hamas flags 88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Some of the Arab League money recently transferred to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been paid out to Hamas ministers this week, according to PA sources.
The United States has been leading a campaign to keep international funds from paying Hamas officials' salaries ever since the Islamic militant group won parliamentary elections this winter. The freezing of international money to the PA for this end has kept some 165,000 civil servants, about half of them armed police officers, from receiving wages this spring, helping plunge the Palestinian areas into financial crisis.
The Arab League raised money to help the Palestinians in March but was unable to transfer it until earlier this month. America has pressured banks not to allow money to flow to the PA, lest they be held in violation of US anti-terror laws, which forbid sending money to organizations that the government has designated terrorist groups, as Hamas has been. At the time of the transfer, the Arab League declined to specify how the $100 million provided by it and Saudi Arabia had reached Abbas.
Now in Abbas's hands, a PA official confirmed to The Jerusalem Post, it was used to make "downpayments" this week to all civil servants in the PA - including the prime minister and all the cabinet ministers, even though they are members of Hamas. The official stressed that the money was given to the PA and not to Hamas directly, but that there could be no discrimination in the payment of government workers.
Only a fraction of the total salaries owed to workers was paid.
Meanwhile, European Union Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner announced Thursday that the EU had begun to transfer money to PA health workers, in concert with a mechanism designed to ensure that no money reach Hamas. Some $40 million has been designated by the EU for health purposes.
According to an EU statement on the funding, "The intention is to support up to 13,000 workers. The payments will be made progressively and directly into workers' bank accounts."
Israel's Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev said Thursday that "We support aid directly to the Palestinian people that bypasses the Hamas government," repeating the long-held Israeli position. But Regev said the government would have to review the EU's application of the mechanism in the case of the health workers before commenting on this specific transfer.
Regev also declined to comment on the money which had reached Hamas, saying he didn't have the facts.
American press officers stationed in Israel also said they didn't know enough about the circumstances surrounding the salary payments which had reached Hamas to comment on them. They also wouldn't comment on how the transfer had reached Abbas despite America's stand against banks allowing funds to flow to the PA, or make any general statement on the subject of international funds reaching Hamas.
But one diplomatic source who tracks the funding issue closely asserted that, "The Americans have total control over the banking system. I don't think it could happen without American collusion."
He suggested that the timing of the payments was hardly a coincidence. "This was a good time because everyone's attention is being diverted by Lebanon," he said, charging that the Americans don't want to be fingered for changing their policy and having "made a mistake" by cutting off funds to the Palestinians, only to find themselves dealing with a humanitarian crisis.
He also noted, "The same logic applies to Abbas," whom Washington regards as a moderate and has even suggested might receive more funds. Abbas might not want to be seen doling out money to Hamas, the official said.
At any rate, the source added, the move made the Europeans "look ridiculous" for spending time and money developing a complicated mechanism for funneling money for specific purposes to the Palestinians while circumventing Hamas, if general purpose aid was getting through and paying salaries.
He accused the Americans of "making their allies the Europeans look bad."