Quartet to Set Up Trust Fund to Meet PA Salaries

NEW YORK - Members of the Quartet, which is meeting at the United Nations in New York, reached a "silent agreement" yesterday to establish a trust fund that will pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants through the office of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The initiative is meant to bypass the Hamas government and pay the salaries of 165,000 civil servants who have yet to receive payments since March. The decision stems from a realization by Quartet members that a humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian Authority must be averted.

In parallel, the Quartet members - the United States, Russia, the United Nations, and the European Union - reiterated the three demands posed to the Hamas government if any cooperation between the international community and the Palestinian government is to be resumed.

The demands are recognition of Israel, abandonment of terrorism, and acceptance of previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel.

At their meeting, the Quartet members restated their commitment to the road map and its goal of a two-state solution.

Sources close to senior Quartet representatives told Haaretz that the initiative for the creation of the trust fund came from France. The fund will raise the necessary funds, and the World Bank will oversee its management and transfer of money for paying the salaries.

The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan attended the start of yesterday's meeting, and suggested that civil servant salaries should be made via direct deposits into the workers' bank accounts.

World Bank provides technical aid

A senior World Bank official was also present during the discussions.

United Nations sources interpreted his presence as suggesting that the technical details for establishing and running the fund will be completed in the coming days.

The same sources noted that the subject of Palestinian salaries and the need for a solution to the crisis were a priority during the discussions.

Quartet officials assess that unless an immediate solution to the problem of salary payments is found, there is an imminent threat of the collapse of both civil and security mechanisms in the Palestinian Authority.

According to a recent World Bank report, on whose figures the Quartet assessment is made, poverty in the Palestinian Authority increased from 44 percent to 67 percent of the population in the past year.

The agreement on the trust fund was reached with the understanding that it would not be publicized.

It is likely that the accord will remain out of the official and joint declaration that was expected to be made late last night after press time.

The main reason for avoiding publicity lies in the tough stance adopted by the United States representatives in the Quartet vis-a-vis the Hamas.

The American administration would like to avoid any public affiliation with an initiative that may be interpreted as making a favorable gesture to the Palestinian government.

The American position is that for the time being, there will be no overt support for the Palestinians, certainly not before the meeting between U.S. President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set for later this month in Washington.

Meanwhile, Congress was expected to vote in favor of a bill ending American aid to the Palestinians, a move that is opposed by the State Department.