|Joint Press Availability with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
May 4, 2008
PRESIDENT ABBAS: In the name of God the Merciful and the Compassionate, I welcome Dr. Rice and I thank her for her commitment to exert all efforts and utmost efforts to make the year 2008 the year of peace and for her relentless efforts and persistence to transform the vision of President Bush from a vision into a clear, political and peace track.
Today we talked in depth with Dr. Rice about all issues, the final status issues, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, water and prisoners. And we reiterated that the Roadmap and the Arab Peace Initiative and the vision of President Bush and all international resolutions form the basis for the solution of these cases in order to end occupation -- Israeli occupation that started in 1967, and the establishment of a Palestinian state, an independent state, and Jerusalem as its capital alongside the State of Israel.
We reiterated today to Dr. Rice the need for Israel to abide by and the need to freeze all settlement activities including natural growth activities and to remove all illegal settlement posts. And this is what the Quartet has called for as well as the opening of Jerusalem based institutions and to return to the situation as it was before the 20th of September 2000 and the release of the prisoners, the lifting of the checkpoints. And all of these are issues that are part of the first phase of the Roadmap.
And in this occasion we salute the decision by the Quartet that was issued two days ago about settlements and settlement posts -- outposts, as well as Dr. Rice’s statements on this issue. In our turn, we reaffirm our commitment to the rule of law and the one weapon and one authority, and we thank the U.S., the EU and the Arab countries for all their support in this field.
And I mention this because yesterday we saw that the Palestinian security forces were deployed in Jenin and after Annapolis, and after that we hope to redeploy our forces in all other areas in the West Bank. And we reiterate for everyone that the weapon will only be a unified weapon, and there will be no legitimate weapon and arms except under the authority. And anyone who violates this will be held accountable and will be pursued. And we will not allow anyone to obstruct the security forces, the Palestinian security forces from undertaking their duties and tasks.
As on the Gaza Strip, we reiterate and we support the efforts exerted by Egypt for a truce. And we have called for that several times and repeatedly in order to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and lift the siege, and in order to provide the people with the basic needs as well as water and electricity.
On this occasion we reiterate the need to stress that Gaza and the West Bank are one unified entity. And, therefore, we call up on Hamas to withdraw back from its coup and to accept immediately -- and we are ready for that, to accept the calling for immediate Presidential and legislative elections and, therefore, we repeat our -- what we mentioned earlier, that we are ready to go for early Presidential and legislative elections.
We confirm our commitment to the Peace process and our continuous efforts and negotiations, particularly with the Israeli side. Tomorrow I will meet with Prime Minister Olmert as well as Abu Alaa will be meeting with the Secretary of State, Israeli Minister Tzipi Livni and to discuss negotiations as well as discuss daily issues, which are also important, that we need to follow up on.
I point out to the London conference also, and I thank all the countries that have reaffirmed their commitment to support the Palestinian National Authority. And we noticed that the fruits of this support has started to be felt on the grounds at the security level or at the economic level as well. And we look forward positively and with hope to the Investment Conference in Bethlehem that will be held soon this month.
And thank you again. We welcome you again, and we thank you Dr. Rice. And we welcome you here in Ramallah.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. And thank you for welcoming me yet again to Ramallah for our very important discussions about how to move the Annapolis process forward on all three tracks, first of all, the improvement of life for Palestinians and their daily lives. I had a very good discussion this morning with Prime Minister Fayyad and with Defense Minister Barak about the efforts that are being made in places like Jenin. And I congratulate you on the deployment of Palestinian security forces there. For the people of Jenin to be able to experience a secure environment and for the people of Jenin who recognize that the authority of the Palestinian -- you and the Palestinian Government of Prime Minister Fayyad are indeed in Jenin and providing them that security. We hope, of course, to continue to improve the opportunities around the West Bank for people to have economic opportunity in a secure environment.
We also talked about the Roadmap obligations. And I think that the work that General Fraser is doing, which is very systematic in helping us not just to track whether Roadmap obligations are being met but whether or not there is a real effect on the lives of people from, for instance, movement and access improvements that are being made. And so we’re trying not just at quantity but also quality of improvements. And I've had a chance to talk with you and your team about that, but I expect to be in constant discussion with the Israelis and with you about Roadmap obligations.
We’ve also had an opportunity to talk about the situation in the negotiations. I'll meet later on with your chief negotiator, Abu Alaa, and Prime Minister Tzipi Livni in Israel. The last time that we had a chance to meet, I was impressed with the seriousness, with the depth of their discussions. I think it is a good thing that they are not in front of the cameras every day to say what was said, because any negotiation that is going to be held in good faith is, by its very nature, going to be something that is confidential so that sides can -- the sides can share their views and their ideas in an atmosphere of trust and confidentiality.
But I think it’s also important that it be understood that these are the first really serious discussions on all of the core issues that have taken place between the parties for almost seven years. This is very painstaking work. It is labor intensive work. But it is necessary work, because the President -- President Bush believes very strongly that the time has come for the establishment of a Palestinian state, subject of course to Roadmap implementation. But that is why we’re working so hard on the Roadmap simultaneously with the negotiations. And we continue to believe that it is an achievable goal to have an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the end of the year and by the end of President Bush’s term.
So thank you again, Mr. President, for having me here. I want to say that the meetings in London were very good meetings. You have the support of the international community. That is very clear. And you have the support of the American administration and, indeed, the American people. Thank you.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, I'm from Palestinian TV. I arrived two hours ago from Jenin and the checkpoints are unbearable. From Jenin to Ramallah there are thousands of vehicles waiting at checkpoints, and it is very tragic on the route from Jenin to Ramallah. And this has been very difficult to come here. The Presidency -- the term of President Bush is coming to an end, and until now we do not see that the peace agreement is being realized. And the settlement activities is one of the most important things that we need to see frozen. What do you think about that?
President Abbas, do you think that peace agreement is possible for the year 2008? And is there really any progress made on negotiations?
SECRETARY RICE: On checkpoints, I think I mentioned that one of the things that we’re looking at is how to look at the qualitative impact of certain improvements to movement and access not just the quantitative decision to remove this or remove that. And I do know that there are efforts particularly given the focus on Jenin for (inaudible) security forces and for economic progress there to look in an integrative fashion at issues of checkpoints and movement and access, and I believe that General Fraser will be raising those issues, as well as Tony Blair when he here, as to how to improve movement and access in Jenin, which is a project in the sense that we’d like to improve the general situation in Jenin but is no means the last place that movement and access and economic progress has to be made.
As to settlements, the United States continues to hold with you that settlement activity is contrary to Roadmap obligations and continues to raise with the Israelis the importance of creating an atmosphere that is conducive to negotiations of the final status agreement. And that means doing nothing, certainly, that would suggest that there is any prejudice of the final terms for final status negotiation. And the United States will consider nothing that is done to have prejudiced the final status negotiations. The best way to handle all of this, of course, is to get an agreement because we need to have a Palestinian state and Israeli state. We need to know what belongs in each of them. And then the parties, the two states, can pick up state-to-state relations, which is what we’re all aiming for by the end of the year.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: We are racing with time in our negotiations. It’s like marathon negotiations. We know that the time is very short, but the negotiations that we are conducting are almost on a daily basis, almost on an hourly basis whether with the Israeli side or, as you've noticed, mostly with the American administration because everybody is showing a serious commitment towards that.
If we did not have hope that we would achieve something for our people and for the region, we would not have exerted any efforts, because then the efforts would be wasted. But we have hope and we hope that we will achieve what we aspire to as soon as possible during this year.
QUESTION: Yes, a question for both of you, please. For Secretary Rice, did you raise the qualitative nature of roadblocks in any of your discussions with Prime Minister Olmert and Defense Minister Barak?
And to President Abbas, do you think the United States is doing enough on the roadblock issue and also on the wider issue of settlements to lean on the Israelis to abide by their obligations?
SECRETARY RICE: Ann, I raised the issue of qualitative improvements not just quantitative metrics with both, and I have had since a discussion of it with Defense Minister Barak because, of course, a lot of this falls in his area of responsibility.
And as to the question of what we will be able to do to address these qualitative issues, I think that this agreement, that we’d go back and take a look at ways to really have a clear sense of what the qualitative effect is, that is the significance of any improvement and movement – on movement and access -- for the lives of Palestinian people. So yes, I raised it in both of the earlier (inaudible) discussions with Defense Minister Barak.
SECRETARY RICE: He’s agreed to -- it was the first time that I had raised this issue, and so it will be now a discussion as to how to carry out that concern or how to address that concern.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: We are convinced that the American administration is very serious in its efforts. And the evidence to that is that the American administration has given us three generals to discuss security issues only, in addition to the other senior officials that are engaged in this process under the auspices of the Secretary of State and President Bush. And if this indicates anything, it indicates seriousness, complete seriousness because the U.S. wants to see a resolution by the end of this year. And these efforts that are being exerted are only indications and real indications of this commitment.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you’ve said in the past that until now there was not one single letter written in an agreement that you're trying to reach with the Israelis. Six months have elapsed and, until now, we have nothing in writing. Do you believe that in the next six months a chapter will be returned in this agreement? I do not know how you view this. Are you worried? Are you anxious about the lack of progress in this area?
Madame Secretary, you just came out of a meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Barak concerning the checkpoints that, according to the Palestinians, are very irritating. I know part of this question was asked, but I didn’t get an answer from you. Is there any promise from the Israeli side to lift any checkpoint, especially the key checkpoints that are basically suffocating the Palestinian life?
And concerning the expansion of the joint settlements, do you have any promise from the Israelis about they would agree to their Roadmap obligations when it comes to settlement activities? Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: It is my intention to continue to raise Roadmap obligations until the parties have met them. And there are Roadmap obligations on the Palestinian side as well that I've raised to see if we can move those along. But I understand that the settlements are a problem. That's why in American policy it has been called out as particularly problematic for the atmosphere of the trust that is needed to move forward on a whole host of issues. So, yes, I've spent a good deal of time on that issue.
And in terms of checkpoints and any specific checkpoint, this is why I've raised the question or we’re raising the question of really looking at the qualitative impact. Could you have a better result by some particular easing at a particular checkpoint? How much really do roadblocks relating to easing? And of course, then taking into account the variable security dimension of this for the Israelis.
So I think it is fair to say that there are real security issues involved here. And so with the combination of improved Palestinian security forces, and I think we will see in Jenin, it’s not without a lot of work on everybody’s part, first and foremost the Palestinian government under President Abbas but also international help, American assistance, the training that the Jordanians have provided by improving Palestinian security forces, by improving movement and access in ways that actually then relate to economic commercial activity, can you really make a major dent, a major impact on how the West Bank operates. That’s really what we are doing.
Look, we are trying to come back from a six-and-a-half almost seven year period from the time the day the Intifada began to now to try to not just improve life on the West Bank but to begin to return it to something that approximates a normal life for the Palestinian people. And it takes some time to deal with the effects of the Intifada, but a lot of it has to do with responsible actions by the Palestinian government and the Palestinian Authority which are really now place. And because of that, I think you are going to see improvements on the West Bank. The Israelis will also really have to do their part.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: We said that was true, that I said not one single letter has been written yet. But all the core issues are being discussed and negotiated in depth and in very clear details. I don’t think that we -- if we find a solution, if we come to an agreement, we will not need six months to write it. If we are thinking about drafting an agreement, then we will have completed 90 percent of the negotiations and, thus, the drafting of the agreement will not be difficult. The most important thing is to reach the agreement in order to draft the agreement itself.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, we’ve heard a lot about the issues that you are raising with the Israelis in terms of their commitments when it comes to the Roadmap obligations from the settlements, to roadblocks, etc. What are you raising with the Palestinians? Because it does make it sound like the Palestinians are doing their end of the bargain and that the pressure is mostly on the Israelis? Is that a correct assessment?
SECRETARY RICE: No. In fact, I've said before there is work to do on both sides. We talked, for instance, about -- if you remember in the Roadmap there are certain obligations about the consolidation of security forces and their proper training and their proper direction. There are some issues that have to be dealt with in terms of the proper staffing of the command and planning elements that will help the Palestinian security forces to be really capable. There are some lists that I've heard Palestinians have asked for certain kinds of equipment, but then there are certain lists that have not been passed over.
I mean, this is pretty nitty-gritty work to be quite fair. And there are obligations that need to be met on both sides. And I've found both Prime Minister Fayyad and Defense Minister Barak very willing to look at where there may be bottlenecks in the two bureaucracies to getting some things done. They may sometimes sound like minor issues when we actually go through the lists, but I can assure you that these bottlenecks or the roadblocks make it difficult to keep moving forward. And so there are obligations that we’ve discussed on both sides.
QUESTION: Actually, I still have a question for President Abbas on -- you say that -- you said before that an agreement can be reached perhaps in the next few months before the end of the year. But short of actually reaching the agreement, what else can be qualified as a success if you don’t actually reach this agreement?
PRESIDENT ABBAS: We want to reach an agreement. We want to achieve success. We need full agreement. This is the intention of all the relevant and concerned parties whether on the Palestinian side or the Israeli side or the American side and the Europeans. The intent is to reach an agreement for all the core issues, and this is what we want. If we cannot achieve that, then we should think of the steps that we should take. We do not want from now to think about failure. We do not want to set up ourselves for failure. We let us focus on success. And if we fail, then we go back to our leadership, to the people and see what next steps could be taken.
Released on May 4, 2008