(photo credit: AP)
An ambitious plan to launch a series of economic ventures in the West Bank is one step closer to being realized, according to President Shimon Peres.
The initiatives, collectively known as the Peace Valley, have major international financial backing and aim to create 100,000 new jobs for Palestinians, he told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday at Beit Hanassi.
"Politics is about borders, while economics shape relations," Peres said. Time was running out to find a diplomatic solution vis-Ã -vis the Palestinian Authority, he said, adding that there was no need for economic initiatives to be put on hold while Israeli and Palestinian negotiators hammer out the thornier issues.
"One-hundred thousand workplaces will strengthen the position of Palestinians more than 50,000 guns," he said.
The governments of Japan, Turkey and Germany have earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars of investment money for the projects, the Post has learned. According to Peres, the foreign backers were motivated by a desire to see peace in the region and by their own financial interests.
"They are all interested in peace," he said. "Turkey wants to show that it is contributing to Muslims and that it has come to serve peace. Japan wants to show that it is helping to foster relations, and has invested $100 million for an industrial park in Jericho."
Four sites across the West Bank have been selected to underpin the initiative. Japan's deputy ambassador to Israel recently told Peres that a location on the outskirts of Jericho had already been chosen for the construction of an agro-industrial park. Japanese planners are holding talks with Israeli security officials to coordinate the movement of goods and workers, according to a brief seen by the Post. Initial infrastructure construction on the site is scheduled to commence shortly, providing immediate jobs for Palestinians.
"Peace and prosperity in the Middle East region is a national interest for Japan," Tatsushi Nishioka, first secretary of the Japanese Embassy in Tel Aviv, told the Post Thursday. "This time, after the Annapolis summit, is when the international community should get together to promote the peace process."
Japanese companies could become involved in the project at a later stage, he said. Final talks were now underway to determine who would own the industrial park, he added.
A collaboration by the Turkish, Israeli and Palestinian private sectors, known as the Ankara Forum, is expected to build an industrial zone for textiles near Tarkumiya, west of Hebron. The project received the blessings of the Israeli, Turkish and Palestinian presidents during a trilateral summit in Ankara last November, according to an aide to Peres.
Germany is set to head an industrial initiative in Jenin, an idea originally agreed upon by Peres and former PA chairman Yasser Arafat.
A fourth project envisions the establishment of a joint Israeli-Palestinian university campus and medical center. It is being spearheaded by a Turkish professor, Ali Dogramaci, and will be located on the Israeli side of the Green Line on the northern tip of Samaria, between Afula and Jenin.
Peres said the area was ready for this level of economic cooperation, and that creating change was the only way forward. "Otherwise, all we'll have is history," he said.
Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz plans to meet with his Jordanian counterpart to discuss a long-standing plan for a joint Israeli-Jordanian airport terminal in Akaba, Peres said. He could not say when work on the terminal would begin.
Peres said he wanted to see Israeli involvement in a future Mediterranean Union, a brainchild of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
"The idea is to follow the European Union and create a union based on two core issues - immigration and a Mediterranean Bank to invest in vital development," he said. "The Latin American and Asian versions of this union accomplished good things," he added.
Peres said a Mediterranean Union could also play a part in solving the problem of Palestinian refugees.
"The union would bring us three partners - the Turks, the most important Muslim country in the region; the French, representing the power of Europe; and the Jordanians, who are keen for economic progress," he said.
Meanwhile, John Chambers, the CEO of US computer-networks giant Cisco, is expected to arrive in Israel on January 27 to see how $3 million of his corporation's money is being used to hook up the cities of Nazareth and Nazareth Illit to the Internet, Uri Ben-Porat, an aide to Peres, told the Post Wednesday. The Digital Cities Project will train Arab and Jewish residents of the cities to master Internet technology, he said, and was initiated by Peres several years ago.
"This will be Chambers's first visit to Israel," Ben-Porat said. "During his time here, [local employees of] Cisco will show him Israel's technological and creative might in the hi-tech industry."
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