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Secretary of State Rice's Remarks With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Speakers: Mahmoud Abbas, and Condoleezza Rice, Stanford University
Published June 15, 2008


Ramallah
June 15, 2008

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) In the name of Allah, the Most Masterful and Compassionate, we would like to welcome Dr. Rice, and we would like to extend gratitude to her as well as to President Bush for the continuing efforts as U.S. Administration to attain a comprehensive agreement between us and the Israelis before the end of this year. It is known that the issues we are still debating are Jerusalem, the refugees, the borders, the settlements, security and water. All of these issues, as we had said before, are on the negotiations table.

I told Dr. Condoleezza Rice that we are fully committed to the international legitimacy and to the UN resolutions, Roadmap plan, the Arab initiative, and all that constitute a basis for this solution with the establishment of a Palestinian state, side-by-side with the Israeli state, to live together in security and stability. I requested from Dr. Rice to assist us to make Israel fulfill its obligations vis-ŗ-vis colonization, because we consider settlement activity as the most important obstacle facing the political process. And the more there are dates and construction of settlements, the more this will constitute and impediment that will obstruct reaching any peace.

We also talked of the cooling and the efforts made by our friend country Egypt. And we hope that we will reach an agreement that will put an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip, and will lift the siege imposed upon these people so that they can have a dignified life. And we hope that through the negotiations that Egypt is undertaking, we hope they will conclude a speedy agreement, because it has been too long of a suffering and we hope that a solution will arrive soon.

We also, in following our phone calls with Dr. Rice on our initiative for national reconciliation, based on the Yemeni initiative, which has become an Arab decision affected by the Arab summit in Damascus, we explained our very clear and totally unambiguous imposition. And therefore, we are moving on this track. If we succeed, it is quite important that we regain national unity on the basis I have just described. And this certainly is (inaudible) to Hamas movement if it wishes that we reach a solution, which is comprehensive, entire, in order to regain the national unity between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

We also talked about the negotiations taking place between Syria and Israel with Turkish mediation. And we confirmed our position in which we reiterate that we are keen that both parties achieve a solution, because a solution between the Syrians and the Israelis is something that will comfort us. And the same applies to the Arab initiative when it talks of the Palestinian and Arab occupied lands.

We will pursue our negotiations with the Israeli party with American assistance, in order to reach a solution in 2008. We are quite hopeful to reach this solution if the conditions I have just described are there. And most importantly, settlement expansion is one of the most important conditions. There are other issues at stake in the West Bank, including the different crossing points and the checkpoints which impede the normal life in the West Bank, which obstruct any security advancement or economic growth in particular, especially that we are making a certain level of progress at these two levels. 

And here, I would like to reiterate what is happening in Naples, Jenin, and other cities. And I would like to mention the economic conference which was held a few weeks ago in Bethlehem, and which was an important indicator on the possibility of development of Palestinian security and economic living. 

In the end, I would like to extend gratitude to the United States for their support and continuing talk with all of the countries of the world for our economic support and other assistance. And this is the position which we highly commend, it is the position of the U.S. Administration, President George Bush, and Dr. Rice. Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you for hosting me here again. We have indeed had wide-ranging discussions about how to move forward on all aspects of the Annapolis process, the track that looks to Roadmap implementation. And I will have, tomorrow morning, a trilateral with Prime Minister Fayyad and Defense Minister Barak to review Roadmap obligation implementation and to try and press forward on those Roadmap obligations. 

We also talked about the need to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. And in particular, I want to congratulate you and the government of Prime Minister Fayyad for the work that you did to make the investment conference a success. We all look forward to the conference that the Germans will hold on June the 24th to sustain and support Palestinian security forces and issues concerning rule of law and justice.

We had also an extensive discussion of the negotiating – the situation in the negotiations on the establishment of the Palestinian state. I will meet shortly with your chief negotiator, Abu Allah and with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, to get an assessment of how they’re moving forward, and to do what the United States can to help the sides to move in a fruitful direction. Because we are all devoted to and believe that it is possible to establish the agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis for the establishment of a Palestinian state by the end of the year. We have a lot of work to do between now and then if we’re going to get it done. So I expect an intensification of our efforts.

I did speak with the President, as I spoke earlier this morning with Foreign Minister Livni, with Defense Minister Barak, and will with Prime Minister Olmert later, about the issue of settlement. As I said before, it’s important to have an atmosphere of confidence and trust. And unfortunately, I do believe, and the United States believes, that the actions and the announcements that are taking place are indeed having a negative effect on the atmosphere for negotiation. And that is not what we want. We should be in a position of encouraging confidence, not undermining it. No party should be taking steps at this point that could prejudice the outcome of a negotiation. 

And I want to make very clear that the United States will not consider these activities to affect any final status negotiations, including final borders. These are to be negotiated between the parties in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. And this is a point that I have made to my Israeli colleagues earlier, and Mr. President, I wanted to reiterate that with you.

All in all, I think we continue to work hard. The issues are difficult. The tasks are difficult. It is always a complicated time in the Middle East. If we waited for an uncomplicated time in the Middle East, we never have moved forward. And so we are determined to do the work before us because, as I have said many times and I feel very deeply, the Palestinian people have waited long enough for the state in which they can live in dignity and independence. And the Israelis have lived – have waited long enough for the peace and security that will come from having a democratic and peaceful state as their neighbor.

So, thank you very much and I look forward to continuing to work with you.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Dr. Rice, you declare – you spoke a lot of settlement expansion, but your declarations still did not halt settlement expansion. So what is the use of such declaration in the case of the absence of any pressuring mechanisms upon the Israeli Government to halt these settlement expansion activities?

Mr. President, what is new in the round done by Mrs. Rice? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: The Israeli Government is, of course, a sovereign government and it is making its own decisions. But it is the view of the United States that we cannot communicate more strongly that it is Israel that has a strong interest in a prevailing atmosphere of confidence with its partners here in the Palestinian territory. It is Israel that will also benefit from the establishment of a peaceful and democratic Palestinian state. And so it is in Israel’s interest to do everything that it can to promote an atmosphere of confidence. And that is the point that we will make and we will continue to make, and we will make very strongly, because we believe that obligations are to be carried out by both sides. Both sides undertook that they would, in fact, live up to those obligations. And we’ll continue to press the case (inaudible).

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via Interpreter.)The new thing in the talks with Dr. Rice is the seriousness of serious assistance by the U.S. Administration with the government, with all of its components, persist to reconciling viewpoints and achieving a solution and fulfilling all of the obligations pledged in Annapolis. And I think that these many different rounds and – conducted by Dr. Rice, and we received here President Bush and we went to see him and we met him in Washington or in Sharm el-Sheikh. 

All of this effort is an expression of the serious assistance brought to us and this is what we feel. And in the beginning, we are happy with this U.S. position, and we are quite grateful to the U.S. Administration for exerting all of these efforts.

QUESTION: President Abbas, Jonathan Ferziger from Bloomberg News. In Israel, so many people have given up on Prime Minister Olmert, including voters and key coalition partners and his most senior cabinet ministers. Why do you still (inaudible)? 

And Madame Secretary, how much trickier has it gotten to push both sides toward compromise when so many of the parties involved believe Prime Minister Olmert won’t even be in office by the end of 2008?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) We do not care what different parties say about Mr. Olmert, because these are Israeli internal affairs. We are not concerned with these affairs. All of what we are interested in is that the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert is still the elected prime minister by the Knesset and he’s the one who is still serving as prime minister, enjoying confidence by the Israeli Knesset, he is still in office as Prime Minister. And therefore, we will keep dealing with him regardless of any other Israeli issues surrounding him. This is his own matter, not ours.
 
SECRETARY RICE:
 Yes, it is an internal Israeli matter and we continue to work with the Israeli Government, with the Prime Minister, whom I will see tonight, of course, with the Foreign Minister, with whom I’m going to meet in a few minutes, with Abu Allah, with Mr. Abu Allah, and with the Defense Minister, with whom we have a relationship concerning conditions on the ground. 

And so the Israeli Government is the Israeli Government, and we’ll work with that government to push forward on a commitment that it took to deal with – or to push the Annapolis process forward.

QUESTION: But could you characterize that it’s gotten more difficult as you --

SECRETARY RICE: As I have said to you before, this is not easy, hasn’t been easy at any time. If it had been easy, I think we would have probably ended this conflict by now and had an agreement. For all of those who say the conditions are so difficult because of this, this, or this, I would just say, well, when the conditions were easier because of this, this, or this, we didn’t get an agreement. So apparently, this has to do, I think, with the parties’ insistence and the parties’ commitment to moving forward on this agreement, and I have seen nothing but strong commitment on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, to try to make this work.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, since Annapolis, the Palestinians have complained that there were more roadblocks, more settlements, basically that they’ve been suffering more. What can you tell the Palestinians to convince them that this peace process is credible?

Another question also relating to the settlement: The Arabs are seeking the help of the Security Council, UN Security Council on the settlement issue. Is the United States going to support a decision by the UN on the – on settlements?

SECRETARY RICE: My strong view on the last – the last question is that this is an issue that is dealt – best dealt with at this point in the way that we are dealing with it, bilaterally and with the U.S. and other states trying to help on the settlement issue. I don’t think this is an issue that is going to be – is going to benefit from UN Security Council intervention at this time.

As to the situation since Annapolis, I recognize that we have not made the progress that we would like to in terms of movement and access, removal of barriers. Particularly, I am concerned about the outpost, which are, after all, illegal under Israeli law. And so I would hope to see more movement on that. But I would not say that nothing has improved for the Palestinian people since that time. I think if you look at some of the activity in the West Bank, if you look not just at the Bethlehem conference, but if you look at Nabulus, if you look at Jenin, if you look at the efforts that the president and his prime minister are making, indeed there is improvement. 

And you do have a strong international support mechanism that is putting more and more resources into trying to make life better for the Palestinian state. I would note, for instance, that the United States made an unprecedented grant to the Palestinian Authority of $150 million directly to the Palestinian Authority, mostly for budget support. That’s unheard of. 

And so I would just suggest that it’s only a few months after Annapolis. We still believe that we can get an agreement and should be focused on that, but we have not, by any means, lost sight of improving the lives of the Palestinians. And I think in some respects, we are – this government, I should say, is having some success.

MR. MCCORMACK: Last question, Sylvie (inaudible).

QUESTION: Sylvie Lanteaume, AFP. Madame Secretary, did you get the sense from your talks with the Israeli this morning that they would be ready to make some more efforts on the settlements and on the roadblocks?

And Mr. President, one year after the Hamas takeover in Gaza, are you closer to get more control in the Gaza Strip?

SECRETARY RICE: Sylvie, I am continuing my discussions with the Israelis concerning the activities. The trilateral is tomorrow morning in terms of Roadmap obligations.  And I don’t expect, frankly, any blinding breakthroughs, but I do think that it’s extremely important that the Israelis understand the concern not just of the Palestinians, not just of the neighbor states, but I was just in Europe – of the Europeans about the activities that are going on, and the need to inspire an atmosphere of confidence and trust. And so that’s the message that we’re carrying.

I should say that, of course, there are obligations on the Palestinian side as well and we’re going to work through those in the trilateral that we will hold tomorrow morning as well.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) Regarding the issue of Gaza, there are a number of issues, the first being – that is, the Hamas coup d’ťtat took place. We have never relinquished the Palestinian people living there. We are still spending salaries to 77,000 civil servants and we are still paying 58 of our budget to enable the people of Gaza to continue living.

The second point is that we supported and we are still supporting the cooling down in order to mitigate the suffering and siege imposed upon the Palestinian people. The third point is that we submitted a courageous initiative and I think that it was welcomed by most of all the Palestinian people inside and outside. And therefore, it is up to Hamas now, the other party, to accept this initiative. And when they agree with it, we will be closer to regaining our Palestinian unity between the two parts of our nation.

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