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Mr Jack Straw And President Yasser Arafat - 13/2

EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, MR JACK STRAW AND PRESIDENT YASSER ARAFAT, RAMALLAH, WEDNESDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2002

PRESIDENT ARAFAT:
Mr Secretary, I would like to welcome you here and I have to thank you for this visit and this effort and please convey to His Excellency the Prime Minister our thanks from our hearts for all his efforts to push forward the peace process and to protect it, Now especially, we are in need of your help as Britain and as Europe and through the Committee of the Four, the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the United Nations, are carrying on your efforts together, to protect the peace of the brave, which I have signed with my partner, Rabin.

This is not only for us as Palestinians, it is for the Palestinians, for the Israelis, for all the Middle East countries and for peace all over the world. This is the terra santa, the land of peace, the Holy Land.

And I have to repeat again, I have to thank you for what we have discussed in detail together and I have to repeat again, in front of the whole of the mass media, that we are committed to the peace of the brave, which we have signed with our partner Rabin and to hope that we can continue this strategic line of our people and our leadership, to follow up with the peace in the whole, so that we can have stability, peace and security here and in the whole area. For this we are in need of your efforts and the whole international push. Thank you.

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
Thank you very much Your Excellency, Mr President. As I told you, I brought the greetings of my Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and I would like to express my appreciation for the lengthy meeting that we have had, the very frank conversation, and for your hospitality this evening.

We agreed, as you have heard, that the situation here is very serious. We talked about our joint commitment and the commitment these days of the international community for a state of Israel living in peace, with security, with stable borders and accepted by its neighbours and for a viable state of Palestine living too within secure borders and accepted by all its neighbours.

I expressed my great concern about the suffering of all the peoples of the region, the suffering of the Palestinian people and the suffering too that happens in Israel as well.

We talked of the urgent need to stop the violence and get back to the negotiating table and this is not going to be easy but we all recognise that this is essential, that there is no future in violence, that the only way out of this conflict is by negotiation and by peace, but in order to achieve that there has to be an end to the violence.

And Your Excellency, you are right to raise those joint words of the peace of the brave. This is a time when brave actions, as well as brave words are needed, as I know you recognise, and we talked therefore of the further steps, that we believe, should be taken, within the area of the occupied territories to deal with the extremists, who in turn undermine our shared vision of a peaceful future for all the peoples of this land.

And I told President Arafat that we in the United Kingdom, with our partners in the European Union and our friends in the United States, stood ready to act to help to get the parties back on the road to peace, to achieve that peace of the brave.

QUESTION:
Mr Straw, what do you think about the current situation in the occupied territories?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
The overall situation in the occupied territories, and for the people of Israel, is unacceptable. We have to get away from the tragic cycle of violence and my purpose here today was to look to the future and to offer our views about the way we can go forward.

PRESIDENT ARAFAT:
It is not the first time I am facing these troubles, but the important thing is what our people are facing; military escalation every day, destroying all our infrastructures, bulldozing and destroying the houses of our people, the siege of all towns and cities and villages everywhere, the reoccupation of many of our liberated Palestinian lands in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

We are looking for this quick and strong move from the Committee of the Four, which I have mentioned, the Americans, the Europeans, the Russians, the United Nations and also from our brothers, the Arab countries, to move quickly to stop this tragedy, which we are facing and to return back to the peace negotiations to implement an understanding so that all sides can continue the final negotiations and implement our independent Palestinian state and its capital, East Jerusalem.

QUESTION:
Foreign Secretary, why do you believe the onus is currently on the Palestinians and Yasser Arafat to break the current deadlock?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
The Tenet and Mitchell plans are there and set out a clear pathway back to a peaceful resolution of this longstanding conflict. It is our judgment that first of all the Palestinian Authority has taken certain actions, and we applaud them for that, to produce a greater degree of security and there was quite a period after 16 December when there was a very peaceful situation here.

But it is still our judgment and it is our duty to offer that judgment in a spirit of friendship, as I have done this evening, but there are further steps which ought to be taken inside the occupied territories and elsewhere by the Palestinian Authority to do what everybody accepts is in their interests, as well as the interests of getting this peace process moving, and that is to deal even more effectively with the extremists, who have a number of connected Aims. One of those aims of course is to undermine the legitimation of the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION:
Mr Foreign Secretary, why don't you condemn the actions of the Israelis, such as the assassinations, the killings, the demolition of houses, as according to international law, in the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians have the right for resistance which is guaranteed by the international coalition? For President Arafat, in the current situation, can you really crack down on the extremists?

FOREIGN SECRETARY:
We grieve for the suffering and death of all innocent people, regardless of whether they are living in the occupied territories or living in the State of Israel or elsewhere, and regardless of their religion.

However, the fact of suicide bombings is a new dimension to the terror, which the people of Israel have had to deal with and that in turn undermines the possibilities of a political process. That is just a reality and it is my duty as a good friend of the people of the occupied territories, and someone who personally is strongly committed to a secure state of Israel alongside a viable state of Palestine, to offer my views about what are the next steps to get this process back on track.

Of course there are many other things, which have to happen and there are many things on both sides, which are unacceptable in this cycle of violence that have to end, and I understand the difficulties that are associated with this.

PRESIDENT ARAFAT:
We are committed to what has been declared on 16 December in my speech for peace, not only for the leadership, but the Palestinian people and this is what we had voted for, if you remember.

But at the same time, and in spite of what we are facing, the troubles, assassinations, destruction, helicopters and the F15s, we are committed to the peace of the brave, which I have signed with my partner Rabin, who gave his life for this peace of the brave.

QUESTION:
Mr Arafat, can you give us a commitment that you are going to make a 100% effort to control extremists and could you tell us what specific steps you are going to take to make your control of extremists much more effective?

PRESIDENT ARAFAT:
First of all, this has been mentioned by the high Israeli politicians, even in the Cabinet and by high Israeli officers, that after my initiatives on 16 December we had 24 days when they were asking only for 7 days.

This is more than had been mentioned in the Mitchell report or in any of the other negotiations. We accepted it and we gave 24 days and in spite of that they continued their assassinations and their bombings of our cities, towns, prisons and establishments, even schools and houses, and our Christian, holy, sacred places and Muslim, holy, sacred places.

ENDS

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