Condi Rice 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Jerusalem Post Monday she sees a "strong desire" in Israel to help with Palestinian economic development, though she acknowledged the difficulties posed by security concerns.
"It's not easy because there are always security issues, but I think people understand the importance of having economic opportunities," she told the Post following an appearance at a conference in Washington to promote economic development among Palestinians.
Critics of Israel, some of whom voiced their concerns at the conference of the Aspen Institute's new US-Palestinian Public-Private Partnership initiative, have charged that Israel's policy of roadblocks and closure of the Gaza Strip has seriously damaged the economic prospects of Palestinians.
Israel has defended these moves as necessary to protect its citizens from Palestinian attacks. Still, the government has pledged to look at easing certain restrictions to help improve the daily lives of Palestinians.
During her remarks to the conference, Rice said that the miserable living conditions of Palestinian refugees and their lack of economic opportunity has contributed to the violence in the region.
"These are people who have lived under the most extraordinarly trying circumstances, circumstances that can only breed despair and violence," she said, stressing the importance of offering a better economic environment for Palestinians as part of the renewed push for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Pointing to moves the US has already taken to work on improving the security situation and encouraging political progress through negotiations, Rice described economic development as the third pillar of the push at renewed Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation ushered in by the Annapolis conference last week.
She noted, though, that previous efforts at economic development for Palestinians have often not worked out. She urged the audience to reject pessimism and overcome past obstacles.
As part of the groundwork for this effort, Rice several months ago asked the Washington-headquartered Aspen Institute, which was already working on economic development programs for Palestinians, to launch a public-private partnership to further economic opportunities for Palestinians.
The partnership, which on Monday held a conference to seize the momentum from Annapolis to further its work, aims to attract international investment, support existing Palestinian businesses, create jobs and training for Palestinians and otherwise foster economic opportunities in the Palestinian Authority through a variety of economic and social projects.
"Creating a more stable economy, a more hopeful economy, is critically linked to creating a better future for the Palestinian people and the eventually a more stable and secure Middle East," according to Mara Rudman, advisor to the Middle East Progress project of Washington's Center for American Progress.
Rudman was an Aspen conference panelist on behalf of the center's Palestinian Political Risk Insurance project, which seeks to provide resources so that Palestinians can operate businesses despite their precarious situation. She said the partnership provided possible new avenues for contributors and collaborators for the program.
"This is an important step," she said. "I think that anyone who's committed to a better future in the region should be rolling up their shirt sleeves and doing what they can to help Secretary Rice and President Bush move forward."
Welcoming members of the partnership to his office later in the day, US President George W. Bush praised the effort. "You're seeing private citizens who care deeply about peace come together with a government that is dedicated to a two-state solution to develop a strategy to help you succeed," he said.
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