PM pledges to support Palestinian economic growth

Netanyahu makes promise in meeting with Blair; steps include improving e. J'lem infrastructure and electricity, water resources in Gaza.

blair netanyahu 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
blair netanyahu 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner, GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised Friday to take steps to spur economic growth in the Palestinian areas, but Palestinians were dismissive, saying a settlement freeze would be the most effective confidence-building gesture.
Netanyahu announced the measures a day before the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia — was to meet in Germany to seek ways to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
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The steps announced by Netanyahu on Friday included Israeli permission, in principle, for several infrastructure projects in Gaza, including electricity and desalination plants.
Netanyahu also offered Friday to begin talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on developing a natural gas field off Gaza.
The prime minister also said he would allow the Palestinians to extend their security presence to more areas of the West Bank. For now, Abbas has limited control over only about 40 percent of the West Bank.
Netanyahu said the measures will help bring more stability and improve the lives of Palestinians, but are not a substitute to peace talks.
"I don't delude myself for a second that an economic peace is a substitute for political peace," Netanyahu said. "We need both and I hope that Abu Mazen [Abbas] will heed my call and enter direct negotiations with us."
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said such gestures are not enough.
"Netanyahu wants to build more confidence through this? He needs to stand up and call for an end to settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem," he said.