UN chief: Israel should make 'goodwill gestures'

Jerusalem expected to announce approval of various projects in Gaza before Ban Ki-moon’s visit to Strip.

Ban Ki-moon in Jordan, Nasser Judeh_390 (photo credit: Reuters)
Ban Ki-moon in Jordan, Nasser Judeh_390
(photo credit: Reuters)
On the day before arriving in Israel from Jordan, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to give the Palestinians some “goodwill gestures” so the low-level talks that began in Amman last month will continue.
“Of course, it will also be required that the Palestinian Authorities come to [the] dialogue table,” he said Tuesday after meeting in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh.
Israeli government officials said that within the framework of negotiations, Israel would be willing to engage in reciprocal gestures with the Palestinians and that there was currently a discussion at senior echelons as to what gestures Israel would put into a package.
The Palestinian Authority is seeking the release of high-profile Fatah prisoners, but the officials said Israel was looking primarily at what steps it could take in the “economic sphere” to improve the situation in the West Bank. While they said the Palestinian economy was among the fastest growing in the world, it slowed down last year and these steps would be aimed at trying to make the economy there more dynamic.
Israel is not expected to immediately announce any gestures to the PA, but is likely to announce the approval of a number of infrastructure, education and housing projects in Gaza to coincide with Ban’s visit there on Thursday morning.
Ban is expected to view UN projects there but not to meet with any Hamas officials.
In Jordan, Ban called for a continuation of the low-level talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying he hoped the five rounds of “preparatory meetings” held in Amman so far would continue and ultimately lead to serious negotiations.
While various Palestinian spokesmen have blamed Israel for what they said was the failure of the preliminary talks, there has been no formal announcement by the Palestinians that they would break off the discussions. The Palestinian leadership is coming under pressure from the international community – including the US, EU and Canada – to continue with the talks. Nevertheless, the last Israeli-Palestinian meeting was held a week ago and no date for a future meeting has been set.
During his press conference with Judeh in Jordan, Ban said “dignity and justice in this region are threatened, not only by authoritarian rule, but also by occupation and conflict.”
He also said it was “essential that provocations stop, as called for by the Quartet, and that the parties build confidence and sustain these nascent talks.” He did not spell out what “provocations” he was referring to.
Ban said last week in New York, before embarking on this trip, that his visit was coming at “an important moment” and that he hoped “to encourage both sides to engage in earnest and create a positive atmosphere for moving forward.”
One government official in Jerusalem welcomed the UN chief’s arrival, saying “he is viewed here more positively than his organization.”
Ban is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres immediately after arriving from Jordan. This will be followed by meetings with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Netanyahu. He will go to Ramallah in the afternoon for high-level meetings.
On Thursday, after visiting Gaza, Ban will visit the Sapir Academic College near Sderot, which has been the target of numerous Kassam rockets from Gaza. He will then hold meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and opposition leader Tzipi Livni, and deliver the keynote address at the 12th annual Herzliya Conference.
Yaakov Katz contributed to this report.