A new economic initiative to improve life for the Palestinians will be unveiled
in Washington next week in an effort to reignite the stalled negotiations with
Israel, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced Tuesday at Ben-Gurion Airport
before boarding a plane for London.
“Economic growth will help us be able
to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have
greater confidence about moving forward,” he said.
Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed
to promote Palestinian economic development, remove barriers to commerce and
increase business expansion and private sector investment in the West Bank,
Kerry told reporters.
Palestinian economic development “is not in lieu
of, or an alternative to, the political track. It is not a substitute. The
political track remains the primary focus,” Kerry said.
He added that he
hoped the economic initiative would facilitate the renewal of Israel-Palestinian
negotiations, which have been largely frozen since 2008.
The secretary of
state said he will hold meetings in Washington next week and return to the
region shortly, as part of a renewed, intense push by the US to resume the
Kerry spoke with the press about the aftermath of face-to-face
meetings with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem and Abbas and PA
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah, over his three-day visit in the
On Tuesday afternoon, before heading to the airport, Kerry and
Netanyahu met face-to-face in Jerusalem for a number of hours. Kerry then phoned
Abbas in Doha, Qatar, where the Palestinian leader is attending an Arab League
meeting on the peace process.
The league plans to send a ministerial
delegation headed by Qatar’s prime minister to Washington later this month for
talks with Kerry and other US administration officials regarding the peace
Palestinians have insisted that Israel must halt settlement
construction and Jewish building in east Jerusalem before negotiations can be
renewed. Israel has rejected that demand and insisted that negotiations must
move forward without preconditions.
The secretary of state has tried to
find a bridge between these two positions, even as both sides have added
additional requests, such as Palestinian demands for Israeli withdrawal from
sections of Area C – where all settlements are located – the release of more
prisoners from Israeli jails and a pledge that Israel would no longer withhold
tax funds as a punitive measure.
Israel, in turn, has indicated that it
could be more flexible toward the PA in return for a pledge that it recognize
Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland of the Jewish people.
told the press that, during his visit, Israeli and Palestinian leaders made
“serious and well-considered, constructive suggestions with respect to what the
road forward might look like.”
The goal is to position both parties to
succeed and not just to get them back to the negotiating table, he
“We intend to try to create the conditions for peace so that we can
resume negotiations between the parties in a clear and precise, predetermined
manner,” Kerry said, adding that he had spoken of the economic initiative with
Quartet representative Tony Blair and private sector business people and updated
Washington on his work in the region.
“The White House is committed to
this – the president is committed to this process – and we will put all of the
energy of our own government – OPIC, Ex- Im Bank, USAID, the international
financial institutions, the Trade Partnership Agency – all of these efforts will
be put into this initiative to try to make a significant dent with respect to
employment and economic security of the West Bank,” he said.
the day, during a brief joint press conference, Netanyahu told Kerry, “We
welcome any initiatives that you and others will bring forward in this
“I am determined not only to resume the peace process with the
Palestinians, but to make a serious effort to end this conflict once and for
all,” the prime minister said.
However, he added, any proposal must
involve “political discussions that will address a myriad of issues, foremost in
our minds the questions of recognition and security.”
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said any efforts to bring about
economic improvement must occur in tandem with political
“Palestinian economic development is important – we have plans on
how to achieve it – but this isn’t an alternative to the political track,” Abu
Kerry told reporters at Ben- Gurion Airport that Abbas had
spoken to him about the importance of the prisoner issue.
“Abbas made a
passionate argument to me about the prisoners, and I think the government in
Israel has a full understanding of the potency of that issue,” he said.
reporter asked the secretary of state if he supported the 2004 letter by former
US president George Bush to former prime minister Ariel Sharon stating that in
light of Israeli population centers in Area C, Israel would not be expected to
fully withdraw to the pre-1967 lines.
“I have certainly supported the
notion publicly myself that we need to deal with the ’67 lines, plus the swaps
that reflect some of the changes that have taken place since then,” Kerry
He added that in the end the final contours of a twostate solution
were up to Israel and the Palestinians.
“What the United States wants is
for Israel’s security to be guaranteed and Palestinian aspirations to be
reflected in that dialogue,” Kerry said.
He categorically rejected
reports that the US had proposed changes to the 2002 Arab League peace
“Now, it may not be that in its current format it is a basis
for a negotiation,” he said.
“But any statement, any document where you
have a proposal for peace and where you have dozens of Arab countries, Muslim
countries, willing to make peace, needs to be taken at its value and should be
The Palestinians are opposed to introducing a0sny changes to
the 2002 initiative, PA officials said Tuesday. According to unconfirmed reports
in some Arab media outlets, the US wants the Arab countries to make a few
changes in the peace plan so as to make it more acceptable to
Israel.Reuters contributed to this report.