EU envoy: Gaza int'l force may be set up quickly

Marc Otte to 'Post': "Definitely more interest than in the past" for idea from both Israelis, Palestinians.

marc otte 88 (photo credit: )
marc otte 88
(photo credit: )
The mechanism for an international security presence in the Gaza Strip "could be devised quickly" if Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement on the matter, EU Middle East envoy Marc Otte told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. Otte said there is "definitely more interest than in the past" for the idea from both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. "After the [Second] Lebanon War, the sides see the merit in an international security presence," Otte said, referring to the international force in southern Lebanon. At the same time, he said, "we are a long way away from implementation." Otte said that the EU was currently "in a listening mode" on the matter, adding: "We must make sure that all the parties are interested." Both Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have spoken positively about an international force in recent days, and they were not alone. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said at Monday's donors' conference in Paris that France "proposes the deployment, when the time and conditions are right, of an international force to assist the Palestinian security services." Abbas said Tuesday he supported Sarkozy's proposal, telling a press conference in Paris that he welcomed the idea. "We are working for this to become the international position in the near future," he said. Livni hinted at a NATO meeting in Brussels earlier this month that NATO would have to play a part in ensuring security if Israel were to carry out significant territorial concessions. "Israel's ability to reach an agreement based on substantial territorial concessions directly relates to our need to make sure we do not jeopardize our security and our future. Here, I believe, the dialogue between Israel and NATO begins," Livni said. "We are now in a process that is expected to strengthen the capabilities of the Palestinian Authority - so they would fight terror instead of Israel," Livni said. "However, one cannot exclude the possibility that we will need to discuss what can be the role of NATO in supporting the need for a change, a real change, on the ground." Hamas spokesmen, however, have said consistently they would oppose any international force and view it as an occupier no different than Israel. Otte - speaking from Slovenia, where he was attending an EU meeting - termed Monday's Paris donors' conference a success for the organizers and for PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. While the conference raised some $7.4 billion for the PA, he said it was "difficult to tell" whether the Arab countries would deliver on their pledges. More so than others in the international community, the Arab countries have openly questioned whether a vast infusion of money will lead to a credible process, and have indicated that their funds may be conditioned on Israel fulfilling certain "expectations," Otte said. Otte said that both Israel and the PA would be under pressure now to "move quickly" - the PA to enhance security, law and order, and Israel to enable greater freedom of movement and access and halt settlement activity. He said that Israel, the Palestinians and the US would need to come to an agreed-upon interpretation of the road map clause calling on Israel to freeze all settlement activities, including those associated with natural growth. The Palestinians interpret that clause to mean a complete construction halt, including in Jerusalem, while Israel excludes Jerusalem from this equation and also says it refers to a halt in settlement expansion, but not a total end to all construction inside existing settlements. Regarding whether the EU was in favor of Hamas-Fatah talks, something Israel has squarely come out against, Otte said that "the Palestinians have to decide for themselves how to manage their own affairs. We do not try to build coalitions in other countries." Senior Israeli officials have made clear in recent days that the reinstatement of a Hamas-Fatah national government would put an end to the current diplomatic process.