- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 9, 2005

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A special Mideast envoy yesterday began a series of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders as part of his effort to put together a three-year plan for Palestinian economic recovery to be funded by the international community.

A senior Israeli official, meanwhile, said the forced evacuation of Gaza settlements will begin Aug. 17, giving a starting date for the first time for the pullout. The official said settlers who ignore orders to leave by that deadline will suffer financial losses.

The aid package was endorsed Friday by the eight-nation summit of industrial nations (G-8). The envoy, former World Bank chief James Wolfensohn, said he would present the plan to the international community in September.

The money — up to $3 billion a year — would start flowing in about six months, after Israel has completed its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, Mr. Wolfensohn told reporters yesterday, after meeting with Mohammed Dahlan, the top Palestinian official in charge of coordinating the Gaza withdrawal with Israel.

In a first step, the aid would help create jobs in Gaza, where poverty and unemployment have soared during more than four years of Israeli-Palestinian fighting.

“We are talking about programs that will be implemented immediately,” said Mr. Wolfensohn. “We are talking about support early after the withdrawal.”

Mr. Wolfensohn will be in the region for a week, for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Palestinian officials said they have put together a list of 26 economic projects, including job creation, rebuilding the Gaza infrastructure and improving crucial crossing points between Israel and Gaza.

The G-8 leaders did not pledge specific sums of aid, saying only they “support Mr. Wolfensohn’s intention to stimulate a global financial contribution of up to $3 billion per year over the coming three years.”

Mr. Dahlan, meanwhile, told Israel TV’s Channel 2 that Israel has not yet made decisions on key issues related to withdrawal, including whether Israel would agree to the construction of a seaport in Gaza and the reopening of the strip’s airport, how border crossings would be managed, and how Gaza would be linked to the West Bank to allow Palestinians free movement between the territories.

“I haven’t received a single answer so far,” Mr. Dahlan said. “I live in a fog.”

Mr. Wolfensohn and the World Bank have emerged as mediators between the two sides, and have come up with proposals on most issues, including paving a “sunken” road that would link the West Bank and Gaza and deploying foreign security inspectors at the airport and future seaport.

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