- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

Dirge for Quartet

Representatives of the Middle East Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations — will gather here tomorrow for a daylong meeting that few expect to soften the frost between the Israeli and Palestinian governments.

The United States and the European Union have refused to recognize or even communicate directly with Hamas, and have succeeded in reducing U.N. diplomatic relations with the elected Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, living conditions in the Gaza Strip are plummeting: The U.N. aid agency that cares for nearly one-third of all Gazans reports shortages of medical supplies and food; civil servants have gone two months without paychecks; Israel’s continued closure of the Karni commercial crossing has cut Palestinian agricultural revenues.

“Two weeks ago, we were counting down to a humanitarian crisis,” said the U.N. Relief and Works Agency on Friday. “Today, that crisis is on our doorstep.”

Despite the participation tomorrow of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, officials say they don’t expect much from the Quartet talks.

James Wolfensohn, the former World Bank president who served as the Quartet’s special envoy and de facto emergency fundraiser, resigned in frustration when his mandate expired at the end of last month. In addition to his political insights, Mr. Wolfensohn raised millions of dollars to buy commercial greenhouses from departing Israeli settlers amid Israel’s pullout from Gaza last year.

More acrimony

The U.N. General Assembly is scheduled to meet this afternoon to postpone major U.N. reforms by several months, or maybe forever.

At a contentious meeting of the assembly’s budget committee 10 days ago, a poisonous rift finally tore loose, separating the donors responsible for 80 percent of the organization’s money from most of the developing world.

The issue, all agree, is money: Those without it fear that the proposed reforms will reduce their clout; those with it insist that they have a right to ensure their contributions are well spent.

The atmosphere is so acrimonious that General Assembly President Jan Eliasson cut short a two-week working visit to Sweden, where he is now foreign minister, and other travels to try to nurture a compromise.

This spring, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan proposed a package of reforms supported by the United States and about 40 others among the 191 member countries. The package would give the Secretariat more management authority, effectively cutting the budget committee out of the process on a host of administrative issues.

If the reforms are, in U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton’s word, “tanked,” there could be a cascade of fiscal fallout. The plan to rebuild the aging U.N. headquarters already has lost its chief administrator and much U.S. support; rich nations could insist on paying less when the scale of assessments is decided at the end of the year.

The resolution to be voted on today was put forward by the 133-member coalition of developing states and was accepted by a rare vote of 108-50, rather than by consensus. If the text is accepted by the full General Assembly, most of the reforms would be pushed to next year, after Mr. Annan’s term expires.

After Annan, who?

Speaking of 2007, at least one potential candidate appears ambivalent about having his name on a list to succeed Secretary-General Kofi Annan for a five-year term.

“One hesitation is a personal one: Do I really want to commit five years to a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day job?” East Timor’s foreign minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, told reporters in Sydney last week.

“Second, it is my personal obligations in regard to East Timor,” Mr. Ramos-Horta added. The co-recipient of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize noted that his tiny nation’s leadership bench is not very deep right now, and, “therefore, my presence in East Timor for the next few years might be necessary.”

Betsy Pisik can be reached by e-mail at bpisik@washingtontimes.com.

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