Israel believes that the new Palestinian Government - established after the takeover of Gaza by Hamas terrorists in June 2007 - provides a renewed opportunity to move forward in the peace process toward the realization of the two-state vision. It is in this spirit that Israel has recently taken practical steps to assist the Palestinian government, led by President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in creating a better environment for progress. The following is a brief list of some of the confidence building measure recently taken by Israel towards this end:
1. Releasing withheld tax and customs revenues
About 1 billion NIS (approx. $250 million) have already been transferred to the PA, and the remainder of the revenues, another 1 billion NIS, will be transferred by the end of the year. Israel and the PA have established a mutually acceptable mechanism for transferring and monitoring these funds, to prevent their use by terrorist organizations.
2. Promoting Palestinian development:
- Promotion of sewage project with World Bank in Gaza, now underway in Beit Lahia, and serving the Northern Gaza Strip
- MASHAV projects - More than 230 Palestinian trainees in such fields as public health, small business, agriculture, import/export, educational planning and empowerment of women and youth
3. Security-related measures:
- Easing of movement - 25 roadblocks and checkpoints were removed in the West Bank
- Amnesty of wanted terrorists - About 170 wanted Fatah terrorists were offered amnesty in exchange for renunciation of terrorism and surrendering of weapons.
- Prisoner release - About 780 prisoners were released in three phases (20 July, 1 October and 3 December).
- Provisions for PA security forces - Israel recently consented to the transfer of supplies and equipment to the PA security forces, above and beyond that called for in the Israel-Palestinian agreements.
- Palestinian security force deployment - PA security forces, with Israel's consent, have just been redeployed in Nablus (the largest West Bank city), and other cities are being considered for further redeployments.
- West Bank Residency - Israel has recently granted residency status to 5,000 individuals whose presence in the West Bank was illegal, and who were therefore subject to deportation. Under the new arrangement, these individuals now enjoy a civil security that they did not have in the past.
4. Re-convening the Bilateral Committees established in the Oslo Accords, in order to address the ongoing needs of the Palestinian Authority:
- Health, Tourism and Agriculture Committees already working
- Legal Committee and Joint Economic Committee (established by the Paris Accord) to begin working soon
5. Expanding economic cooperation:
- Meetings of business community leaders - Lately Israel has facilitated and supported several meetings between Israeli and Palestinian business community which have taken place under various non-governmental auspices. For example, the Israeli Manufactures Association has conducted a high level forum with Palestinian counterparts, and the Portland Fund has initiated the establishment of an Israeli-Palestinian Chamber of Commerce.
- Promotion of economic projects with international partners - Turkey's industrial zone project in Tarqumieh and Japan’s 'Corridor of Peace' project in Jericho are two such projects
6. Renewal of exports from Gaza
At the request of the moderate Palestinian leadership, Israel has agreed to renew about NIS 100 million of Palestinian agricultural exports (mostly fresh strawberries and flowers) through Israeli ports to Europe. Exports through Israel were halted after the Hamas’ June takeover of Gaza.
It is Israel's hope that these measure, and others that will be taken in the near future, will help create and support an atmosphere conducive to progress in the renewed peace-making process - both in the negotiating room and in Palestinian public sentiment.