Japan heads regional Jericho meeting

Japanese FM promotes initiative to build joint agro-industrial park in Jericho.

abbas and japanese fm 29 (photo credit: AP)
abbas and japanese fm 29
(photo credit: AP)
The foreign ministers of Israel, Jordan and Japan sat down with a senior Palestinian Authority delegation in the West Bank on Wednesday to launch plans for a joint Israeli-Palestinian agroindustrial park. The Japanese initiative comes amid a flurry of new diplomatic activity to resume Mideast peacemaking, and its proponents say prosperity and peace go hand in hand. "Each and every one of us is thrilled by the project because it's about building trust among all the parties," Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso told reporters after the meeting. The park will contribute to the economy of a future Palestinian state, Aso said, "ensuring its stability as well as peace in the region." Aso is on a Mideast tour to promote Japan's plans for the agroindustrial park in Jericho, near the Jordanian border. Jordan, a major conduit for West Bank exports, has been a leading advocate of joint economic projects between Israel and the Palestinians. "This meeting is not just about economics, it is much more than that. It's a meeting of those who believe that the vision of two states for two peoples can and must become a reality," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said at the Jericho press conference. The officials did not mention a starting date for the project, which was first announced in March at a conference in Tokyo. They said only that technical teams would be meeting in October. Plans for the agroindustrial park include factories and canneries, a new commercial bridge over the Jordan River and an airport for Palestinian goods on the Jordanian side of the border, said Ahmed Sobeh, the deputy PA foreign minister. Disputes remain between Israel and the Palestinians over the precise location of the park and sovereignty over the planned bridge, Sobeh told The Associated Press, adding that progress depends on the "political climate" between the sides. Past attempts to set up similar projects have foundered amid Israeli-Palestinian violence, but efforts at spurring cooperation between the two sides have intensified recently ahead of a Mideast peace conference the US expects to host this fall. Israel and the Palestinians have been trying to get peace talks starting again ever since the moderate Abbas expelled Hamas from government in June following the radical group's takeover of the Gaza Strip. Rival governments now rule Gaza and the West Bank. During his visit, Aso announced that Japan would resume direct aid to Abbas' West Bank-based government, after shunning its Hamas-led predecessor for more than a year. Tokyo pledged to donate $20 million (?14.7 million) to support the PA government and provide humanitarian relief to Gaza residents. "Japan is one of the most prosperous countries on earth, but Japan knows the meaning of suffering and war and hope and despair more than anyone else, and they came here to tell us, 'Look, you have been engaged in a ... lose-lose situation,"' Saeb Erekat, a top aide to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, told reporters in Jericho. Earlier Wednesday, at a joint news conference with Aso, Abbas called on Hamas to reunite the two Palestinian territories. "If they don't reach this conclusion now, I am sure they will reach it as soon as possible," Abbas said. "The separation is temporary. The Palestinian people reject the separation and refuse to be divided." Hamas has been largely isolated since coming to power in Gaza, while Abbas has been embraced by an international community eager to shore him up and prevent a takeover by Islamic militants in the West Bank. Abbas has refused to negotiate with Hamas, saying their rule in Gaza is illegitimate.