|JERUSALEM In the last two weeks, the Palestinian Authority has been given about $70 million - more than $40 million released by the World Bank, nearly $21 million from the European Union and $10 million from Norway. |
But even once all that cash arrives, the Palestinian Authority will have only 95 percent of the money needed to pay February's overdue salaries, said the Palestinian minister of national economy, Mazen Sinnoqrot. How the Palestinian Authority will cover salaries for March, Sinnoqrot said, "remains a mystery."
And that is even before the victorious Islamic group Hamas names a new Palestinian government, which will put a stop to significant amounts of international aid. "We're bankrupt," Sinnoqrot said bluntly in an interview Thursday in his Ramallah office. "The world can't abandon us. It's in no one's interest, not for Israel or anyone, to have the P.A. public sector collapse. To increase unemployment this way would be a message of violence, not of peace."
|"Mahmoud, c'mon, we got orders to knock over a bank."|
Sinnoqrot is philosophical, but anxious. He needs $115 million a month just to pay the salaries of about 145,000 public-sector employees, about half of whom, he says, shaking his head, are listed as security forces, most of whom have weapons.
|How is that different from the message the Paleos have been sending the last, oh, 40 years or so?|
The Palestinians get about $35 million a month from internal taxes. But Israel is withholding about $55 million a month in customs and duties it collects for the Palestinians, arguing that a Hamas majority in Parliament means that Hamas, considered a terrorist group, controls the Palestinian Authority.
|Can't have a security force without lots of guns and ammo.|
The major donors - the European Union, the World Bank, the United States and a few Arab nations - do not agree, because Hamas has not yet formed a government, a moment the West wants to postpone until after Israel's March 28 election. Even if Israel were handing over the taxes, Sinnoqrot and the Palestinian Authority would still be in a significant hole, since the monthly budget is about $165 million.
Sinnoqrot calls the Israeli decision to withhold money "neither legal nor acceptable," a "collective punishment" of Palestinians for voting in Hamas.
Sinnoqrot, a devout Muslim but not a Hamas member, is a potential finance minister for a Hamas government. But he says that no one from Hamas, including the prime minister-designate, Ismail Haniya, has talked to him since the election.
Sinnoqrot urges the world to see the Hamas victory "as a real window of opportunity" created by democracy.
But Israel and the quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - have warned that a new Hamas government will face isolation and further cuts in funds unless it recognizes Israel, rejects violence and accepts the validity of previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Those are major hurdles that Hamas is unlikely to get over soon, if ever, but if Hamas does not, warned the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, David Welch, the United States intends "to make their ability to function as a government enormously difficult."
|Oh it was, it was -- the world got to see just exactly what Hamas is.|
On Friday in Salzburg, European Union foreign ministers warned Hamas that "money will not flow to the new authority unless it seeks peace by peaceful means," in the words of the EU's external relations commissioner, Benita Ferrero-Waldner. "We want to remain a reliable partner for the Palestinian people, but we will not go soft on our principles," she said. At the same time, the EU foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said Europe "must find ways to support the Palestinian people," and he added: "We want to maintain what has taken us so many years to build up: a Palestinian Authority that is the embryo of a state we must complete and which one day will exist."
|Must be one of Condi's people.|
Hamas is considered unlikely to make the world's choices easy, so Solana, Welch and the quartet's envoy, James Wolfensohn, are exploring how to create a new structure to funnel money to the Palestinians through President Mahmoud Abbas, of the Fatah party, somehow bypassing the authority.
|He really is sampling his own product, isn't he?|
Sinnoqrot thinks that is a bad idea. "We shouldn't have a shadow government here," he said. "It's not our way."
A senior Fatah official and a crucial figure in controlling the Palestinian security services, Jibril Rajoub, warned in a separate interview the world must help ensure "that we keep the security apparatus out of this situation," in part by ensuring that the armed men get paid.
|"Our way is no government at all!"|
|Maybe the Israelis could helizap a few, and the rest would decide to become auto mechanics.|