x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Kerry meets Abbas, Netanyahu in hopes of kick-starting peace talks

The meetings come days after the US quietly unblocked almost Dh1.83 billion in aid to the Palestinian Authority, which had been frozen by Congress for months.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets the US secretary of state John Kerry on Saturday in Amman. Thaer Ghanaim / GPO via Getty Images
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, right, meets the US secretary of state John Kerry on Saturday in Amman. Thaer Ghanaim / GPO via Getty Images

AMMAN // The US secretary of state John Kerry met the Palestinian president in Amman yesterday before flying to Israel for talks with the Israeli prime minister as he seeks ways to revive long-stalled peace talks.

Mr Kerry's back-to-back meetings follow up on President Barack Obama's visits to Israel and the West Bank this week in which he called for fresh diplomatic efforts but offered no new peace proposals of his own.

Mr Obama promised that Kerry, Washington's new top diplomat, would dedicate time and energy to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, one in which the president failed to make progress during his first term. Mr Kerry accompanied Obama on his four-day Middle East trip.

A US State Department official said Mr Kerry would meet the Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, late last night after meeting Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan's capital "to continue the conversations they started with President Obama and the secretary earlier this week".

The meetings came days after the US quietly unblocked almost $500 million (Dh1.83bn) in aid to Mr Abbas's Palestinian Authority, which had been frozen by Congress for months, a top US official said.

"To date, we have moved $295.7 million in fiscal year 2012 money ... and $200 million in fiscal year 2013 assistance," the State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Friday.

The Obama administration also notified Congress in late February that it was seeking a further $200m to fund US Agency for International Development (USAid) programmes for the Palestinians, she said.

The first sum comprises some $195.7m, allocated under the 2012 fiscal year budget for USAid economic, development and humanitarian assistance, as well as a further $100m earmarked specifically for narcotics control.

The second sum of $200m unblocked and available to the Palestinian Authority will come under the 2013 budget and be spent for direct budget support.

The PA is facing its worst economic crisis in years, in part because of a failure by donors to deliver pledged funds. But its finances were plunged further into chaos after Mr Abbas won upgraded UN observer status at the UN General Assembly in late November.

Congress froze the US administration's requests for funds, and Israel, which also strongly opposed the move, said it was suspending monthly transfers of the tax and tariff revenue it collects on behalf of the PA after the decision.

It did, however, transfer $100m in a one-off payment in late January.

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse