Powell with Palestinian PM Abbas - Press Conf.
Joint Press Conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas
Secretary Colin L. Powell Jericho Intercontinental Hotel Jericho June 20, 2003
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): Mr. Secretary, allow me to welcome you again to Jericho. Your presence here, for the second time in a month, is a clear indication of the seriousness of the American administration at the highest levels to deal with our region. Relations between the United States and Palestine have started to take their natural state, and we hope that they continue to improve and strengthen, based on our shared vision of peace, democracy and freedom. Since our last meeting here, many developments have taken place, some of which are positive, while others are tragic.
For our part, we have started implementing the roadmap with the Aqaba statement, and we are now ready to start taking tangible steps, through which Palestinian and Israeli citizens will feel their positive impact. In this context, Mr. John Wolf plays a very important role, which will become more important as progress is achieved in the peace process. Additionally, your upcoming meeting with the Quartet committee will revive the international role in solving our conflict.
Also, we have embarked on a national Palestinian dialogue that stems from our commitment to democracy as a means for our existence in Palestine. This aims to fulfill our commitments before the Palestinian Legislative Council and leads to a comprehensive calm. Our dialogue with the various factions has been characterized by our seriousness and responsibility, and we hope that we will reach a conclusion in the near future.
However, several tragic incidents have also taken place. Since the Aqaba summit, 47 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed. Closures have also been tightened so much so that the movement of Palestinian civilians has become harder than at any other time. Homes are still being demolished, and citizens are still becoming victims of assassination and arrest. Meanwhile, settlements are being expanded. At a time when the borders between countries are becoming less visible, Israel is wasting no time in building a separation wall between the Palestinians and their land. In brief, the atmosphere of political progress that was achieved has not been translated into tangible actions through which the Palestinian citizen can feel the usefulness of the roadmap and the peace process.
Mr. Secretary, we are still committed to the roadmap, which we view as one complete process that will lead us to achieve our national goals of ending occupation that started in 1967, building our Palestinian state with Holy Jerusalem as its capital, and reaching a just and agreed-upon solution to the refugee issue, based on international legitimacy. The strategic Palestinian decision to achieve its goals through negotiations has not been changed. We will exert all of our efforts and fulfill all of our commitment because we believe that doing so is in our best national interests.
But in order for our efforts to succeed, Israel has to transform itself from being an opponent to being a partner. We are on the verge of an historic era to resolve our conflict once and for all, and, therefore, our approach must change. The logic of confrontation has to be replaced by the logic of peace. The Israeli actions stem out from its hesitance to adopt the new road toward progress. We have demanded that Israel withdraw from all of the Gaza strip and from the city of Bethlehem as an initial step to enable us to fulfill our commitments. We hope that Israel refrains from hindering this step by focusing on certain details. And to demonstrate its seriousness, Israel must release the Palestinian prisoners, lift restrictions on the movements of citizens, stop its provocative actions, stop the building of settlements and the separation wall, and lift its siege against President Arafat.
We realize that embarking on any new stage will definitely be surrounded by difficulties and concerns. But we also know that hesitant, shy steps will not yield in any outcome. We have made our decision and declared it before the whole world, our legislative council and our people through our national dialogue. When Israel decides to do the same, it will find partners in us.
Mr. Secretary, the roles of the American administration and international community are of vital importance. As we start implementing the roadmap, we and the Israelis will definitely look for your much needed assistance. We trust that you, the Quartet committee, and the international community will not spare any effort to help facilitate our work. Also, your presence in larger numbers and a more significant involvement in investigation and observation will help in resolving conflicts and will expedite the realization of favorable results.
Sir, the task before us is hard, but the goal is noble. We are committed because we are convinced that the peoples of this region do not only look forward to a better future, but also to a better present. We know that you too are committed. I have no doubt in President Bush s seriousness. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, I hope that its temporary concerns will not hinder its commitment to this overall goal.
We thank you again for your efforts, and we look forward to meeting with you again soon.
SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, and I am pleased to be back in Jericho again. [It s been] five weeks since my last visit, and to have the chance to have a good discussion with you and your ministers. It was a very good discussion following up on the Sharm and Aqaba Summits, which were just a little over two weeks ago. For his part, the Prime Minster, as he just noted, reaffirmed his commitments made at the summit, and I assured him of President Bush s strong engagement in the process, and of the President s personal commitment to help the Palestinian people build a better and brighter future. We all have work to do and the best way forward for both the Palestinian people and the Israeli people is decisive action toward realization of the President s vision, all of our visions, for two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and in security.
I am pleased that Ambassador John Wolf is here; he spent the entire meeting with the Prime Minister and I, and he is here as the President s envoy to help the two sides take the practical steps necessary to move forward with the roadmap. And, he and his team will be monitoring and promoting the performance of both sides. None of this is easy. Both the Palestinians and Israelis need to make some very difficult decisions and to take some hard steps.
Now is a moment of opportunity and we all must seize it. I know that the Prime Minster wants the best for his people, as does the United States. As the Prime Minster has said, violence and terror is not the way to build a state. I am encouraged that the Prime Minster has authorized his ministers to reengage in direct talks with the Israelis on security and other issues, and in our conversation today, most of the time was spent not on esoteric subjects, but on practical aspects of security: How to arrange for the transfer of responsibility for Gaza, the details of the transfer, what are the outstanding issues that have to be dealt with before we can go forward with this transfer? Ambassador Wolf will be following up our discussions with both sides.
In my talks with Prime Minster Sharon and his government today, I made clear that Israel too has obligations. Israel must follow-up on initial steps to build confidence and to ease the daily plight of the Palestinian people. Earlier today, Prime Minster Sharon and I discussed all of the issues that are of so much concern to the Palestinian people, including prisoners, removal of unauthorized outposts, and concrete steps to improve the daily life of the Palestinians. He understands that he has a responsibility to see that progress is made on these issues, as well as on security. And, I think as we move forward and down the path laid out by the roadmap, and as both sides take that strong action that I mentioned earlier, we can see additional progress in these areas of improving life and conditions of life for the Palestinian people and allowing the people of Israel to feel a sense of security.
We have to move urgently, we have to move with great speed and deliberateness. It has been only two weeks since the Aqaba Summit, but we don t want time to pass without action taking place, and so I have encouraged both sides today to do everything they can to take the steps called for in the roadmap. What we are trying to achieve together is the President s goal: a viable, independent, sovereign and democratic Palestine living in peace and security alongside an Israel that has been fully integrated into the region. All around us are extremists who want to block our path. We saw another terrorist attack today, which we condemn, and our condolences go out to the families of the victims. We must not allow terrorists to win. The President has committed the United States to helping us move forward, and I am pleased that Prime Minister Abbas is committed to working with us, all of us working together in the cause of peace. Thank you Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): Thank you.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State Colin Powell, what are the American guarantees for implementing the roadmap? And on another issue, why do you concentrate on the security of Israeli citizens while ignoring the security of Palestinian citizens?
SECRETARY POWELL: The President has expressed his total commitment and the commitment of his government to help with implementation of the roadmap. That is why Ambassador Wolf is here. That is why a team is being created under Ambassador Wolf to monitor. And through our monitoring activities, through our brokering activities, serving as friends of both sides, we in fact provide something of a guarantee to what is happening, and both sides can have some assurance of performance as a result of Ambassador Wolf s efforts, the efforts of the other members of the American diplomatic team in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem.
I mourn for all who have lost their lives during this terrible period. I am as concerned about the mourning family of a Palestinian as the mourning family of an Israeli. They are all human beings, all God s children. And America is trying to do everything it can to solve this crisis so that there will be no more mourning. And the only way to do that is to get the terror, and the violence, under control so that response is not in any way justified or called for, and to find a way to move through this peacefully.
And one of the first steps in the roadmap process is to find a way to transfer responsibility in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority so that people can see the Palestinian Authority under the new leadership of Prime Minister Abbas take responsibility for the welfare of its own people. And demonstrate to the region that they are capable of putting in place the security and dealing with terrorist acts. And with that kind of step, then I think Israel is prepared to take additional steps in the roadmap and the United States is in a position to help both sides move forward.
QUESTION (Arshad Mohammad, Reuters): Prime Minister Abbas, how much if any, progress do you feel you have made in seeking to negotiate a ceasefire with Hamas and other militant groups. And Secretary Powell, given your conversations today, what is your assessment of how near or far such ceasefire agreements may be?
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): You know that we started a long time ago an internal national dialogue between us and the Palestinian organizations. Our Egyptian friends have participated in these efforts that we have exerted over the last eight months. These efforts have continued throughout this period, both in Cairo and in Gaza. In the last few days, we have held talks in Gaza. We can say that all of the Palestinian factions realize their high responsibility toward our national issues. They realize the need for reaching a solution that will relieve our people and help achieve their ambitions and hopes of establishing a Palestinian state and resolving other problems concerning: the current status of the prisoners, the daily lives of people, ceasing settlement activities and the separation wall erected on Palestinian land to divide us and the Israelis. The people are concerned with all of these issues and would like to see a peaceful settlement for all of them. I feel the desire of the people s need for peaceful solutions of these issues and therefore, I am highly confident that we will reach an agreement with all these factions.
SECRETARY POWELL: Not being party to these discussions, I wouldn t speculate on whether or not they will be successful, and if successful, how long will it take to achieve that success? Our focus is on the roadmap process and the particular focus today is moving as rapidly as we can to dealing with the situation in Gaza and Bethlehem, I might add, and I think that would be a very, very powerful and important first step, if we can do that. First step from where we are now. And I think that if we can do that, and the people in Gaza can see life return to the strip and their own authority in charge, then I think it would give them confidence that organizations such as Hamas and other terrorist organizations perhaps do not have the right answer and that the right answer is the roadmap and moving forward toward peace. We should not in any way hold that activity hostage to what might or might not be happening in the ceasefire, as they are called, discussions.
And even if those discussions prove fruitful, we really have to get to a point, as the Prime Minister has said on more than one occasion, we re the only ones with guns and military force and any nation has to be the government under legal control and not an illegal capability, whether it s being used or not, being allowed to exist.
QUESTION (from Arabic): Mr. Prime Minister Abbas, have guarantees been provided to you concerning the issue of stopping assassinations against Palestinian activists?
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): We know that in order to calm the situation on the Palestinian side, it is of extreme importance that the Israeli side stop all assassinations, raids, demolitions of homes and other provocative actions that, if they persist, will resurrect the cycle of violence. Therefore, when we ask our people to work towards achieving calm, and when we say that our people are ready for calm, the Israeli side has to show that it, too, is ready to stop all of these actions. And without an Israeli desire, willingness and seriousness in achieving this, I don t think the situation will stabilize in the future.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, as you hold your discussions with Hamas, what are the outstanding issues regarding security in Gaza, and are you discussing some sort of transformation of Hamas into a political organization that might be one day part of a broader Palestinian government?
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): We have said that calm in Gaza must include all aspects of life. There should be no actions except those leading to a full calm and peace. We have also said in regards to our commitment in front of the legislative council and elsewhere that there must be one Palestinian Authority and one law along with political diversity based on clear democratic foundations. This is what we have told Hamas and other factions and all our people. I believe that our people are looking forward to the fulfillment of these ambitions.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Secretary, if you reach a ceasefire with Hamas, Mr. Prime Minister, we understand from Palestinian sources that you would then perhaps offer them some role, some part in your government, and your administration. Is this correct, and if so, Mr. Secretary, how do you feel about that?
PRIME MINISTER ABBAS (from Arabic): We have told all the Palestinian factions that they can practice their political freedom in accordance with their political ideologies, but in a democratic fashion. And when we will have Palestinian elections, which should be very soon, God willing, after Israel withdraws from all of the areas occupied on September 28, 2000, then there will be an effective Palestinian participation from all parties, organizations and factions. Then, every person will have the right to participate, or not to participate, in the government as long as the opposition will be based on democratic means.
SECRETARY POWELL: The Prime Minister answered it in a way that did not leave a dangling hook. But the bottom line is that we would expect that, as the Prime Minister said, anybody participating in public life, in the state of Palestine, the government of, the people of Palestine, would be individuals and organizations that are firmly committed to democracy, to the rule of law, and not to terrorism, and not to having armed components that are committed to terrorism or are a threat to the nation. And that essentially is what the Prime Minister said, and I agree with it. But right now, Hamas is committed to terror and celebrates the terrorist attacks we are seeing. And it is no longer possible to separate one part of Hamas out from another part of Hamas. That is why I believe the entire international community must speak out strongly against the activities of Hamas. It is hypothetical to speculate about what some future organization might look like. The organization that we are dealing with today, right now, has not demonstrated, in my judgment, that it is a partner for peace.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you have spoken of the Israeli commitment to dismantling the settlement outposts, but the roadmap also calls for freezing settlement activity. What understanding has the Administration reached with the Israelis on that provision of the roadmap, specifically has an understanding been reached that Israel would allow, would not allow for construction beyond existing building areas or marked fence lines and that no more land would be confiscated for construction? In other words, that settlements may grow higher, but not wider?
SECRETARY POWELL: Certainly, the unauthorized outposts have been dealt with, and they are starting to take them down. Of course, there are some legal challenges to some of the remaining outposts which will have to be dealt with. The President has said clearly that he wants settlement activity ended, and that includes the creation of new settlements. And there is an ongoing debate as to what the constraints are within existing settlements. We are continuing to have discussions with the Israelis as to what that means and whether it is acceptable or whether it constitutes the right move down the roadmap toward peace or not. But I don t have specific details that I am prepared to share at this time. [End]
Released on June 21, 2003