Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with members of his Cabinet Wednesday morning to find ways to ease life for Palestinian Authority Arabs. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister of Regional Cooperation Silvan Shalom attended the meeting.
The ministers decided to keep open all day the Allenby Bridge, the main crossing between Israel and Jordan that currently is open until 8 p.m. The bridge will now be open 24 hours a day in an attempt to ease the movement of goods between Jordan and the Palestinian Authority controlled areas of Judea and Samaria.
The ministers also decided to assist in speeding the development of PA infrastructure, including sewage treatment, water, electricity and public transportation.
Discussion focused on several major projects aimed at improving the PA economy, among them the construction of industrial zones in Bethlehem and Jenin, a major agricultural project in Jericho, and the development of a historic baptism site along the Jordan River. The projects are to take place with the help of foreign funding, but their implementation has been delayed.
Wednesday's meeting was seen as a step towards fulfillment of Netanyahu's promises to U.S. officials regarding gestures to the PA. The U.S. has called on Israel to strengthen the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah organization, which is termed by the United States as more moderate than its rival, Hamas.
Earlier gestures have included the removal of dozens of checkpoints throughout Judea and Samaria. Israel has also agreed to allow PA troops to import weapons and to patrol Arab cities in Judea and Samaria.
Did U.S. Approve Yesha Building?
According to an unconfirmed report from Maariv, United States officials have given a quiet go-ahead to the construction of 2,500 housing units for Jews in Judea and Samaria. Special American envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell reportedly conveyed U.S. approval to Defense Minister Ehud Barak during the most recent meeting between the two.
If true, the report could lend support to analysts who suggested that Netanyahu has agreed to “good will gestures” in an attempt to ease pressure on Judea and Samaria communities.