U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Israelis and Palestinians to renew peace negotiations, touting a plan that he said could attract $4 billion in investments to boost the Palestinian economy.
The initiative, formulated by former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair with a group of corporate executives and investors, would generate money for projects involving tourism, energy, agriculture and construction in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Kerry said yesterday during a meeting of the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan.
“We know it can be done,” he said. “This is a plan for the Palestinian economy that is bigger, bolder and more ambitious than anything proposed” since the Oslo peace accords 20 years ago.
The U.S. and Israel have proposed a variety of economic development plans for the Palestinians that were aimed at supporting peace negotiations. Abbas has rejected phased peace plans and the notion that economic development will lead to resolving the conflict, demanding that Israel address key issues such as West Bank settlements and refugees before a peace agreement can be signed.
Temporary solutions “won’t end the conflict” and will make it “more complicated,” Abbas said in an earlier address.
Kerry responded to Abbas, saying his goal is a permanent political solution and that can’t be replaced with simply bolstering the Palestinian economy. Still, he said the Blair plan could bring the two sides together and improve chances for a peace agreement.
“Is this a fantasy?” Kerry asked. “I don’t think so, because there are already great examples of investment and entrepreneurship that are working in the West Bank. We know it can be done, but we’ve never experienced the kind of concentrated effort that this group is talking about bringing to the table.”
Kerry said Palestinian gross domestic product could be increased by 50 percent over three years under the plan being developed by Blair. In the “most optimistic estimates,” the plan would create enough new jobs to cut unemployment to 8 percent from 21 percent, Kerry said.
Kerry, Blair and U.S. investor Tim Collins were scheduled to meet later with the foreign ministers of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Separately, Palestinian businessman Munib al-Masri and Israeli entrepreneur Yossi Vardi presented a plan called “Breaking the Impasse” in which executives and civil society leaders from both sides are meeting in an effort to support peace negotiations with joint economic projects.
“The time for action is now,” Masri said. “If we don’t cease today, then we have ourselves to blame for falling into an abyss of eternal conflict.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres, who also spoke at the forum, endorsed the initiative of the Palestinian and Israeli businessmen and called on Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
“President Abbas,” Peres said. “You are our partner and we are yours.”