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Israel Told to Tackle West Bank Plight

by Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem Thursday, May. 01, 2008 at 10:42 AM

Israel is under concerted international pressure to give swift agreement to specific measures to improve Palestinian life. Israel is criticized for not doing more to boost the Palestinian economy.

This article was published in: The Independent 4/30/2008.

Israel told to tackle West Bank plight
By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Israel is coming under concerted international pressure to give swift agreement to specific measures to improve Palestinian life in the West Bank which senior diplomats believe could eventually make or break negotiations between the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Efforts are under way to persuade Israel to agree ahead of President Bush's visit in just over two weeks' time to relaxing a series of restrictions on the Palestinian economy and testing the Ramallah-based authority's ability to take more responsibility for security in parts of the West Bank.

Israel is expected to face sharp criticism at Friday's international donors' conference in London for not doing more to boost the Palestinian economy after circulation of a World Bank paper reporting zero growth in 2007 and arguing that that the "contributing effects of the closures and movement restrictions cannot be overestimated".

While the growth levels are compounded by the near total collapse of Gaza's economy, the World Bank paper also emphasises the marked increase since 2005 of checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank. The proposals now being urged on Israel include the removal of checkpoints in the West Bank itemised in a detailed list submitted to Israel two weeks ago by Tony Blair, as international Middle East envoy, as well as easing the remaining restrictions in the way of completing the economic development and industrial park projects also earmarked by Mr Blair. The Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, has yet to give his formal response to the checkpoint list.

But discussion within the international Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia is also focusing on the prospect of designating a pilot area of the West Bank in which Palestinian forces trained with US assistance in Jordan would take full responsibility for security, including the curbing of armed factions.

One possible location is the northern West Bank city of Jenin, widely canvassed for the first intake of 600 to 700 security personnel trained by the US and Jordan. The battalion is envisaged as the first of five or six which the US would like to see in the West Bank.

Diplomats are also pressing Israel to lift severe restrictions on Palestinian development in "Area C" of the occupied West Bank, where Israel retains full control, and where the World Bank paper charges that "obtaining permits for projects... whether for private, humanitarian or developmental purposes is time consuming if not unattainable."

According to accounts of a donor meeting in Ramallah last week to prepare for the London conference, delegates including the American USAID representatives, argued that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayad, and donors were largely playing their part in realising progress envisaged at Annapolis last year.

At the same time they endorsed the broad implication of the World Bank paper that a key obstacle in achieving "the virtuous cycle" of Palestinian economic growth designed to boost the negotiating process was Israel's reluctance to relax restrictions on Palestinian movement and access to markets.

Gordon Brown is expected to speak at the London conference of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee members who include the US, EU, UN, Russia, Israel, Canada, Norway, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

While donations from the $7.7bn pledged at the Paris conference co-chaired by Mr Blair earlier this year have so far been coming in on schedule, there remains a potential shortfall specifically for budget support of around $400m from July. Some donors from the Arab world may well argue on Friday that meeting this shortfall will be conditional on the easing of restrictions by Israel, including on Gaza.


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