Israel warms to EU, UN role in Gaza

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 13-Jun-04 | Author: Arnon Regular and Shlomo Shami| Source: Ha'aretz

Israel is warming to a United Nations and European Union role in the Gaza Strip following feedback received by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the disengagement plan in telephone conversations with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and the EU head of foreign affairs, Javier Solana.

In a telephone conversation with Annan on Friday, Sharon was told the world body is interested in playing a direct role in the implementation of Israel's disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip.

In the call, initiated by the secretary general, Annan congratulated Sharon and his government for approving the disengagement plan and said the decision was brave and likely to push the region forward.

The pair discussed details of the plan, with Annan saying "the United Nations would be glad to assist as much as possible for the realization of the plan." The secretary general added that the international community would like to assist and contribute - in effort and resources - in order to ensure that the implementation of the disengagement plan is successful.

For his part, Sharon said he is interested in working in full cooperation with the international community and the Quartet, in order to further the disengagement plan.

Annan added that he hoped the prime minister would be able to visit New York in the near future for a meeting with UN officials on details of the disengagement plan and ways the world body can participate in its implementation.

Annan has emphasized, however, that the United Nations, as one of the members of the Quartet, regards the disengagement plan as part of the road map.

The conversation with Annan follows a similar call Sharon had with Solana.

Diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said Sharon is keen to improve Israel's ties with the UN special envoy to the Middle East, Terje Larsen, and his European Union colleague, Marc Otte.

To date, Israel has avoided direct contact with the two diplomats, because of their links with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat.

However, even though there is no clear cut change in policy, "there has been a significant nearing in the stance of Otte and Larsen regarding Arafat and the obligations of the Palestinians and therefore tightening of relations with them is expected."

The diplomatic sources stressed that the cooperation with the EU and the UN will focus on economic and reconstruction issues and neither will be directly involved in security matters.

Despite the warm support expressed by Annan, an international official operating in the Gaza Strip in connection with the disengagement plan said there has been no international commitment for undertaking any of the plan's costs.

"In spite of the support of the members of the Quartet for the disengagement plan, to date there has been no decision on the means for doing so and certainly there has been no commitment of funds for the dismantling of the Israeli settlements in Gaza," the official said.