Kerry: Israelis, Palestinians Aim for Final Deal With More US Input

Image: Kerry: Israelis, Palestinians Aim for Final Deal With More US Input Secretary of State John Kerry meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York on Sept 24.

Thursday, 26 Sep 2013 03:24 AM

By Newsmax Wires

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UNITED NATIONS — Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to intensify peace talks aimed at reaching a final agreement — not an interim accord — with greater U.S. participation, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.

The two sides met on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York at a conference of donors looking for ways to revive the fragile Palestinian economy.

Speaking before the closed-door meeting known as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, Kerry said the goal of talks between Israel and the Palestinians is a "final status agreement," not an interim one.

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"We have agreed now, in the last week, when I have met with both [Palestinian Authority] President [Mahmoud] Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, we have agreed now to intensify these talks," he said. "And we have agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate."

Kerry described two tracks to the talks: one among the negotiators — Israel's Tzipi Livni and Yitzhak Molcho and the Palestinians Saeb Erekat and Mohammed Shtayyeh — and another among Abbas, Netanyahu, Kerry, and President Barack Obama.

Speaking of the second track, Kerry said: "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."

A U.S. official played down the idea of Obama increasing his role for now, although Obama had described the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, along with trying to curb Iran's nuclear program, as two top diplomatic priorities in his speech at U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the increase in U.S. engagement during the short term was likely to take the form of lower-level U.S. officials taking part in the Israeli-Palestinian meetings more frequently.

Kerry's comments offered a rare glimpse at the talks, which the United States initiated but has tried to keep under wraps on the argument that public discussion makes it harder to reach an agreement to end the more than six-decade conflict.

Abbas told Obama in a meeting on Tuesday on the fringes of the U.N. General Assembly that the Palestinians will exert every effort possible to try to ensure the peace talks are a success.

Obama, as well as Kerry, are due to meet Netanyahu next week in Washington as they try to keep up the momentum in the negotiations.

The key issues to be resolved include borders, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Both sides expressed their commitment to the peace talks at the Ad Hoc meeting and noted the determination of the United States, and Kerry in particular, to move the process along.

"This is a 50-year-old conflict, and it's inevitable that we have to find closure to it," Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said. "It's impossible to continue as is."

The new Palestinian finance minister called Wednesday's economic talks "very, very successful."

The donor meeting asked Israel to ease some of the restrictions that have hurt employment, trade and other crucial areas of the Palestinian economy.

An International Monetary Fund staff report on West Bank and Gaza economies released last week said extensive Israeli restrictions on movement and access should be eased and eventually removed.

The donors on Wednesday also asked the Palestinians to rein in expenditures and take steps to "develop a business-friendly environment." They are facing a $350 million financing gap projected for this year.

The Palestinians depend heavily on aid from donors — about $1.3 billion this year, or the equivalent of nearly 12 percent of annual gross domestic product. But the aid has been falling in recent years, along with optimism over peace.

Both sides appeared unusually upbeat after Wednesday's meeting, despite the challenges. And they acknowledged they have little time to be otherwise.

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"We are particularly conscious of the fact that we can't build a state that almost totally depends on foreign grants," Bishara told reporters after the meeting.

But he stressed: "We have to ensure that one state is close in its standard of living to the other state." The income gap between Israel and the Palestinians remains vast.

Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz called the meeting "positive" and said a "strong, viable Palestinian economy" helps to create a better political climate — as long as Israeli security needs are not damaged.

Both sides have resumed dialogue between finance ministers, Steinitz said. Other moves include another 5,000 employment permits for Palestinians and allowing more water and construction and cellular equipment into the Gaza Strip.

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