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Rice Remarks to the Press At Ben Gurion Airport

Remarks to the Press At Ben Gurion Airport

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Ben Gurion Airport
Tel Aviv, Israel
February 7, 2005


SECRETARY RICE: I would just like to make a brief statement and then we'll take a couple of questions. And then get we'll get back on the airplane.

This is the most promising moment for progress between Palestinians and Israelis in recent years. Over the past two days, I've had intensive and productive discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Based on those discussions and on our ongoing efforts with both parties, I depart the region confident of the success of the meeting tomorrow between President Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon. The United States is determined to do all that we can to take advantage of this moment of opportunity in the weeks and months ahead. As we have said on numerous previous occasions, ending violence and terror is essential to allowing the resumption of progress toward peace through the Road Map and the President's two-state vision.

We are very encouraged by the initial steps that the Palestinian leadership has taken on security, toward the restoration of law and order, and in establishing the basis for a cease-fire. We have also been assured by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority's intention to bring justice to those who murdered three American personnel in the Gaza in 2003. We are encouraged, too, by the Israeli reaction to the Palestinian steps on security. Working together, the parties have created a very positive atmosphere for tomorrow's important summit.

I want to commend President Mubarak for the active leadership role that the government of Egypt is playing, and I also want to express the United States' appreciation for the constructive efforts of the Jordanian government. There is much that remains to be done by both sides, and the United States will do everything that we can to help.

I am pleased to announce the naming of U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Ward, as senior U.S. security coordinator, to assist the Palestinian Authority to consolidate and expand their recent efforts on security and encourage resumption of Israeli-Palestinian security coordination including, if necessary, through the trilateral security committee. General Ward will also work with Egypt, Jordan and others to coordinate assistance to the PA as it rebuilds its security capacity to end violence and terror and restore law and order. General Ward will travel to the region to make an initial assessment in the next few weeks.

The United States is also significantly increasing our assistance program to help revive a sense of economic hope for the Palestinians. Last week President Bush declared our intent to provide $350 million in the coming year to support Palestinian reform. I am also announcing today, as I just said in Ramallah, that we will provide $40 million over the next 90 days in a quick action program to make an immediate positive impact on the lives of Palestinians, through, for example, job creation, private sector development, and infrastructure construction.

The international community will continue to play a key role in supporting Israeli and Palestinian efforts. We want to work with others, in particular, the Gulf Arab states who have made financial commitments to the Palestinians. We urge them to help all strengthen the Palestinian Authority at this crucial point. Other nations in the region and beyond, of course, have a wider responsibility to support peace and reconciliation, to turn away from incitement, and above all, never to support or give safe haven to terrorist groups. We look forward to the meeting on support for the Palestinian Authority that will be hosted by Prime Minister Blair in London on March 1 as another valuable opportunity for progress. We anticipate that it will be preceded by a meeting of the Quartet, possibly at principals' level. As the President has said, the goal of two democratic states -- Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security -- is within reach. America is determined to do its utmost to help achieve that goal, but much work lies ahead.

I conveyed invitations from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon and to President Abbas for meetings with him in the spring and each has accepted. King Abdullah of Jordan will also visit the United States in March. We will be continuing close consultations with our Egyptian colleagues in the coming weeks. All of these opportunities will allow us to look closely and intensively at how we can help both sides to meet their commitments and obligations to advance the cause of peace.

(cross-talk)

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you said repeatedly this is a time of great optimism. We have had other times of great optimism in dealing with this issue. What makes you think that this is different?

SECRETARY RICE: We have had other times of great optimism and it is in fact a lesson that times of great optimism can slip away unless all parties are prepared to really carry through on their responsibilities. I do think that some of the fundamentals that the President addressed when he made his speech in June 2002 are now coming into place: the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership that has been forthright in saying that this is a conflict that has to be resolved through negotiation and not by violence, and that has said that it wishes to have one authority, one law, and one gun. So that is one new factor.

Secondly, the decision of the Israelis to withdraw from the Gaza and from four settlements in the West Bank will, after all, constitute despite all the peace plans that have been out there, all the envoys who have been here, the first time that there has been a significant return of territory to the Palestinians since 1967. So, this is a time in which we expect that we have opportunities for peace. It does not guarantee that there will be the positive outcome for which we all hope. That is what the parties have to work toward. But there are some fundamental differences now than in the past.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, there have been in the past years many envoys, many security coordinators during this administration. Can you give us a sense of how empowered General Ward will be? Will he be able to point the finger of blame if that is needed; will he be able to break deadlocks; will he have a direct hotline to you and the President? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Certainly, General Ward will have a direct contact with me in Washington, and I am certain that the President will be most happy to talk with him whenever needed, too, because this is an important effort on behalf of security. We have always said that security is the foundation on which we need to move forward.

In terms of his activities, among them will be monitoring, and we are very clear that the parties need to live up to their obligations, that there are going to be specific things that the parties need to do, and we will not hesitate to say to the parties when those obligations are not being met. That is part of our role. But it is really in the context of helping the parties and supporting their efforts that General Ward's appointment needs to be understood. It is very important that the United States not somehow supplant the bilateral security discussions and cooperation that the Israelis and the Palestinians are involved in. They are doing a lot on their own now. They are going to do even more, I believe, in the future, and the United States does not have to be party to everything that goes on. In fact, it is a good thing when the parties can solve, resolve problems on their own.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, (inaudible) of Israel. The question about the part that General Ward will play, the role he will be playing: Is that restricted only to security or will he have other tasks in the political arena. This is one question. And the other one: what is your impression of the performance of the Palestinians -- not only the willingness but the ability to take control of the area, and really do, in the long run, what they took upon themselves to do?

SECRETARY RICE: General Ward's mandate is on security. We are looking at what else we need to do, for instance, on reconstruction and development, of course. On the political side, the Quartet will continue to meet and we do have ahead of us the Road Map, so there is plenty of attention to the political side, and we will continue to give that attention from Washington and, of course, with our people here in the field. But General Ward's mandate is on security, which after all, really has to get established and has to be moving forward in order for us to make progress.

In terms of what the Palestinians have already done, in a very short time we have seen things that we have not seen before: some efforts to unify the security forces; efforts to get people off the streets with weapons; the effort to deploy security forces into areas that were problematic from the point of view of the firing of kassam rockets. There is obviously more to do. The forces need to be really active in fighting terrorism, really active in fighting the infrastructure so that terrorist acts cannot continue. But, I think it is an encouraging start, and I am sure that the Prime Minister and President Abbas will have further discussions but, I really do think it is a very encouraging start.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madam Secretary, you have been specific about the job of the security coordinator, but if you don't mind I wonder if you could be a little bit more specific on whether the coordinator will monitor on the Israeli side as well the possible pull-out of forces from population centers, the lifting of checkpoints and roadblocks -- are those security matters, and even the settlements, outposts which, I believe, Ambassador Wolf monitored previously? And on the Palestinian side, what specifically will he be the monitoring? Will it be the effectiveness of the ceasefire? Will it be the consolidation of the forces? Will he report to you on how that is going?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Steve, I expect that what we will do is we will now sit down and look at what steps the parties intend to take, and where they need help in monitoring. For instance, obviously, there will be some connection between what the Palestinians are able to do with their security forces, and Israeli withdrawal from the cities that they are talking about withdrawing from. And just as John Wolf was helpful in that process back at the time of the Aqaba period, I think so General Ward will be helpful in making certain that the parties understand each other, if necessary making certain that we understand what the parties are doing to live up to their obligations so that those can be raised at their appropriate political levels. I don't really want to get beyond that at this point because the security program of the two parties is really just beginning to evolve. But there is no doubt that a function that is both helping Palestinians the to -- I think we shouldn't underestimate how important that element of it is.

The Palestinians will be the first to tell you they need help with training their security forces, equipping their security forces, unifying their security forces. The President was saying to me today that their security forces are of variable quality in different parts of the territories. Let's not underestimate the importance of doing that part, because ultimately it is the Palestinian security forces that can make the difference in the security environment. And so, that is an awfully big part of what he will need to do. But we also expect that he will play a monitoring role to help both sides in understanding what has happened and what more they need to do. I want to re-emphasize though I know I sound a bit like a broken record but, the parties are showing a capability to make progress on their own. This is a good thing. The United States does not feel that it is necessary to intervene simply for the sake of intervening. The bilateral security cooperation is more important than anything that we could do trilaterally because, of course, it builds confidence and trust among the parties, too. But if we need a trilateral mechanism, we will be prepared to use one.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, what is your opinion, or your government's opinion, about the possibility of a referendum in Israel over the disengagement, a possibility that has been raised in the past few days? And the other issue, it appears that the outpost issue, which has been discussed pretty much between your government and Israel and there was supposed to be also a monitoring team over settlements freeze this whole thing just disappeared from the screen. Do you accept the Israeli position that the outposts should be dealt with only after the withdrawal from Gaza?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I don't know of any Israeli position that the outposts would be dealt with after the withdrawal from Gaza. That's not our understanding. Our understanding is that the commitments on the dismantlement of outposts stands, that it is important that those commitments be honored, and in fact I've said that today. We've also made it clear that we believe that the expansion of settlements, according so that it looks as if there's somehow continued effort to create facts on the ground, that we do not support that.

We're continuing to work with the Israelis on these issues, but we do have a new opportunity to do something really quite dramatic, thanks to the Israeli decision to withdraw from the Gaza and from the West Bank. I just can't emphasize enough how historic a decision that is, how fundamental a decision that is -- that with all the going back and forth that we've done over the last thirty plus years, the return of territory is a major step forward. And we shouldn't lose sight of that in looking at all of the other issues, as important as they are, that we still have on the table.

As to the referendum, this is a democratic country; it will have to make its own decision about that. Our hope is that whatever happens that there will be no delay in the disengagement plan and the withdrawal from the Gaza because the United States has made very clear that we believe very strongly that this is a very positive step, and that any discussion that the United States has had, assurances that we have given and talked about are in the context of that withdrawal.

Thank you very much.

Released on February 7, 2005


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