Netanyahu's Opening Gambit: A Special Body on 'Economic Peace'

Move seen as new government's initial steps towards formulating policy vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

As soon as he is sworn in as Israel's next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu plans to hold a series of consultations aimed at crystallizing his new government's policy on the Palestinians.

Netanyahu's first act toward this end will be the formation of an administrative body whose task is to promote economic peace with the Palestinians. The department will have a mandate to concentrate the government's activities vis-a-vis the international community, particularly with the Quartet's special envoy to the region, Tony Blair, and the Palestinian Authority. Netanyahu's government will seek to advance some 25 economic initiatives in the West Bank.

Netanyahu associates are hopeful that the process of formulating policy will be complete by April, that is just before Netanyahu's planned trip to the United States currently scheduled for May 3. Aides also said Netanyahu will try to hold at least one cabinet meeting that is to be devoted to Israel's policies in the territories.

Immediately following the Passover holiday in mid-April, President Barack Obama's special envoy to the region, George Mitchell, is due in the region.

The formation of an administrative body that will be responsible for Israel's economic peace policies was one of the recommendations put forth by Netanyahu's "100 days" staff of senior advisers, which is headed by Likud MK Yuval Steinitz.

The group proposed that the prime minister create a special ministry comprising experienced technocrats who are well-versed in both economics and the Palestinian issue. Netanyahu has yet to decide whom to appoint to head the agency, nor has he determined whether to name a minister, a senior bureaucrat, or a combination of both.