JERICHO, West Bank, (AP) -Japan’s foreign minister launched plans Wednesday for a joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial park in the West Bank that he said would promote peace in the region through prosperity.
The Japanese initiative comes amid a flurry of new diplomatic activity to bolster moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after the June takeover of the Gaza Strip by the rival Islamist group Hamas. The international community has tried to strengthen Abbas’ West Bank-based administration with both financial aid and efforts to jump start peace talks between his government and Israel.
Plans for the park in the city of Jericho include factories and canneries, a new commercial bridge over the Jordan River and an airport for Palestinian goods on the Jordanian side of the border, said Ahmed Sobeh, the deputy Palestinian foreign minister.
The park will contribute to the economy of a future Palestinian state, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said, “ensuring its stability as well as peace in the region.”
The officials did not mention a starting date for the project, which was first announced in March at a conference in Tokyo. They said only that technical teams would meet in October.
Disputes remain between Israel and the Palestinians over the precise location of the park and sovereignty over the planned bridge, Sobeh told The Associated Press, adding that progress depends on the “political climate” between the sides.
Past attempts to set up similar projects have foundered due to outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Efforts at spurring cooperation between the two sides have intensified recently ahead of a Mideast peace conference the U.S. expects to host this fall.
“This meeting is not just about economics, it is much more than that. It’s a meeting of those who believe that the vision of two states for two peoples can and must become a reality,” Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said at the Jericho news conference.
During his visit, Aso also announced that Japan would resume direct aid to Abbas’ government, after shunning its Hamas-led predecessor for more than a year. Tokyo pledged to donate $20 million to support Abbas’ government and provide humanitarian relief to Gaza residents.
Earlier Wednesday, at a joint news conference with Aso, Abbas called on Hamas to reunite the two Palestinian territories.
“If they don’t reach this conclusion now, I am sure they will reach it as soon as possible,” Abbas said. “The separation is temporary. The Palestinian people reject the separation and refuse to be divided.”
Abbas has refused to negotiate with Hamas, saying its rule in Gaza is illegitimate.
Also on Wednesday, Abbas ruled out an early election in the Palestinian territories before Gaza is back under his control. His remarks appeared aimed at dispelling rumors that he plans parliamentary elections that would exclude Gaza.
He hinted he would be ready to renew dialogue with the radical group if it recognized his authority and restituted the Gaza Strip.
“We can’t deny that Hamas is part of the Palestinian formula,” Abbas said. “Hamas is an undividable part of the Palestinian people, but there will be no dialogue until the unity of the homeland is restored,” he said