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British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown finally met his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts, Ehud Olmert and Salam Fayyad, Thursday after being recalled to London for an urgent vote in the House of Commons - which his government nevertheless lost.
Brown had arrived in Israel on Wednesday but was in the country just a few hours before returning to the UK to vote on a bill about the length of time that police can detain terror suspects without charge. Prime Minister Tony Blair wanted the maximum period to be 90 days, but despite his majority of 66 seats in the Commons and Brown's dash back home, the government was defeated by 31 votes following a rebellion by 49 of Blair's own Labor members of parliament. The government had to settle for a period of 28 days after a re-vote, which is still higher than the current 14-day period.
Despite this defeat, or given the rivalry between Brown and Blair maybe because of it, Brown made light of the episode.
"The first time I was in Israel was 10 years ago. My second visit was yesterday and my third visit was today. I've never been so close to being in two places at one time," he said during a speech at the Prime Minister's Conference for Export and International Co-operation, which was organized by the Manufactures' Association of Israel and the Israel Export and International Co-operation Institute.
Brown also said that Olmert and Fayyad, who appeared together publicly for the first time at a press conference with him on Thursday, have agreed to meet G8 and EU finance ministers in London in December in order to examine how the international community can help rebuild the battered Palestinian economy.
To that end, Brown also was planning to hold a World Bank conference about private-sector growth and a donor coordination meeting next month as a precursor to a full donor's meeting in 2006.
In addition, Brown is pushing for the creation of a small business loan guarantee program and for the Palestinians to draw up a medium-term economic plan. He hopes that the Palestinian economy can build on these steps via investment in infrastructure and industrial parks, with the aim being the creation of 100,000 jobs in Gaza.
Brown and Olmert emphasized that peace can be cemented through the creation of economic wealth.
"Like you, I see the potential of peace reinforcing prosperity and prosperity reinforcing peace," said Brown.
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