Israel and the Palestinians remain committed to peace negotiations, said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during a press conference in the West Bank town of Jenin, and the U.S. will continue to support their efforts. "The distance to that peace has narrowed," she said, "although the peace has not yet been achieved."
Two of the components of the peace process, launched by President George W. Bush last November in Annapolis, Maryland, were to improve conditions on the ground for the Palestinian and Israeli people, and to build the institutions of a future Palestinian state. Secretary of State Rice visited the town of Jenin in the northern West Bank to see first hand the progress that has been made on these fronts.
Until recently, Jenin was a forbidden zone for foreign dignitaries. In 2002, the town was the scene of the bloody "Battle of Jenin," which resulted in hundreds of casualties and destruction of half the city. Yet today, Jenin is a showcase of progress in the path toward peace – economic activity is returning and Palestinian security forces are implementing the rule of law.
During a visit to a West Bank hospital, which was renovated with U.S. funds, Secretary of State Rice announced that the U.S. is increasing its development assistance to Jenin by providing $14 million for new projects, which will be implemented by the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID.
Some of the money will be used to improve existing infrastructure: fix or re-build roads; rehabilitate and expand water systems; improve parks and community centers. Some will go toward building new schools and classrooms, constructing youth and sports facilities. And some money will be used to help the Jenin Court strengthen the criminal and judicial systems.
"I am ... delighted to be here in Jenin to see, first-hand, what the Palestinian people are achieving, even under difficult circumstances, even with the difficult tasks," said Secretary of State Rice. "This is a place of hope, this is a place of inspiration. And, ultimately, it is a place from which the Palestinian State will spring forth."