Israel, PA tell EU plans for Rafah team

EU also announces 3-year-plan to help train Palestinian police forces.

rafah arab women 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
rafah arab women 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
A high-level European Union team held talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah Sunday to listen to the role Israel and the Palestinians envision for a third-party presence at the Rafah Crossing, with EU foreign ministers scheduled to discuss the issue Monday. The EU Foreign Ministers, scheduled to hold their monthly meeting in Brussels, are expected to discuss the scope of the role at Rafah that they are willing to take on. In addition, AP reported that the EU ministers plan to announce Monday that the EU will launch a three-year mission starting January 1 to help the Palestinians build up a credible police force. Officials said the decision by the EU foreign ministers will not mean European police officers patrolling the streets of Palestinian cities, rather that the EU plans to provide up to 50 law enforcement experts to advise on how to staff, manage and finance Palestinian police forces. The EU has, for a number of months, been providing some training for Palestinian police through a program called EUCOPS. Regarding the Rafah crossing, one EU official said Sunday "we are currently in a listening mode. We need to hear from both the Israelis and the Palestinians what they expect from the third party. There is not much we can do until the two parties agree on the role of the third party." After the EU team, led by the EU's special Mideast envoy Marc Otte, met with Israeli officials led by Vice Premier Shimon Peres, it traveled to Ramallah and met with PA Prime Minster Ahmed Qurei and Saeb Erekat. On Monday evening, Israeli and Palestinian teams are slated to meet together with Quartet disengagement envoy James Wolfensohn, who is pressing for a quick solution to the issue. In addition to agreeing that a third-party team will be stationed at the Rafah crossing, Israel and the PA have agreed that the crossing will serve Palestinians with valid identification cards going to and from Egypt to Gaza, as well as VIP's. Goods going from Gaza to Egypt are to go through Rafah, while goods from Egypt to Gaza - as well as all other visitors into Gaza - are to go through a new terminal under Israeli supervision to be built at Kerem Shalom. Nevertheless, a number of details need to be hammered out, such as when the Rafah crossing will be opened to the wider public, not just Palestinians with valid identification cards, and what type of information Israel will receive from the surveillance equipment to be placed at the site. While Israel wants an online feed from the crossing, the Palestinians want to provide Israel with information from the crossing once a day. Significant differences between Israel and the EU over their role at the site have also emerged in recent days. While Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom have indicated that they envision the EU playing an active hands-on role at the crossing, an EU official said that the team will "not be replacing either the Palestinians or Israelis at the site." Asked what this meant, the official said the EU team "will not be the border guards or the customs officers, our role will be truly a monitoring and capacity-building role." The EU team is scheduled to travel to Rafah Monday to look at the crossing, and - depending on the outcome of Monday's talks between Israel, the Palestinians and Wolfensohn - may meet with both sides again on Tuesday.