Jones urges Israel to open Gaza crossings

Jones urges Israel to op

US National Security Advisor Gen. James Jones called on Israel to open the crossings into Gaza and for the bolstering of a Palestinian plan to build the institutions of statehood over the next two years. Jones was speaking Thursday at the American Task Force for Palestine's annual gala here. J Street announced Friday that Jones would also be the keynote speaker at its conference later in the month. "As we defend Israel's right to self-defense, we do not accept the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza," Jones said to applause. "We call for opening the crossings with an appropriate monitoring regime." In addition, he called for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, held by Hamas. Jones also praised the program of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, who recently announced a plan to develop Palestinian government institutions so that the PA would be ready to declare statehood in two years. Israel has rejected the concept, particularly any talk of a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has backed improving the situation on the ground. Jones did not refer the possible declaration of a Palestinian state in his brief remarks during the event, but he backed Fayyad's desire to build and improve the daily lives of Palestinian. He supported the idea of focusing on "what can be achieved now," a suggestion that this might be a cornerstone of US policy as it reassesses how to proceed with a faltering peace process. At the same time, he reiterated US President Barack Obama's strong commitment to reconciliation between the parties. "The time has come to relaunch negotiations without preconditions," he declared, though the US has had trouble bringing the parties to the negotiating table, with Palestinians insisting on a complete settlement freeze first and Netanyahu refusing such a step. Still, Jones, stressed, it was time for "a Jewish state for Israel, and a viable, independent and contiguous Palestinian state that ends the occupation that began in 1967."