U.S. Remarks; Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Remarks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
November 7, 2008
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate, once again I welcome Dr. Rice, who visits us today. This visit and the previous visits have expressed extensive and brilliant diplomatic – American diplomatic efforts towards the Middle East. And here it is important to thank President Bush, who had laid the foundations for such diplomatic efforts at Annapolis conference, and in his vision for a two-state solution and for his perseverance and his extensive follow-up throughout last year in order to lay the foundations for the peace process. And therefore, I would like to say we did not waste time, but we have benefited from every minute and every effort of the last year. And important and crucial foundations were laid down that will allow us to start again with a new administration, and also the American and the Israeli in order to conclude a peace agreement.
I have reconfirmed and reiterated to Dr. Rice, this time, that we are committed to a comprehensive peace with the Israeli side, in the sense that we want to reach a full comprehensive solution without looking for partial agreements or transitional agreements or postponement of any of the core issues that are well-known to everyone.
We have also asked that the tripartite commission will continue regarding the first article of the Roadmap, which is overseen and led by the U.S. And this mechanism that would allow the implementation and full implementation of the first article of the Roadmap.
We have also discussed, among others, about the issue of settlements and the continuation of settlement activities, about the roadblocks, about the incursions, as well as the issue of prisoners that we have always demanded that our Palestinian prisoners are released, those who are exiled to come back, and also the Jerusalem institutions that need to be reopened, and that we will be following up with the Israeli administration and American administration.
In recent days, there was an escalation, a dangerous escalation, in terms of the attacks by settlers against farmers, particularly during the olive harvest season. This was very inhuman and it was uncivilized actions by the settlers against these farmers and, unfortunately, sometimes in the presence of the Israeli army. And therefore, we have drawn the attention to these escalations and these dangerous escalations, in my view.
I have also spoken with Dr. Rice about the Palestinian dialogue, which will start – will be launched on the 10th of this month in Cairo. This dialogue that is being sponsored by Egypt and that is exerting all efforts in order to achieve the Palestinian reconciliation.
I have also stressed that we want to form a government, a Palestinian government, that is, that is independent, that is committed with the obligations of the PLO, the full commitments of the PLO. This government will run the affairs of the country and will also work to prepare for elections, legislative and presidential, that will take place simultaneously according to the elections law, the Palestinian elections law that talks about proportional basis.
Of course, no doubt, we will always need assistance, financial aid and humanitarian assistance because our people have no resources and, therefore, we need to see the continuation of the assistance and aid in all aspects, whether humanitarian or others. And in this context, we would like to reiterate the importance of some continued support to Gaza Strip and that all basic materials are accessible to people in Gaza Strip. And from our side, as you all know, we are paying the salaries of 77,000 employees in Gaza, in addition to 58 percent of the Palestinian budget that is allocated to Gaza Strip.
During this period we will continue our meetings with the Israeli side and with Prime Minister Olmert, and this is a natural thing. Until the elections – the Israeli elections take place, we will not waste time and we will not waste this opportunity, but we will continue to discuss all issues, including the day-to-day issues as well as issues of final status and negotiations. And the negotiation teams will continue to work as usual because they should continue their efforts, because all of this will help until we reach the final status negotiation.
And of course, I also informed Dr. Rice our thanks and gratitude for the financial assistance, alongside the political assistance, the financial assistance that American administration is also providing to the Palestinian people, and particularly the latest payments that were endorsed by the Congress.
On this occasion, we also wish to convey our congratulations to the American people for the democratic elections that took place. And these were – it was a long election campaign and were difficult elections, but they did take place at the end. And Mr. Barack Obama was elected as President of the U.S., and we convey our congratulations to him for his success in these elections, and thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And thank you for welcoming me here. Let me begin by saying that the American people appreciate the kind words that you have said about our own democracy. And we especially appreciate it because we know how hard you are working to build a truly democratic Palestinian state. You are someone who is yourself devoted to democracy, and I just want to take note of that.
When President Bush came into office in 2001, and it was a very difficult situation between Palestinians and Israelis, indeed the intifada was raging, large-scale Israeli military operations were taking place, many, many innocent Palestinians and Israelis were losing their lives. And I think that the idea of a two-state solution or an independent Palestine was a somewhat distant dream given that negotiations had collapsed at Camp David.
Some number of years later, we stand here as the Annapolis conference has launched the first serious negotiations between the two sides in nearly a decade. And the distance to that peace has been narrowed, although the peace has not yet been achieved. Over the last years – the last year, in particular, the parties have bravely demonstrated their commitment to substantive negotiations in an effort to reach a comprehensive peace which will cover all core issues. And I think that President Bush’s vision of a state of Palestine, an independent state of Palestine at peace with Israel, while it will not come in a single, dramatic moment, it will come because the commitment of the Palestinian and the Israeli people to their peace will not waiver. And if there is methodical and sustained and sincere initiative to include a final agreement, I know that you will.
It’s critical that in moving forward on the peace process we remember that other pillars were established at Annapolis as well, and those pillars cannot be separated; indeed, the work that is being done on the ground to improve the lives of the Palestinian people, the work that is being done to build the democratic institutions of a Palestinian state, the work that has been done to reform security services and to really improve their capability and to have them be professional security forces. I’m very much looking forward to going to Jenin because I think it is an example of this relationship between security provided by Palestinian forces for the Palestinian people, the willingness to fight extremists, as well as the ability to begin to deliver the economic and social benefits of a calm environment. I really hope, Mr. President, that in the days to come, there will be attention to what you have done and what your Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has done to improve the lives of the Palestinian people. And I want to take note of the fact that you have also not forgotten the people of Gaza. Despite the illegal activities of Hamas there, you have continued to act on their behalf and to their benefit.
We are going to have an unprecedented meeting of the Quartet in a few days to hear directly from Israeli and Palestinian participants in the negotiation. The Quartet expects to hear about the party’s commitment to the Annapolis process, their views on the progress that has been made on the key pillars and their desire for international support for continued efforts. We expect that the parties will reaffirm their commitment to the two-state solution, to negotiations toward that goal, and to a process that builds on the important progress that has already been achieved. We also expect that the parties will strictly hold to their commitments under the Roadmap.
And Mr. President, you can be assured that I will pass on to our successors your request for maintenance of the monitoring mechanism and a U.S. role as the lead in that mechanism. I think that it has done important work. General Silva is here today and continues his work in that regard.
I also want to note that settlement activity, both actions and announcements, is damaging for the atmosphere of negotiations. And the party’s actions should be encouraging confidence, not undermining it. And no party should take steps that could prejudice the outcome of negotiations and the United States will not consider settlement activity to affect any final status negotiations, including final borders. Borders are to be negotiated between the parties in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.
Mr. President, in closing, let me say that I will continue to work to help you advance toward peace and to help the Israelis advance toward peace until the day that I am done in office. But I do want to say that one of the really great joys of this last period of time in working with you has been to see your leadership and that of Prime Minister Fayyad, but also to see the extraordinary capability of the Palestinian people to persevere.
Against all odds, these are people who are building institutions of democratic governance. They’re going to work every day. They’re educating their children. They are doing what men and women across the world want to do, which is that they’re seeking to live in peace and dignity. And they are a dignified people. And I am certain that the day is coming soon when they will have a state that will be in accordance with that great national dignity. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. President, in a few days, you will be traveling to Cairo for the National Reconciliation Dialogue. Hamas puts conditions to release its prisoners that are held by the PA as a precondition to participate in the dialogue. So what is your response to that? Another question, Mr. President, what is the reaction of the PA to what is happening in the constructions at the graveyard in Jerusalem?
Ms. Rice, this is your last – probably your last visit to the region. And yesterday, you announced that the peace process will not witness any signature of an agreement this year, according to the understandings of the Annapolis conference. So what is the purpose of your visit? And do you have other future objectives that you would like to achieve before the end of this year and the swearing-in of the new administration?
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) Thank you. As for the Hamas detainees or what is – are described as political prisoners by Hamas, I would like to stress here that we do not have any political prisoner or a prisoner held on a political basis and we will not arrest anyone for their political affiliations or ideas or opinions or the expression thereof, whether politically or democratically. But what I would like to say very clearly, in order to maintain order and stability, we will not accept for anyone to practice any security actions, except for the Authority or that will obtain weapons or illegal money. These are the three issues we will not tolerate and we will not forgive.
But as for prisoners, in terms of political prisoners, but -- we will never accept that. We believe in democracy and we believe in pluralism and we believe in the freedom of expression of any kind of opinion, whether it supports or is against us, or otherwise. For security reasons or for military reasons or for financial reasons, then we would arrest these people and we will take them to court.
The second point regarding the graveyard that is being now destroyed in Jerusalem --unfortunately, the Israeli Government is – and they’re taking these actions which is destroying the Islamic graveyard, named Maman Allah. And this is a very dangerous issue, and I do not believe that the Israelis would accept this for themselves or for their own graveyards to disturb their dead, as they do with our Palestinian graveyards and what they do with the Islamic and Christian graveyards. And we raise our voices high and we reject completely these kinds of actions regardless of their justification and regardless of their source and initiators and regardless of any talk that they say that they have justifications for. This is something that we cannot accept.
SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, my purpose in coming is the purpose that I’ve had all along, which is to advance the Annapolis process as far as we possibly can. And I’m going to continue to work to do that, as I know the President will and the Israelis will as well.
I want to just say we knew when we said that at Annapolis expressed a desire, indeed, expressed an intention to try and help the Palestinians and Israelis reach agreement by the end of the year, that if that agreement was not reached by the end of the year, there would be those who would say that the Annapolis process, the negotiations, had failed. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
And one of the things that we must do is that we must show -- and the President and I have had some discussions about that, as I’ve had with Minister Livni and with Prime Minister Olmert – that the Annapolis process has laid the foundation for the eventual establishment of the state of Palestine. It has done so by creating integrated pillars for peace to be built from the bottom up, on the ground, improvement of conditions on the ground, establishment of viable Palestinian institutions, Roadmap implementation and adherence to those obligations, and a peace process that addresses all of the core issues. That is what Annapolis stands for. It stands for the integration of all of those pillars. It also stands for the fact that the parties must come to agreement themselves. There can be no substitute for bilateral agreement between the parties.
The United States has tried to facilitate and to help, but ultimately, the parties have to come to agreement. That is also what Annapolis stands for. Annapolis stands for the international commitment to ending the conflict, both in the region by the fact that the Arab representation at Annapolis included Saudi Arabia under its own flag for the first time, and the international community which will be expressed again by the Quartet when we go to Sharm el-Sheikh this weekend.
So the Annapolis process is vital and it is vibrant and it is continuing. And I am quite certain that, carried to its conclusion, it will produce a state of Palestine. It is perhaps not surprising that a conflict that has now gone on for decades may take some more time to resolve, but the right elements are there. The right level of trust has been developing between Palestinians and Israelis to make this work. And just as Oslo was a basis, Madrid was a basis, Annapolis is a basis. And while we may not yet be at the finish line, I am quite certain that if Palestinians and Israelis stay on the Annapolis course, they are going to cross that finish line and can do so relatively soon. And so my purpose is to help the President and the Prime Minister and the chief negotiators to make certain that the progress of Annapolis is sustained and left in place and intact so that the cross – the finish line can finally be crossed.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) I would like to add something here, that Annapolis had laid the real and the genuine and the concrete foundations for the peace process, and the negotiations between the Israeli and the Palestinians – Annapolis. For the first time after Annapolis, there was a real dialogue about the final core issues. This did not happen before.
But I would like also to say that Annapolis had brought about the Paris conference that – where more than 90 countries participated, the countries that are helping economically the Palestinian cause, and who committed themselves to assistance to the Palestinian people, and many of them fulfilled their obligations and commitments. And so Annapolis had very – a lot of benefits, and this is one – some examples of it.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice, some senior Palestinian officials in recent days have expressed concern that the American and Israeli political calendars will lead to a vacuum, and that Israel will exploit the vacuum both to continue settlement activity and other activities on the ground that may be prejudicial to an agreement, and to conduct military campaigns – just one in Gaza on Wednesday.
I wonder if you share that fear or that concern about a vacuum and its effects? And as you now come toward the end of your term in office, if you feel a sense of lingering frustration that the Israelis have continued settlement activities throughout this period, including since Annapolis, despite their Roadmap commitments, and despite your and President Bush’s repeated descriptions of this as a problem and as damaging, as you just said now, to the peace process?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think we’re on the record about our views of the settlement activity, and that has been American policy in the past. I think perhaps we’ve spoken as clearly about it as anyone, perhaps more clearly, the President and I. And it is going to continue to be the case that settlement activity is inconsistent with the atmosphere that really helps promote negotiations.
Now that said, yes, it is a period of transition both in the United States, and ultimately, it will be a period of transition in Israel, although there is currently a government there – a caretaker government there. We are going to do everything that we can to make sure that this period of transition concentrates on solidifying the pillars of Annapolis. That means, more than anything, that the progress that is being made on the ground should be, if anything, accelerated. We should be working toward making certain some of the economic projects that are on the drawing board and the mission of Tony Blair, the security forces training that is going on, the improvement in conditions of the Palestinian people, that that continues.
President Abbas kindly mentioned the American assistance which has been direct support to the Palestinian Authority for the first time. I would expect that we will continue that, and I’m going to look at a USAID project General Silva will continue to work on the Roadmap. So sustaining momentum is important, and sustaining momentum in the right direction, not in the wrong direction, is extremely important. So I – this is a period that can be used well. It can also be used to continue to advance the discussion on the core issues. And that’s what we expect of both sides.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Dr. Rice, we have heard that you would like to see a statement being prepared about the main issues that the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed to, and presented during the Quartet meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh. Is this true? And would that be a general public statement? Would it be a written statement? And what about the recommendations that you would give to the new administration – American administration about the peace process?
Mr. President, did you ask Dr. Rice for specific issues to be conveyed to the new administration?
SECRETARY RICE: The Quartet meeting was, in fact, a request from the parties to brief the Quartet, and so it will be in the hands of the parties to brief the Quartet in any way that they deem necessary. I know that they have believed very strongly, and I think correctly, that the confidentiality of their negotiations is one reason that they’ve built trust, and I don’t expect that that is going to change.
I do know that there has been a lot that has been done to develop mechanisms that will allow the parties to resolve key issues even if they are not yet resolved. And I would expect that we may hear something about that. But again, this will be briefings from the parties to the Quartet, and we’ll wait and see. I’m sure that there will be, as is usually the case at the end of a Quartet meeting, some public statement concerning what took place at the meeting. But the bilateral nature of these negotiations and the confidentiality of them have been two hallmarks of the Annapolis process, and I think that will undoubtedly continue.
As to advice to the next administration, I’ll give that privately. I think it won’t be all that different from what you’ve been hearing from me here. But again, I hope that the tremendous commitment of these parties, the Palestinians and Israelis, is fully understood by all who will come later. Because it is too easy to assume that the fact that negotiations take time, that negotiations raise difficult issues, that there are even disagreements from time to time about what is going on on the ground is somehow a signal that things are not moving forward.
In fact, I’ve seen them move forward a great deal over the last year, and more than anything, I will want to communicate that there is a momentum in this process and hope that it will be sustained.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) Dr. Rice has mentioned many issues regarding the current Administration and the new administration, what can be conveyed as messages and recommendations. But our wishes, our desire that the current Administration will convey to the new administration that they start immediately addressing the Middle East issues and the peace process that we would benefit from the time so that we don’t waste the previous efforts and we don’t waste time in vain. And this is what we’ve asked and we hope that the new administration will follow up on this and will take up this point of view.
QUESTION: Mr. President – okay, it’s working now? Sorry. Mr. President, I wanted to ask you a little more detail (inaudible) what you want to see from the Palestinian dialogue; what would it mean for Gaza, what would you want to see in Gaza, and what would you want to see happen with the Palestinian security forces?
And Secretary Rice, if there is indeed a successful internal reconciliation with Hamas, what does – how would that affect dealings of the international community (inaudible)?
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter.) We – what happened on the 14th of June in 2007, we – we consider it as a coup d’etat. There’s no discussion about this. We talked to our Arab brothers in order to reestablish the security situation and to reorganize the security forces on professional basis, and this is what we’ve asked of the Arab countries. That is in Gaza Strip, of course, in addition to the two other issues that we discussed and explained, about the elections and about the nature of obligations of any future Palestinian government.
SECRETARY RICE: As to reconciliation, we have noted, along with other members of the Quartet, that we fully understand the desire for unity on the part of the Palestinian people. That unity, if it is able to advance the desire of the Palestinian people for peace, which I think is a very deep desire, is something that of course should be supported. Now of course, the issue is the former agreements that Palestinian leaders have signed on to now for decades. The issue is to seek peace recognizing that negotiations, not violence, is the only course to peace. The issue is to recognize that there is a legitimate president of the Palestinian Authority. Those are issues that have been raised by – by the Quartet, were raised at the time of the elections, were raised at the time of other reconciliation efforts. But I want it to be fully understood that the United States really does understand why the Palestinian people want unity. We believe that they want unity that will serve their interest and lead to peace. Thank you.