Rice Shepherds Tactics to Boost Abbas; Palestinians Gain Security, Economic Assistance

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Byline: Joshua Mitnick, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

JERUSALEM - In an effort to make progress on peace palpable to Israelis and Palestinians, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won Israeli approval on a series of confidence measures aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy and the Palestinian Authority's security forces, U.S. and Israeli officials said yesterday.

Israel will remove about 50 roadblocks to ease Palestinian movement between cities in the northern West Bank, promote industrial zone construction, and partially shift security authority in the city of Jenin to Palestinian police.

Palestinians, meanwhile, agreed to take more responsibility for fighting terrorism in the West Bank.

The gestures are intended to provide a boost to the Palestinian Authority as support for its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is slipping.

Washington is concerned that Mr. Abbas will not be politically capable of implementing a peace settlement on Jerusalem, a common border and the rights of refugees after President Bush's term ends.

"The two parties have agreed to a set of steps that are a very good start to improving movement and access, improving the potential economic prospects of Palestinians, and getting some momentum," Miss Rice told reporters after a morning of meetings with Israeli officials.

Israelis and Palestinians formally restarted the U.S.-backed "road map" peace initiative at a conference in Annapolis last year. Obligations laid out in the road map are considered prerequisites to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israelis have committed to clamping down on settlement activity, lifting some restrictions on movement in the West bank to aid the Palestinian economy and easing the lives of Palestinians. The Palestinians, meanwhile, have pledged to strengthen efforts to fight terrorism and show progress on government reform.

However, neither side has shown significant movement on implementing these goals, and the disparity is sapping Palestinian support for Mr. …