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New Middle East Strongman: James Wolfensohn

A new proposal suggests re-opening the Rafiah border without direct Israeli surveillance. Israel also is being pressured to allow a road link with Gaza. The man behind the moves is James Wolfensohn.
By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 10/9/2005, 10:43 AM / Last Update: 10/9/2005, 2:21 AM

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will pore over a new proposed deal on Sunday which would allow Arabs in Gaza to move freely back and forth from Egypt. Israel withdrew from Gaza on the condition that the crossing would be closed to prevent arms smuggling and that Israel would improve security and open a crossing at Kerem Shalom in the western Negev.

The new deal would allow Europeans to supervise the Rafiah crossing for travelers with Palestinian Authority (PA) identity cards. Israel has demanded being given computer access to monitors, but would relinquish direct surveillance

Former World Bank official James Wolfensohn, who is the envoy for the Quartet, engineered the proposal. The Quartet is made up of the United Nations, Russia, the European Union and the United States.

Wolfensohn also was behind last week's deal in which Israel allowed 20 trucks of food to move into Gaza at the Sufa crossing, which has been closed since the day after the IDF withdrawal.

He is trying to convince Israel to give up its insistence on a non-stop railroad as the land link between Gaza and Judea and Samaria. Instead, he is pushing for PA demands for a road link.

It also was Wolfensohn, a wealthy Australian-born Jew, who convinced Jews to donate $14 million to buy 3,000 Gush Katif greenhouses for the Palestinian Authority (PA). A week later, the New York Daily News reported that Arabs "descended like locusts on the greenhouses...looters continue to pillage what should be a prize asset for a fledgling Palestinian state."

The 71-year-old Wolfensohn is considered a charming and eccentric ego-maniac. He also is one of the world's richest men and enjoys his affluence. "He enjoys the trappings of great wealth, like a private jet and a lavish vacation home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming," the New York Times wrote of him.

He was a senior member in several stock brokerage companies in the 1960s and 70s and formed his own firm in 1981.

A Washington Post column referred to him as a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, who "is the intolerable monster seen on Wall Street and in Washington."

Wolfensohn became a close friend of former American President Bill Clinton and was appointed president of the World Bank in 1995, a post he held until last June. "Confronted by the bank's increasingly vociferous critics among nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Wolfensohn listened, nodded, affected contrition [and] pledged repentance. Confronted by the bank's senior staff, he morphed into [Mr.]Hyde -- bullying, swearing, slamming doors, threatening resignation," the Post wrote.

The left wing Nation magazine published an article in 1997 that he continued lavish remodeling of the Bank's opulent offices even while raking in millions of dollars in interest charges from the world's poorest countries

His intervention in the Middle East has gone beyond funding the Palestinian Authority. As president of the World Bank, Wolfensohn refused requests by American President George W. Bush for the Bank's financial help to reconstruct Iraq under American occupation.