U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's promise of new economic and political measures that would jumpstart the Mideast peace process left top Palestinian officials unconvinced.
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Senior sources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Haaretz on Tuesday that despite the optimism expressed by Kerry, there are currently no signs of a breakthrough that will lead to a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
According to these sources, the talks Kerry is conducting, mainly with Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have not yet borne fruit, despite Kerry’s sincere hopes that the talks resume.
“The situation is quite clear. The Palestinians have stated that renewed negotiations must be based on a clear formula which will include the determination of Palestine’s borders and the release of prisoners. As long as Israel does not agree to this, we cannot talk of discussions that will lead to a settlement of the conflict," said a senior Palestinian official who is familiar with details of the meetings.
According to this official, “the economic gestures that are being discussed can improve the situation in the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority’s standing, but only in the short run, since the Palestinian issue is mainly a political one, not an economic one. Kerry requested a two-month extension in order to advance things. This is clearly only the beginning."
Abbas is in Doha, Qatar, where he is meeting members of a committee that monitors the peace initiative, updating them on his talks with Kerry. The Palestinian News Agency reported that Abbas spoke to Kerry by phone on Tuesday, hearing details of Kerry’s talks with Netanyahu. At the end of the month, a ministerial delegation from the Arab League will arrive in Washington to meet with senior American officials, in an attempt to use the Saudi-Arab initiative as a basis for solving the conflict.
Kerry on Tuesday wrapped up three days of high-level Mideast diplomacy on a positive note, saying he held "very constructive talks" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and promising to press on in an effort to break a four-year deadlock over resuming direct negotiations.
In a preliminary step, Kerry said he would engage in a parallel effort to break down red tape and other barriers to economic progress in the West Bank to improve the lives of Palestinians and provide a climate for two-state solution. He said such an effort would also improve Israel's security. The Palestinians, along with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, have long complained that Israeli travel restrictions are stifling the West Bank's economy.
"We agreed among us ... that we are going to engage in new efforts, very specific efforts, to promote economic development ... and to remove some of the bottlenecks and barriers that exist with respect to commerce in the West Bank," he said.
But he also emphasized that the talks between Israel and the Palestinians must deal with borders and security, recognizing that both sides have needs that should be met. Kerry said he would have more details on the plan next week.
Netanyahu told reporters earlier Tuesday that he welcomed proposals for economic assistance to the Palestinians, but said issues of recognition and security remain "foremost in our minds."
"I'm 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," he told reporters before meeting Kerry. Addressing Kerry, he said, "This is a real effort and we look forward to advance in this effort with you."