Government promises to press ahead with Peres's 'Peace Valley'

The government on Sunday gave a bureaucratic push to a joint Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian project that Vice Premier Shimon Peres has been pushing for years called the "Peace Valley." The government decided at its weekly cabinet meeting to label the plan "a national project," a characterization that will give it bureaucratic preference and a push through various government offices. The idea behind the project, according to a statement issued by Peres's office, is to increase regional stability through economic development. The project, along a 500 km. stretch of land from the Red Sea to the Yarmuk River, will include a 160 km. Red Sea to Dead Sea conduit, intended to prevent the drying up of the Dead Sea; various tourist projects; and a joint Israeli-Jordanian airport in Aqaba. The project is also to include the eventual integration of the Israeli and Jordanian railways systems, linking Irbid in Jordan to Haifa in the North, and linking Aqaba, Gaza and Ashdod in the South - the goal being to create railway integration that will link the Middle East, through Israel's ports, with Europe. The project also includes a low-tech industrial area near Jenin and a Japanese-funded industrial and agricultural park in the Jericho area, with the possibility of the construction of a nearby airport in Jordan that would be used to transport products from the park. The bulk of the funding for the project is expected to come from the World Bank, foreign governments and private investors. Peres was scheduled to leave Sunday evening for a "mini-summit" on the Jericho-centered project in Japan with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and King Abdullah's bureau chief Bassam Awdallah. Peres said that creating places of work and improving the conditions of life for Israel's neighbors was an Israeli interest. "The better it is for our neighbors, the better neighbors they will be," Peres said.