Palestinians Reject Netanyahu's 'Economic Peace' Plan

Top PA officials refuse to meet Israelis over issue, worry Israel will use plan to avoid political process.

Barak Ravid
Haaretz COrrespondent
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Barak Ravid
Haaretz COrrespondent

Prior to the elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presented his program for "economic peace," which he said would improved the quality of life for Palestinians in the West Bank. However, 100 days after having formed his coalition government, there is no practical progress on economic projects.

The main reason for this is the refusal of senior Palestinian Authority officials to cooperate with Netanyahu and Vice Premier Silvan Shalom, who has been assigned the task of promoting the "economic peace" initiative.

The ministerial committee handling the matter met again Wednesday, deciding to open the Allenby Bridge to traffic 24 hours a day to encourage Palestinian imports and exports to Jordan.

Shalom also presented a list of projects that had been delayed for years due to various bureaucratic difficulties. These include an industrial zone in Bethlehem, (funded by France), as well as one near Jenin (funded by Germany and another near Jericho (paid for by Japan). Netanyahu had instructed all ministries to further his "economic peace" efforts by getting rid of red tape.

Palestinians block progress

The committee also discussed the PA's role in blocking progress. In essence, its senior officials are boycotting their Israeli counterparts.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to meet Netanyahu, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad will not meet with Silvan Shalom, while Palestinian officials are not permitted to meet their Israeli counterparts.

"Israel wants to promote economic peace, and I am calling for increased cooperation from the Palestinians," Shalom said during the meeting.

According to a senior political source, all contacts on economic issues with Palestinian officials are carried out through the Quartet's special envoy, Tony Blair. Even though the former British prime minister is pressing the Palestinians to meet with the Israelis, he has been unsuccessful.

"The Palestinians are concerned that if they cooperate on economic peace, Israel will be able to avoid the political process," the source said.

The Palestinian refusal to meet senior Israeli officials resulted in the cancellation of a joint conference scheduled to take place in Tokyo on the Jericho industrial zone.

It was to be attended by senior Japanese, Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian officials, but the Palestinians announced that at this stage they would not participate, saying this stemmed from the lack of progress on the peace process with Israel.

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