With donors still balking at funding a Hamas-led Palestinian Government that has yet to renounce violence, and with conditions in the West Bank and Gaza deteriorating, key international partners in the Middle East peace process meeting at the United Nations today endorsed a temporary mechanism to funnel assistance directly to the Palestinian people.
The move came after senior officials of the diplomatic Quartet – the UN, European Union (EU), Russia and the United States – held daylong consultations hosted by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, including a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.
“The Quartet expressed serious concern about deteriorating conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, and about the delivery of humanitarian assistance, economic life, social cohesion and Palestinian institutions,” Mr. Annan said at a press conference after the meetings, highlighting the main points of an agreed statement adopted by the Quartet.
He added that the group therefore “welcomed the EU’s offer to develop and propose such a mechanism, and invites donors and international organizations to consider participating.” It also urged Israel, in parallel, to take steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinian people.
In its statement, the Quartet called for a means of aid delivery that is limited in scope and duration, operates with full transparency and accountability, and ensures direct delivery of assistance to the Palestinian people.
“If these criteria can be met, the operation of the temporary international mechanism should begin as soon as possible and be reviewed after three months to determine whether it should continue,” the diplomatic group said.
The Quartet added that donors showed a willingness to work toward restoration of assistance to the Palestinian Government once it committed to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Quartet’s Road Map peace plan, which envisages two States – Israel and Palestine – living side by side within secure and internationally recognized borders.
At the same time, the group condemned the Palestinian Government’s justification of the 17 April suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, while expressing concern over Israeli military operations that result in the loss of innocent life, settlement expansion and the route of the separation barrier. It also reiterated the importance of “both parties avoiding unilateral measures which prejudice final status issues.”
Welcoming Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s call for negotiations with a Palestinian partner committed to the Roadmap, as well as President Abbas’s continued commitment to a platform of peace, the Quartet said it is “encouraged by these statements of intent.”
Besides Mr. Annan, the Quartet was represented by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the EU’s High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik of Austria, which currently holds the EU Council presidency, and European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero Waldner.
Also today, following their meeting with the Quartet, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al Faisal, met separately with the Secretary-General.
According to a UN spokesman, they discussed the ongoing political environment in the Middle East, including the situation in Palestine, developments in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran and Darfur, Sudan.
On Palestine, in addition to the political situation, the participants discussed the importance of the UN system continuing to provide assistance to the Palestinian people and, in that context, stressed that the main UN agency aiding Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) requires the cooperation of all parties.