Kerry: Israelis, Palestinians to intensify talks toward final agreement
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Kerry: Israelis, Palestinians to intensify talks toward final agreement

At aid committee meeting, top US diplomat says all issues ‘on the table’; Israel announces 5,000 new work permits for Palestinians, easing of Gaza restrictions

Members of the Ad Hoc Liasion Committee meet at UN headquarters in New York, on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/David Karp)
Members of the Ad Hoc Liasion Committee meet at UN headquarters in New York, on Wednesday (photo credit: AP/David Karp)

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

The two sides met on the sidelines of the United Nations 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 newly restarted talks between Israel and the Palestinians is a “final status agreement.”

“I will tell you that all of the issues are on the table: territory, security, refugees, Jerusalem – all of the final status issues are on the table. And importantly, we are not seeking an interim agreement; we are seeking a final status agreement.”

The secretary said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators had engaged in seven rounds of bilateral talks in recent months, with a number of those meetings including US Special Envoy Martin Indyk.

“We’ve agreed now to intensify these talks, and we’ve agreed that the American participation should be increased somewhat in order to try to help facilitate them,” Kerry said.

He dismissed the idea that a one-state solution could be viable.

“Anybody who has studied this issue through the years knows there is no one-state solution. There is no peace through the concept. There is no capacity for people of either Palestinian or Israeli nationality to find peace through that solution. We have to move to the two-state solution, and we have to do it rapidly,” the secretary urged.

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and he plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week in Washington.

Both sides expressed their commitment to the peace talks at the Ad Hoc meeting and noted the determination of the US, 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.”

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, right, with Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara in Jerusalem, June 16, 2013 (photo credit: Anat Hamami/Finance Ministry)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, right, with Palestinian counterpart Shukri Bishara in Jerusalem, June 16, 2013 (photo credit: Anat Hamami/Finance Ministry)

The new 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.

“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. He announced that another 5,000 employment permits for Palestinians would be issued, and that Israel would ease restrictions, allowing more water, construction and cellular equipment into the Gaza Strip.

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