International Deal Reached on Aid to Palestinians

The U.S., EU, Russia and the U.N. have agreed on a deal to create a trust fund for the Palestinian Authority. The authority is in the midst of a deepening financial crisis created when Hamas was voted into power, prompting Western donors to end their support for the government. The four powers now hope to get aid directly to the Palestinian people.

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Israel has welcomed a decision by the Middle East peacemakers to channel much needed humanitarian aid directly to the Palestinians. The idea of setting up some sort of trust fund has been promoted by the European Union. It's designed to replace the cut off of international aid to the Palestinian Authority after Hamas took power.

The U.S., which says Hamas is a terrorist organization, has been cool to the European idea, but agreed, in the end, on a three-month trial period. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The Bush administration has been trying to keep the focus on Hamas, saying it has a responsibility now to run the Palestinian Authority and keep up with its payroll. But after a day of consultations with the so-called quartet, Secretary State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. agreed to a European Union plan for a limited new funding mechanism.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Secretary of State): We have said that after three months this will be evaluated. And so the goal is not here to transfer responsibility for meeting the needs of the Palestinian people from its government to the international community. It is to provide assistance to the Palestinian people, so that they do not suffer deprivation and do not suffer humanitarian crisis. That's the goal here.

KELEMEN: European and Arab diplomats, who took part in the meetings in New York, have been warning of a humanitarian catastrophe if the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority collapses. International aid has dried up, because Hamas has refused to recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce violence, the condition set out by the quartet: the U.S., European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

So the idea of a new fund would be to get aid directly to the Palestinians without going through the Hamas government. The European Union's external affairs commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, says she hopes to get experts together quickly to finalize the arrangements.

Commissioner BENITA FERRERO-WALDNER (European Union External Affairs Commissioner): Since it is not an easy mechanism, it's not a matter of days, but I do hope it's a matter of weeks.

KELEMEN: But just what this fund will be used for remains an open question, and one that will likely continue to be a source of tension between the U.S. and the European Union. European Union's Javier Solana said it could be used to help pay salaries for healthcare workers who haven't been paid by the Hamas government.

A top State Department official, who asked not to be named, said there was no agreement on this. He also said the U.S. doesn't want to absolve the Hamas government of its responsibilities. There's another open question about Israel's responsibilities, which several Arab states raised in the closed door meetings, as did Ferrero-Waldner.

Commissioner FERRERO-WALDNER: Israel has to pay taxes and customs that is Palestinian money, and we, the international community, we also have to go on helping the Palestinians as much as we can; and then we hope to do all that, of course, to come back to the peace and the peace initiative.

KELEMEN: While the quartet tried to maintain a united front, issuing a statement about the need for Hamas to accept its conditions to renounce violence, there were other signs of splits among quartet members. Russia's foreign minister said his country is not for cutting off any aid, and he said he doesn't think this policy to isolate Hamas would work.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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