Officials From Israel, Japan, Jordan, PA Discuss Economic Cooperation in Jericho

Joint 'Corridor for Peace and Prosperity' initiative announced; Japan pledges $20m in aid to Palestinians.

The foreign ministers of Israel, Jordan and Japan met Wednesday with senior Palestinian Authority officials, including Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Jericho to discuss an initiative to further develop agricultural-industrial cooperation between Israel, the PA and Jordan, dubbed "The Corridor for Peace and Prosperity."

The initiative entails a joint agro-industrial park slated for the Jordan Valley, and the designation of containers for marketing goods to Jordan, from where they will be distributed to the rest of the world. These projects are likely to be part-funded by Japan.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said he hoped such joint projects would support the peace process, though Israel and the Palestinians sounded circumspect given the crisis in Gaza.

In mid-June, the militant Palestinian organization Hamas violently seized control over the Gaza Strip, essentially driving the rival Fatah movement out of the strip. This move created a split between the two PA territories, and prompted Abbas to establish a new government, based in the West Bank, excluding Hamas.

Aso said he believed that Abbas, together with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad and other "experienced politicians" would find a way to bring Gaza and the West Bank together "through various negotiations and discussions". Aso did not spell out how such unity would be accomplished.

"I assure you that the split is temporary, and it must be resolved," Abbas said in response.

"This is not a substitute for a meaningful peace process that will lead to a two-state solution," Saeb Erekat, a top aide to Abbas, told reporters.

"Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians have every right to be doubtful, have every right to be cynics, have every right to ask: What are we doing here while people are dying out there?"

Aso also announced Wednesday that Japan would resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, and pledged $20 million dollars.

Japan joined an international aid embargo imposed on the Palestinian Authority after Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006.

Aso promised $11 million in direct aid to the Abbas' West Bank government and an additional $9 million in humanitarian support for Palestinians, including those in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

"In order to support Abbas in a visible way, Japan has decided to resume direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority," Aso told a news conference he held alongside Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah.