Barak Ravid
February 7, 2008

Israel’s policies in the Gaza Strip are likely to turn the territory into Somalia, European Union special envoy to the Middle East Marc Otte told Haaretz on Thursday in an interview.

“Israel’s tactics in the Gaza Strip did not work,” Otte said. “The blockade and the sanctions against the population failed, and only strengthened Hamas and weakened [Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad and [President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen.”

Otte added that “the implications of Israeli activity may be that Gaza becomes Somalia.”

This week Otte met with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo to discuss the breached border of the Gaza Strip along the Philadelphi Route. Her then came to Israel for talks with Defense and Foreign Ministry officials.

Otte expressed concern that Israel is still uncertain how to deal with the new situation that has emerged along the border, and described some of the ideas the Egyptians are proposing for resolving the crisis.

“There has been a significant change in the Egyptian appreciation of the severity of the problem at Rafah,” Otte said.

Otte says that President Hosni Mubarak and Egypt’s Intelligence Chief, Omar Suleiman, are interested in a “package deal” that will bring about a more general settlement to the border situation between Israel and Egypt, and Israel and the Gaza Strip.

According to the Egyptian plan, there would be a renewed opening of the Rafah crossing along the lines of the previous agreement, intensive efforts to curb smuggling, and Israeli support for Fayyad’s plan to transfer control over the Karni and Sufa crossings to the Palestinian Authority.

The EU envoy says that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip was central to the breach in the border by Hamas.

“The pressure on the population did not cause them to throw Hamas to the sea,” he said. “The blockade and its results did not harm Hamas, only made things more complex for Israel and Egypt and created unnecessary tension between the two states.”

“It is time for Israel to decide what it wants to do,” Otte said. “I believe that Israel needs to agree to the Fayyad plan, because this will put the pressure on Hamas, forcing them to decide whether to continue preventing the opening of the crossings.

“Israel needs to understand that it will not get anything better than Salam Fayyad. I understand that the army and the Shin Bet are worried about security in the short term, but they must look a little forward and this is the role of the leadership,” Otte said.

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