Israel, EU set for talks on PA funding

Livni: "We will study the document, consult and determine our position."

EU livni 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
EU livni 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Israeli and European teams are expected to begin talks Tuesday or Wednesday on the Quartet-approved international funding mechanism designed to channel aid to the Palestinian Authority while bypassing its Hamas-led government. The teams were set up during the visit of European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner's to Jerusalem on Monday. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Israel had received material outlining the mechanism and would "study the document, consult and determine our position on this matter." A senior diplomatic official said that working-level meetings would discuss "many of the details" of the plan. The mechanism is designed to work on three levels: prop up the Palestinian health system by paying "allowances" to doctors and nurses; transfer fuel and other essential goods to the PA; and provide financial assistance to Palestinians in dire economic straits. Although the diplomatic official would not say exactly what in the plan was arousing Israeli objections, Israel has said it was adamantly opposed to the payment of salaries to PA employees, including health workers. The concern in Jerusalem is that if the international community pays salaries instead of Hamas, it would free up money for Hamas to use for terrorist purposes. As a result, the Europeans are stressing that what is being discussed is monthly "allowances" and not salaries. Ferrero-Waldner made clear Monday that she would like to see Israel transfer the tax and customs revenues it had held up since March to the PA through this mechanism. The Quartet on Saturday endorsed the mechanism, which, it said, would be "limited in scope and duration" and would operate "with full transparency and accountability." The Quartet also said the mechanism would facilitate "needs-based assistance directly to the Palestinian people, including essential equipment, supplies and support for health services, support for the uninterrupted supply of fuel and utilities, and basic needs allowances to poor Palestinians." Both the eligibility requirements and how allowances would be transferred to poor Palestinians still remain to be worked out. The Quartet said in its endorsement of the proposal that it would review the need for such a mechanism in three months. Israel has been pressing for the mechanism to be limited in scope. Ferrero-Waldner said Monday she expected the first payments to health care workers to be paid by early July. Meanwhile, during the press conference after meeting Livni, Ferrero-Waldner went further than any other European leader in publicly praising Olmert's realignment plan as "courageous." "I think that the realignment step as I know it now is a very courageous step, because whenever withdrawal of settlers is implied, this is certainly very, very courageous." But, she added, "At the same time I also have said that we Europeans feel that unilateral actions will never easily lead to full, lasting peace; that we think a negotiated peace has to be done."