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Exclusive: Europe Proposes U.N. Mission for Gaza

Exclusive: Europe Proposes U.N. Mission for Gaza

Major European powers have outlined a detailed plan for a European-backed U.N. mission to monitor the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’s military tunnel network and rocket arsenals, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Foreign Policy.

The European initiative aims to reinforce wide-ranging cease-fire talks underway in Cairo. The Europeans are hoping to take advantage of this week’s 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire to cobble a more durable plan addressing underlying issues that could reignite violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains unclear whether the European plan has the support of Hamas, Israel, or the United States. It does, however, include several elements the Obama administration believes are essential, including the need to ease Gazans’ plight, strengthen the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

The plan — described in a so-called non-paper titled "Gaza: Supporting a Sustainable Ceasefire" — envisions the creation of a U.N.-mandated "monitoring and verification" mission, possibly drawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which has monitored a series of Israeli-Arab truces in the region since the late 1940s. The mission "should cover military and security aspects, such as the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, and the lifting of restrictions on movement and access," according to the document. "It could have a role in monitoring imports of construction and dual use materials allowed in the Gaza Strip, and the re-introduction of the Palestinian Authority."

The key aim of the initiative is to help the Palestinian Authority gradually assume military, and political, control over Gaza, which has been administered by the militant group Hamas since 2007. The paper — which was drafted by Britain, France, and Germany — could serve as the basis for a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"We are strongly committed to playing a role in supporting the Egyptian ceasefire initiative, to address security concerns whilst opening up access to Gaza and supporting the return of the Palestinian Authority," the document continues. "In order to achieve a sustainable ceasefire, it will be important to address simultaneously Israeli demands in terms of security and Palestinian demands regarding the lifting of the restrictions and for both to be closely monitored through an international mechanism."

Many of the document’s ideas are not new. But Europeans have been unable to implement many of these hoped-for measures after Hamas, which prevailed in legislative elections in 2006, moved militarily the following year to seize control of Gaza from Fatah, its partner in a unity government.

For instance, the plan would reactive an EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM), which was established in 2005, to monitor the passage of goods and individuals through the Rafah crossing point separating Gaza from Egypt.

The initiative also calls for new European-supported "security arrangements" to ensure a lasting cease-fire and security for Gaza and Israel. The arrangements, which would be led by the Palestinian Authority, "should help to prevent a rearming of militant groups in Gaza and military violations, and provide for an effective dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel."

Under the terms of the plan, European police advisors operating as part of the European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL COPPS) — which is based in the West Bank — could be given a broader mandate to support the Palestinian Authority as it takes on an expanded security role in Gaza.

"Steps should immediately be taken to open crossing and movement of persons and goods through border crossing should be facilitated once the ceasefire is reached," the document reads. "The Palestinian Authority should resume its control at the Rafah, Kerem Shalom and Erez crossing points."

Also recommended was exploration of extending the mandate of the European border guards to support the administration of the border crossings at Kerem Shalom and Erez. The document notes that the EU "could play a role in training the border police and customs of the Palestinian Authority."

The plan envisions a massive infusion of outside donor funds, channeled through the Palestinian Authority, to rebuild destroyed houses, power plants, and other essential infrastructure in Gaza.

It also includes a set of specific steps to ease Gazans’ hardships, including allowing the export of goods from Gaza to the West Bank and Israel, increasing the number of trucks allowed into Gaza, allowing trade by sea, and extending the fishing areas to 12 nautical miles.