Mideast peacemakers ease pressure on both sides after Gaza withdrawal
UNITED NATIONS – Mideast peace brokers said Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon demonstrated political courage in ending the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and eased pressure on both sides as Israel and the Palestinians adjust to changed political circumstances.The peacemaking group known as the quartet made no specific new demands on Israel to capitalize on momentum from the Gaza withdrawal, and avoided harsh public assessments of Palestinian security measures in the volatile territory they now control.The quartet – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia – met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session. The group oversees international efforts to place Israel and the Palestinians on a path to eventual Palestinian statehood and peace.”The quartet’s assessment of the Gaza withdrawal is that, in fact, it has been a successful withdrawal, that it demonstrated that the Israelis and the Palestinians can work together in the most detailed circumstances, in the most difficult circumstances,” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.The last Israeli troops left Gaza more than a week ago, ending 38 years of control. It was the first time Israel had handed over land that would eventually form part of a Palestinian state.In an apparent nod to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ political troubles, Rice suggested the Palestinians need some flexibility to deal with the militant group Hamas.Abbas is having trouble imposing order in Gaza, and his government faces a no-confidence vote in parliament. His main rival, Hamas, is parading its private army in the streets.The United States regards Hamas as a terrorist organization, and has insisted that Abbas crack down on it. Abbas has pledged cooperation, but also says he wants to bring Hamas political elements into the fold and thus defuse a threat to his political survival. Israel has complicated matters by threatening to impede the upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election if Hamas participates.”There is a fundamental contradiction between armed activities and the political process,” Rice said, but democracy is still developing in the Palestinian territories, “and I think we have to give the Palestinians some room for the evolution of their political process.”Abbas’ defenders say he faces an impossible task and needs more time.However, parliamentary elections are slated for January, and the Palestinian Authority is months away from delivering on promises of housing and jobs.Abbas travels through Gaza in a speeding 20-car convoy surrounded by dozens of guards because of the constant threat of assassination. At one point last week, as the border with Egypt was a chaotic free for all and militants brandished weapons throughout Gaza, Abbas stunned Palestinians by saying Gaza was under “complete control.”At the same time, Abbas’ declared partner in peace has his own troubles. Sharon faces political challenges from the left and right and a new allegation Tuesday that he may have violated campaign finance rules.Against that backdrop, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan signaled that major international peace efforts are in a holding pattern ahead of the Palestinian election or a possible Israeli election.”Obviously, we are monitoring these events very closely, and would want to see that settled before one takes any other bold initiatives,” Annan said.Sharon and Abbas are also scheduled to meet Oct. 2.In a speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly, Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom noted the diplomatic rewards Israel has reaped from its Gaza withdrawal.Shalom said he met with more than 10 foreign ministers from Arab and Islamic countries in the last week, “a number unthinkable, even two years ago.””The iron wall” that stood between Israel and most of the Arab and Islamic countries is coming down, he said, and “relations are growing at a rate never seen before.”Vail, Colorado
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