Solana to push for Abbas, PM meeting

EU foreign policy chief arriving amid sudden surge of hope for peace.

Solana close 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Solana close 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid a sudden surge of hope for movement toward peace on the part of Israelis and Palestinians, the European Union's foreign policy chief Javier Solana is due to arrive here on Friday from Jordan. Solana last visited the region at the end of October. On Saturday he plans to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and on Sunday with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. A source close to Solana told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the policy chief "would like to see a meeting between Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. We would like to see confidence-building measures on both sides and a return to the Road Map." The European Union wants to help move matters forward on the release of the Palestinians held in Israeli jails and Cpl. Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped by Hamas on the Gaza border in late June, the source said. Keeping the cease-fire in Gaza, which was declared this week, is an integral step toward the progress of peace, so Solana has called on the Quartet to provide diplomatic oversight for that cease-fire, the source said. The source added that this should not be interpreted to mean that Solana favored an international monitoring force in the area similar to the one that is now stationed in southern Lebanon. Mid-month the Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero called for such a force as part of a five-point peace plan that had the support of France and Italy. But a senior European official said on Thursday that he also believed that the European Union was not interested at this time in expanding its monitoring role beyond the Rafah crossing between Egypt and the Palestinians in Gaza. "I do not think that Israel is interested in it (either)," he said. "Our position is that Rafah must first operate smoothly to the satisfaction of everyone and that it has to be permanently opened and operating before we can consider other things," he said. Israeli officials have complained about security problems with the Rafah crossing and have charged that weapons are being smuggled across it. The EU official denied the charges. "I know of no significant smuggling of weapons through the Rafah crossing," he said. But, he added, Palestinians were bringing cash into Gaza, a move which is allowed to them under Palestinian law. Many other countries would not allow large sums of money to go over its border in that way, he said, but the Palestinians are still working on their legal system. The EU official argued that there was no point in confiscating the cash, which would then have to be given to the Finance Ministry which was under Hamas control. The benefit, he said, is that the Europeans can know how much money is going into Gaza, he added. On Thursday the United Nations issued a report on the crossings into Gaza and showed how many of the agreements Israel had made regarding the crossings had not been kept. Since the Agreement on Movement and Access was signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in November 2005, the report charged, Palestinian access to the outside world is limited and the flow of goods in and out of Gaza is "negligible." In the first six months after the agreement was signed, Rafah was open nine-and-a-half hours a day, but since June it had been closed 86 percent of the time, the UN report said. It added that since April, the Karni Crossing through which goods flow had been closed 54 percent of the time. A EU official said that Olmert planned to improve access in and out of Gaza should the cease-fire hold. But he said Olmert had warned that the cease-fire would collapse if there was a serious violation, such as a rocket attack with fatalities.