Conference Comprehensive And Constructive – Straw
CONFERENCE ON PALESTINIAN REFORM: 'COMPREHENSIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE' (14/01/03)
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE GIVEN BY THE FOREIGN SECRETARY, JACK STRAW, DOWNING STREET, LONDON, 14 JANUARY 2003
This was comprehensive and constructive meeting. The technology functioned better than I had feared and it meant that we were able to have full conversation with Palestinian Authority representatives both in Ramallah and in Gaza where Nabil Shaf and the Minister of Justice were situated and they could not gain permission from the Israelis to travel to Ramallah.
Overall we first considered the security situation. We welcomed the commitment by the Palestinian representatives against all forms of terrorism and violence and also noted the discussions taking place in Cairo under the auspices of the Egyptian Government with certain groups involved and expressed our desire for there to be a full ceasefire.
We accepted that the security context naturally coloured all other situations inside the Occupied Territories, but we were also clear that notwithstanding the great difficulties that it was important for progress to be made on improving civil administration inside Gaza and the West Bank. We noted that very significant progress had indeed been made in respect of economic and financial reforms and that in turn was creating what could now be described, this is my description not the meeting’s, as a more virtuous circle than was there before.
And we then looked at other areas where progress has been slower in respect of administrative, judicial and constitutional reforms. But we were glad to note that the Palestinian representatives in Ramallah and in Gaza, and this was Nabil Shaf making this point, promised that there would be a further draft of the new Palestinian constitution which would be made available to participants in I believe the next two weeks.
We also were determined that this meeting should not be seen as a one off, but as part of a process which supported and complemented the work of the quartet and that the momentum which has been built up over some time in the quartet, but not least through today’s meeting, was continued. And it was therefore welcomed that there will be a meeting of the international task force on Palestinian reform of the quartet held here in London in the week beginning the 10th of February. And that will be an important occasion to take further stock of the progress which we have made today.
In the discussions on the constitutional reforms were you led to believe by the Palestinians that they will include not only an independent judiciary but also a Prime Minister and Cabinet system? And secondly the Prime Minister was looking originally for final status talks on the Middle East by the turn of the year. When are we going to get those talks?
Well so far as the detailed constitutional changes, we emphasised the need for there to be full independent judiciary established and this was essential above all for the proper operation of the security apparatus and the introduction of the rule of law, the comprehensive way inside the Occupied Territories. But also in terms of civil judicial climate in, in ensuring that there was confidence by the investment community in doing business in Gaza and the West Bank.
And yes on the second part of your first question, we did indeed accept the need for there to be proper a Cabinet and Prime Minister under a presidential system and that was a commitment made by the Palestinians which goes back as far as the 1988 declaration of statehood where they committed themselves to full legislative system.
The Prime Minister in his speech to the Labour Party Conference at the end of September spoke about his hopes that there could be final status talks by the end of last year. That hasn’t proved possible because of violence and particularly the intervention of the Israeli election. But this represents significant progress by the international community in what are difficult circumstances and I think that was the view of all the participants.
How do you plan to repair the damage to British Israeli relations caused by this meeting?
We have good relations with the people and Government of Israel. We regret the decision which they made in this particular case, but I hope that they are able to appreciate that this has been a constructive meeting and one which is as much in the interests of the people of Israel as it is Palestinians and the wider community.
You and your predecessors have had repeated assurances from the Palestinians about security that the Israelis would be safe to carry out their normal lives. What assurances did you receive today that would be guaranteeable?
We received a number of assurances, whether they amount to a guarantee depends on how they are implemented on the ground and those are set out or my understanding of those is set out in the more detailed statement which I’m publishing later on today.
But we’ve emphasised - and the Palestinians readily accepted this - that a peaceful state of Israel in which the citizens of Israel are able to go about their business, their daily lives, in peace and tranquillity is absolutely essential if there is to be a peace process, a viable peace process, leading to a separate independent state of Palestine.
What do you say to those who accuse you perhaps of grandstanding on this issue of the Middle East today where Britain frankly can make relatively little difference while on an issue such as Zimbabwe where you could make a big difference you appear to be impotent even to stop a cricket team going there?
This is a crucial issue. Peace in the Middle East and Britain has long played a very important part in the peace process, not least in supporting the quartet. It’s for others to make a judgement about the significance of today’s meeting.
It is but one meeting of a series, but I think you’ll find that most of the participants, or not to say all of the participants at today’s meetings, the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians as well as members of the quartet, Russian Federation, European Union, United States and the United Nations, all very experienced diplomats and politicians, had a positive view about the outcome today.
So far as Zimbabwe is concerned we live in a free and democratic society. So not all decisions are made by the Government all-be-it an elected Government. Decisions on whether people travel out of this country, whether it’s for sport or other purposes, are decisions for those individuals concerned.
But we have taken very active steps to seek to isolate the Zimbabwe regime and it’s as a result of actions which I took in February, March and April of last year that we got the sanctions inside the European Union and in the Commonwealth and then had the EU sanctions strengthened in April.
President Bush today talked about Saddam Hussein time was running out for him. He talked about being sick and tired of his games and deception. What’s your view on that?
Well indeed President Bush is right to put it in that way. Security Council resolution 1441 sets out a very clear path way to a peaceful resolution of the Iraqi crisis, but it requires the full and positive compliance by Saddam Hussein and this does not just mean that the traffic policemen allow the inspectors to go around Iraq. It means that there is positive compliance by the Iraqi Government, not least in explaining the whereabouts of all the materials for weapons of mass destruction which the previous inspectors identified in February 1999 and which these inspectors have so far yet fully to identify.