Kerry to unveil new PA economic initiative

Netanyahu welcomes comments but says any proposal must also address ‘recognition and security’ of Israel.

By
April 9, 2013 14:17
John Kerry, Binyamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres at the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony, April 2013.

Kerry Peres Netanyahu yom hashoah 8413 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

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.

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Prime Minister 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 talks.

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 region.

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 process.

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.

Kerry 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 said.

“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.

Earlier in the day, during a brief joint press conference, Netanyahu told Kerry, “We welcome any initiatives that you and others will bring forward in this regard.

“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 moves.

“Palestinian economic development is important – we have plans on how to achieve it – but this isn’t an alternative to the political track,” Abu Rudeineh said.

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.

A 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 said.

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 initiative.

“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 respected.”

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.


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