World Bank Chief to Become a Special Mideast Envoy
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
Published: April 15, 2005
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WASHINGTON, April 14 - The Bush administration, moving to ease difficulties
in the preparations for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West
Bank, announced Thursday that James Wolfensohn, the retiring president of
the World Bank, will become a special coordinator to help the Palestinian
Authority run Gaza once the Israelis start leaving this summer.
The administration's action comes amid growing concern in Europe, the United
States and the Middle East that there has been a lack of Israeli-Palestinian
coordination on the withdrawal, which was proposed by Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon in December 2003 and was approved by the Israeli Parliament last
In particular, concerns have been expressed that facilities left behind by
Israel that could be used by the Palestinians for economic development might
be destroyed. The appointment of Mr. Wolfensohn, who has mobilized financial
aid and worked with Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a decade at the
World Bank, was made with the support of the European Union, the United
Nations and Russia, the quartet of partners backing the Middle East peace
plan known as the road map.
"I would expect to be over there in next couple weeks to do preliminary work
and to listen," Mr. Wolfensohn said in an interview after Secretary of State
Condoleezza Rice announced his appointment. "My first job is to listen to
the Israelis and the Palestinians and try to assess the situation and see
what the gaps are and how we can help."
Ms. Rice said that Mr. Wolfensohn would focus on coordinating "nonmilitary
aspects" of the withdrawal, including economic reconstruction and the
transfer of Israeli housing, public buildings, greenhouses and other
property to Palestinian control.
"The responsibility for peace ultimately rests with the two parties, and Mr.
Wolfensohn can only help them achieve what they are willing to achieve
together," Ms. Rice said at the State Department.
Last week, former Prime Minister Shimon Peres, speaking at an Aspen
Institute conference in Washington, warned that without further
preparations, efforts to salvage economic facilities in Gaza, like the
greenhouses that could employ thousands of Palestinians, could end with
their being destroyed.
The issue is further complicated by divisions within the Palestinian
government. President Mahmoud Abbas has favored cooperating with Israel in
the pullout while an increasingly powerful faction led by Prime Minister
Ahmed Qurei has opposed such coordination as tacitly legitimizing the
Mr. Peres said he favored the appointment of a respected economic
coordinator for Gaza. The idea of asking Mr. Wolfensohn to enter into the
Middle East morass had been discussed among European and Middle East
diplomats, but the Bush administration initially resisted naming any special
Middle East envoy.
A European official said that Ms. Rice conferred Thursday morning in a joint
telephone call with Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general; Sergey
V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister; and Javier Solana, the external
affairs commissioner for the European Union.
Since Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel announced his plan for the
withdrawal, the World Bank has taken the lead in trying to raise what bank
officials say they hope will be a doubling of aid for the Palestinians in
Mr. Wolfensohn is to begin his work in the Middle East formally on June 1,
when Paul D. Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, takes over
leadership of the World Bank. But Mr. Wolfensohn said he would start work
right away in light of the fact that the withdrawal of Israeli forces and
about 8,500 settlers is to start soon.
Some in the Bush administration said they saw Mr. Wolfensohn's role as
complementary to that of Lt. Gen. William E. Ward, deputy commanding general
of the United States Army in Europe, who is in the Middle East to help the
Palestinians improve their security forces.
But others said that it was possible that a successful pullout would lead to
demands for Mr. Wolfensohn to stay on and broker larger issues, such as the
final boundaries of a Palestinian state.
"Knowing Jim's personality, I would be extremely surprised if he does not
only take charge on this job but also try to enlarge it," said a European
diplomat who is a friend of Mr. Wolfensohn. "He is not the kind of person
who wants to retire from the bank to his home in Jackson Hole."
Ms. Rice's announcement came after a three-day visit to the United States by
Mr. Sharon, including a day with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford,
Tex. Mr. Bush used the visit not only to endorse the Israeli pullout plan
but also to appeal to Israel to exercise restraint on expanding settlements
in the West Bank and the Jerusalem suburbs.
Administration officials said that an urgent topic of the Bush-Sharon talks
was mounting concern about problems on the Palestinian side, especially in
planning for the Israeli pullout. One American aide said that Palestinian
officials have assured the United States that their plans are under way but
that they are not prepared to provide details.
Two top American officials - Elliott Abrams and David Welch, directors of
Middle East affairs at the White House and the State Department respectively
- will travel to the region next week to meet with Palestinian and Israeli