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Powell Urges Palestinians to Prepare for Gaza Disengagement
Secretary says Israeli withdrawal is part of the road map for peace
Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging Palestinians to set aside speculation about Israel's motivations for withdrawing from 21 Gaza settlements and four West Bank settlements and to focus, instead, on preparing to assume political and security control over those areas.
"I can't quite get the logic that says they may be doing this, they may be doing that in the West Bank; therefore, we shouldn't be supportive of, or get ready for the disengagement that's going to take place in Gaza," Powell told Egyptian television's Mohamed Elsetouhi in an October 29 interview.
Israel's Knesset voted October 26 to approve Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for Israel to disengage from the Gaza Strip and four settlements in the northern West Bank by the end of 2005. Some observers in the Arab world have suggested that Sharon's intention is to strengthen Israel's hold over the West Bank.
Powell said, however, that the disengagement is part of the road map process, "where both sides, the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, will negotiate further reduction of settlements in the West Bank and resolve all final status issues between the two of them."
The secretary noted that people have been calling for Israel to withdraw from its settlements in the Palestinian territories for years and said this disengagement is an opportunity the Palestinians should seize.
Elsetouhi pointed out that Israel has not stopped all settlement activity and is in fact increasing the size of certain existing settlements in the West Bank through a process it calls "natural growth."
Powell responded, "We can argue about natural growth, but let's not take the position that we don't want to see settlements come out of Gaza because we're concerned about natural growth in the West Bank."
In the same interview, Powell rejected the suggestion that U.S. weapons sales to Israel were part of a contingency plan for dealing with Iran's nuclear facilities. "We are providing Israel the weaponry it needs to defend itself. We are not participating in any contingency planning that has to do with any facilities in Iran or anywhere else," he said.
Turning to Iraq, the secretary said the United States has no desire to maintain a presence in Iraq any longer than is necessary. "Our goal is to assist the Iraqi people to have elections, to write a constitution, to put in place a fully legitimate government that rests on that constitution and rests on an election, and then to bring our troops out," he said.
Following is the transcript of Powell's interview with Elsetouhi:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
October 29, 2004 2004/1178
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
With Mohamed Elsetouhi of Egyptian Television and Nile News
October 29, 2004
(10:35 a.m. EDT)
Note: To be released 1:00 p.m.
MR. ELSETOUHI: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary, for another opportunity, a third one, actually.
SECRETARY POWELL: My pleasure to see you again.
MR. ELSETOUHI: It's our pleasure, sir. And as you know now, President Arafat is in Paris to seek treatment. What's your assessment of the situation? How serious you think it is?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I don't know. He is being attended by a number of doctors, and I am pleased that he is now in a sophisticated medical facility where his health condition can be more carefully assessed. And I trust he will get the treatment that he needs. But I have no independent knowledge with respect to his medical condition.
MR. ELSETOUHI: Okay, how about the political condition? People are wondering how things would look like without Yasser Arafat.
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I'm not prepared to speculate because he is still alive, Chairman Arafat, and he certainly was expressing to the people who were with him that he was looking forward to returning.
So I don't think it's wise for any of us now to put out hypotheticals as to what would happen after Chairman Arafat leaves, because he is still alive and receiving medical treatment, and that's what I think we all should focus on. But I'm not going to speculate on the post-Arafat period if there is one in the near future.
MR. ELSETOUHI: But you've been asking him for a while to step aside. Actually, Dr. Rice just did that a couple of weeks ago, so. So do you see this possibility now, that he is that sick?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't want to speculate on what the outcome of his health situation will be. We have said, for a long period of time, that we believe the Palestinian people would be better off with an empowered prime minister who has political authority and who has control of the security forces. And that individual, so empowered, would give the Israelis a partner for negotiations, and would give the Quartet a partner for negotiations.
But in that scenario, as Dr. Rice has said and as I have said on many occasions, we would assume that Chairman Arafat would assume a different kind of position within the Palestinian community. This is an entirely different matter now than when we were talking about his health.
So I don't think it is useful for us to speculate about his health and I think it is best to stay with our position that we have stayed with for -- had for a long time, that suggests that we have been seeking an empowered prime minister with political authority and control of the security forces so that the Palestinian Authority can get ready to assume responsibility for Gaza when those settlements are removed and be prepared to participate in the roadmap deliberations that will follow, as four settlements in the West Bank are removed. That still remains our goal.
MR. ELSETOUHI: But are you concerned at all about the possibility of power struggle within the Palestinian Authority?
SECRETARY POWELL: I'm not going to discuss what might happen should the worst happen with Chairman Arafat. Chairman Arafat is ill. He is getting the medical attention that he needs, and I'm pleased that he is in a sophisticated medical facility where he can get the care that he needs.
MR. ELSETOUHI: Okay. The Israeli Knesset just approved the disengagement plan, and many Palestinians feel that Mr. Sharon will use the withdrawal from Gaza to strengthen Israel's hold over the West Bank and east Jerusalem. What do you think about that?
SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I've heard this concern expressed, but in the understanding that we have with Prime Minister Sharon that was announced by Prime Minister Sharon and President Bush in April, this is part of the roadmap process, to bring out the settlements in Gaza, start with four settlements in the West Bank, and get into the roadmap where both sides, the Palestinian side and the Israeli side, will negotiate further reduction of settlements in the West Bank and resolve all final status issues between the two of them, not the United States resolving them, but only the two parties negotiating with each other.
I think that even though this might have started out as a unilateral action on the part of the Israeli Government, it now holds the possibility of Palestinians getting control over all of Gaza, with no Israeli settlements, and using this as a way to enter into final status discussions with the Israelis.
So rather than argue what the original motives might have been or might still be on the part of the Israelis, it is an opportunity that I think the Palestinians should seize, by bringing control over security forces, reducing the number of forces, making sure that they are trained and equipped, and making sure that the Palestinian Authority is ready to provide political control over Gaza and security control over Gaza, working with the Egyptians and others, when these settlements are removed.
The settlements are going to be removed. For years and years and years, people have said, we want settlement activity ended and we want settlements to be removed. Well, here's an opportunity. It should be grabbed. Settlements are being removed. And one can debate the motives, whether it was a unilateral action to reinforce their position in the West Bank or really it is the beginning of the roadmap process, whatever motive one wants to attribute to this, I think it is an opportunity that should be grabbed by the Palestinian Authority.
The U.S. position is that what Mr. Sharon is doing and what he is now pushing through his government is part of the overall roadmap process, and it is an opportunity that the Palestinian Authority and the international community should use to further progress toward final status discussions.
MR. ELSETOUHI: Well, people have plenty of reasons to doubt Mr. Sharon's commitment to the roadmap. Even his advisor has said that the withdrawal will be an opportunity to freeze the peace process.
So this is a real possibility that they are taking this withdrawal to get out of the roadmap and stop this peace process.
SECRETARY POWELL: Prime Minister Sharon himself has stepped up, spoken out on this subject, after some of his advisors had spoken on it, and said he's committed to the roadmap. And the President knows what Prime Minister Sharon said to him in April when they made their announcement with respect to the Gaza disengagement.
And so one can debate it and argue it, but it is there as an opportunity. Everybody has wanted settlements to be gone. They're going to be gone, 21 in the West -- in Gaza, and then four initially in the West Bank.
So why not just take that and work with it?
MR. ELSETOUHI: But they are also expanding in the West Bank. They are building the so-called "natural growth," and even the United States is getting mixed messages and signals on this.
SECRETARY POWELL: We are concerned about the continued settlement activity, but that doesn't --
MR. ELSETOUHI: Natural growth?
SECRETARY POWELL: We are concerned about all kinds of settlement activity, to include different definitions of what growth is. And we're working with the Israelis to define what a settlement is and what the difference is between natural growth and expansion, and is natural growth something that is consistent with the Israelis' commitments to us.
But all of that is-- should not be looked at as an obstacle or a reason not to seize the opportunity of actual settlements being removed. We can argue about natural growth, but let's not take the position that we don't want to see settlements come out of Gaza because we're concerned about natural growth in the West Bank. Let's get started. Let's work to make sure that the transition from 21 settlements in Gaza to no settlements in Gaza is handled in an efficient way so that the Palestinian Authority can have full political and security control over Gaza, working with Egyptians and other members of the international community, and then work on the four settlements in the West Bank as a start, and grab this opportunity while we work on many more difficult issues having to do with settlement growth, natural growth, investment in settlements, the wall that gives us concerns -- all of the other issues that have to be dealt with.
These issues don't go away if you don't have disengagement in Gaza, so let's get disengagement in Gaza, use it as an opportunity to deal with all these other questions and issues.
MR. ELSETOUHI: But, as you know, time is not on our side here, and here and many Palestinians fear that with the Israeli expansion of settlements that maybe the two-state solution is not going to be feasible anymore, that they are thinking now more and more about the one-state solution.
SECRETARY POWELL: But while they're worrying about these issues, and they are legitimate issues in the mind of Palestinians and Palestinian leaders and we want to pursue all of these issues, this should not be a reason to be against the Gaza disengagement. I can't quite get the logic that says they may be doing this, they may be doing that in the West Bank; therefore, we shouldn't be supportive of or get ready for the disengagement that's going to take place in Gaza. Disengagement is going to take place in Gaza, and I believe that it would be in the best interest of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority to prepare for that disengagement, make it a smooth one, make sure they're ready to handle the politics of it, political control, security control, security forces, and then use that as an opportunity to get into the roadmap because the Israelis said that all of this is going to be done consistent with the roadmap. So accept that and let's move on with it.
MR. ELSETOUHI: How do you see your legacy as Secretary of State after four years?
SECRETARY POWELL: ...
We stand ready with the roadmap and the Quartet to assist the parties in the Middle East to achieve a solution to the Middle East peace problem that has been such a problem for so long a period of time, and the roadmap is alive and well and ready. We need enhanced leadership in the prime minister's office on the Palestinian Authority side, and the President remains very much engaged and anxious to move forward toward peace in the Middle East.
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