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Sec. Albright statement and Q&A on Middle East

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release November 22, 2000


State Department Press Briefing Room November 22, 2000 Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I wanted to come down here today because the President and I are concerned about the situation in the Middle East, and I would like to make the following statement.

Today has been a tragic day of violence in the Middle East. A terrorist bombing in Israel has claimed Israeli lives and wounded many more. We condemn this act of terror and call on the Palestinian Authority to do everything it can to prevent such acts and resume security cooperation.

Israelis were not the only victims today, though. This morning in Gaza a number of Palestinians were killed by the IDF in circumstances that remain unclear. There is a cycle of violence that must be broken.

Over a month ago at the Sharm el Sheikh summit hosted by Egypt's President Mubarak Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat met with President Clinton to try to end the ongoing confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians. Each side undertook commitments to end the violence; create a fact-finding committee, which has now been created; and engage in consultations with the US to find a way forward.

But unless the commitments necessary to end the violence are carried out in a way that is sustainable and mutually reinforcing, it will be difficult for the parties to change the reality on the ground, end the psychology of confrontation and grievance, and create an environment for peacemaking.

For the Palestinian Authority, this means ending shootings against Israelis, creating buffers between demonstrators and the IDF, ending incitement to violence, and arresting those responsible for terrorism regardless of to which organization they belong.

For the Israelis, this means withdrawing their forces to positions prior to the onset of the crisis, ending the economic restrictions against Palestinians, and restraining their use of force.

Breaking the cycle of confrontation of the past six weeks requires each side to act in parallel and in good faith, rather than as the singularly aggrieved party waiting for the other to respond. To allow this cycle to continue risks the continuation of a conflict which has claimed far too many lives and which has produced far too much suffering and grief for both sides. It is a terrible tragedy to see so many people suffering and dying every day, especially when so many of them are young people.

Both Israelis and Palestinians need to accept the reality that there is no place for violence, incitement, and economic pressure in a genuine search for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Whatever their differences on permanent status issues, the only place for the parties to resolve them is around a negotiating table, not through unilateral actions designed to pressure, to intimidate, and create facts on the ground. There is no unilateral answer to this conflict, and there is no way to reconcile violence with negotiations.

Clearly, both Israelis and Palestinians feel they are the aggrieved party, and each feels that the other has failed to live up to its commitments. But now is not the time for trading accusations. Now is the time for both to make good on their commitments to take the practical steps agreed to, and to work to repair the damage to a negotiating process and a partnership that still holds great potential and promise.

Fulfilling commitments and creating a structure of accountability is essential. In this regard, we will be talking to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat about creating a mechanism which will allow Israelis and Palestinians to carry out these commitments. The United States, for our part, will continue to help Israelis and Palestinians, as they help themselves, to turn the current situation around and to move forward toward an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you tell us a little more about that mechanism? Is it sort of an arbitration board, or some sort of a grievance arrangement? And could you tell us a little bit about -- you had lunch with Mr. Mitchell -- is that commission ready to move into action? There has been some uncertain stance taken by the Israelis -- seem to be saying it's inappropriate to move ahead while there is still fighting, the Foreign Minister says he didn't mean to -- he disagrees. It's very confusing.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, on the mechanism -- this is what we are going to be talking to both sides about, and decide how best to follow up so that it is an effective way for there to be a way for them to deal with each other and that there be some accountability. So it is something that is in the process of being discussed.

On the fact-finding committee, I did have lunch with Senator Mitchell, and he is putting the committee into place and continuing to work. I think that it is a very important element of how to get some answers and how to make sure that this kind of a thing doesn't happen again. I can't give you an exact schedule yet of how they are going to be operating, but Senator Mitchell has obviously been in touch with all the people; he has been talking to them, meeting with the Secretary General, and carrying on a number of activities to do with setting up the committee, including talking to the parties involved.

QUESTION: Will there be on-site work done, do you think, by Mitchell, or at least staff people?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't want to -- they are setting up their terms of reference, and I don't want to jump the story.

QUESTION: SECRETARY ALBRIGHT, going back to this mechanism, I thought that's what Sharm el Sheikh was all about: very specific, very detailed steps that both sides were supposed to take in parallel, whether it was the Israelis withdrawing their tanks and troops to the pre-violence point; the Palestinians, Yasser Arafat coming out, condemning the violence; various things. How is this mechanism going to be different from what you have already tried to get done with Sharm?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Clearly what was agreed to at Sharm has not been carried out in the way it should be, and I think that this is another attempt to try to take into consideration the things that have been happening since Sharm, and to really make quite clear, as I did in my statement, what the undertakings are that both sides have to fulfill in a parallel and mutually reinforcing way.

The mechanism is something that we need to, as I said, need to continue talking about with them, but it is, I think, another effort to deal with the situation as it has unfolded in the last weeks since Sharm, and try to clarify again the need to fulfill these responsibilities.

What I think is a really important point that I actually said I think three times in my statement in one way or another is that these have to be parallel and mutually reinforceable, and so that there is not a sense that one side has to do something that the other doesn't; that they understand that this is something that has to go on together.

QUESTION: Does that mean there is going to be a trip, that somebody is either going to come here, or somebody is going to go over to work these details out?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is still unclear. We haven't made any decisions on that. But obviously those are the kinds of things that are a part of this.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, when you talk about the mechanism, are you thinking about a group of people who will meet, similar to the Security Cooperation Group, and how does it differ from that? I mean, you ask for --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Basically, I can't give you more details yet, because we haven't worked all these things out, and we are going to have to talk to both sides and decide the best way to make this work. But potentially what you are talking about is one of the aspects of it, and we just have to work on it and talk to both sides, and we will let you know as soon as it is more specific.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, given the situation as you have described it yourself, what do you think the chances of reaching any agreement, getting back to the actual going forward positively in the peace talks are in this Administration?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that we have to make the violence stop and have to break this cycle of violence, and that can happen. I spoke with Chairman Arafat a little while ago. We talked about the necessity of breaking the cycle and getting back to the peace talks, or the peace process itself.

I do think that both the sides continue to recognize the very special role that President Clinton has played and can play, and so I don't discount the fact that it is possible to get there. And we will certainly continue to give it every effort that we have, which is why we keep looking at different ways to do things and trying to figure out how we can be helpful to the parties as they try to deal with this together.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I have two questions. Has the US position vis-à-vis an international force of some sorts changed in any way? Is that something still being discussed?

And, also, do you have any comment on the so-called White Paper that Israel issued, with a list of grievances towards the Palestinian Authority? Thanks.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, our position has not changed in terms of an international force. There is some discussion about an observer presence, which is some component of that. And, for us, our focus now has to be on implementing the commitments necessary to ending the violence, which is why I wanted to restate all that again today.

In order to have that happen, the Israelis and Palestinians have to engage directly, and any kind of an observer presence can only emerge from an agreement between the two sides. It is not something that can be imposed. And that has been our position, that it has to emerge from some kind of an agreement between them.

And, no, I do not have any specific comments on the letter.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in your estimation, have the Israelis used excessive force in their response to Palestinian attacks since Monday?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We think that it is very important -- the Palestinians know what they need to do, and we are concerned about the way that force is being used.

QUESTION: Israeli force?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Israeli force, as well as the shootings, et cetera, by the Palestinians.

Thank you. I would like to say Lars-Erik Nelson was a very good friend of mine, and I was very sorry to read about his death this morning. He clearly was part of all our families, and so I wanted to express my condolences to all of you. I did want to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thank you.


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