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President Shimon Peres: 'Israel, Palestinians & Jordan Agree To Form Economic Troika For Developing Joint Border Area'

'No Possibility Of Returning To Jordanian Option Reached With King Hussein in 1986'

'Need For Two-Track Policy With Palestinians Comprised Of Political Negotiations And Separate Economic Co-operation'

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

The latest meeting of Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas comes against the backdrop of more Israeli goodwill gestures and Palestinian pledges to rein in the terrorists. But behind the latest headlines about the political give and take between the two leaders some serious behind the scenes economic understandings have been forged which also include Jordan. IsraCast says President Shimon Peres has been the driving force behind this independent track and a recent meeting of the Council of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, Peres disclosed his grand design.

President Shimon Peres says: 'We have to move on a double track with the Palestinians - both political and economic'. Peres believes it is possible to move on an economic trail independent of political progress. It is his grand design for making progress with the Palestinians.

On the political level, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert must continue negotiating with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to see how far they could go. Peres said he was not sure how far they could but he believed it was possible to start making progress. But there was also the need for a parallel track, independent of political progress, that was purely economic. In the President's view: 'This economic trail can be moved without conditioning it on changes in the political arena'.

Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian border

Moreover, Peres revealed that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah II have already agreed on establishing an 'economic troika'. The idea was to take the whole length of the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian border from the Red Sea in the south to the Syrian border in the north for developing joint economic projects. It runs 500 kilometers mostly with Jordan where there are no security fences, minefields or terrorism. And Peres added: 'There is no reason that it cannot be developed into an ongoing economic zone'. The Palestinian line comprises 80 kilometers of the 500. In the past, international financing tried to assist the Palestinians but this Peres said had created corruption. It was now necessary to help the Palestinians by creating jobs as has already been done in Jordan. The joint Israeli-Jordanian 'Qualified Industrial Zones' have proved to be a great success by creating 135,000 jobs in Jordan. In fact, the Egyptians are also following suit. Peres added that Olmert, Abbas and Abdullah also agreed that these industrial zones would be developed by private capital which has shown interest - government funding would only lead to disagreements.

Peres noted the drying up of the Dead Sea that could only be solved by the full co-operation of Israel, the Palestinians and Jordan. It was impossible to cut a conduit from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea without the agreement of all three. In his view: 'We cannot build global industrial parks for the free movement of goods, ideas and people without co-operation'. He linked this approach to the whole Palestinian question saying people could not be kept hungry and oppressed. On the other hand, terrorism was fighting progress. The terrorists were afraid that modernity would kill the traditional Muslim way of life and therefore they wanted to kill everything everyone that was modern. But the terrorists provided no message only a protest. How could they live a traditional way of life if they wanted to live in a modern world? For example agriculture comprises only 2% of the world economy today. The continued persecution of women meant their own children would remain victims and could they ignore changes in ecology, and the lack of fresh water and energy? In other words, radical Islam could cause trouble but it was destined to disappear over time.

And what of the 'Jordanian Option' the plan he worked out as foreign minister Jordan's King Hussein in 1986 for resolving control of the West Bank? After radical Hamas drove President Abbas and his Fatah supporters out of Gaza, the proposal has cropped up again in the Israeli media. However, Peres said although it was the best agreement Israel could achieve it was torpedoed without reason by Likud prime minister Yitzhak Shamir. And he added ruefully that today many people, even in the Likud, like it very much. But there was no going back; neither the Jordanians nor the Palestinians would now agree to a political federation of the West Bank.

David Essing

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