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Kerry set to unveil plan for West Bank economy

The US Secretary of State is tasked with presenting a economic plan to attract tourism and private sector investment into the West Bank.

Image: AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon

US SECRETARY OF STATE John Kerry was Sunday to unveil plans to revive the ailing Palestinian economy, as Israeli President Shimon Peres insisted no time should be lost in resuming peace talks.

“Tonight I will be in Amman and talk about the economic development of the West Bank, the Sahel, Maghreb, all of these regions,” Kerry told students at the University of Addis Ababa shortly before leaving Ethiopia to travel to Jordan.

“I think when you look at extremism, radical, violent extremism, it is filling a void that is being left by the absence of governance.”

Tourism and private sector investment

Since taking up the baton this year in the long-elusive search for Middle East peace, Kerry has refused to divulge publicly the details of how he intends to bridge the bitter differences between Israel and the Palestinians.

But he has entrusted the Quartet’s Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair with the task of drawing up an economic plan to attract tourism and private sector investment into the West Bank and breathe fresh hope into the area.

Blair has already been working with the CEO of Coca Cola, Muhtar Kent, on ways of attracting investment into the depressed West Bank.

The West Bank had seen a moderate growth in recent years only to be set back by Israeli and Western moves to stall aid following the Palestinian bid for upgraded UN status.

In a separate initiative unveiled at the World Economic Forum, held in the Jordanian town of Shunah on the shores of the Dead Sea, some 200 Israeli and Palestinian executives from some large businesses urged their governments to move towards a two-state solution.

The Breaking the Impasse Initiative vowed to use their influence to convince the leaders on both sides to resume serious talks, stalled since late 2010.

“The current situation endangers the economy and the social fabric of both nations, and may render the two-state solution unattainable,” it said in a statement.

Peace is a ‘real possibility’

Peres, who met with Kerry on Thursday in Jerusalem, said he believed peace was a “real possibility.”

“Two points are urgent: we shouldn’t lose the opportunity because it will he replaced by great disappointment,” Peres told reporters.

“We have to come over scepticism and doubts. Second, I feel it is a real possibility,” he said, speaking in English.

“I am aware of the missing links residing between the two ends. From my experience I believe it is possible to overcome them, it doesn’t require too much time. It is the real interest of all parties concerned.”

He said the two sides already have a “functioning” solution.

“As far as the Palestinians are concerned we have a functioning beginning and an agreed solution. The solution is the two-state solution — living in peace and dignity,” Peres said.

Kerry was on his second trip to Jordan in five days, after marathon talks on the crisis in Syria with 10 foreign ministers from the Friends of Syria group stretched into early Thursday.

Stalled Middle East peace process

He was expected to meet again with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas during his new stay in Amman, after the two men met for more than two hours on Thursday in Ramallah to discuss the way forward in the stalled Middle East peace process.

“It takes courage, vision and determination to stand together and to demand the breaking of the impasse between our two nations,” said Munib Masri, chair of the Palestinian group of Breaking the Impasse.

“Palestinians yearn for freedom, dignity and independence from occupation and we see no good coming from the current impasse except the perils of future conflict.”

Kerry has called on both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to now take the tough decisions needed to get the peace process moving again.

“The Middle East is the grand-daddy or grandma of all conflicts,” Kerry told the young Ethiopian students on Sunday before heading back to the Middle East.

“Everybody knows what the issues are, the question is can you get over that divide. The Palestinians deserve a state, Israel deserves to be secure and know that people won’t be firing rockets at it, sending women and children into bunkers.”

- © AFP, 2013

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Read: Israel approves 296 West Bank settler homes

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