livni sits 298.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel, the US and Europe are looking for ways in which the Palestinians can continue to receive international money without it going through Hamas hands - a job that will be increasingly difficult once Hamas assembles a Palestinian Authority government and takes control of the authority's institutions.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni chaired a meeting Wednesday night examining the Palestinian budget - where the money goes, where it comes from, and what will happen in March when Israel starts holding back the $50 million in customs and tax revenues it has been transferring to the PA each month.
A similar meeting was held Wednesday in the offices of Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn, who is drawing up a report on the Palestinian financial situation for the Quartet principals. This report is now expected to be finished on Thursday.
Both Israel and the Quartet decided separately earlier this week that humanitarian aid must continue to be provided to the PA, despite the Hamas election victory, and these meetings reflect an attempt to bring the discussions down from a theoretical to a practical level: how to provide the aid without dealing with Hamas.
At the meeting chaired by Livni, which included National Security Council head Giora Eiland, Dov Weisglass and foreign policy adviser Shalom Turgeman, both from the Prime Minister's Office, the director of the Defense Ministry's Political Military Bureau, Amos Gilad, and senior Finance Ministry officials, a number of recommendations were made following a presentation of the Palestinian financial picture.
One proposal was for an international body to take responsibility for distributing the money instead of giving it to the PA, allowing donors to determine where the funds would go. For example, money could be diverted away from a Hamas-dominated security apparatus.
Often when the idea of an international body taking over such responsibility is raised, the intention is that the job be filled by the World Bank. Recent experience, however, shows that this doesn't always work. For instance, many in the government had hoped the World Bank would buy the Gaza settlements from Israel before last summer's disengagement - something the Bank said was beyond its mandate.
Although Western diplomatic officials said that the idea of making an international body responsible for Palestinian finances was far fetched, they did applaud the fact that Israel was moving beyond the rhetoric of not dealing with a Hamas-led PA and looking for ways to avoid a humanitarian crisis when the money stops flowing to PA coffers.
One official, however, said that Israel would be "shooting itself in the foot" by having Palestinian humanitarian needs filled by international organizations, thereby absolving Hamas of responsibility and allowing the Islamist movement to use all the money it raises - from taxes or sources such as Iran - for military purposes.
The question of how to fund the Palestinians without helping or lending legitimacy to Hamas is expected to be at the top of the agenda of talks scheduled over the weekend in Israel with senior US officials - Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser, and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.
The issue is also expected to dominate talks Livni will hold in Vienna, Paris and London next week, during her first trip to Europe since becoming foreign minister in January.