Palestinian Business and Investment Forum
Remarks at the Palestinian Business and Investment Forum
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
October 14, 2008
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. I’d like to thank Walter for that very kind introduction. I also really want to pay tribute to Jim Jones and the hard work that he has done as Special Envoy for Middle East Peace and Security. In fact, Jim has been tireless in working to help the two of the legs come together in a more integrated way. It is absolutely true that security is clearly very important for the Palestinian people, for the neighborhood that both Israelis and Palestinians can feel secure. But that is not going to happen also without a sense of economic development and the work that Jim has done with the Palestinian businesses, the work that he has done with the city government, and most importantly, the work that he’s done with our great partner, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, is really very much to be – very much appreciated. So thank you, Jim, for the hard work you’ve done. (Applause.) And I would be remiss without thanking the Chamber for allowing Jim to do that work, because he is, after all, here at the Chamber, but the Chamber has been very generous in allowing Jim to take on this work.
I want to thank also Steve Bederman and Jean Case and Ziad Asali and the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership for all of the hard work in organizing this event and the hard work that the Partnership has been doing. When I asked Walter to come in, and I said I thought that we needed to step it up, the work that the entrepreneurial class, the business class in the United States could do with the entrepreneurial and business classes in the Palestinian territories, Walter was right there. And he has put together, in this Partnership and through the work of the co-chairs, a really fine effort And so thank you very much to all the members and especially the steering co-chairs of the Partnership.
I’m, of course, especially pleased to share the stage with my friend and colleague, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as leading representatives of the Palestinian and U.S. businesses. I can’t tell you how much difference – what a difference Salam Fayyad has made to his people, to his region, to the world. Prime Minister Fayyad has instituted reforms that I think people had clamored for for years, but really never thought possible. He is making a difference in the lives, first and foremost, of the Palestinian people. His leadership is truly extraordinary.
I’ve heard him say many, many times, and I think it is absolutely true, that the occupation must end. But Palestinians can do a lot to build the foundation for their state in the meantime. And he is building the foundation for that state. And because he is building the foundation for that state, people can see, on the horizon, a day when indeed Palestinians will govern themselves, and not just govern themselves, but govern themselves wise and wisely. And Prime Minister Fayyad, you are to be congratulated for that. (Applause).
As I had mentioned, we have with us today many Palestinian entrepreneurs and representatives of the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce in Ramallah. As representatives of the Palestinian private sector, you are the real catalysts for Palestinian economic growth. The employment and economic opportunities that you offer will make a tangible difference in the lives of Palestinians and in their ongoing battle to end extremism among them. Your presence here today speaks to your faith in the future of peace between Israel and Palestinians and the willingness to invest in it. We promise to match your faith in that future and to do what we can to support your efforts to turn the wish and the hope into reality.
To the members of the U.S. business community who are participating today, I have no illusions about the challenges of doing business in the West Bank. But the Palestinian businessmen among you are your best resources to face and overcome those challenges as well as to share insight on future opportunities that exist. Both today’s forum and the Palestinian Investment Conference held last May in Bethlehem demonstrate that there is a commitment to private sector development.
I want to tell you a story about that conference in Bethlehem because, of course, as Walter said, it was thought to be about 500 people; it ended up being three times that much. It shows something to the organizational skill of Prime Minister Fayyad’s government that he was able to pull it off anyway with a thousand sudden guests, and to pull it off in a way that gave new hope to this very special city of Bethlehem.
I had visited Bethlehem not too long before that and I had seen the difficulties of the hotel that was empty, of really not very much economic life. But of course, even before that, there had been another Bethlehem. The Bethlehem just a few years ago, in which tanks had been in the streets and in which literally, a hole had been blown in the Church of the Nativity by mortar fire – now, to see, as I was told, a thousand people in Nativity Square in the open air having dinner just several years after that terrible scene of a hole in the Church of the Nativity speaks to what is possible when people give voice and give reality to hope. And that is what we are engaged in: giving voice and giving reality to hope.
Prime Minister Fayyad has worked hard to create an environment in which the private sector can be an engine for economic growth. He has erased millions in private debt and public salary arrears. He has instituted reform measures to improve the efficiency of government. And he continues to work to improve the business climate in the West Bank. As a result of those efforts, the Palestinian Authority is positioned to shift its resources to invest in the infrastructure necessary to support the continued expansion of the private sector and to grow the Palestinian economy of the future.
And it is more than that, ladies and gentlemen. I can tell you that when I go to international conferences now, the question on everyone’s lips is how can we help the Palestinian Authority to do what it is going to do. No one questions anymore its will, its honesty, and its capability to do so. That too is a major change from just a few years ago. In recognition of that, the United States has been committed to supporting the Palestinian Authority and to ensure that these reforms can continue. The United States has provided almost $600 million in total assistance to the Palestinians during 2008, surpassing our pledge at the 2007 Paris donors conference.
As a sign of this ongoing commitment, I announced at last month’s ad hoc liaison committee in New York that the United States has appropriated $150 million in budget support for the Palestinian Authority in fiscal year 2009. I have urged other members of the international community, particularly those in the region, to be as generous as the American people are being in supporting the Palestinians.
It is a sign, of course, of the support, but also the confidence that the United States Government has in the Palestinian people and in their government that much of that money has been in direct budget support, a new threshold for the United States. And I want to thank not just the members – not just the Administration for that and the support that I have gotten from my colleagues, but most especially from President Bush in doing so. But I want to thank the bipartisan consensus in Congress that has made this possible.
As we look to the future, it is important to recognize that this steady on-the-ground progress that is being made by Palestinians is only going to ultimately succeed if we can also create an economically viable Palestinian society, but eventually a Palestinian state. Since the Annapolis Conference in November 2007, the Israelis and the Palestinians have engaged in sustained, substantive negotiations to resolve the permanent status issues and implement a two state solution.
A year ago, this was not the case. And now there is a robust Palestinian-Israeli negotiating track that I am certain will give birth to the Palestinian state. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict would not have endured for 60 years if the obstacles to peace were not difficult ones. The solutions are, of course, not easy. But the framework for negotiating a final resolution of the conflict is before us: Determined, professional negotiations between the parties supported by consistent and constructive international engagement is taking place. And the United States is committed to supporting the Annapolis process and leading the international community’s efforts to create the environment for sustained success. The parties also need to redouble their efforts.
The Palestinian Authority has to continue to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and to promote an atmosphere of tolerance. Again, I have heard Salam Fayyad say that the first infrastructure of terrorism that must be dismantled is in the people’s minds, that the people must be willing to say that terrorism and extremism are simply not and will not be the future of the Palestinian people. And Prime Minster, you are a long way toward doing that.
Israel must also halt settlement activity, which can be seen as prejudging the outcome of negotiations and undermining its negotiating partner. And while there have been some lowered restrictions to access and movement, more progress needs to be made in order for Palestinian business people and workers to be able to conduct business in an environment in which they can thrive.
We are far done from our quest for peace and economic security in the West Bank and in Gaza. As you know, there are many challenges, yet it is evident by this great turnout that the private sector has a vital role in overcoming these challenges. Through investments in the Palestinian people, you are going to make sure that they see tangible improvements in their daily lives, and begin to really believe that there is a path to peace.
I want you to know that as the time draws nigh for the end of the year and, shortly after that – as a matter of fact, on January 20th at 12:01 – (laughter) -- the of this Administration, I still believe that we must make every effort in the time that we have to lay this foundation for peace. And that still means that we must do everything that we can with the negotiating partners to get to the Annapolis solution. And that would be to find an agreement between these parties by the end of the year. It is very difficult. There is a hard road ahead. But if we do not try, we most certainly will not succeed.
And so I want to assure you, in closing, of one thing: As you think about your investment, as you think about the risk that you will take in an undoubtedly difficult situation to give the Palestinian people a chance of hope. Know, too, that until that moment when I leave office, I will leave no stone unturned to see if we can finally resolve this conflict between peoples. It will mean more than the two-state solution which, frankly, sounds a bit antiseptic. It will mean that Palestinians can finally live in dignity in their own state. It will mean that Israelis can finally live in security with a partner that is democratic and that accepts Israel as a neighbor and as a partner. It will mean that the region can finally overcome the many, many differences and the many, many conflicts that it has, to live as a region that should be building on the potential of its people, not going down to their worst fears. And it will mean that the international community could finally put behind it this seminal conflict and turn to a world that is certainly more hopeful, more peaceful, more democratic, and more secure. Thank you very much. (Applause.)