The Cable

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.

Hassan Amar/ AFP/ Getty Images

The Cable

Russia's Food Fight Could Leave It With Egg on Its Face

Russia banned food imports from Europe and the United States Thursday in retaliation for Western sanctions against the Kremlin, escalating the economic war over the conflict in Ukraine, but in a way that could hurt Russia more than its intended targets.

Economists say Russia's latest volley in tit-for-tat sanctions with the West could raise inflation and hurt its economy. Russia imports over 40 percent of its food, so the ban could cause prices to spike.

Steven Pifer, a former ambassador to Ukraine and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said relying on domestic agriculture will likely prove politically popular for Russian President Vladimir Putin but impractical.

"It will appeal to the domestic constituency in rural areas," Pifer said. "The problem is, you don't build apple orchards to replace 700 tons of Polish apples overnight."

Russia is also threatening to ban European and American airlines from flying over Siberia. That move would boomerang on Moscow as well because foreign carriers pay millions of dollars in fees to Russia's Aeroflot for the privilege of taking a shortcut through Russian airspace.

For American producers, the ban isn't expected to be very painful. The announcement elicited a dismissive shrug from the United States' largest agricultural trade group.

"America's farmers and ranchers would have been more surprised if Russia's leaders had not announced bans and restrictions on food and agricultural imports," stated Bob Stallman, the head of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Although the ban will hit Europe harder, food exports to Russia are still a small percentage of the bloc's overall exports. Still, the restriction could test Europe's already shaky resolve to sanction Russia. Since March, the United States has sought tougher economic penalties against Moscow for annexing Crimea and destabilizing eastern Ukraine. However, European leaders were more sanguine, holding out for a domestic resolution until recently.

Poland's strong economic ties to Russia could hit it hardest. Tsveta Petrova, a Europe analyst for risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said Poland's trade with Ukraine and Russia has dropped 25 percent since the sanctions merry-go-round started spinning. Poland has led the European charge to sanction Russia.

"Poland is a key state because Poland has for a long time been warning their Western European partners that Russia is becoming too aggressive," Petrova said.

Poland's exports to Russia could drop further -- in half, by some estimates -- but Poland is willing to bear the economic pain in light of the threat that Russia poses. "They prioritize security over economics," Petrova said.

Western European countries such as France, Italy, and Spain might reach a different conclusion. In France, farming unions warn that the ban would be "tragic." Xavier Beulin, the president of the French farmers union FNSEA, told AFP that "products that were originally destined for Russia will end up on the European market and it will create a crisis situation." As Belgian farmers and Norwegian fishermen start clamoring for compensation for canceled contracts, political support for a tough response to Russia could fray.

Outside of the Netherlands, which lost nearly 200 people when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists, enthusiasm for the latest round of penalties was measured. A YouGov poll taken prior to Russia's food ban found that 53 percent of Germans supported sanctioning Russia further. In France, only 48 percent did.

The back-and-forth sanctions' long-term effect on a European economy struggling to recover from the sovereign debt crisis is unclear. But the potential is there: Russia is the European Union's third-largest trading partner, trailing China and the United States. The European Union is Russia's largest trading partner, buying $277 billion in Russian goods.