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Monday, February 7, 2011     GET REAL

Israel OKs Palestinian expansion in West Bank; Blair 'pleased'

JERUSALEM — Israel has approved plans to expand the presence of the Palestinian Authority.


Officials said the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to what they termed a series of concessions to bolster the PA. They said the concessions included an expansion of PA control in the West Bank as well as easing the blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

"I am pleased at the package of measures agreed today with the government of Israel," former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, envoy of the so-called Quartet, said.

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The Israeli measures, announced on Feb. 4 and immediately rejected by the PA, came ahead of a meeting by the Quartet to review international efforts to establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank in 2012. The Quartet has urged Israel to facilitate PA projects in both the West Bank as well as Jerusalem.

"In respect to east Jerusalem, the government of Israel has agreed to encourage the implementation of all projects that abide by municipal regulations that will improve infrastructure there for Palestinians, including, in particular, housing, starting with two projects in east Jerusalem," Blair said.

Blair also reported Israeli approval for the PA to expand throughout the West Bank, particularly in areas under military control, Middle East Newsline reported. He said PA security forces would be deployed in seven towns in the so-called Area B, where Israel retains security responsibility with the Palestinians limited to civilian affairs.

The PA would also be granted civilian responsibility in Area C, where Israel has retained full control. Blair said the PA would oversee the construction of schools and clinics.

Another Israeli measure was the formal transfer of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank. Blair said Israel would approve the registration of 5,000 Gaza residents who already live in the West Bank.

The Netanyahu government also agreed to discuss a PA request to develop an offshore natural gas field off the Gaza Strip. The British-based BP has signed an agreement for the development of gas reserves in the Mediterranean, and Israel was expected to be a leading customer.

"I think this is good for stability, good for prosperity, good for peace," Netanyahu said.

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