Japanese FM to launch Israel-PA-Jordan project

The FMs are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Jericho to launch a joint economic project.

The foreign ministers of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan and Japan are scheduled to meet Wednesday in Jericho to launch a joint economic project called the "corridor for peace and prosperity." The meeting in Jericho follows close on the heels of a meeting there last week between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. While PA sources confirmed the meeting, Israeli diplomatic officials said it was not yet clear whether PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayad or Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat would attend. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso is scheduled to arrive Monday from Jordan for three days of talks in Israel and the PA. Aso, who will be on his first visit to Israel, will launch the economic corridor which the Japanese Foreign Ministry said was designed to help create "sustainable economic development" for a Palestinian state "through the strengthening of their partnership with neighboring countries, especially Israel and Jordan." The project, which is still in its nascent stages, is intended to create an "agro-industrial" park in the Jordan Valley region. Products made in this park will then be transferred to a "distribution center" that is to be built in Jordan, and from there to markets in the Gulf States and elsewhere. The idea behind the project, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry, is to promote regional cooperation and create economic opportunities. An initial meeting on the project was held in Jordan in June, and an additional meeting to discuss a feasibility study is expected to be held in October. Israeli government officials said that Japan has upgraded its ties with Israel over the last two years - something manifest by the number of high level visits going both ways - and has sought ways to increase its involvement in the Middle East. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in Tokyo in January, and President Shimon Peres was there in March in his capacity as minister for Negev and Galilee development. Japan's then-prime minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Israel last summer, and was here on July 12, the day war broke out with Hizbullah. Aso is scheduled to meet in Israel with Peres, Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Livni.