Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Quartet to hold key talks on fate of its Mideast role

By Akiva Eldar

2 May 2006

Heads of the international Quartet will convene at the
office of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday to
discuss the future role of the U.S.-UN-EU-Russian grouping
in the Middle East conflict, with the talks centering on
the possibility of backing away from the road map peace
plan and ending Quartet mediation in the Mideast conflict.

A main issue in the talks will be whether to appoint a
replacement for James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's former
envoy for the Disengagement, or to refrain from further
involvement in mediation between Israel and the

According to senior European sources, the Quartet
officials will also weigh the degree to which the road map
peace plan is relevant, discussing whether to update the
plan or to withdraw from it altogether.

Senior Quartet sources are voicing doubt regarding the
continuation of international involvement in the Mideast
diplomatic process. The doubt comes in the wake of the
formation of the new coalition by Interim Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert - who has indicated that he intends to
continue to pursue his policy of unilateralism - and
following the rise of the Hamas government and the
international boycott against it.

"The Quartet will need to take a principle decision
regarding the continuation of its contribution to
mediation between Israel and the Palestinians, if the
reasons for Wolfensohn's resignation do not change," a
European diplomat told Haaretz.

"If it is decided to name a new envoy, it will be
necessary to formulate a mandate that is relevant to the
new reality that has been created on the ground."

Wolfensohn, ending more than a year's service as the
Quartet envoy to Israel and the Palestinians, Monday
singled out the rise of the Hamas government as a main
stumbling block to further movement in Middle East

Wolfensohn had initially intended to leave the job in
December, but bowed to a U.S. request that he stay on
until the end of April to allow the Palestinian and
Israeli elections to play out.

While agreeing it was time for Wolfensohn to step down,
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signalled in a joint
news conference with Wolfensohn Monday that he might be
called back for another stint and said, "I hope he will
keep his uniform not very far from the door".

Wolfenson urges urgent attention on Mideast In a summary
report he submitted to the heads of the Quartet when he
decided to resign, Wolfensohn called on the international
community to address the Israeli-Palestinian crisis
without delay, in order to prevent severe consequences for
the whole region and for world peace, while impugning the
Quartet's credibility as a conflict-resolving party.

He warned that without a fundamental change in the
situation vital services in the territories would collapse
in the near future.

Wolfensohn noted that if the Palestinian Authority did not
receive the tax money Israel collects for it, if Israel
continued its regime of restrictions on trade and labor
and if the flow of donations continued to weaken, the GDP
in the territories would drop this year by 27%.

According to the former World Bank president the bank's
economists predict unless the situation turns around in
2008 74% of the Palestinians will be living beneath the
poverty line and unemployment will reach 47%.

He attributes a large part of the tremendous economic
damage caused to the Palestinians to a systematic
violation of commitments by Israel regarding the Gaza
Strip border crossings and freedom of movement in the West
Bank. Wolfensohn stressed the Palestinian Authority
provides 60% of the health and education services and that
the U.N. and voluntary organizations can not replace it.
He said due to fear of American sanctions banks throughout
the world refuse to transfer money to the PA or even
directly to its employees.

"We must ask ourselves whether humanitarian aid is enough
to bring us to the desired goal - a two-state solution -
as the Road Map says," Wolfensohn concluded his latest
report. He noted that in recent years the international
community allocated an annual sum of some two billion
dollars as aid to the Palestinians, hoping it would help
build effective institutions and a thriving economy, on
the way to establishing a viable state.

"Are we going to give all that up now," he asks, alluding
to the policy of completely boycotting the Hamas
government, " or will we find a way that will allow us to
work in the framework of the law and the policy, while
continuing to support building a democratic and
responsible administration, that can act to realize the
dream of peace and security for the two peoples."

The 72-year-old Australian-born American Jew informed PA
Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the heads of the
Israeli defense establishment during his latest visit in
Israel in mid-March that if he did not receive a renewed
mandate for his mission he was resolved to resign at the
end of April. He explained he did not see any point in his
continuing to serve as long as the Quartet and the donor
nations had not decided on a clear policy that befitted
the new political situation created in the territories
following the Hamas victory in the legislative council

Since the elections Wolfensohn and his team have
coordinated efforts to obtain funding for the Palestinian
interim government. Wolfensohn, who took office last May,
coordinated the contacts that led to the agreement on the
border crossings between Israel and U.S. Secretary of
State Condoleeza Rice last November.

Wolfensohn recently met representatives of the Bereaved
Families Forum, that includes both Israelis and
Palestinians, and decided to donate 100,000 dollars of his
own money to an exhibit they initiated, Offering
Reconciliation 2006, whose purpose is to bring the idea of
reconciliation to the public's awareness through art. In
the exhibit, which will be displayed at the Museum of
Israeli Art, Ramat Gan , before traveling the world, 135
Israeli and Palestinian artists present their work,
including the prime minister's wife, Aliza Olmert, Danny
Caravan, Moshe Gershoni, Menashe Kadishman, Yigal
Tumarkin, David Tartakover, Usama Za'tar, Jamal Houda,
Jalal Kamal, Bouthniya Milhed, Rafi Lavie and others.

Wolfensohn leaves with dig at Hamas

"The Palestinians need to understand that it is not
business as usual," Wolfensohn told the news conference,
adding in a reference to Hamas, "Here you have a
Palestinian group which has said it wants to destroy its

"I guess if Canada did that to the United States, or New
Zealand did it to Australia, the reaction would not be
very [positive]," he said.

Speaking in Washington on Monday, Wolfensohn said he had
made "quite a lot of progress" in promoting economic
development of Gaza after the Israelis withdrew in
September of last year.

But he said that given Hamas' accession to power after its
surprise win in January's Palestinian elections, "the
political events are such that I think the issues are
above my pay grade".

"With the government of Hamas having taken over with the
Palestinians, it's a very difficult movement to be able to
try and negotiate any independent type of arrangements,"
Wolfensohn said.

Wolfensohn, who had frequently complained of being
"disenfranchised" in his Gaza role and threatened to quit,
left with a warning that the West should not consider
trying to starve the Hamas-led Palestinians into

"I don't think anyone in the quartet believes that to be
the policy - although, sometimes, it is made to appear
that that is what it is," he said. "I think that's a
losing gambit."

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