The EU commissioner for external relations is warning that disbursing aid to Palestinians under a plan devised several days ago by international donors will not be easy. VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem, Israeli officials say they still have questions about whether the plan will work.
EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner says there is no time frame for when Palestinians will get much needed humanitarian assistance under a plan unveiled on Saturday by the so-called Quartet of Middle East negotiators - the European Union, the United States, the United Nations and Russia.
Under the plan, $126 million of mostly EU money will be channeled through the World Bank, to pay for health services. The plan is expected to include so-called allowances for health-care providers, such as doctors and nurses. The plan bypasses the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, which is under an international aid boycott for the Hamas refusal to recognize Israel, disarm, and recognize past agreements between Palestinians and Israelis.
Speaking at the Israeli Foreign Ministry after briefing senior Israeli officials, Ferrero-Waldner cautioned that, under the plan, the World Bank is not going to be paying Palestinian salaries, and it will take some time to determine who is eligible for assistance.
"It is not about salaries," she said. "It is a needs-based program, for the neediest of the Palestinian population. This is what we try to do. I said it is not easy because we have to find the right criteria, and, therefore, we will need to work with the World Bank, with UNRWA, [U.N. Relief and Works Agency], with the World Food Program, with all those who know the clients, to see what can be done in the best way. But it is certainly not salaries that we are going to pay."
Most health-care workers in the Palestinian territories work for the Palestinian Authority, and nearly all of the estimated 165,000 Palestinian civil servants have not been paid in three months because of the international boycott on Hamas.
Following her meeting with Ferrero-Waldner, Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said Israel supports humanitarian assistance, but still has reservations about the Quartet assistance plan.
"The policy of the international community, including Israel, is clear, in terms of de-legitimizing the Hamas-led government on the one hand, and [on] the other, not to punish the people, and [to] give humanitarian aid, which is needed," she said. "We have other questions, new questions, and it was decided on an official basis that we will have contacts in the next few days, because we have some questions to get some answers to."
During her visit to Jerusalem, Ferrero-Waldner also discussed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to withdraw from a number of settlements in the West Bank, and begin demarcating Israel's border with the Palestinians. The EU official says the plan is bold, but should not be a substitute for a negotiated settlement.
"I think that the realignment plan, as far as I know it now, is certainly a very courageous step," she said. "Whenever the withdrawal of settlers is being implied, this is certainly very courageous and important. But, at the same time, I have also said that we Europeans feel that unilateral actions will never easily lead to a fully lasting peace, that we feel a negotiated peace has to be done."
Palestinians have denounced the so-called realignment plan, calling it a land-grab that will cripple any chance of Palestinians achieving a viable state.
Ferrero-Waldner also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has described the Quartet plan as a good first step, but inadequate to meet the humanitarian needs of Palestinians. Hamas officials say bypassing the elected Palestinian government undermines democracy.
Hamas officials are distributing one-time payments of about $300 to several thousand low-level Palestinian civil servants. Last week, several senior Hamas officials returned to the Gaza Strip with more than $20 million in cash - money they had collected on trips to Islamic nations during the past several weeks.