DEAD SEA, Jordan – US Secretary of State John Kerry unveiled on Sunday a $4 billion economic plan to revitalize the Palestinian economy, as he called on Israelis and Palestinians to forgive past wrongs and return to the negotiating table.
“The plan for the Palestinian economy is bigger and bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed since Oslo more than 20 years ago,” said Kerry as he spoke at the closing session of the World Economic Forum by the Dead Sea in Jordan.
President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also addressed the final session and sat next to each other in the first row of the large auditorium as Kerry spoke.
This economic plan is achievable and has the support of Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Kerry said.
Quartet special envoy Tony Blair will head the initiative, with the help of the international business community.
According to Kerry, it will focus on developing the Palestinian private economy, a key ingredient for economic independence.
If actualized, he said, it could increase the Palestinian GDP by 50 percent over three years and cut unemployment by two-thirds, to 8% down from 21%. It would also benefit the economies of Israel and Jordan, Kerry said.
The effects could echo throughout the region and could be used as an international model for applying investment to make change, he said.
Investment in business, as well as in peace, could totally change life on the ground for this area, Kerry said.
“This will help build the future. Is this a fantasy? I do not think so,” he said.
But, in the end, a healthy Palestinian economy is nothing without the political process, Kerry said, as he assured Abbas that his investment plan was not a substitute for a diplomatic solution.
“The political approach is central and it is our top priority,” the secretary of state said, because the status quo cannot continue.
“The absence of peace,” he said, “is in fact perpetual war, even if it’s low intensity. Are we ready, do we want to live with a permanent intifada?” Kerry asked.
The greatest existential threat to Palestinians and Israelis is the lack of peace, Kerry said, who unveiled his plan after two months of intense diplomatic activity to rekindle direct negotiations, which have been largely frozen since December 2008.
At the start of his speech, he held up a piece of paper and jokingly said, “I have an agreement here, which you can both sign if you want to.”
On a more serious note, he told both leaders at the end of his speech, “Negotiations cannot succeed if you do not negotiate.”
On Thursday and Friday, he visited Israel and the Palestinians territories, meeting with both Netanyahu and Abbas.
On Sunday, Peres met with Abbas and with King Abdullah II.
Abbas, during his speech, held up a copy of the Arab League Initiative, based on the pre-1967 lines with minor equivalent land swaps, and urged Israel to accept it.
If it did so, it would have peace not just with the Palestinians but with the Arab and Muslim world, Abbas said.
He outlined some of the important issues that he said must be part of the negotiations, including justice for Palestinian refugees and prisoners.
There is an attempt, he said, to put the issue of refugees outside the framework of negotiations.
The Palestinians, he said, would not accept the idea of an interim solution, particularly one that called for temporary borders.
He also charged that Israel has not fulfilled its obligations under a 1993 agreement to release prisoners.
Peres, in his speech, changed his prepared remarks in response to Abbas, but declined to respond point by point, explaining that he recalled a time when the PLO’s arguments against a two-state solution made the situation seem even more dire.
Back then, he said, these arguments made him feel as if progress was impossible. But now, Peres said, he knows better.
“Let us sit together. You will be surprised how much can be achieved in open, direct and organized meetings,” Peres said.
Earlier in his speech Peres hailed the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative – amended from a two-state solution on the pre-1967 lines to one that is based on that line and include minor swaps of equitable value.
“Friends, we and our Palestinian neighbors must return to negotiations as soon as possible and bring peace. President Abbas, you are our partner and we are yours. You share our hopes and efforts for peace, and we share yours. We can and should make the breakthrough. We should not permit the hurdles to overcome us. History will judge us not by the process of negotiations,” Peres said.
He received a standing ovation when he finished his speech.
Earlier in the day, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said the Palestinians would not hold direct talks with Israel until Netanyahu would accept a state based on the pre-1967 lines and halt settlement activity.
View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/Diplomacy-and-Politics/Kerry-unveils-4-billion-Palestinian-economic-plan-314436