Israel to Ease Some West Bank Restrictions as Rice Visits Mideast



U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks Sunday with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders during her second trip the Middle East in less than a month.  VOA's Jim Teeple reports from Jerusalem that Israel says it will ease some restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank in a bid to move peace talks forward. 

Israel says it will remove about 50 roadblocks in the West Bank, allow unrestricted access to the West Bank city of Jericho and ease permit restrictions for some Palestinians who need to travel through Israeli-controlled territory.  The measures were announced following talks between Secretary Rice, Israel's Foreign and Defense Ministers and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Jerusalem.

Rice says the measures will help move the peace process forward.  

"What we have to have is meaningful progress toward a better life for the Palestinian people for economic viability for Palestinians, even as we move toward the establishment of a state," Rice said. "There is a shared responsibility here for an atmosphere and a reality that can lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on security for Israelis and Palestinians alike and economic viability for Palestinians."
Palestinians have pledged to work to improve security in the West Bank and impose order in the West Bank town of Jenin.  Last week Israel said it will allow a specially trained force of police loyal to moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to travel to Jenin in an effort to curb militancy there.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says Israel wants to cooperate with moderate Palestinians to improve their economy, but Palestinians must improve security.

"The formula is to do whatever we can as long as it does not affect our own security because the other responsibility is to find a way to give security to Israeli citizens, but I think Israel and the Palestinians both understand that the Palestinian economy is part of our interest and Israel's security is part of the Palestinian interests," Livni said.

Livni also says Israel supports the idea of compensating Israeli settlers who agree to leave settlements in the West Bank, although she says the idea still has a long way to go.

Continued Israeli construction activity in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has become a major point of contention in the talks between Israelis and Palestinians - with Palestinians saying such construction violates existing agreements between the two sides - and could jeopardize a final peace agreement.  Israel says it will continue to build in areas it intends to permanently keep as part of an eventual settlement with the Palestinians.

After her talks with Jordan's King Abdullah and President Abbas in Amman, Rice returns to Jerusalem for talks Monday with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams.  She then returns to Amman for a final consultation with Mr. Abbas. 



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