Commitments comes as Israel plans "gestures" to Palestinians in bid to deflect Quartet criticism over settlement construction.
By Barak Ravid
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the international community's Middle East envoy, Tony Blair, announced Friday a series of gestures that Israel will make to the Palestinians, including a promise to support Arab construction in East Jerusalem.
"In respect of East Jerusalem, the Government of Israel has agreed to encourage the implementation of all projects that abide by municipal regulations that will improve infrastructure there for Palestinians, including in particular housing, starting with two projects in East Jerusalem," Blair announced.
The meeting between Netanyahu and Blair on Friday comes a day before a summit of the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers - the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia - for whom Blair is the envoy. The Quartet is meeting to discuss the stalemate in peace talks between Israel and the PA.
The package of confidence-building measures that Israel will offer the Palestinian Authority is seen as a bid to moderate the Quartet statement at the end of its deliberations, which is expected to criticize Israel for its continued construction in West Bank settlements.
"On the West Bank, there will be an extension of Palestinian Authority security presence in Area B – with 7 towns approved in principle; an agreement to fast-track the construction or reconstruction of schools and health clinics in Area C on the basis of plans submitted by the Palestinian Authority," Blair said.
In the end, Netanyahu's offer did not include measure that would enable the PA to take over land required to build the new town Rawabi. Blair added, however, "5000 Gaza-registered residents of the West Bank will be given West Bank identity cards."
Israel’s forum of seven senior ministers discussed the proposed gestures to the Palestinians last week. Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and minister Dan Meridor supported the gestures, while ministers Benny Begin, Moshe Ya’alon, Avigdor Lieberman and Eli Yishai objected.
The gestures will also ease the blockade on Gaza, permitting more items for export and permitting a limited amount of construction materials. Blair also announced the agreement to establish "mobile desalination plants to meet Gaza’s needs for clean water and approval in principle for a larger permanent desalination plant."
Netanyahu agreed to the Palestinian Authority's request to renew discussions on the development of an offshore natural gas field opposite Gaza's shores, and agreed in principle for the gas to power the new power plant to be built in Gaza, which he also specifically approved.
Netanyahu said that although Israel's natural gas needs will be satisfied by its Leviathan and Tamar gas fields in ten years' time, it needs other sources of natural gas in the interim, and it is currently dependent upon supply from Egypt. Netanyahu pointed out that the profits from the Palestinian gas field will go to the Palestinian Authority, and not to Hamas, who rules Gaza.
"I am pleased at the package of measures agreed today with the Government of Israel," Blair said in response to Netanyahu's offer, but later added, "Obviously, agreement to all this is not the same as implementation."
Netanyahu began discussing the proposals with Blair last month. Blair, who recently visited Israel and met with Netanyahu, Barak and Shalom, urged the prime minister to publish details of the gestures before the Quartet’s meeting.
Due to its difficult international situation, Israel must do something, Blair says.
The American, Russian and European Union’s foreign ministers are to take part in the Quartet’s meeting in Munich to discuss the complete standstill in the peace talks. The talks would also touch on the U.S. administration’s apparent confusion about a solution to the crisis.
The Quartet’s closing statement is expected to support the World Bank’s prediction that the PA will complete setting up institutions in the coming months to enable it to establish a state.
The Americans have indicated to the European Union that they would not object to an especially harsh statement if the Europeans were the ones behind it, Jerusalem officials said.
Israel hopes the gestures would also encourage the Palestinians to reconsider their refusal to negotiate with Israel.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Middle East Quartet Envoy Tony Blair on June 08, 2010 in Jerusalem, Israel.
|Photo by: GPO|
It looks like these pretend commitments, which Netanyahu had no intention whatsoever to keep to must have swayed the Quartet since:
PA: Mideast Quartet failed to take strong stance against settlement building
The Quartet, which is made of the U.S., EU, UN and Russia, met to discuss the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the impact of unrest in Egypt.
By News Agencies
5 February 2011
The Palestinian Authority complained Saturday that Middle East Quartet had failed to take a strong stance on Israel's settlement policy during its meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.
The Quartet - the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - met to discuss the latest in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which has been stalled since a freeze on settlement building in the West Bank expired.
Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said in a statement that the quartet "should take a strong stand from settlements so that we can return to negotiations."
The Palestinians insist that Israel must stop all settlement activities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem before resuming negotiations - and want an international position supporting their demand.
While the quartet said that it had considered the implications of recent events in Egypt and elsewhere in the region on Arab-Israeli peace, Abu Rudeineh said that "continuation of the crisis in the Middle East is linked to the ongoing Israeli occupation of the Palestinian and Arab land."
He added that the PA welcomed calls by the quartet to hold separate meetings with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators in Brussels before another Quartet meeting in mid-March.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also said that the Quartet's statement was disappointing, and criticized the group's failure to call for a halt on settlement activity.
"We expected the Quartet in such exceptional circumstances in the region to live up to the event by asking Israel to stop all settlement activity, including in Jerusalem and to recognize the 1967 borders as borders of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem," Erekat said.
"It seems that some members of the Quartet are still unaware that the threat to the region comes from the Israeli occupation, which poses a threat to the entire region and to world peace and must be ended," he said.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in a file photo.
|Photo by: Dan Keinan|