The people gathered here share a common interest. We all seek the establishment of responsible, functioning and vibrant Palestinian state that can be the homeland of the Palestinian people, and a peaceful neighbor to Israel.

Address by Mr. Aaron Abramovich, Director-General of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee on Israeli Measures to Assist the Palestinian Authority
New York – United Nations

The host of this meeting, Secretary General Ban, Distinguished Chairman, Prime Minister Fayad, Quartet Envoy Tony Blair, Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all let me share with you the very best wishes of Israel’s foreign minister Tzipi Livni for a successful meeting, and her apologies for not being able to be present due to current political events in Israel.

Mr. Chairman,

The people gathered here share a common interest. We all seek the establishment of responsible, functioning and vibrant Palestinian state that can be the homeland of the Palestinian people, and a peaceful neighbor to Israel.

This is a vision shared by Israel, embraced in the Road Map and charted in the process we launched last year at Annapolis.

This vision has always comprised two core elements:

The first is the elaboration of an alternative future in the context of a bilaterally negotiated comprehensive peace agreement that ends the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The second is the creation of alternative present so that any agreement can take root and be implemented and the two State solution can become a reality.

This forum addresses the economic challenges associated with achieving this second core element – building the foundations of a Palestinian State. But, with your permission, I would like to say a few words about the first core element – the political negotiations that are underway.

Since negotiations were launched ten months ago, the parties have engaged in an intensive, confidential and serious bilateral dialogue to resolve the issues between them and create a blueprint for the two-state solution. These talks take place at both the political and professional level, with committees that have been established to address all aspects of a future agreement.

When we launched this process, we were not naïve enough to believe that the negotiations would be easy. Gaps remain and difficult decision lay before both sides. But we know also that the alternatives to a negotiated solution are worse for both of us. We know that the confidentiality of the talks – so necessary to maximize the chances of success – is also a potential source of frustration and skepticism. We believe that progress has been made and that we have succeeded in creating a forum for genuine dialogue and a negotiating framework that can produce results. We remain committed to uninterrupted negotiations with the context of the Annapolis process until we reach agreement and we ask the international community to help us preserve this process until its goals are achieved.

Mr. Chairman,

No political agreement is reached in a vacuum. Changing the reality on the ground is not less important than designing a common vision for the future. It is both a condition and a catalyst for success. This present meeting of the AHLC allows us to make an assessment of our joint efforts to advance this goal.

Building the Palestinian economy, while at the same time managing a budget, is a complex and challenging endeavor, especially under present conditions. I wish to commend the efforts of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for the success of the Palestinian Finance Ministry in preparing the 2008 budget and for its advances in the process of reform and development. We also welcome the effort to expand the scope of income of the Palestinian treasury by collecting fees for services provided by the government to its citizens.

We also support the spirit and culture of responsibility that the present Palestinian government is beginning to advance. 

We hope that the Palestinian government intensifies these efforts to develop effective and accountable governance, including through the enforcement of the rule of law, countering terrorism and incitement and preparing the basis for co-existence and economic progress throughout Palestinian society. We also hope, while ensuring humanitarian welfare, that Gaza can be rid of terrorism and restored to the control of the legitimate Palestinian government so that genuine reform and economic development can be possible there as well. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians, nor the international community can afford a terrorist State in the Middle East.

Mr. Chairman,

Israel’s status in this forum is a special one. We are not here as a donor state, but we are aware of our responsibilities and our influence on this process, as we are aware of the impact the success or failure of this process will have on us.

Israel has acted and will continue to act, both in direct dialogue with the Palestinian Authority and together with the representatives of the international community led by the Quartet envoy, Tony Blair, to strengthen the Palestinian economy.  Israel stands by its commitments to the government of the Palestinian Authority that has accepted the Quartet principles to an ongoing monthly transfer of tax revenues collected within the joint customs framework.

Israel is also committed to assisting and supporting Palestinian security reform in accordance with the Road Map, which is critical for success. We look forward to the day when we can hand over the responsibilities over security to the PA security services in more areas. We are acting in this regard in direct cooperation with the PA, as well as with General Dayton and the EUPOL COPPS, whose team has recently been expanded to include 20 additional advisers. It is also important that we work to implement the decisions of the Berlin Conference on civil security and the rule of law and Israel stands ready to assist in this regard.
 
In recent months Israel has carried out a series of steps to ease the situation on the ground, enhancing a model for regional development in Jenin area, a model that relies on two pillars: security and economy.

Among the measures that have been adopted in order to renew civil security: 17 police stations (out of 20 that were agreed) have been opened, civil security forces have been  trained in Jordan and a list of required equipment has been approved. In order to boost the economy, the number of permits to work in Israel has been increased, and where possible, checkpoints (7) and roadblocks (122) have been removed in order to facilitate the movement within the West Bank. Israel is currently considering further steps in other areas as well.

We were pleased that we could help facilitate the successful convening of the Bethlehem conference which provided an important opportunity to attract investments from the private sector and we are willing to cooperate in follow up activities.

The Israeli-Palestinian Joint Economic Committee (JEC) now meets frequently to discuss a wide range of economic subjects in order to advance common economic objectives and projects. Led by two professional teams, the JEC aims to  facilitate a variety of infrastructure requirements for the planned industrial parks, discuss labor issues such as an increase of working permits, address local real-estate initiatives in the West Bank, and deal with many other issues that call for consultation and elaboration.

We are encouraged by the positive trend reflected in some economic indicators, which show an improvement of the economic development in the West Bank. This is seen in the increase in tourism to Bethlehem and Jericho, and the increasing movement in the marketplaces. Also, the permit granted the operation of a second cellular communications network "Wataniya" is an important catalyst both for the Palestinian Authority budget as well as a source of employment for many.

These signs of progress are not a cause for complacency but a call to further action. We are aware that much more needs to be done and we especially understand the importance of further easing access and movement in the West Bank to allow for economic growth.

The challenge here is a difficult one. As Minister Livni has said, Israeli security and Palestinian welfare are not competing interests they are interconnected ones. We must seek ways to facilitate further economic development, but at the same time we cannot afford the setback of renewed violence and terror. One need only look at the situation in Gaza, since Hamas seized control, to understand the threats we face and the fragility of the situation.

Regrettably, the motivation to launch terror attacks in the West Bank still exists, and we must continue to confront that threat. At the same time, and to the extent that the security situation allows, Israel is committed to promoting and expanding measures to improve access and movement.

Mr. Chairman,

Strengthening the Palestinian economy will not be possible without the active and continued involvement of the international community including regional states.

It is particularly important for Palestinians and Israelis to know that the Arab states of the region are ready to share the burden of Palestinian state building. Many of these states have made strong statements of concern for the Palestinian economy, and of readiness to make tangible contributions to its development. There is no better time than the present to turn words into action and to share the risks entailed in establishing the foundations for lasting peace.

We commend the great effort being exerted by members of the donor community. There are few short-cuts in the developing sound economic foundations, and it continues to be vital to ensure a continuous, permanent and stable transfer of the donors’ funds into the Palestinian Authority’s budget, including the fulfillment of existing pledges.

To the extent that there will be greater coordination there will be an improvement in the ability of the international community to more effectively support the strengthening of the Palestinian economy. The reconvening of the Joint Liaison Committee (JLC) in its original form will be an important step in this direction.

We also believe that this forum, the AHLC, can be used more effectively to coordinate between the various actors in the field of financial and development assistance to the PA. I hope my colleagues in the Israeli delegation will have an opportunity to raise some practical suggestions in this regard during the afternoon panel sessions.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we are confronted by an enormous challenge, yet, I believe it is a worthy one. I do not think we should minimize the progress that has been achieved, just as we should not minimize the distance still before us. In several respects, the West Bank of 2008 is a better place than the West Bank of 2007, even if it is not yet the place we all want it to be.

Further progress is not guaranteed, and present progress is unfortunately both fragile and reversible. The potential for genuine change and lasting success exists. But it requires the concentrated efforts of all those inside this room and many outside it will be required to achieve it.

Thank you.