EU: Israel's pullout from Gaza Strip will not suffice

By Haaretz Service and Reuters

Haaretz

Cheshvan 8, 5765

The European Union's foreign policy chief said in an interview published Saturday that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to evacuate Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and four West Bank of settlements would not suffice.

Javier Solana called on Sharon to pull out of all the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

If Sharon believes that with a "pullout from Gaza everything is already done and that peace would come automatically, we won't support that," he said. "That wouldn't be a dream, but a nightmare," Solana was quoted as saying by Der Spiegel, a weekly news magazine

Solana also said he hoped to send European experts in cooperation with Egypt to help train Palestinian security forces within the coming months.

"Probably together with Egypt, we will send well-prepared people so that the Palestinians can enact a sensible command structure and also have the ability to fulfill their duty," Solana was quoted as saying.

Under Sharon's disengagement plan, Israel will withdraw from Gaza, where 8,000 Jewish settlers live among 1.3 million Palestinians, next year. The plan also includes a pullback from four small West Bank settlements. It is expected to be presented to the Knesset plenum for a vote of approval on Tuesday.

Solana told The Associated Press last month that no new "bold ideas" for the Middle East should be expected before the U.S. presidential election in November.

He said the EU, the United States, Russia and the United Nations would continue pressing for the internationally backed road map peace plan they drafted with the goal of having two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace in 2005.

According to Israeli sources, the Europeans are trying to use the 'diplomatic vacuum' that has grown during the days and weeks before the presidential elections in the United States. The European Council of Foreign Ministers recently adopted a resolution critical of Israel, and charged Solana with drawing up recommendations for the EU's Middle East policy ahead of its next meeting on November 5. According to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Solana will present a "street map," aimed at outlining the steps needed to implement the road map to a Palestinian state.

During his visit to Israel, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said that Europe is seeking to become a diplomatic giant, in the same way that it has already become an economic giant. He also insisted that violence and instability in the Middle East are a threat to Israel.

Sha'ath stresses need for elections
The Palestinian Authority needs a general election to shake up the leadership, its foreign minister said on Friday, stressing the need for vibrant democracy in politics long dominated by PA Chairman Yasser Arafat.

Nabil Sha'ath said elections could not take place until the security situation had improved, ruling out an early poll.

"Elections are the single most important act of reform because elections turn a stale democracy to a vibrant democracy," Sha'ath told reporters after talks with Solana in Brussels.

"Elections allow the rejuvenation of the leadership and allow greater participation by the people in decision-making about very important matters, about peace and war and the future."

Palestinian general elections were originally scheduled for early 2003 but put off on security grounds. They are seen as the first concrete step to meet long-standing international and domestic demands for reforms.

Palestinian politics have been dominated for decades by Arafat, who has widespread support among Palestinians, but a September poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed more than 90 percent of Palestinians wanted sweeping political reforms.

Sha'ath said that although local elections would go ahead starting in December, there was little chance of a general election in the near future.

"We are going into a small step of local elections on December 9 regardless of the situation," he said.

"But to go into national elections there needs to be a minimum amount of quiet, and withdrawal of Israelis from towns and villages," he added. "Once that is possible then elections are possible."

An EU official said the bloc wanted the elections to go ahead, but added that the Union understood the delays.

"We do want the elections to take place but it is clear that for free and fair elections there would have to be freedom of movement for people to go and vote and register," the official said, speaking on conditions of anonymity.

"We are going to present to our friends, the Palestinians, a plan in order to get that disengagement process in the most effective manner," he told reporters.

"That is part of a process which is not an end in itself, but a part of the process that should lead to the end of the occupation."

Five European FMs to vist Arafat
Five European foreign ministers are planning to visit Ramallah in the near future, according to Sha'ath.

Speaking to the Al-Quds newspaper, which is published in East Jerusalem, Sha'ath said that the ministers would meet with Arafat, in an effort to end the physical and diplomatic isolation of the Palestinian leader. Shaath, currently in Paris, was to hold talks Friday night with Barnier.

Of late, Europe has increased the frequency of its comments on the need for a peace process, and on Arafat's standing. During his visit last week, Barnier told President Moshe Katsav that "restricting Arafat's movements and keeping him within the Muqata give him an excuse not to fulfill his commitments." Barnier proposed that Israel lift its restrictions on the Palestinian leader, and put him to another test.

According to Sha'ath, the European move was initiated by Spain, which hopes to convince other European countries to join it. Shaath also claimed that Spain will also try to persuade Israel to renew negotiations with the PA under Arafat.

On Wednesday, Sha'ath met with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, the former EU envoy to the Middle East. Moratinos called for immediate implementation of the road map, but told Shaath that any diplomatic moves should be based on the Israeli disengagement plan. Quoting a political sources in Brussels, Al-Quds reported that the EU would not allow Israel to utilize Arafat's need for medical treatment abroad in order to expel him from the West Bank. In recent weeks, physicians from Egypt and Jordan have traveled to Ramallah to treat Arafat for a variety of ailments.