Ministers okay economic package for Palestinians ahead of Trump visit

Israeli ministers approved a series of economic measures for Palestinians on Sunday, meant as a package of goodwill gestures ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to the region this week.

The security cabinet of top ministers okayed the raft of measures presented by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, including increasing building permits for Palestinians living in Area C of the West Bank, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control.

The package is meant to help Trump’s big to jump start peace talks with the Palestinians, moribund since US-brokered negotiations fell apart in 2014. However, the Palestinians have said they seek an Israeli freeze on settlement building before coming to the table.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked both of the hawkish Jewish Home party, voted against the move, but it passed with a majority.

Other measures approved were the opening of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan 24 hours a day and development of West Bank industrial zones near Jenin and Tarkumiya (west of Hebron).

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz told Army Radio Sunday the measures would bolster Israel’s diplomacy in the region.

“The discussions are not based on any party affiliation, nor should they be, but on diplomatic considerations,” he said.

US President Donald Trump is served coffee during a presentation ceremony of The Collar of Abdulaziz Al Saud Medal at the Royal Court Palace, Saturday, May 20, 2017, in Riyadh (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“We want to improve the lives of Palestinians in this area, and from what I know of this framework, there is a definite intention to take steps that will enable economic development for Palestinians.”

Katz added the confidence-building measures would serve to ease tensions between Israel and the Arab world.

“In the framework of the cooperation with Arab countries, there must be steps taken toward ensuring the economic development of the Palestinians,” Katz said, adding that many Middle East states have “an existential interest in cooperating with Israel.”

Trump is scheduled to visit Israel and the West Bank on Monday and Tuesday for meetings with Netanyahu and Abbas as part of his efforts to renew talks between the two sides.

Transportation and Intelligence Minister Yisrael Katz at a press conference held at the Ministry of Transport, April 5, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Trump will reportedly ask Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to commit to confidence-building measures in order to lay the groundwork to restart the peace process during his visit to the region this week.

A senior White House official told the Haaretz daily that Trump will urge Netanyahu to restrict settlement building in the West Bank while he takes steps to strengthen the Palestinian economy, and urge Abbas to stop PA-sponsored incitement against Israel.

Israelis walks past a poster welcoming and supporting US President Donald Trump in downtown Jerusalem, on May 21, 2017, on the eve of a two-day visit of the US president. (AFP/ MENAHEM KAHANA)

“The president has made a general statement regarding his position and he hopes the Israeli government will take it into consideration,” the White House official told Haaretz in a report published Sunday. “He was also very direct with President Abbas regarding incitement and the paying of stipends to the families of terrorists.”

“He has been clear about these issues, and will remain clear on those issues during the visit,” the unnamed official said.

Trump and senior White House aides arrived in Saudi Arabia on Saturday on the first leg of his trip to the Middle East.

The US leader has repeatedly indicated that he would like to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and in an interview with the Israel Hayom newspaper published Sunday said he “honestly, truly” thinks he can do so.

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