European commissioner for external relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner, speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem Monday, called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's realignment plan "a very courageous step," but said that a durable peace could only be achieved through dialogue and communications.
Ferrero-Waldner arrived Monday for a two-day visit and meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Ferrero-Waldner is charged with developing a new funding mechanism the EU has set up to channel money into the Palestinian Authority
but bypass the Hamas government. Israel and the European Union have not yet reached final agreement on this mechanism, senior government officials said Sunday.
The major point of dispute is whether salaries of PA health employees would be paid through this funding mechanism.
Israel has stated its objection to paying any salaries, and rather wants the aid to be in the form of supplies and commodities. A government official said the EU accepted Israel's position on this matter with respect to education workers but not with regard to those working in the health professions.
Prior to her arrival, Ferrero-Waldner issued a statement welcoming the Quartet's endorsement of the EU proposals for a "Temporary International Mechanism."
"The backing of the Quartet is an important step that will enable us now to start implementing our proposals," she said. "Europeans are determined to play our part in preventing a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian territories. But there can be no business as usual with a government that has not yet accepted the fundamental principles of peace. That is why we have worked hard to develop a mechanism that will meet some basic needs without money passing through the government."
According to the proposal, a World Bank program will be expanded to cover essential supplies in the health sector and "basic allowances" to those who are providing care in hospitals and clinics.
"While implementation procedures are being developed, the European Commission will coordinate with the World Bank in providing immediately and directly allowance to the health care sector employees from the community budget," the statement said. The statement was careful in calling these payments "allowances" and not "salaries."
Ferrero-Waldner is also expected to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and other relevant officials on both sides. She will not, however, meet any member of the Hamas-led government.