U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced last week that the sides had agreed on a basis to restart negotiations that broke down in 2010. No date was set, and Shalom, speaking to reporters today in the West Bank city of Jericho, was the first official on either side to publicly give a specific day.
“There is a good chance that negotiations with the Palestinians will resume next week in Washington on Tuesday, provided there are no last-minute complications,” he said.
Shalom said Israel would not agree to freeze construction on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state, a longstanding Palestinian demand that had stymied the renewal of talks. The Palestinians say they have not given up that condition, and neither they, Israel nor the U.S. have disclosed on what basis the talks are to resume.
Shalom’s visit to Jericho -- the first by a high-ranking Israeli official to Palestinian-administered territory since 2007 -- was another sign of diplomatic thawing. He and Palestinian Planning Minister Mohammed Abu Ramadan pledged to cooperate economically, and to make that tangible, signed a joint declaration backing an industrial park in Jericho whose opening has been held up for years by political disputes.
“I believe it is better to talk than to fight,” Shalom said. “That doesn’t mean that economy is a substitute for the political track; the two should go together.”
Israel contributed water and electricity infrastructure to the park and has agreed to extend hours at the bridge between the West Bank and nearby Jordan to ease the shipment of goods, he said. While the Palestinians are responsible for administering Jericho, Israel maintains security control over all of the West Bank, which it captured in 1967.
The Japanese government, which is financing the project’s construction, said in a statement that the park is expected to create 7,000 jobs for Palestinians after it opens next spring.
“This project will have a high risk of failure if we fail to reach a just and lasting solution to the conflict,” Abu Ramadan said.
Twenty-four companies have agreed to be tenants in the project, which is being built with Japanese grants to total about $200 million, according to a statement handed out at today’s ceremony. So far, all the businesses are Palestinian-owned, and efforts are being made to bring in foreign investors, officials said. Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, attended the event.
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