Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to intensify peace talks aimed at reaching a final agreement, not an interim accord, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
The two sides met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York at a conference of donors looking for ways to revive the fragile Palestinian economy.
Speaking before the closed-door meeting known as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, Kerry said the goal of newly restarted talks between Israel and the Palestinians is a “final status agreement,” not an interim one.
On Tuesday, US President Barack Obama met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and he plans to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week in Washington.
Both the Israelis and Palestinians expressed their commitment to the peace talks at the UN meeting and noted the determination of the US, and Kerry in particular, to move the process along.
“This is a 50-year-old conflict and it’s inevitable that we have to find closure to it,” Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said. “It’s impossible to continue as is.”
The new finance minister called Wednesday’s economic talks “very, very successful.”
The donor meeting asked Israel to ease some of the restrictions that have hurt employment, trade and other crucial areas of the Palestinian economy.
An IMF staff report on the West Bank and Gaza economies released last week said extensive Israeli restrictions on movement and access should be eased, and eventually removed.
The donors on Wednesday also asked the Palestinians to rein in expenditure and take steps to “develop a business-friendly environment.” They are facing a US$350 million financing gap projected for this year.
The Palestinians depend heavily on aid from donors — about US$1.3 billion this year, or the equivalent of nearly 12 percent of annual GDP, but the aid has been falling in recent years, along with optimism over peace.
Both sides appeared unusually upbeat after Wednesday’s meeting, despite the challenges, and they acknowledged they have little time to be otherwise.
“We are particularly conscious of the fact that we can’t build a state that almost totally depends on foreign grants,” Bishara told reporters after the meeting.
“We have to ensure that one state is close in its standard of living to the other state,” he added.
The income gap between Israel and the Palestinians remains vast.
Israeli Cabinet Minister Yuval Steinitz called the meeting “positive” and said a “strong, viable Palestinian economy” helps to create a better political climate — as long as Israeli security needs are not damaged.
Both sides have resumed dialogue between finance ministers, Steinitz said.
Other moves include another 5,000 employment permits for Palestinians, and allowing more water and construction and telecommunications equipment into the Gaza Strip.