- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2007

Germany’s foreign minister is traveling in the Middle East this week to promote an “action plan” of the European Union that provides for an international military force to serve in the Palestinian territories.

German officials said the minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, hopes to have the plan ready to be presented at an international conference scheduled for later this year in Annapolis.

Other elements of the plan, which is still being developed, call for measures to strengthen the Palestinian private sector and make the West Bank’s people less dependent on foreign aid.

Mr. Steinmeier was in Israel yesterday seeking support and suggestions that could improve the plan. The European Council agreed last month to develop an action plan based on Mr. Steinmeier’s initiative.

In an article laying out his plan for German readers, Mr. Steinmeier said a “modern and democratic” international force could serve to protect Palestinians from crime while safeguarding Israelis from suicide bombings and terrorism.

The force would serve until the Palestinians are able to handle their own security responsibilities, he said.

In the run-up to the U.S.-initiated peace conference, Israeli and Western officials have discussed sending an international peacekeeping force to the Palestinian territories.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has signaled that Israel may be ready for the first time to consider such a force, an idea it has always opposed.

A senior Western diplomat told Reuters news agency that the plans for an international force were in an early stage and that it would be hard to overcome some significant problems.

The ambassador of the Arab League in Washington, Hussein Hassouna, said his organization would support a security force if the Palestinians requested it.

“Certainly a peacekeeping force must be agreed upon by all the parties involved but it could help stabilize the situation,” Mr. Hassouna told The Washington Times.

Mr. Hassouna welcomed the coming Annapolis conference and said an open dialogue is necessary to deal with all the difficult questions. He said a deadline should be fixed for the completion of negotiations growing out of the conference.

“We want the negotiations to be the beginning of a comprehensive [long-lasting] peace,” he said.

Mr. Hassouna also welcomed the EU initiative, saying Europe has an important role to play because of its strong ties with both Israel and the Arab nations, and its financial support to the Palestinians.

But, he said, the Europeans “should confer with the Arabs, with the United States and the Israelis, so we have a unified effort. I don’t think diversity is useful here.”

In an article for the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Mr. Steinmeier wrote that despite pessimism, there is a real chance to achieve the long-desired solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Our contribution should ensure that the support for the peace effort of the international community as a whole is as coherent as possible,” Mr. Steinmeier wrote in the Handelsblatt.

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