Livni to push for international force in Gaza

Sources say minister will discuss greater Israeli involvement in NATO with organization's chief.

Livni graceful 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Livni graceful 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is expected to discuss the idea of the deployment of a NATO force in the region in talks with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in Belgium over the weekend, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The idea of a NATO or international force deployed in Gaza has been raised on a number of occasions over the past year, from such diverse sources as Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, but has not yet gained much traction. Not only has Israel traditionally been opposed to the idea, fearing that it would limit its military maneuverability, but NATO has also not been excited about the notion because it is currently overextended in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Traditionally NATO's position was that it would not deploy here until there was a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and does not want to go to Gaza and risk attack from Hamas, which has made clear it would oppose a NATO presence. However, in recent months the idea of deploying NATO forces in Gaza has been raised as one way of possibly reinstating Abbas there, with the idea that he would "ride in" on NATO's back. Sources close to Livni said that the idea of NATO "involvement" here, as well as greater Israeli involvement in NATO, would be on Livni's agenda in her talks with the NATO chief. Livni left late Thursday night for the annual meeting of NATO foreign ministers, which will also include observers from a number of other states in addition to Israel, including Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria. While Livni did not hold any bilateral talks with the foreign ministers of the North African states last week in Annapolis, there was some expectation that a meeting with one of these states could take place in Brussels, where the gathering was not focusing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the countries were not there within the framework of the Arab League, as was the case in Annapolis. Livni, in talks she is expected to hold with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a number of key EU foreign ministers in Brussels, is expected to discuss the Iranian situation, and press Israel's case that the pressure on Iran needed to continue despite the US intelligence estimate that Teheran has ceased its nuclear weapons program. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, meanwhile, phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday and discussed the Iranian situation. Russia and China have been the countries who up until now have been the most hesitant to step up sanctions against Iran, a position that is expected to become more entrenched following the US intelligence assessment. A statement released by Putin's office said Olmert called Putin to congratulate him on the victory this week in the Russian parliamentary elections, and to discuss Annapolis, the upcoming Paris donors' conference, and "preparations for the next international conference in the first half of 2008." Russia has proposed an international conference in Moscow, but Israel and the US have so far been cool to the idea. The Annapolis process, especially the upcoming meeting of the Israeli-Palestinian Steering Committee next week and the Paris meeting of donor nations, are expected to figure prominently in Livni's talks in Brussels. Livni, together with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, met with Olmert on Thursday to discuss the framework of the negotiations and the composition of the Israeli delegation. The three are to meet again before the December 12 Steering Committee meeting. The substantive negotiations on the "core issues" between various Israel and Palestinian teams are expected to begin sometime in January. In a related matter, meetings of representatives of some of the donor states and institutions who will take part in the December 17 conference in Paris are scheduled to meet Friday in Paris and plan for that conference.