U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says global business leaders are planning to raise $4 billion to invest in the ailing Palestinian economy to encourage international efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Jordan Sunday, Kerry said he asked former British Prime Minister Tony Blair to lead the team of business executives who plan to raise the funds for economic development in the West Bank. But the top U.S. diplomat gave no specifics about where the money will come from, or which companies will invest in the Palestinian territory.
Kerry said the team is exploring opportunities for foreign investment in Palestinian tourism, construction, light manufacturing, agriculture and communications. He said such investments, if approved by Palestinian leaders, have the potential to boost Palestinian gross domestic product by 50 percent over the next three years and slash unemployment from 21 percent to 8 percent.
Kerry said the initiative has the support of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the diplomat acknowledged that "none" of his vision will materialize unless the two leaders make progress toward a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
On the sidelines of the forum, a group of Israeli and Palestinian business executives announced a plan to lobby their political leaders to restart peace talks. The group calling itself "Break the Impasse" said it has the support of more than 200 executives from large companies in both communities.
Palestinian President Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres also addressed the forum and exchanged a warm handshake in a rare face-to-face meeting between leaders of the two sides.
Mr. Peres urged Mr. Abbas to return to negotiations "as soon as possible," and hailed the Palestinian leader as a "partner for peace." The Israeli president's role is largely ceremonial.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who holds most decision-making powers, has rejected Mr. Abbas' demand for Israel to stop settlement activity on occupied land claimed by Palestinians before talks can begin. Mr. Netanyahu has said he is ready to negotiate without preconditions.
In Mr. Abbas' remarks to the forum, the Palestinian president reiterated his desire for peace, but also repeated his longstanding criticism of Israeli policies and his rejection of temporary solutions to the conflict.
After the forum, Secretary Kerry and Mr. Blair held a working dinner to discuss their West Bank initiative 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.