Rice in Middle East: new agreement may improve Palestinian livelihoods
Palestine-Israel-USA, Politics, 3/31/2008
A new Israeli-Palestinian agreement easing border restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank will improve the livelihoods of area residents and may help negotiators make further progress toward Mideast peace, according to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"The two parties have agreed to a set of steps that constitute a very good start to improving movement and access, improving potential economic prospects for Palestinians," Rice says. She held talks with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad during a March 28-31 visit to the region.
Fayyad and Barak also agreed to improving Palestinian livelihoods through investment and economic development projects in the West Bank, new housing for Palestinians in the West Bank, and more connections for Palestinian communities to the Israeli power grid, according to a March 30 State Department statement.
Israeli authorities agreed to remove 50 roadblocks and upgrade checkpoints to ease movement of people and goods between Israel and the West Bank, while Palestinians agreed to improve security in Jenin, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said March 30.
The announcement is a step forward for implementing the road map to Middle East peace -- a package of security and confidence-building measures developed by the diplomatic Quartet of the European Union, the United Nations, Russia and the United States. General William Fraser, the US representative monitoring progress on the road map, will meet with both sides to complete details and move forward on these new security improvements, Rice said.
Rice said that the announcement also reflects a renewed commitment toward addressing the interlocking political, security and economic elements of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict launched at the 2007 US-sponsored Annapolis Conference.
"The whole point here is to have an integrated approach that looks at the security, looks at the movement and access issues, and looks at the potential for economic prospects, and then comes up with concrete steps that can move all three together in an integrated fashion," Rice said.
The Annapolis process defined the political horizon by placing the goal of a Palestinian state in sight, Rice said, while on parallel tracks the road map builds security and Palestinian reform and economic development efforts help ensure the future state's success.
"To the degree that we can take these elements together -- security, movement and economic prospects together -- I think we're going to make more progress," she added.
Following a stop in Jordan for talks with King Abdullah and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Rice will join President Bush in Europe, where he will attend the 2008 NATO Summit in Bucharest, Romania, as well as visit Ukraine, Croatia and Russia.
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