Transportation Minister Meir Sheetrit and his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Saed-Eddine Khurma, signed an agreement Wednesday to establish a joint transportation office to plan and initiate mutually beneficial projects serving both Israeli and Palestinian interests.
According to the agreement, the European Union will provide euro 2.5 million to establish the office, the Transportation Ministry said, adding that the EU has pledged that it would consider granting "generous" funding for any project agreed upon.
"Transportation infrastructures are critical toward promoting economic growth," Sheetrit said. "I hope that through this agreement the EU will be able to assist in financing projects that will build these infrastructures, such as, for example, railways between Haifa and the West Bank and between the Gaza Strip and Ashdod."
A rail link with the PA could go north through Jenin to join the Jezreel Valley Railway, which links Haifa with the Sheikh Hussein border crossing into Jordan, Sheetrit suggested.
Sheetrit and Laurent Muschel, head of international relations at the European Commission's transportation directorate, said that they hoped the first list of proposed joint projects would be presented at the EU-Mediterranean ministerial meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco, this November.
Muschel said that the European Commission approach favors "small steps" to build confidence, before eventually moving on to "more ambitious projects."
Khurma requested Sheetrit's assistance in easing restrictions at the border crossings, reconstructing and opening the air and sea ports in Gaza, and in designing road links between the West Bank and Gaza and between the PA and Israel.
Sheetrit replied that he would personally look into alleviating the "unacceptable Via Dolorosa" undergone by Palestinians in bringing goods and services through the Karni checkpoint. Nonetheless, Sheetrit stressed that any link between the West Bank and Gaza, cutting through Israeli territory, was a national security issue beyond the scope of his ministry, as were the Gaza sea port and airport.
"We are not involved in matters inside Gaza. The Transportation Ministry is a technical ministry, not a political one," he said.
Sheetrit said the Palestinians must reign in terror before negotiations can continue.
"But there are contacts all the time," he added, stressing that "goods are entering and leaving Gaza. Life goes on regardless."
Sheetrit said that he was looking forward to future meetings with the PA.
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