From World Bank to West Bank: The Former World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn Is the US Appointed Special Envoy to Oversee Israel's Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and to Assist the Palestinian Authorities in Rebuilding Its Economy. Many Believe Agreeing to the Choice of Wolfensohn Might Prove an All-Too-Rare Moment of Inspiration on the Part of the Bush Administration

By Williams, Stephen | The Middle East, July 2005 | Go to article overview

From World Bank to West Bank: The Former World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn Is the US Appointed Special Envoy to Oversee Israel's Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and to Assist the Palestinian Authorities in Rebuilding Its Economy. Many Believe Agreeing to the Choice of Wolfensohn Might Prove an All-Too-Rare Moment of Inspiration on the Part of the Bush Administration


Williams, Stephen, The Middle East


WHEN PRESIDENT GEORGE Bush announced Jim Wolfensohn's appointment to oversee the withdrawal of Israel from Gaza he spoke of the World Bank president as "an outstanding public servant and well-equipped for the new post". The US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, described Wolfensohn as one of the world's most skilled, experienced and dedicated public servants, although she cautioned "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".

As special envoy, Wolfensohn's mandate is to coordinate the non-military aspects of the Israeli pullout originally planned for this month [July]. He will be responsible for overseeing the structure of the withdrawal and playing the role of 'honest broker' in deciding what should be done with assets left behind by Jewish settlers. He will also help plan Palestinian economic reconstruction. Wolfensohn's appointment, although announced by the US administration, is technically the decision of the so-called 'quartet', the UN, EU, Russia and US, who have been attempting to put the Middle East peace process back on track. It is widely agreed the 'quartet' needed to send an urgent signal to both the Israelis and Palestinians that the world is committed to making the Gaza withdrawal, as part of the Road Map, work.

Few have any doubt Wolfensohn's nomination would never have happened without the backing of the Bush administration. What is curious about that backing is that Wolfensohn was very close to the Clinton administration and few considered it likely the Bush presidency would want him as their 'point man' on the Gaza withdrawal. Indeed, Wolfensohn himself is on record as saying the Bush administration had kept him at arm's length during his second five-year term as president of the World Bank.

Some sections of the US press reported that the US administration had resisted the appointment but was convinced by European officials that Wolfensohn was best equipped to handle the pressures and complexities of the job. A less charitable interpretation of the White House's reasoning in naming Wolfensohn to the post is that it was a win-win situation. If Wolfensohn failed in his Gaza withdrawal mission, the legacy of a political big-hitter under the previous Democrat administration would be tarnished. But if Wolfensohn succeeded then the Bush administration could claim much of the credit.

Wolfensohn was to have begun his new posting early in June as soon as he stepped down from the presidency of the World Bank on 31 May, but the new envoy made an early start to his duties. Wolfensohn was quoted as saying he believed there was no more important mission than working to achieve an equitable and just solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

But as if to illustrate the problems that will lie ahead for the new envoy, just days after his appointment was announced the Israeli government started to backtrack on the timetable for the Gaza withdrawal.

This withdrawal involves the evacuation of some 8,500 settlers from 21 illegal settlements in Gaza and the closure of four settlements in the West Bank.

Yonatan Bassi, head of the department supervising the evacuation of Israeli settlers, suggested the pullout from Palestinian Territories be put off until after the middle of August to enable the observance of the religious holiday that marks the destruction of the biblical temples, Tisha B'Av, which falls on 14 August.

An aide for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the government had originally hoped to complete the withdrawal by 1 September--in time for settlers' children to start the education year in new schools. …

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From World Bank to West Bank: The Former World Bank President, Jim Wolfensohn Is the US Appointed Special Envoy to Oversee Israel's Withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and to Assist the Palestinian Authorities in Rebuilding Its Economy. Many Believe Agreeing to the Choice of Wolfensohn Might Prove an All-Too-Rare Moment of Inspiration on the Part of the Bush Administration
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