US, Quartet at odds over PA funding

Quartet seeking to pay PA salaries without money going through Hamas hands.

hamas parliament 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
hamas parliament 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
While the US has taken a firm stance not to allow any funds to be directed to the PA, the other Quartet members are looking for creative ways to pay PA salaries without having the money go through the Hamas-controlled bureaucracy. The US has blocked attempts to transfer $70 million to this end through an Egyptian bank and made it clear it would oppose a French proposal to pay the salaries through an international fund. The US has also notified international banks that transferring money to the PA would be seen as a breach of the US law that prohibits funding terrorist groups. Representatives of the Middle East Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - will convene in New York at the foreign minister level Tuesday to discuss providing the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority with humanitarian and financial aid. At the same time, the House of Representatives is expected to approve a bill intended to curb the flow of US dollars to the Palestinians and limit the administration's ability to transfer funds both directly to the PA and to NGO's working in the Palestinian territories. The main item on the agenda at the Quartet meeting will be whether to transfer funds to pay the salaries of the PA's 130,000 employees, who haven't been paid since Hamas came to power and the international community stopped funding the PA. In a letter to the Quartet members, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas urged an immediate resumption of aid to "avoid a real humanitarian crisis." According to sources in Washington, the US is considering a compromise that would allow the international community to transfer funds to PA employees who work in health and education. The Quartet meeting is expected to be dominated by the financial crisis in the PA. A new World Bank report warns that the authority might collapse if the salary issue is not resolved quickly. Abbas has said, according to US sources, that the parties are engaged in a race against time to ensure the PA survives long enough for Fatah to reach a power-sharing agreement with Hamas. The high level meeting in New York will also discuss appointing a new Middle East special envoy to replace James Wolfensohn, who resigned last week after expressing frustration at inability to promote economic development in the Gaza Strip. The US opposes naming a new envoy, arguing there is no partner for negotiations on the Palestinian side. Washington prefers to conduct relations with the Palestinians via visits by US officials to the region and meetings with Abbas and other Fatah leaders. The House of Representatives is expected to vote this week on the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006, which would prohibit direct assistance to the PA and set strict limitations on humanitarian aid. The bill that will be brought to the floor is a weakened version of the original and includes a waiver clause that would allow the president to override the limitations under certain conditions. Pro-Palestinian groups and left-wing Jewish organizations have lobbied against the legislation, but according to sources on Capitol Hill, the bill, which has 290 co-sponsors, is sure to pass. A similar bill is the early stages of consideration in the senate. Former Virginia governor Mark Warner, a possible Democratic candidate for the 2008 presidential elections, said he supported the bill, which sends Hamas a "bipartisan, solid message" that they must comply with the conditions set by the international community. Warner, who just returned from a week-long trip to Israel and Jordan, told The Jerusalem Post there was an important distinction to be made between a financial crisis in the PA and a humanitarian crisis, and that firm pressure on the Palestinians was required while the international community waited to see if Abbas was really willing to "move forward" with Israel.