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Rice With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Joint Press Availability With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
November 14, 2005

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (As translated) -- terrorist attack that took place in Amman, killing a number of innocent persons.

Today, we have second issues related to the Gaza Strip, in order to avoid turning it into a huge prison we spoke of the necessity of reopening the Rafah Crossing point and operating this crossing point as soon as possible. We are about to reach an agreement on this matter. We also talked about operation of the airport and the commencement of construction of the seaport.

Additionally, we addressed issues related to the final status negotiations about Jerusalem, orders, settlement, refugees and the necessity to resume these final talks. We also talked about the importance of going back to implementing the roadmap, starting with the implementation of the understandings of Sharm el-Sheikh, including the release of prisoners and closing of issues related to the expelled persons and persons wanted by Israel in order to reestablish to the situation going towards before 28th of September 2000.

We also talked about future Palestinian elections, reemphasizing the importance of holding these elections (inaudible) on the 21st of January 2006. We reaffirmed that democratic choice which we have chosen as a means to achieve our Palestinian dream with establishment of our independent state and its capital, Holy Jerusalem, which (inaudible) side by side in security and peace with the State of Israel.

Here, we welcome the declaration of Minister Rice calling for halting Israeli settlement expansion on the West Bank because with such settlements we cannot achieve real peace. We also confirmed our commitment to the obligations implemented in the roadmap, which mean one authority, one law, one (inaudible). We, in this context, would like to thank President Bush for his continuing support to the peace process. And we assert our commitment to achieving his vision, with establishing a Palestinian state which is geographically connected, which is viable and which is living side by side and in stability with the state of Israel in security and peace.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. It's good to see you again and to have an opportunity to discuss with you a way forward, a way forward on the roadmap and a way forward toward the establishment of the two states, an independent Palestinian state, a democratic state, living side by side with its Israeli neighbor.

We have, indeed, had very good discussions of a wide variety of issues. I have assured the President that we want to work very hard to make certain that the benefits of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza are fully felt by the Palestinian people. That means that we need to work very hard on issues of movement, on issues of access, because as I said last night in a speech in Jerusalem, it is very important for ordinary Palestinian people in their daily lives, whether it is the farmer or the university student or the restaurant owner, that there be freedom of movement established between Gaza and the West Bank and also that we ease issues of movement in the West Bank. And so we have spent a good deal of time talking about that.

I said to the President that I believe very strongly that if the parties work very hard now on the Wolfensohn agenda, that there is agreement in sight, because with enough will and creativity, I believe these issues can be resolved, and we talked about some of those aspects.

We talked about the need to support the democratic process here in the Palestinian Territories and also the need to condemn and fight terror. It is a roadmap obligation of the Palestinian Authority to fight terror and to dismantle the infrastructure of terror. We talked about the desire for a Palestinian state in which there is, as the President has put it, "one authority, one gun," and in fact where there is political participation of a wide variety of Palestinians.

And so we look forward, Mr. President, to the elections that will be held. We look forward to your continued leadership. And we look forward to continued friendship and cooperation and partnership between the United States and the Palestinian people. Thank you.

QUESTION: The United States considers settlements an obstacle to peace and the roadmap calls for halting settlement expansion. What action will the United States take to make Israel halt settlement expansion? And what action will the United States take if the Israelis do not remove the small outposts?

President Abbas, you have issued many orders to impose the rule of law. But the Palestinian people complain that, on the ground, there is little or no improvement, actually, there is no improvement on the ground. Where is the problem in your view?

SECRETARY RICE: On settlement activity, we've made it very clear that settlement activity is counter both to U.S. policy and, we believe, counter to the obligations that the Israelis have undertaken. We've been very clear that there should be no activities that prejudge a final status agreement and we are in constant discussion with the Israelis about those -- about those matters.

We do with the Israelis what we do with each of the parties, which is to ask them to concentrate very hard on what they need to do to fulfill their obligations. These are partnerships in which we are involved, and we expect that our partners are going to indeed live up to their obligations.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: The obstacles we're facing on the ground still exist and we are trying to remove these obstacles. We have started. And today we have talked in detail and in depth, reached agreement on most issues related to the Gaza Strip. And we hope this will be a good beginning for our people in Gaza so that they will have free movement and free entry and exit. And this will help us reconstruct the Gaza Strip.

As regards the West Bank, we are fully aware that there are many barriers and checkpoints. And if we go back to the Sharm el-Sheikh understandings which call for reestablishing the pre-September 28 borders, we would have less barriers. We are working with the Israelis and with the assistance, of course, of the U.S. in order to put an end to these obstacles on the ground. Agreement is almost ready so the President, there are some minor remarks but -- it will soon be implemented.

Speaking of Gaza, and the second question which I spoke of which are the checkpoints within the West Bank, they are part of our negotiations with the Israelis and the Americans.

QUESTION: Yes, if I could ask both of you to address the same question. I understand there's a pretty specific package of proposals from the Quartet on the table, to both the Palestinians and the Israelis, that would cover Rafah Crossing and some other access issues between the West Bank and Gaza. Can you tell us whether this is a breakthrough? And if so, why so? And if not, why not? And what is your expectation of when an announcement could be made?

SECRETARY RICE: We do have some proposals, some ideas, that the Quartet envoy, Mr. Wolfensohn, has put forward to try and move the process along. I would just note that a number of these are highly technical issues. A number of them are also very complicated issues concerning security. So it is not surprising that it takes some time to work through these.

But when I said earlier that I believed that with will and with some creativity, an agreement to what the envoy has proposed or some elements of what he has proposed as a way forward should be within sight because what is needed is agreement on how to improve freedom of movement for the Palestinian people now in the wake of the Gaza withdrawal. And that is what is being worked on and I think they are -- the parties are making some progress.

As you know, Ann, I'm never going to predict precisely when this is going to come to a conclusion. But I do think they've made a lot of progress. And I'm trying to, through my presence here and through my work here, encourage the parties to get to the place that they can then start moving on actually doing the things that are anticipated in such an agreement. Because having an agreement to do it is one thing, then beginning the implementation is also going to take some time.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: Dr. Rice has just said we have relied on the Wolfensohn project and I will add some remarks here and there. I think we can summarize them and settle the situation as soon as possible, because we have talked about these remarks today. These remarks will not constitute an obstacle, we hope. But they still need to be reviewed.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I will not ask you about the green paper from the green houses of Gaza. That is still the only issue, it seems.

My question is, you came to participate in the tenth memorial for the assassination of the late Yitzak Rabin, while you totally ignored the first annual memorial of President Arafat. My question now is, what is your (inaudible) for the great efforts your administration is focusing in investigating the murder of President Hariri and accusing Syria all the time. Why no efforts made -- were made to reveal the real reason for the mysterious death of President Arafat?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is not America's role to deal with the death of Chairman Arafat. It is my understanding that the Palestinians themselves have had a process for looking into this.

The murder of Rafiq Hariri is, of course, not something that the United States is investigating, but that the United Nations is investigating. It is being investigated under a Security Council Resolution because it appears, according to Mr. Mehlis's interim report, that the security services of one state may indeed have been involved in the murder of the prime minister of another state. And that's a very serious charge, it has to be taken seriously, it has to be fully investigated.

I would just note that there is a 15-0 U.N. Security Council resolution that was sponsored by the United States, France and Great Britain to compel Syrian cooperation with the Mehlis investigation. But Mr. Mehlis is, of course, not an investigator appointed by the United States but an investigator appointed by the Secretary General of the United Nations. So that is the situation concerning the Mehlis investigation.

And I might just note that it's extremely important that Syria cooperate. They are increasing their isolation if they refuse to cooperate, because these are very serious charges. And after 30 years of occupation of the Lebanese territory, Syrian forces have now withdrawn under, again, Resolution 1559. But the important thing is that this investigation proceed and proceed with Syrian cooperation.

QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, have the Palestinians agreed to an Israeli presence at the Rafah Crossing, including real-time cameras and/or computers? And also, sir, could you explain to us why the Palestinian Authority has not done more to disarm or arrest Palestinian militants, as you have promised to do in the past?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: At the Rafah Crossing, on the Palestinian side, there are Palestinians and a third party. On the Egyptian side, there are Egyptians. This is not (inaudible). There are some technical details which are necessary for the purpose of cooperation between us and the Israeli side. But they will not be present in this crossing.

It was to you.

SECRETARY RICE: No, no, it was to you. It was to you.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: For me? Okay. Okay.

In principle we have said, and I said it several times, that we are working towards having a unified Palestinian Authority with one law and one (inaudible) political (inaudible). Whether we want it or not, we must obtain this stage very soon, especially that we are about to have a new election and these elections will allow every Palestinian to take a part in the elections of a legislative council. And after that, it will not be permissible to have on the ground several authorities or factions which are not within the law of the Palestinian national authority.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. 2005/T19-16

Released on November 14, 2005


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