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Assistance under the table

Norwegian aid money reaches the Palestinians through disputed back channels.




(THIS ARTICLE IS MACHINE TRANSLATED by Google from Norwegian)

[gaza] Norway and other donor countries are using back channels to continue to financially support the Palestinians during the boycott of Hamas. However, Norway will not lift the sanctions against the Hamas government.

- We have spent more funds than budgeted. We pay as far as we can through President Mahmoud Abbas' office and the structures that lie beneath it, says political adviser at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Torbjørn Urfjell (SV).

But such alternative mechanisms are disputed. This winter, several Norwegian organizations stated that they will not be used as a back channel. Norwegian People's Aid, Norwegian Church Aid and the Norwegian Refugee Council instead asked for a lifting of the sanctions. They warn against collapse in the Palestinian territories if this does not happen.

- We think it is wrong to support a blockade by an elected government. The danger of undermining the government was the reason why we refused to act as a back channel, says Liv Tørres, head of foreign affairs at Norwegian People's Aid.

Aid to a number of Palestinian institutions has been partially maintained through the temporary international funding mechanism that was established earlier this year, Urfjell informs the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This enables payments to, for example, entrepreneurs who build schools, as an alternative to donating money directly to Hamas' Ministry of Education.

Since winter, the situation has deteriorated drastically, especially as a result of Israel's "Operation Summer Rain" against Gaza. In July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has granted 150 emergency aid millions to the Palestinians. Much of this goes to the UN, but the Red Cross and other non-governmental organizations are also recipients.

The medical aid organization Norwac has received NOK 25 million. The organization has purchased medical equipment and consumables for publicly owned and operated hospitals in Gaza and East Jerusalem for the money.

Jon Eivind Jensen, budget manager at Norwac, confirms that efforts are being made to find more alternative channels to get money into the areas. In particular, work is being done on payroll channels to the many government employees who have not been paid since March. If so, this would be contrary to the intent behind the sanctions.

- The main problem is wages. It is intended to solve this through the World Bank, the UN or the EU. Norway will also be involved here. They create a kind of temporary mechanism, where they bypass the Palestinian authorities, Jensen says.

Liv Tørres in Norwegian People's Aid is very critical of this practice.

- Such channels will undermine the Palestinian government, and they may intensify the antagonism between Hamas and the presidency under Abbas, who represents Fatah. If you get a government without the ability to govern, this will weaken the opportunities for negotiations, says Tørres.

She says that Norwegian People's Aid must continuously consider what can be done to make everyday life easier for the Palestinians, but that it is crucial for them what the Palestinians themselves want.

Following consultations with the Palestinian Network of Non-Governmental Organizations (PNNGO), People's Aid continues to refuse to be used as an alternative channel.

Norwac, for its part, does not reject the solution of paying salaries through alternative channels. Jensen refers to a discussion about whether to give money to so-called key personnel in hospitals.

- It shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of a hospital. There are no key personnel here, a cleaner is needed as much as a doctor. That is why we want to take part in such a discussion, he says.

By Maren Sæbø post@nytid.no

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