Palestinians reject Kerry’s new focus on boosting their economy

Day after secretary unveils $4-billion investment plan, Abbas adviser says PA won’t make political compromises for financial benefits

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Ramallah on Sunday, April 7, 2013. (photo credit:AP/Mohamed Torokman)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Ramallah on Sunday, April 7, 2013. (photo credit:AP/Mohamed Torokman)

A day after US Secretary of State set out a vague but hugely ambitious $4 billion economic plan designed to drastically boost the Palestinian economy and help galvanize diplomatic efforts, the Palestinian Authority on Monday summarily rejected the idea of gaining economic benefits in exchange for political concessions.

Slapping down the notion that the PA might be appeased by Kerry’s focus on economic improvements, President Mahmoud Abbas’s economic adviser, Mohammad Mustafa, said “The Palestinian leadership will not offer political concessions in exchange for economic benefits.” He added, in a statement reported by the Palestinian Ma’an news agency: “We will not accept that the economy is the primary and sole component.”

Mustafa, who also heads the Palestine Investment Fund, said the PA’s priorities are not economic but rather a political framework for the creation of Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, that also ensures the rights of refugees and a political compromise, the Palestinian news agency added.

Investors are nonetheless more than welcome to “come to Palestine,” the statement added.

At the World Economic Forum in Jordan Sunday, Kerry unveiled a plan that he believes could grow the Palestinian economy by up to 50 percent in the next three years and could bring unprecedented wealth and stability that will spread across the entire region.

Without offering any details, Kerry spoke of a “groundbreaking plan to develop a healthy, sustainable, private-sector-led Palestinian economy that will transform the fortunes of a future Palestinian state, but also significantly transform the possibilities for Jordan and for Israel.”

The top US diplomat said the $4-billion economic plan, coordinated by former British prime minister Tony Blair, could also cut unemployment by almost two-thirds and raise average wages by 40%.

However, Kerry stressed, the success of the plan depends on parallel progress in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians.

In recent weeks, Kerry has engaged in intensive shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Washington in a bid to restart negotiations that broke down nearly three years ago. Israel has stated it would return to the negotiating table as long as the Palestinians drop their preconditions, while the PA has said it won’t restart talks until Israel freezes settlement activity and openly agrees to a future Palestinian state being built along the 1967 lines, with minor land swaps.

Also on Sunday, a group of leading Israeli unveiled a new business-led push for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Its aim was to “send the message” to the respective political leaderships that peace was an urgent imperative, they said.

The key Palestinian figure involved, Munib al-Masri, a billionaire member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told The Times of Israel that he and other Palestinian leaders who have put their names to the initiative are taking a personal risk, given the animosity to Israel on the Palestinian street.

The “Breaking the Impasse” initiative was launched by Israeli high-tech guru Yossi Vardi and al-Masri at a press conference at the World Economic Forum. Vardi told The Times of Israel after the conference that the idea had been “really positively welcomed” by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “fit in well” with Kerry’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

David Horovitz contributed to this report.

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