Quartet to meet in shadow of Cairo crisis

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Benny Begin, a member of Netanyahu's cabinet, attend a session of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem February 2, 2011. Netanyahu voiced support for pro-democracy protesters in Egypt for the first time on Tuesday but urged the international community to ensure any new regime sticks by Israel's peace treaty. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Feb 4 (KATAKAMI / JPOST) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Tony Blair ahead of upcoming meeting in Munich; tells Knesset of efforts to boost Palestinian economy.

Netanyahu met late Thursday evening with Quartet envoy Tony Blair in advance of the Quartet’s high-level meeting in Munich Saturday, to discuss a package of Israeli steps aimed at encouraging the Palestinian economy.

This was Netanyahu’s third meeting with Blair in as many weeks, and was expected to deal with various economic projects.

Netanyahu, during a speech in the Knesset on Wednesday, said that “in the next few days, I plan to take additional steps to further encourage development and prosperity among the Palestinians.”

He did not elaborate.
Government officials have said in recent days that the package being developed is not an effort to deflect expected criticism from the Quartet over the stymied diplomatic process, but an extension of Netanyahu’s policy of enhancing Israeli-Palestinian economic cooperation.

In his Knesset speech, Netanyahu said, “We have gone to great lengths to help the Palestinian economy, not as an alternative to the political peace that we want to negotiate with them, but as a contribution to stability and to help the Palestinian population understand that there is a lot to be gained from peace.”

In that speech, Netanyahu also had another message that was clearly intended for the Quartet and the international community, this one regarding the turmoil in Egypt.

“We expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace,” he said.

“Moreover, we expect the international community to expect any government of Egypt to honor the peace. This must be clear, along with the discussions about reform and democracy.”

The Quartet meeting will be held Saturday on the sidelines of the threeday Munich Conference on Security Policy, a high-level conference that brings together senior officials from around the world to discuss security challenges. The current volatility in Egypt and the Middle East will certainly be a main topic of discussion.

This will be the highestlevel Quartet meeting since September, on the eve of the expiration of the 10-month settlement freeze. In the statement issued after that meeting, the Quartet called on Israel to renew the freeze.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon are expected to attend Saturday’s meeting, along with Blair.

In a related matter, Reuters reported Thursday that the EU had agreed to waive a visa ban on new Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi to attend the Munich security parley.

Salehi, an MIT-trained nuclear physicist who has been intimately involved with Iran’s nuclear program for years and is a close confidant of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is considered a hawk on the nuclear issue. It is not clear, however, if he will actually attend the meeting.

Salehi is on a list of Iranians barred from entering the EU.
Sources in Jerusalem expressed regret at the move, saying this was an opportunity for the EU to send a strong message that it stood by the integrity of its own sanctions regime.

 

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