem Post
on Sunday that once the mechanism was formulated the EC would hold a meeting of interested parties, including donor countries and international financial institutions, to spell out the details. Donors would then be invited to participate in the funding according to the specified formula, the officials said.
They were, however, ambiguous whether the mechanism would first need to gain approval from all Quartet parties before it was put into practice.
"Quartet partners will stay in close contact throughout" the process of developing the mechanism, EC Spokeswoman for External Affairs Emma Udwin said, in reference to the Quartet foreign ministers who met in New York last Tuesday. The donor meeting should be held within the next few weeks.
For some time now differences have emerged between Israel and the United States on the one hand and the rest of the Quartet members on the other as to how strictly donors to the PA should adhere to the economic siege being imposed on Hamas.
Israel and the United States roundly reject paying the salaries of PA civil servants, asserting that doing so would remove any leverage the international community has to force Hamas into compliance with the Quartet's and Israel's three demands: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence, and acceptance of international treaties.
Europe, the United Nations and Russia are more ambivalent, arguing that not funding the salaries could lead to a total disintegration of the PA, a humanitarian disaster, and a worsening security situation inside the territories and perhaps Israel as well.
The livelihoods of around 30 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are directly dependent on the 165,000 PA civil servants who, until Hamas's electoral victory, had their salaries paid by foreign donors.
In allowing the Europeans to develop the mechanism, it was assumed that the US would be able to approve or disapprove of it at a later date, thus precluding payment of PA salaries, which it vowed to prevent last Thursday.
But on Sunday, US officials in Israel contacted by the Post
did not know whether such was the case, saying they had been given no concrete information by Washington on the matter.
With its own mechanism already in place for delivering $245 million in humanitarian aid to the Palestinians in 2006, the US could conduct its aid programs independently of the Quartet, a US official said.
Leading up to the last Quartet meeting, many voices within the European Union had urged Europe to resume at least partial funding of the PA even if the US dissented in that decision. But it is not clear if - freed of American involvement in the funding scheme - the EC will pay the salaries of PA employees.
"We are going to put together a mechanism that seeks to support basic needs, which for us means supporting basic public services," Udwin said. In a previous interview, Udwin classified the basic sectors as including health and education.
"We're looking for a mechanism that will be acceptable to those donors who like us have a reluctance to give money directly to the PA," she said, adding that the mechanism must also be fully transparent and those who receive the money must be accountable for it.
The shape of the mechanism may begin to emerge soon after the May 15 and 16 meetings of the 25 EU foreign ministers in Brussels. Last Tuesday, the Quartet tasked the EC with developing "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.
As of now, the EC continues to say that whatever funding scheme it develops, the money will not flow through the office of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. But Abbas will likely be used as an interlocutor.
"It is clear [the funding] will be managed by some elements of the international community," Udwin said. "It is also clear that the management of that mechanism will require some kind of liaison with the [PA] president's office."