Wolfensohn to visit Israel, Gaza soon

Departing World Bank president James Wolfensohn, newly named to coordinate with Israel on its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, has said he may visit Israel and Gaza as early as next week.

    Wolfensohn (L) has been chosen as the Quartet's envoy

    Wolfensohn said on Sunday he would focus on economic and social development in the Palestinian territories and on marshalling international support.
    "What I am hoping to do is to help them, particularly on the issues of economic and social development, and trying to bring the international community together in support of both restoration of hope in the Palestinian territories and new outlook for people in terms of jobs, in terms of opportunities," he said.

    Wolfensohn spoke to reporters on the sidelines of World Bank meetings in Washington. He is due to leave the World Bank post at the end of May, but the bank's board gave him permission to begin preliminary work in his new role.
    Transition period

    Newly appointed World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, the former US deputy defence secretary, has already started working in his new role behind the scenes after Wolfensohn pressed for a transition period.

    Wolfensohn will have to work
    with Abbas (L) and Sharon

    Asked when he would travel to Israel and the Gaza Strip, Wolfensohn said: "Very possibly next week."
    The Australian-born Wolfensohn will in his new job represent the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators - the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States.

    In announcing the post last Thursday, US President George Bush said Wolfensohn would work with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas "to help them try to pull out of this ash heap of what used to exist".
    Wolfensohn said he would rely on a World Bank analysis released in December on rebuilding the Palestinian economy after the withdrawal. 
    Economic stagnation

    The report said the Palestinian economy was unlikely to shake off stagnation unless Israel eased the movement of goods and people to and from the Palestinian territories, and there was a Palestinian commitment to security reform.

    "What I am hoping to do is to help [Palestinians and Israelis] ... and to try to bring the international community together in support of both"

    James Wolfensohn,
    outgoing World Bank chief

    Wolfensohn, who has long had an interest in the Middle East and knows the players, said he wanted to first listen to the views of the Palestinians and Israelis.

    "There are many people seeking help, and when I get there my first task will be to listen and try find out what everybody thinks," he said.

    The outgoing World Bank chief has acknowledged spending his last five years at the bank mostly at odds with the US' Bush administration, which kept him at arm's length.
    Active role

    Wolfensohn clashed with administration officials over how the bank gave out funds to poor countries. Washington wanted more evidence that development aid was not wasted on ill-conceived programmes or bureaucracy.
    He said he had discussions with the Bush administration about the possibility of playing a role for the US, but that idea went nowhere.
    Then he said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned him last week to ask if he was interested in representing the Quartet.
    The Israelis and Palestinians approved the move, Wolfensohn added, before Bush announced it.

    The US president has been criticised for not taking a more active role in Middle East peace-making and for failing to name an overall US peace envoy. 

    SOURCE: Reuters


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