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Envoy: Palestinian Economic Situation Dire


Middle East envoy James Wolfensohn, 72, says the economic situation in the Palestinian territories is dire, and Western nations must find a way to bypass a Hamas-led government in order to help millions of poor Palestinians.

The militant group Hamas' victory in Palestinian legislative elections in January poses a dilemma for the United States and Europe, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

On Capitol Hill, U.S. legislators are discussing how to keep humanitarian funding going to the Palestinian people without it falling into the hands of the terrorist group.

James Wolfensohn used to head the World Bank and for the last year has been the special envoy for the diplomatic Quartet that is seeking peace in the Middle East -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations. He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday that a way must be found to keep assistance flowing to the Palestinian people or chaos could erupt in the territories.

"I do not believe you can have a million starving Palestinians and have peace," he said.

Wolfensohn says the Palestinians were in a poor fiscal situation even before Hamas won the January election. He said the Palestinians are dealing with a monthly shortfall of about $100 million, $60 million of which is money Israel began withholding from the Palestinians after the election. The envoy says finding a way to side-step a Hamas-led government in delivering this aid could take months, and appealed to the legislators for time.

"We cannot expect that a not yet formed government, that will be full of problems anyway, can address instantly these issues without a little bit of time," he added.

He told the Foreign Relations committee that all possibilities for delivering aid are being looked at, and could include the United Nations, non-governmental groups and churches.

Wolfensohn also said that he is considering stepping down from his Quartet post, because his mandate and backing are unclear following Hamas' electoral victory.