Top US diplomat vows support for West Bank

Top US diplomat vows support for West Bank

Top US diplomat vows support for West Bank

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Ramallah as part of the latter’s regional peace trip. REUTERS photo

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said yesterday that he had agreed to work with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to boost economic growth in the occupied West Bank, as he seeks ways to revive Middle East peace talks.

Speaking after a three-day visit to the region, during which he met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry told reporters that he would provide full details of the economic plans next week.

“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. Citing security concerns, Israel maintains a network of military checkpoints in the West Bank, territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians seek as part of a future state along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Such a move would also improve Israel’s security, he told reporters travelling with his delegation, shortly before taking off for London. “Economic growth will help us provide a climate ... in which people have greater confidence going forward,” he said.

Security and recognition questions in mind

“With respect to the economic plans... I will be very specific next week,” Kerry said. “We will have a Washington meeting and you all will have a chance to see this fleshed out in full.” With Kerry at his side before talks earlier in the day in Jerusalem, Netanyahu told reporters that Israel wanted to “make a serious effort” to end the conflict with the Palestinians.

“This has economic components, and we welcome any initiatives that you and others will bring forward in this regard,” Netanyahu said. “But it also has a political component, political discussions that will address myriad issues. Foremost in our minds are questions of recognition and security,” Netanyahu added, referring to his demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, a step they fear could compromise any right of return of Palestinian refugees.

Speaking to reporters late April 8, Kerry said he was pursuing a “quiet strategy” for ending decades of mistrust between the two sides, part of which would involve building up the teetering Palestinian economy.

Kerry was making his third visit to the region in less than three weeks, but has yet to put forward any new initiative to encourage the two sides to return to negotiations.

Compiled from Reuters and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.