1. The Wolfensohn mission
Former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn was appointed in May as the special coordinator of the Quartet (US, UN, EU, and Russia) for the Disengagement Plan. He has made five visits to the region so far: May 2-5; June 6-9 and 17-22; July 8-16; and July 29 – August 9.
Wolfensohn met in Israel with the prime minister, foreign minister, vice premier, defense minister, justice minister, and head of the National Security Council. On the Palestinian side, he met with PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Muhammad Dahlan, Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, and other economic ministers. A number of trilateral meetings were also held with Dahlan and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz. Wolfensohn also met with representatives of international organizations including UNWRA and USAID, as well as foreign diplomats and Israeli and Palestinian businessmen.
Among the topics discussed were border crossings, “commercial corridors”, movement between the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria (West Bank), travel within Judea and Samaria, a Gaza airport and seaport, and the future of the vacated housing and hothouses.
Wolfensohn’s direct involvement spurred Israeli-Palestinan agreement on the internal Gaza crossings at Karni and Erez, on the demolition of homes, and regarding water, electricity, and communications infrastructure.
Status of the Wolfensohn mission on the eve of Disengagement:
a. Border crossings and commercial corridor – Israeli and Palestinian technical teams discussed in concrete terms the upgrading the Karni and Erez crossings, in addition to the establishment of a separate crossing for agricultural produce.
b. Movement between Gaza and the West Bank – The cabinet approved the interim solution of accompanied convoys, comprising 25 trucks. For the long term Israel is proposing a rail link between Erez (Gaza) and Tarkumiya (West Bank).
c. Travel within Judea and Samaria – Wolfensohn urged freedom of movement among Palestinian localities as a spur to economic growth. In this context, the removal of four settlements in northern Samaria during disengagement will be accompanied by the removal of roadblocks and an immediate improvement in mobility.
d. Air and sea ports – There is agreement in principle on the building of a seaport (its construction is to utilize the rubble from the demolition of settlers’ homes in the Gaze Strip). Operation of the port is still under negotiation. No agreement has been reached yet on the reopening of the Gaza airport.
e. Demolition of Israeli homes in Gaza – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced in Jerusalem on June 19 that about 1,200 Jewish homes would be destroyed at the agreement of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. “The view is that there are better land uses for the Palestinians to better address their housing needs," said Rice, adding that the parties would "work towards a plan for destruction and clean-up."
f. Greenhouses – Last week representatives of Gush Katif farmers signed a $14 million deal to sell some 75 percent of their greenhouses to a private international fund, the Economic Cooperation Foundation, which will transfer the structures to the Palestinian Authority. The ECF coordinated private donations to fund the greenhouse transfer, which assures that some 4,000 Palestinian workers will retain their jobs.
2. Other issues
a. The Philadelphi Corridor: The cabinet is set to approve the withdrawal from the Israeli controlled Philadelphi Corridor (located between the Gaza Strip and the Sinai) allowing contiguity between the Palestinians and Egypt .
b. International border crossing – Israel would like to move the Rafah international border crossing to Kerem Shalom, with the cooperation of the Palestinians and the Egyptians. If this cannot be arranged, the necessary customs and security procedures would have to be transferred to Israel’s boundary with the Gaza Strip at the Karni and Erez crossings, following the implementation of the Disengagement Plan and the withdrawal from the Philadelphi Corridor.