Kerry to urge revived Israeli-Palestinian talks

The Secretary was the architect of a high-profile negotiations bid which collapsed in April and was followed by the Gaza war

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will call for a revival of the collapsed Israeli-Palestinian peace process on Sunday when he attends an international conference in Cairo on rebuilding Gaza, American officials said.

The top U.S. diplomat and 30 of his counterparts convene in the Egyptian capital alongside U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who is seeking a record $1.6 billion in aid to rebuild the battered Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian government last week unveiled a 76-page reconstruction plan for Gaza, calling for $4 billion to rebuild the war-battered territory, with the largest amount going to build housing for some 100,000 left homeless.

The Israeli military operation in Gaza killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, while attacks from Gaza killed 73 on the Israeli side.

Kerry will meet with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the conference, having last met at the U.N. General Assembly in September, State Department officials said.

“You will hear the secretary reaffirm the commitment of the United States to helping the parties achieve a negotiated two-state solution and our willingness to re-engage in the negotiations and help facilitate successful negotiations,” a State Department official said.

“More broadly we are interested in sort of breaking the cycle we have been in in the last six years of war and reconstruction there,” the official added.

Senior U.S. officials voiced doubts on Friday that the conference this weekend will meet the Palestinians' full request for $4 billion in aid pledges to rebuild the Strip.

It remains unclear how generous they will be, given the lack of progress toward resolving the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the risk that hostilities could erupt again, destroying whatever has been rebuilt.

“It's fair to say there are serious questions being raised by the donors," a State Department official told reporters, citing concerns that unless the cycle is broken they will be "back here doing the same thing again in a year or two."

He predicted the conference would yield "significant contributions" for reconstruction, with the Gulf states providing the bulk of it and Washington and the Europeans offering "meaningful and appropriate" amounts as well.

But the official said, "I don't know whether anybody thinks we're going to get to four billion (dollars), or whether we need those kind of pledges right now." Another State Department official added: "We're not there at this point."

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah has put the full cost of reconstruction at about $4 billion over three years in Gaza, where an estimated 18,000 homes were destroyed and infrastructure was badly battered during the seven-week war.

Though Israel will not take part in the Cairo meetings, one U.S. official said: "We're asking the Israelis to continue to do what they've been doing in terms of facilitating humanitarian assistance" to the Gaza Strip.

While Gaza remains hemmed in by an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, Israel agreed to take steps to ease some restrictions on the coastal strip under a ceasefire deal in late August.

Kerry plans to meet Abbas in Cairo and will seek to dissuade him from "very destabilizing" diplomatic moves, one U.S. official said. The Palestinians have threatened to seek membership in the international criminal court as a forum to accuse Israel of war crimes.

But U.S. officials made clear they were encouraged by efforts by Abbas's government, which rules in the occupied West Bank while Hamas holds sway in Gaza, to extend authority to the strip under a unity deal with the militant group, which Israel and the United States consider a terrorist organization.

However, reconstruction will be the focus of the conference, co-sponsored by Egypt and Norway in cooperation with the United Nations, European Union and Arab League. Washington announced $118 million in humanitarian assistance for Gaza in September, and Saudi Arabia has also pledged funds.

Kerry was the architect of a high-profile bid to re-start negotiations, which collapsed in April and were followed by the devastating 50-day war in Gaza, the third conflict in the enclave in six years.

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