Kerry’s peace plan includes ‘settlement freeze outside major blocs’

Abbas still demanding full halt to building, report claims; secretary also said pushing economic incentives and backing the release of pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners

US Secretary of State John Kerry (center), Israeli President Shimon Peres (left), and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Sunday May 26, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (center), Israeli President Shimon Peres (left), and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas shake hands during the World Economic Forum in Jordan, Sunday May 26, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Jim Young)

US Secretary of State John Kerry’s formula for peace talks progress will include the release of 103 Palestinian prisoners detained by Israel before the 1993 Oslo Accords and a freeze on all settlement construction outside the major blocs, the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat reported Saturday.

The plan is predicated on the relaunching of direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians. The talks, aimed at a permanent accord, would last between six to nine months and include several phases, the report said.

According to the report, which was based on an unnamed Palestinian official, the secretary’s proposal will also focus on revitalizing the Palestinian economy. This initiative seeks to boost joint Palestinian-regional projects and involves investments from private firms that will spur growth in industries like agriculture, tourism, and construction. The plan also calls on Israel to authorize Palestinian projects in Area C, which is under full Israeli security and civil control.

The report also mentions a $4 billion (NIS 14.6 billion) economic plan, unveiled by Kerry in Jordan last month, as part of the incentive package offered to the Palestinians for returning to negotiations.

Other sources in the report were quoted as saying that the plan includes a pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to publicly commit to negotiations using the model laid out by US President Barack Obama during his visit to the region: two states living side by side, on the basis of the 1967 lines with land swaps, as well as Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

The paper cited wide gaps between the Palestinians and Israelis on the core issues and referenced the Palestinians’ distrust of Netanyahu.

During his last visit here, a week ago, the secretary sought to convene a four-way summit in Amman for Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and American negotiators, as a precursor to resumed talks. However, the press conference at which Kerry was scheduled to unveil the idea for the summit was postponed, and Kerry left the region saying he had made progress but that more work was needed.

The Palestinian team has, for now, demanded the release of 103 prisoners — not in phases, but at the same time — and a full settlement construction freeze — not just outside the main blocs — for the duration of the talks, the report added, quoting another Palestinian source familiar with the plan.

Netanyahu has reportedly been willing to release many of the pre-Oslo prisoners, most of whom have Israeli blood on their hands, but in phases, fearing that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would abandon the negotiations if all the prisoners went free at the start. He also reportedly agreed to several concessions in his 14 hours of talks with Kerry during Kerry’s last visit, including a construction freeze outside the major West Bank settlement blocs and a slowing down of building in East Jerusalem and inside the settlement blocs. Some of Kerry’s staff stayed behind to work with the Palestinian team in Ramallah on its demands and Israel’s responses.

Kerry, in an effort to restart peace talks, has been shuttling between the sides since taking office earlier this year. His efforts have managed to narrow the gaps but not to generate new talks.

While the Palestinian Authority leadership remains skeptical about Israel’s willingness to meet its terms and come to the table, Abbas was said to be more upbeat and optimistic about restarting peace talks with Israel in recent days. Netanyahu has offered to discuss “all issues” at the negotiating table, but not to accept any Palestinian preconditions.

The last direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians broke down in 2010, having only briefly resumed at the tail end of a 10-month settlement freeze ordered by Netanyahu in November 2009.

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