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Kerry Hopeful on Palestinian Economic Plan

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) is joined by Israeli President Shimon Peres (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa, May 26, 2013.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says global business leaders are moving to invest as much as $4 billion in the Palestinian economy, to support efforts to find a comprehensive peace plan with Israel.

Secretary Kerry says the initiative for private sector investments in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology already is producing "stunning" results.

He told a meeting of the World Economic Forum in Jordan that the investments could increase the Palestinian gross domestic product by 50 percent in the next three years, cutting unemployment from 21 percent to as low as 8 percent, with big gains in agriculture and home construction.

Kerry said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both support the plan because Palestinians will become more self-sufficient as the investment climate improves. "Just as people find the dignity in a good job, a nation finds pride by functioning and growing an economy that can stand on its own two feet. This will help build the future," he said.

At the economic forum on the Dead Sea, Israeli President Shimon Peres said the investment plan complements U.S. efforts to jumpstart talks toward a two-state solution.

"Secretary Kerry brings with him an impressive momentum and desire to contribute to the completion of the peace process. It will be matched with an imaginative economic plan, not instead of the political plan, but as I understand it, in addition to it," he said.

President Abbas said it comes at a critical moment for Palestinians. "The new generation is starting to lose their confidence in the two-state solution because what they see on the ground makes them truly have no hope in the future," he said.

Kerry spent much of the past week in the Middle East meeting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. He says it is time for some tough decisions on both sides. "If we don't eagerly grab this moment, we will condemn ourselves to future conflict. We are staring down a dangerous path filled with potential violence with a capacity to harden divisions, increase instability," he said.

Kerry says that path would be haunted by violent extremists rushing to fill the vacuum of failed leadership. "If we make the wrong choices or no choices at all, dangerous people will come to possess more of the world's most dangerous weapons," he said.

The investment plan is in conjunction with the so-called Middle East Quartet of the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia which is currently led by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Following the Dead Sea forum, Kerry and Blair had a working dinner with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and U.S. investor Tim Collins, who is a personal friend of Kerry.