Quartet uncertain about Hamas policy

Wolfensohn feels uncertainty would make his job impossible to carry out.

james wolfensohn 88 (photo credit: )
james wolfensohn 88
(photo credit: )
Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn's threat Saturday to quit at the end of April comes against a background of uncertainty inside the Quartet over how to deal with a Hamas-led government once it is formed. While the US is leading a hard-line stance dictating that all financial ties with the PA should be cut once the Hamas-government is formed - something expected either on the day of the Israeli elections on March 28 or shortly thereafter - the UN, Russia and some voices inside the EU are advocating a more gradual approach, and of giving Hamas more time to articulate its policy. In the meantime, the Quartet has not determined its own policy; a situation that Wolfensohn feels would make his job impossible to carry out. Wolfensohn, who left the region Sunday after spending three days here, called his staff together Saturday and said he was asked to extend his current term by another month. Wolfensohn's current term expires on March 31, and said that "it would be wrong to shut down" his office in Jerusalem just three days after the Israeli elections, and that he would continue for another month. However, he said, he would then continue on only if the Quartet made a clear decision on its policy toward a Hamas-led PA. While the Quartet made a decision in February to continue financing the PA interim government, there has not been a clear decision as to how to deal with the PA once a Hamas-led government takes over. The Quartet has called on all members of a future Palestinian government to commit itself to non-violence, recognize Israel, and accept previous agreements and obligations, including the road map. Wolfensohn, formerly head of the World Bank, was appointed last August to oversee both disengagement from Gaza and Palestinian economic development afterward. As far as the first part of his mandate, Wolfensohn was instrumental in hammering out November's "Agreement on Movement and Access" that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brokered. That agreement governed the movement of goods and people from Gaza into Egypt, Israel and the West Bank - something the international community has deemed critical for PA economic development. Major parts of the agreement, however, have not been implemented, with responsibility for implementation not in Wolfensohn's hands, but rather in US hands. In order to carry out the other side of the Quartet envoy's mandate, namely Palestinian economic recovery and development, Wolfensohn told his staff there needed to be a clear Quartet donor policy, something that did not yet exist. Wolfensohn told his staff that although "it would be irresponsible to shut down the office three days after the Israelis vote, I also think it would be irresponsible to keep it open further without a clear Quartet decision on policy toward the Palestinian Authority in the current circumstances." "You can't deal with development and trade when it's unclear what funding mechanism will be acceptable to the donors," a Wolfensohn staff member said. "Every country has its own ideas, but there's little leadership and nothing will work without an agreed decision that gives a clear political envelope within which to work." Wolfensohn's brinkmanship, according to diplomatic officials, was meant to prod the Quartet into formulating policy more than it was designed to pressure Israel or the PA. The Quartet principals, after a meeting in February during which it was decided to continue to support the PA during an interim period, decided that the Quartet should increase its cooperation and that the principals should talk each week. These weekly consultations, however, have not been forthcoming, a further indication of the Quartet's difficulty in formulating policy on this matter.