Kerry says Israel, Palestinian talks to intensify with increased US role

Secretary of state offers rare glimpse into talks; Steinitz, Bishara hold press conference on steps taken to boost PA economy.

Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Kerry, Livni, Erekat press conference 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
After seven rounds of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks since July, Israel, the Palestinians and the US agreed last week “to intensify the talks” and increase US participation, Secretary of State John Kerry said.
Kerry, speaking at a high-level meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on Wednesday, said the idea up until now was “to have the Palestinians and Israelis meet together, work this through, build trust, build relationship. But at the same time, we are there to facilitate, to help if there needs to be a bridging proposal to work on the way forward.”
Kerry’s comments seem an indication that Washington has moved closer to the Palestinian position that greater hands-on US participation is needed in the talks.
The secretary of state, who again stressed that he was the only one with a mandate to discuss the negotiations, and that everything else written or reported about the talks should be largely discounted, said the talks were working on two tracks.
The first, formal track was the meetings between Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni with Palestinian negotiators Saeb Erekat and Muhammad Shtayyeh.
According to Kerry, that track was working at “discerning the gaps” and defining the issues and “the parameters that they need to work through.”
He said there was a second track that included Netanyahu, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Barack Obama. “And as needed, as we think appropriate, as we need to move the process, we will be consulting among each other and working to move this process forward.”
Kerry said that all the final-status issues were on the table: territory, security, refugees and Jerusalem. And, he stressed, the sides were not seeking an interim agreement, but rather a final-status accord.
He said one lesson he learned from previous peace making efforts was that “if you leave things out there, hanging out there unresolved, people who don’t want things to happen can make them not happen. And so we have to try to find a way to get a resolution o f the fundamental choices here.”
Kerry dismissed those saying that the nine months allotted for reaching an accord was too optimistic a goal, saying that the sides had been negotiating these issues for years.
“What this really needs – there’s no secret about it – to achieve this status is a dose of courage and a reasonable level of compromise,” he said.
Kerry praised Netanyahu and Abbas for taking political risks in making the negotiations possible.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is doing something that is exceedingly difficult. Imagine any of you releasing prisoners, let alone 104 of them at one time, over a period of time, in one fell swoop, announcing it and dealing with the pushback from some people,” he said. “Imagine the willingness to enter into a negotiation which obviously brings with it a political price.”
He praised Abbas for bucking those in the Palestinian political system saying that nothing had changed within Israel and “there was no reason to believe this could be different” and that it would be better to pursue their goals through the United Nations.
On economic issues, Kerry said that Netanyahu has “bent over backwards to make things happen. He has acted in good faith. The things he said he would do, they’re doing.”
Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz spoke about the economic steps Israel had taken toward the Palestinians, during a press conference with PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara.
“I share your hope that at the end of the day, maybe the entire Middle East region will all share the same standard of living,” Stenitiz told Bishara, before announcing the road map that the government had already partially implemented, with the intent to bolster the Palestinian economy.
The road map includes the 5,000 new permits that have been issued for Palestinian workers within the Green Line, a development that was announced at the beginning of September; exporting 4 million cubic meters of water to the West Bank and 5 million to the Gaza Strip; exporting increased amounts of building materials into Gaza; resuming the dialogue between the Israeli and Palestinian finance ministries; and implementing the 2012 Steinitz-Fayyad agreement, which stipulate arrangements for transferring goods and for taxation procedures.
Bishara agreed that the Palestinian economy had a long way to go before it could prop up a fully functioning state.
“We are particularly conscious of the fact that we cannot lay the foundation of a state that is almost totally dependent on aid,” he told reporters. “This is not a substantial economic model. It has never succeeded in history.”
Bishara acknowledged that the PA government had “fallen into the trap” of financing the state mostly through aid and through borrowing.
“This is an equation that cannot be allowed to persist anymore,” he said, especially given the chronic unemployment among Palestinian youth. “We can survive one extra year, maybe a year and a half, but the donor community will simply tire from this, and we cannot expect them to keep this [aid for the Palestinian economy] as an open ended proposition.”
Bishara said the PA had imposed an “internal time table” of 24 months in which to achieve a basic balance for a budget. “If there is peace, I think we can move out of total dependency on aid in a very quick period of time,” he said. “It depends on many, many, many things. It depends on us primarily. How disciplined we are, how focused we are, and how ready we are to take internal difficult decisions.”
Steinitz echoed Bishara and added that Israel “has an interest in a strong, viable and prosperous Palestinian economy, will help you and the Palestinian economy when we can.
“We completely agree with what Secretary Kerry said, that a better economic climate might help initiate a better political climate. And a strong Palestinian economy is good for Israel, and good for the general atmosphere,” Steinitz said.