TEL AVIV, Israel -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Israeli and Palestinian officials had agreed on a plan to boost the dismal economy of the West Bank, the first concrete measure to emerge from an ambitious new U.S.-led push to restart peace talks after a four-year deadlock.
Kerry said the plan called for moving very rapidly toward business expansion and private investment in the West Bank, though he declined to get into specifics, saying he didnt want the developing framework to come out piecemeal. He said that multiple U.S. government financial institutions, including the Overseas Private Investment Corp., the Export-Import Bank of the United States and the State Departments Agency for International Development, would be involved, along with private corporations and European allies.
Kerrys plans are likely to involve changes in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has full civil and security control despite it being an area shared by Israelis and Palestinians. In recent years, Israeli authorities have delayed Palestinian-backed construction and tourism projects.
Kerry said the initiative would address the bottlenecks and barriers to doing business in the West Bank.
Economic growth will help us be able to provide a climate, if you will, an atmosphere, within which people have greater confidence about moving forward, Kerry told a news conference in Tel Aviv that wrapped up three days of meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders.
Kerrys trip to the Middle East at first appeared to be an afterthought, tacked on at the last minute to an itinerary that focused on a G-8 foreign ministers conference in London and his first trip to Asia as secretary. Instead, Kerry unveiled what he called a quiet strategy toward setting conditions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, a risky move that tethers the new secretary to a conflict thats bedeviled successive U.S. administrations.
This is the Obama administrations first serious consideration of the conflict. First-term Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shied away from tackling it and was preoccupied with the Arab Spring revolts, while Middle East envoy George Mitchell resigned in 2011 after failing to make any headway on the issue.
This effort has been dogged by good intentions and failed efforts at one time or another for a lot of reasons, Kerry said. I think weve all had enough time to analyze those reasons and understand some of the lessons we need to learn in trying to go forward now.
Still, perhaps keenly aware of the outcomes potential to shape his legacy, Kerry emphasized several times during his visit that he understood the complexities of the conflict, and he cautioned against too much optimism.
The president has not sent me here to propose or impose an American plan or to dictate to anybody the way forward, he said. Ultimately, this negotiation is between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We are not naive about the challenges before us, but we believe very deeply that it is our duty to give every effort we can.
Delving into the Middle Easts oldest conflict just a couple of months into his job would seem especially perilous for Kerry, who already has a full set of concerns with the bloody stalemate in Syria, an Iran with nuclear ambitions and an increasingly bellicose North Korea. However, analysts said, the administrations gamble is based on the rapid changes the Middle East has undergone two years into the Arab Spring rebellions.