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PA rejects Israeli 'incentives'

Feb. 5, 2011 9:34 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 6, 2011 5:34 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) – The Palestinians rejected a package of economic incentives Israel and the Quartet’s envoy Tony Blair offered Friday.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing games and haggling, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said in a statement commenting on the offer.

“What Netanyahu should do, if he wants to build confidence, is immediately stop settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and recognize a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967,” Erekat said.

Israel proposed Friday to wean Hamas-run Gaza off its infrastructure network, as Netanyahu set out a series of steps intended to ease the economic lot of the Palestinians.

In a statement on the eve of a meeting in Munich of the Middle East diplomatic Quartet, Netanyahu said Israel would pursue its policy of enabling economic growth in the occupied Palestinian areas.

In addition, steps would be taken "intended to make Gaza independent of Israeli infrastructure by helping to develop their electricity plants, water and sewerage treatment," he said.

Blair, the former British prime minister, elaborating after meeting Netanyahu, said a permanent desalination plant for Gaza -- where mobile plants are in place -- had been approved in principle.

"There is also full approval for all the sanitation and water treatment plants necessary for Gaza, with the government of Israel agreeing to facilitate and support the entry of construction materials to enable projects to be completed on schedule," Blair said.

He added: "There are further measures to promote Gaza exports, especially in furniture and textiles as well as agriculture."

Netanyahu, meanwhile, proposed a start to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, which holds sway in the West Bank, to develop a gas field it controls that is adjacent to an Israeli one.

"We need to develop both simultaneously," he said, recalling Israel's interest in finding alternatives to gas imports from Egypt, scene of a second week of anti-government unrest.

Revenues from the Israeli field would go to the Israeli government, and those from the Palestinian field to the Authority, he said.

"This is something that the Palestinian Authority expressed interest in," Netanyahu said. "I think this is good for stability, good for prosperity and good for peace."

But he added that "I don't delude myself for a second that an economic peace is a substitute for political peace," as he called for direct peace talks that broke down last year in a row over Israeli settlements to resume.

Blair agreed: "None of this is a substitute for a credible political process; I hope one gets under way as soon as possible."

"But I have always maintained that it is a combination of measures that improve life on the ground and a strong political negotiation that will produce peace," he said.

Israel is counting on promising natural gas reserves under the Mediterranean Sea to cover its energy needs in the longer term.
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