Blair, PM working to enable continued PLO talks

Package of economic gestures to keep Palestinians engaged in low-level talks could include access road to Rawabi.

Al Rawabi 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Al Rawabi 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Quartet envoy Tony Blair is involved in intensive talks with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about putting together a package of economic gestures to keep the Palestinians directly engaged with Israel in low-level talks in Jordan.
Blair has met at least five times with Netanyahu over the past two weeks, including twice on Wednesday.
“A package is being worked on,” one official in the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed. “The idea is not for Israeli unilateral confidence-building measures. Rather, we are ready [to act] within the framework of a peace process that is working for mutual confidence measures. We are looking at options and are preparing a package.”
According to the official, the matters under consideration “are primarily economic issues.”
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Jordan in January on five occasions. The Palestinians are expected to decide by the middle of the month whether to continue this channel of talks.
Robert Danin, who headed Blair’s office in Jerusalem from 2008 to 2010 and today serves as one of his advisers, told The Jerusalem Post it was important, in moving the process forward, for the Palestinians to see that the talks with Israel did something to benefit them.
This was especially true, he said, after the swap for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, when the Palestinian perception was that the Hamas method brought results – the return of 1,000 prisoners – while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s way of negotiating did not.
Danin, who is a fellow at Washington’s Council on Foreign Relations and was in Israel attending the Herzliya Conference, said it would be helpful if the PA were given greater tools to build statehood institutions and further develop its economy.
“There are a whole range of things that could be done to show the desire to help out,” he said regarding the measures Israel could put in a package to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table.
For example, he said, Israel could give them greater access in developing agriculture in Area C, something that would help the Palestinian economy and show Israel was truly interested in supporting the bottomup approach to peace-making.
Another example, he said, would be to free up a 3-kilometer access road that is holding up the development of Rawabi, the new Palestinian city going up 30 km. north of Ramallah. The road connecting Rawabi to the outskirts of Ramallah would be built on land slated for nearby settlements.
“You want there to be a solution to the refugee problem in the West Bank and Gaza,” he said. “Isn’t the building of a Palestinian city there in everyone’s interest? You have almost a billion-dollar investment there, but because of a 3-km. road, something that has been brought up at the highest levels, it isn’t moving forward.”
The Oslo Accords divided the West Bank into three areas of civil and security control. Area A is under Palestinian control, Area B under Palestinian administrative control but Israeli military control, and Area C – which represents some 62 percent of the territory – under Israeli control.
Danin said Blair was working on many fronts to help keep the diplomatic process and state-building moving forward.
“But the state-building can’t work in a vacuum,” he said. “The bottom-up process [of peace-making] is not sustainable in the absence of political hope.”
Asked what reciprocal gestures the Palestinians were making toward Israel, Danin said two things should be kept in mind. The first was that the Palestinians were engaging in low-level talks, even though they said they would not talk unless there was a complete settlement freeze.
And the second was that the Palestinians, for the first time, had a “security force unified under a civilian command, not a rag-tag group of militias with Kalashnikovs, but a disciplined force, not just providing law and order, but actually taking Palestinian terrorists and incarcerating them – providing security to Palestinians and by extension to Israelis.
“This has to be recognized,” he said, adding that many in the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) had already done so.