"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Palestinian Authority gains border crossing control point at Rafah
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced November 15 that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have concluded an agreement to open an international border crossing between Gaza and Egypt and increase freedom of movement for people and goods in the Palestinian territories.
"This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives," Rice said at a press conference in Jerusalem. She was accompanied by the European Union's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana and James Wolfensohn, the international community's special envoy for the Israeli disengagement from Gaza.
Rice said the agreement allows Palestinians to gain control over exit and entry into their territory for the first time since 1967, through an international border crossing at Rafah, with a target opening date of November 25.
The Rafah crossing will be manned by Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, with the European Union assisting in a third-party role.
The agreement calls for the start of bus and truck convoys between Gaza and the West Bank, the reduction of obstacles to movement within the West Bank, the export of Palestinian agricultural products, authorization to begin construction of a Palestinian seaport and acknowledgement by the parties of the importance of a Palestinian airport, Rice said.
The secretary also announced the appointment of U.S. General Keith Dayton to succeed U.S. General William Ward to oversee the training of the Palestinian security force.
"This agreement is a good step forward. With the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must keep working hard to make these measures work in practice," Rice said.
Joint Press Availability With European Union High Representative Javier Solana and Quartet Special Envoy Jim Wolfensohn
SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. Two months ago, Israel and the Palestinian Authority took an unprecedented step on the road to peace with the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, returning control of that territory to the Palestinian people. Israeli and Palestinian leaders have been hammering out practical arrangements to gain the benefits of that withdrawal and improve conditions in the rest of the Palestinian territories.
I am pleased to be able to announce today that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have concluded an agreement on movement and access. The Quartet’s Special Envoy Jim Wolfensohn has played a key role. Thank you, Jim. We also had important help from the European Union and I am glad that Javier Solana can join us here today. The EU, as you will learn, will play an important role in implementing this agreement.
This agreement is intended to give the Palestinian people freedom to move, to trade, to live ordinary lives. The agreement covers six topics.
First, for the first time since 1967, Palestinians will gain control over entry and exit from their territory. This will be through an international crossing at Rafah, whose target opening date is November 25th.
Second, Israel and the Palestinians will upgrade and expand other crossings for people and cargo between Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. This is especially important now because Israel has committed itself to allow the urgent export of this season’s agricultural produce from Gaza.
Third, Palestinians will be able to move between Gaza and the West Bank; specifically, bus convoys are to begin about a month from now and truck convoys are to start a month after that.
Fourth, the parties will reduce obstacles to movement within the West Bank. It has been agreed that by the end of the year the United States and Israel will complete work to lift these obstacles and develop a plan to reduce them.
Fifth, construction of a Palestinian seaport can begin. The Rafah model will provide a basis for planned operations.
Sixth, the parties agree on the importance of the airport. Israel recognizes that the Palestinian Authority will want to resume construction on the airport. I am encouraging Israel to consider allowing construction to resume as this agreement is successfully implemented -- construction that could, for instance, be limited to non-aviation elements.
This agreement is a good step forward. With the international community, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must keep working hard to make these measures work in practice. As they are implemented, trust can grow. Prime Minister Sharon and President Abbas have shown real statesmanship in making the decisions that led to this agreement.
Meanwhile, our commitment to security is strong, as always. Progress like today’s agreement cannot continue unless there is also progress in fighting terror and obviously we all have a great interest in working together to ensure that anyone involved in criminal activities or violence will be prevented from passing through Rafah or any other crossing.
For our part, the United States will work closely with the parties to be sure that reliable security arrangements are in place.
Earlier this year, the United States dispatched General William Ward to lead a mission working on security with both sides. As General Ward completes his tour of duty, I am pleased to announce that President Bush has nominated General Keith Dayton to replace General Ward and take over as the United States Security Coordinator in an expanded mission to assist the Palestinian Authority and the state of Israel.
Palestinians and Israelis have many other concerns to address on the roadmap toward two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace. But today’s steps show that progress continues. As Palestinians move back and forth to the outside world, as they trade with their Israeli neighbors, the lives of ordinary people on both sides will change for the better.
Thank you very much, and now I would like to ask Javier to make a few remarks.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SOLANA: Thank you very much, Condi. I think what we have transmitted here today is a very, very important agreement. It has taken a long time to finalize but it will give the Gaza disengagement the full content in particular because the border between the Gaza and Egypt will be now opened.
And as you know from the document that you are going to read in a moment, the European Union will take the third-party role in that very important and complicated border. We are ready. We have the plans already done and prepared and by the end of the month will be in a condition to take the full responsibility and have the border function.
I hope very much it will be a successful operation. It’s not an easy task, but it will be successful and it will contribute for the first time to Palestinians to have from Gaza a border open and controlled by them with a third party there to go to Egypt.
As you know, the Philadelphia Road will be controlled by the Egyptians but the crossing border will be -- the third party will be the European Union. We assume that responsibility with full responsibility and with full (inaudible) to have a very important contribution to the finalization of the Gaza disengagement.
I want to say that Jim Wolfensohn has played a fundamental role. He is responsible of the Quartet for this negotiation and I want to thank him very, very warmly, as much as I want to say thank you to Condoleezza Rice for the long hours that we have to spend in the last days. Let’s put it that way. Thank you, Condi.
MR. WOLFENSOHN: Well, thank you very much, Javier and Madame Secretary. For us in the Quartet, this is a very important day. For more than six months we have been negotiating these points and I am very grateful to you, Madame Secretary, for giving us the push in these last hours to try and ensure that the parties would reach an agreement, and I’m grateful to them also for agreeing to come to a solution which is valid and one in which we can move forward.
The Quartet will continue to do its work in trying to assist the parties in implementing the agreements and will go further in terms of materializing the programs and the projects so that we can get beyond the issue of these preliminaries to the real question of assisting the Palestinians to build an area of hope and an area of peace. And this is something which I think now both the Israelis and the Palestinians are committed to and I appreciate very much the work that you have done, Madame Secretary, and we look forward to the next months.
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll take a couple of questions. Let’s see, Wyatt.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you. Wyatt Andrews, CBS. I know you’re close to the moment and it was a tough night, but if you can, how would you describe the critical give points on both sides?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, Wyatt, in something like this there are so many because the parties really have to establish a spirit of give and take, and I think that they did. I would characterize it in the following way: that the important thing here is that people have understood that there is an important balance between security on the one hand and on the other hand allowing the Palestinian people freedom of movement. And we -- I think the other important point is that -- well, two other important points.
I think everybody recognizes that if the Palestinian people can move more freely, if they can export their agricultural product, if they can work, that the Gaza is going to be a much better place, and indeed that it is going to be a place where the institutions of democracy can begin to take hold because people’s lives will be getting better.
I also think that it was important that there be recognition that this is obviously an ongoing process and that there needed to be multiple mechanisms and deadlines that are going to have to be met. And Jim has the unenviable task now of making certain that people stick to the deadlines and that the mechanisms are all in place. But everybody expressed their desire to have these crossings, and in particular Rafah, to operate as an internationally accepted crossing, in other words, to have the standards that we have come to associate with international crossings. And I think that a lot of work went into trying to assure that that would be the status of Rafah.
QUESTION: If I could ask all of you to address this. As important as these details are, they are details, some of which the parties themselves have said they were very close to being able to resolve before you arrived. What does it say about the whole negotiating process and ultimate process for peace that it took this much work and this much hair-pulling to get this --
SECRETARY RICE: Hair-pulling? (Laughter.) A couple of things. First of all, the parties are establishing now habits of cooperation, patterns of cooperation. But it’s no secret that after a long time with the intifadah and all that went on before with concerns on both sides -- the Israelis’ concerns about the Palestinians, the Palestinians’ concerns about what the Israelis are doing -- that sometimes underneath what appear to be details are real concerns, either philosophical concerns or real policy concerns, real security concerns. And so I’m actually not surprised that it took some time.
Remember what is happening here. The Israelis have left territory. The Palestinians now have control of that territory. There’s an international crossing. It is still a small neighborhood and of course there are therefore security concerns. So these small details actually, I think, mask pretty big issues and I think that’s the reason.
I’m also tempted to say, as a football fan, that sometimes the last yard is the hardest and I think we experienced that a bit today. But I have to applaud the spirit of cooperation of the parties. I have to applaud the difficult decisions that Prime Minister Sharon and his team and President Abbas and his team were willing to make, and I have to applaud my friend Jim Wolfensohn who was also here until 5 o’clock in the morning.
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SOLANA: Let me add a little thing to what the Secretary has just said. This is the first time that a border is opened and not controlled by the Israelis. You remember from also all the borders, all the external borders, borders, were controlled by the Israelis. This is the first time and is the first time it’s given to them to control themselves with the help of a third party. So as you can imagine, this is a very important step that is the first time that takes place. And the security people here in Israel were very concerned about this, taking this decision, and it is understandable. But that’s why we have to take such much time to convince them and to rely on a third party to be present there.
QUESTION: Following up on that, Madame Secretary, on the border issue, it’s the understanding of everyone that that was the toughest inning, perhaps. Can you, without going into too much detail, tell us what will be the Israelis’ role, perhaps behind the scenes, that was giving them enough comfort to accept this agreement -- the role of the Rafah crossing?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Rafah crossing, as Javier has just said, is an international crossing, the Palestinians on one side, Egyptians on the other, with third-party help. But it is in everybody’s interest to cooperate to try to make sure that this is a safe crossing and so, you know, there are many ways in which security cooperation was once very, very strong between the various parties. There is, in the agreement, you will see that the U.S., the Egyptians, the Palestinians and the Israelis are going to have a committee that is going to work on implementation and coordination.
So there are plenty of mechanisms for people to have their say, but I want to emphasize what Javier said, and it is a major step forward for the Palestinian people in their own movement toward independence in this region, and that is that they have control on one side, the Egyptians on the other. It’s an international border. It will need a third party and obviously nobody wants to have this be a border that is unsafe and so I suspect that everybody will cooperate as much as they possibly can.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, one more?
QUESTION: Can I have one?
SECRETARY RICE: These two, and then I’ve really got to go. Peter.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, traditionally you’ve been saying this is an Israeli-Palestinian process. Traditionally you’ve been saying this is an Israeli-Palestinian process and you’ve sort of been behind the scenes, but here you really put your own personal prestige on the line, especially when you came back from Jordan. Why did you decide to go down to the mat on a personal level this time?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Jim and I had had a discussion about the remaining issues and about the need to really try to close them now. It has been going on for some time because these are hard issues. And again, underneath what may seem like very small details, there are hard issues.
And I felt that here in the region perhaps I could give it an extra push. I’m still a big believer in having the parties do as much as they possibly can do. I mean, the Gaza withdrawal was remarkable in that the coordination was between the parties. There was really very little kind of trilateral effort in the Gaza -- the actual withdrawal itself. There was a lot of coordination, a lot of discussion, a lot of cooperation. That’s really the model. But from time to time, as has been in the case in the past, it will need the Quartet envoy, it will need the Quartet, it will need the U.S. Security Coordinator, and from time to time I suspect it will need me or maybe even higher authorities -- meaning the President. Not really higher authorities. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What about --
SECRETARY RICE: Oh, sorry, Robin. I promised.
SECRETARY RICE: Israeli?
QUESTION: Spanish news agency. Well, what you asked -- go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you tell us to what degree the elections or prospect of elections played a role in making the two sides come to some kind of an agreement? And secondly, beyond the specifics of this agreement, what is the next great challenge that you face in trying to jump-start or generate movement in the process?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, you know, everybody is aware that the Palestinian election is coming up and I think that everybody would like to move this along, obviously, as that date comes forward. But it was not really a major issue at the table. People weren’t saying, you know, we really have to hurry this up because there are about to be elections.
I think whenever you get to a place that you are pretty close, not there but pretty close, you’re best off to try to close it when you can. And Jim and I really had had the key conversation when he said to me, I think before I left the United States, you’re going to go and we knew that he was to have a meeting today and that we needed to try to close it. So it was more the momentum itself of where we thought the negotiations were.
And in terms of --
QUESTION: What’s next?
SECRETARY RICE: -- what’s next --
QUESTION: Beyond the specifics of this.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, there are huge challenges: the security situation; the improvement of the Palestinian security services, which by the way the EU is devoting a lot of resources and time to as well; the ability therefore to provide a Palestinian security force that can not only fight terror but can really make certain that there’s law and order in the Palestinian territories. I think that’s a huge challenge. And President Abbas said it again yesterday; there has to be -- you know, they have to be able to do that for the Palestinian people as well as for their international obligations.
Obviously, there are challenges because we continue to press the parties, the Israelis, not to undertake any decisions or any steps that are going to prejudge a final settlement. And we need to continue to make that case.
I also think building the institutions, democratic institutions in the Palestinian territories, is an important challenge.
And getting to a place that we are really accelerating on the roadmap rather than going sort of step by step. And I think there’s a chance that if we can get through what were issues really about how Gaza was going to operate, that perhaps then we can return to the bigger issues of the roadmap.
Jim, maybe you want to say a word about that.
MR. WOLFENSOHN: Perhaps I could simply add that I think this gives us a chance to move to the fundamental question of growth and hope. Once you get through these mechanics, you can then deal with the real issues, which is how do you make life better for a million three hundred thousand people in Gaza. And so our hope is that we can move to the next phase, moving away from the technical discussions to talking about sewers, roads, jobs, houses, all the things that are really necessary to build peace. The agreements are one thing, but to try and get people to invest in their future is the other.
And let me just make one last point on the Secretary’s role. If you are an envoy of the Quartet, you have a certain amount of possibilities in negotiations. If you are the Secretary of State of the United States, I would have to say that there is a little more clout associated with that and therefore, to push it over the edge, one needs not envoys but Secretaries of State. And I want to congratulate the Secretary on having done it.
QUESTION: How much sleep did you get last night? (Laughter.)
SECRETARY RICE: I’m not telling. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: We need to know.
SECRETARY RICE: We’ll do that on background. (Laughter.)
Just between us and to the cameras, I think about two hours. Not bad. You know, it was something. But there are people who worked on this through the night, so I did well.
Last question is from the Spanish journalist.
QUESTION: Thank you. For Javier Solana, please, could you tell us some of the details about the European Union mission in Rafah crossing, how many members and what countries (inaudible) military?
And for Dr. Rice, if at all possible, could you (inaudible) any proposition now on the (inaudible) Palestinians in order to move the roadmap forward?
HIGH REPRESENTATIVE SOLANA: Let me tell you, I mean, the detail in the document is on the Gaza crossing is very, very detailed really so I cannot add much more than what is there. And the mission is already prepared. We will be about 50 - 70 people and will be policemen, experts in border, in border crossing. They will prepare from different countries. There will be a general from the Gendarmerie Carabinieri Italiani. He’s going to be appointed this morning or when they decide it’s to -- I mean, when they can arrive and meet with him, and he will be the boss of the operation. An Italian Carabienieri general.
SECRETARY RICE: We’ve tried very hard to talk to the parties about dealing with their responsibilities; in other words, when I’m with the Israelis I say let’s talk about what you need to do, not what the Palestinians need to do, and when I’m with the Palestinians I say let’s talk about what you need to do, not what the Israelis need to do. If we can get parties to deal with their own responsibilities, then this is going to move forward, and I think that’s extremely important.
Now, the security situation really does have to be addressed and the dangers of terrorism really do have to be addressed. But it is something that I think both parties understand and we’re going to work.
I want to just close this. We have a long road ahead, a long road ahead. We even have a long road ahead in the implementation of the agreement that was signed an hour ago. And I don’t want to underestimate the difficulties ahead in implementing because, as I said, these are very crucial issues.
The good thing is that the parties now have a framework with which they can work. They have an excellent envoy who will work with them. They have accepted some extremely important big principles, like a third-party involvement, and so we’ve made a step forward. But we do have not just challenges ahead to try to accelerate on the roadmap, but we have challenges ahead in implementing this agreement, too. And I have asked that every couple of weeks I can get a report on how we’re doing on the implementation of the -- moving toward the implementation of the deadlines because it’s very important now to keep this moving.
Thank you very much, and thank you.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) signed the agreement?
SECRETARY RICE: There is no signed agreement. What we have is the Palestinians and the Israelis have agreed to these steps. The envoy is sometimes mentioned here as the party for assistance, but this is really thought to be an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis.