Sunday, October 12, 2014


Kerry pushes for Middle East peace, pledges $212 million aid for Gaza

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called on Sunday for a renewed commitment to achieving Middle East peace, saying a lasting deal between Israel, the Palestinians and all their neighbors could be achieved.

But prospects for a renewed peace process appeared dim as Kerry offered no specifics on how to restart negotiations in his speech to a Gaza reconstruction conference in Cairo.

The last round of U.S.-brokered peace talks, presided over by Kerry, foundered in April over Israeli objections to a Palestinian political unity pact including the Islamist Hamas movement and Palestinian opposition to unremitting Israeli settlement expansion.

"Out of this conference must come not just money but a renewed commitment from everybody to work for peace that meets the aspirations of all, for Israelis, for Palestinians for all people of this region," Kerry told the conference.

"And I promise you the full commitment of president Obama, myself and the United States to try to do that," he said.

At the conference Kerry also announced an additional $212 million in U.S. aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which was badly damaged during a conflict with Israel in July and August in which 2,100 Palestinians died, most of them civilians.

An estimated 18,000 homes and vital infrastructure were destroyed in the seven-week war. The Palestinians have put the full cost of reconstruction at about $4 billion over three years.

Germany on Sunday also announced it would contribute 50 million euros ($63 million) to reconstruction efforts in Gaza.

"We can't allow the people in Gaza to sink into despair," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.

The British ambassador to Egypt, John Casson, told Reuters London would provide $32 million for reconstruction.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country and which brokered the current ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians in August, used the conference to renew its call for a wider Middle East peace deal based on a 2002 Arab initiative, which Israel has rejected.

"We should turn this moment into a real starting point to achieve a peace that secures stability and flourishing and renders the dream of coexistence a reality, and this is the vision of the Arab peace initiative," Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said in his opening speech.

The Arab peace initiative was floated by Saudi Arabia at an Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002 and offers full recognition of the Jewish state, but only if it gives up all land seized in the 1967 Middle East war and agrees to a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Also speaking in Cairo, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the 2002 Arab plan could be the framework for a new comprehensive approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Successive Israeli governments have rejected the Arab initiative but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently suggested a greater role for Israel's Arab neighbors in the pursuit of peace.

Dozens of countries are attending the Cairo meeting. The Palestinian Authority is hoping that moves by a new unity government towards assuming control in Hamas-dominated Gaza could make wealthy donor governments less wary of providing reconstruction funds.

Israel and the United States consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Palestinians want a state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza Strip with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has continued expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But the message at the conference was clear: nations want a comprehensive, lasting solution and do not want to keep meeting at donor conferences to pick up the pieces after fighting.

"Everything else will be a band aid fix, not a long-term solution... Everything else will be the prisoner of impatience and that has brought us to this unacceptable and unstable status quo," said Kerry.

The last war began in July with Israel saying it was determined to put an end to rocket fire from Gaza. On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

The Palestinians have threatened to seek membership in the international criminal court as a forum to accuse Israel of war crimes.

Kerry plans to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo and will seek to dissuade him from very "destabilizing" diplomatic moves, one U.S. official said.

(1 US dollar = 0.7920 euro)
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