The Japanese foreign minister has presided over a rare meeting of Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian officials to push ahead with an agro-industrial park intended to enhance cross-border trade and cooperation.
Taro Kono, the Japanese minister, acknowledged late Sunday that it “has not been easy for the four parties to get together under current circumstances.”
Israel and Jordan only recently patched up relations after a months-long diplomatic crisis. Officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority government in the West Bank meet only intermittently because of ongoing deadlock in peace efforts.
The summit was attended by Israel’s Economy Minister Eli Cohen, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and Jordan’s Planning Minister Imad Fakhoury.
Sunday’s meeting focused on the Japan-backed Jericho Agro-Industrial Park in the West Bank, near an Israeli-controlled border with Jordan. Twelve companies operate at the park, launched more than a decade ago. Kono says he hopes more will join, including Japanese firms.
The industrial zone was set up by Japan as part of the Corridor for Peace and Prosperity Initiative aimed at promoting economic cooperation between Israel, the Palestinians, and Jordan.
Although Japan has never played an influential role in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, in December, Kono reportedly invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to a four-way peace summit in Tokyo that would also include Jared Kushner, who is overseeing US President Donald Trump’s efforts to revive peace talks.
According to Israel’s Channel 10 news, Netanyahu said he was open to attending, but only if the US agreed. “If Kushner is there, I will also be there,” the report quoted Netanyahu as telling Kono.
The TV channel in December said the proposal was first made to Netanyahu by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when the two met in New York during the UN General Assembly in September last year. It said Netanyahu told Abe he would only attend if the summit was coordinated with the US, which has traditionally been the arbitrator of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The reports did not say how Abbas responded to Kono’s proposal.