|Joint Press Availability With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas|
Secretary Condoleezza Rice
November 5, 2007
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) In the name of God, the Merciful and the Compassionate. I welcome Dr. Rice on her eighth visit during this year. And I would like to highly appreciate and commend her efforts and President Bush's efforts and their insistence on achieving peace and concluding a peace agreement within the term -- the presidential term of Mr. Bush. And there are also discussions about final status negotiations in Annapolis and also turning the Annapolis conference for a serious occasion to launch a genuine peace process that would achieve the vision of Mr. Bush for a two-state solution.
In this context, I agree with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that there is a real opportunity to achieve peace. And I would like to add we are very serious in seizing this opportunity in order to reach this historical peace that would lead to the creation of an independent Palestinian state with its capital East Jerusalem, that would live alongside the state of Israel.
And in order to render our efforts successful and in order to reiterate the partnership between us, there are three main things that we need to work with them. First, to implement the obligations and commitments in the first phase of the roadmap plan immediately and in a balanced manner. And in this occasion, I would like to reiterate our commitment to implement and abide by our commitments and obligations, as stipulated in the article one of the roadmap plan, including the consolidation of one authority and one lawful weapon and the rule of law.
And I would like to indicate that the Israeli Government's obligations and commitments for the first phase include freezing of settlement activities, including the natural growth, as well as removal and dismantling of settlements that were (inaudible) in 2001, as well as opening the institutions that were closed in Jerusalem and to return to the situation prior to the 28th of September 2000, and stop aggressions and the destruction of properties and everything that would undermine the confidence between the two parties. And we also demanded for the release of the prisoners and we would also -- should not forget the many checkpoints that are still there in the West Bank that need to be removed.
Secondly, I was encouraged by the statements of Prime Minister Olmert and I discussed this with Dr. Rice and I'm seeking the peace that would lead to the solution for final status issues such as Jerusalem, settlements, water, refugees, according to the international resolutions that are also included in the roadmap plan and the vision of President Bush and the Arab Peace Initiative in order to achieve the specific goal of ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, as we've said and we reiterate again and again, an independent Palestinian state that lives in peace and security and stability alongside the state of Israel.
Thirdly, I also reiterated to Dr. Rice the need for the Israelis to commit to stop the military aggressions against our people in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the stopping of incursions and assassinations and the military checkpoints and the imposition of (inaudible) on the ground, including the confiscation of lands, demolition of houses, the construction of the wall.
As for the Gaza Strip, I also reiterated to Dr. Rice the need for the Israeli Government to commit to not undermine the basic needs, the humanitarian needs, of our people in Gaza -- and there are more than 1.5 million Palestinians -- including food, medicine, electricity, water, as well as the entry points and crossing points.
In this occasion, we would reiterate or we would continue to consult and do a continuous consultation with our brothers in the Arab world, particularly as to this important meeting to prepare seriously for Annapolis conference, and we will consult with our friends.
Finally, I would like to thank Dr. Rice for all her efforts and for what she is exerting from efforts in order to reach satisfactory results, and also to reach what we agreed on today, the results that we reached today which we believe are an important introduction for the resumption of the peace process in the Middle East. And thank you, Dr. Rice.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. President, again, for hosting me here. And I want to thank you for your leadership and for your willingness to take strong measures for peace, strong measures to realize the vision of two states living side by side in peace and security, and indeed in freedom.
I want to congratulate also your negotiating team, Mr. Qurei, who has been working tirelessly with Foreign Minister Livni in preparation for these meetings. I am very pleased that we now seem to be moving toward an understanding that Annapolis can indeed be the launching pad for serious, sustained, continuous negotiations that will lead to the establishment of two states living side by side in peace.
As I've said many times, the Palestinian people have waited a long time for the dignity that will come with an independent state, and the Israeli people have waited a long time for a peaceful neighbor that can help to provide real security. And I believe that those two neighbors living side by side would make a very big difference in the very nature of the Middle East itself, a region that has too long been torn by strife and by turmoil and by deprivation.
And so this is indeed a historic time. It's a time of real opportunity and I look forward to working with you over the next period of time so that we might prepare for a successful meeting at Annapolis, which should be the launching pad then for the negotiations that we have long sought, negotiations that I sincerely hope, as Prime Minister said -- Prime Minister Olmert said last night, could achieve their goals within the time remaining to the Bush Administration.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Dr. Rice, you gave yesterday ideas that -- discussed ideas with President Abbas regarding the document for Annapolis conference. What are these ideas? And are these ideas that have helped the progress that we have noticed today in your discussions with President Abbas.
President Abbas, you said that there is a breakthrough in the negotiations. What kind of a breakthrough? What kind of progress?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, we have, frankly, a condition that I very much welcome now, which is that we appear to be on course to prepare seriously for continuous, ongoing negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis for the establishment of a Palestinian state for the first time in many years, in seven years. We need to focus to make certain that everything that we do creates the best possible atmosphere for the day after Annapolis as well as for Annapolis. And those are the discussions that we have been having.
We know that there are many bases to move forward. The President has made some of those clear; President Bush has made clear some of those himself. But I think that we now are in a very critical period. I don't think you'll be surprised that I'm not going to read out my conversations with President Abbas, with Prime Minister Olmert, with anyone else. But let me just say that I am tremendously impressed by the seriousness of both parties. I was impressed last night with Prime Minister Olmert's very clear message that he sees Annapolis as a launching pad for negotiations on all outstanding issues, and I welcome very much President Abbas's positive reaction to what he heard last night.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) Negotiations are difficult and will continue to be difficult until the very last moment, until we start the implementation; and negotiations will continue to be difficult, but in fact there are encouraging signs and signals that have happened today and before this day. And without these encouraging signs that are -- we are receiving from the American Administration and that we are also seeing coming out from the Israeli side, then there will be no reason to continue the negotiations. But we see that these negotiations are encouraging and are positive, but we need to take into consideration that they will continue to be difficult until the very end because a cause that is more than one hundred years old we will not find -- it is not easy to find a solution for it in few days or weeks or even months. But we have hope, and big hopes, that we will reach the end that where we would live in an independent state that will live peacefully side by side with Israel.
QUESTION: I have a question for both of you. President Abbas, you said that there is a real opportunity to achieve peace. Did you mean before the end of President Bush's term? And what kind of specific confidence-building measures do you expect from the Israelis before the Annapolis meeting?
And Madame Secretary, you said yesterday that you need Arab support for this to work. Do you think you have got the support of Saudi Arabia?
PRESIDENT ABBAS: The three parties today -- the American and the Israeli and the Palestinian sides -- are all insisting that we would reach a solution before the end of Mr. Bush's Administration term in office. And this is our right that we aspire and we seek that this solution will take place within this remaining period and within the framework of this until the end of Bush's Administration.
But what we needed, what is needed that the first article of the roadmap plan which stipulates mutual commitments and obligations between the Israeli and Palestinian sides. We acknowledge that we have our own commitments and obligations as well as the Israeli side that also commits and recognizes its commitments. And as long as we agree that these commitments should be fulfilled in the latest delay, and so what would prevent us? This is what we are working on and this is what was blessed by Dr. Rice, so in order to achieve and fulfill these commitments and obligations immediately and in a balanced manner.
SECRETARY RICE: We are, of course, working also with the responsible Arab states that have long been committed to the roadmap and to a two-state solution, that are committed to the Arab Peace Initiative which envisions two states living side by side. And we're going to continue to work over the next weeks as we approach Annapolis.
I feel that we are getting from all of those states very clear signs that they want this process to succeed, that they are prepared to try and help this process to succeed. Because after all, I can really say, I think without fear of contradiction, that everybody's goal is the creation of the Palestinian state. That's the goal. And everything that we're doing -- meetings and conferences and all of those things -- are to achieve as soon as we possibly can the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and one that is capable, one that is based on the principles and the values that I know President Abbas holds very dear of peace and democracy and rejection of violence and terrorism, and a deep concern that President Abbas has for his people.
And it is out of his deep concern for his people that he's been so tireless in working toward their independent state, and I am quite certain that the responsible Arab leaders share that goal and that they're going to be working as hard as possible to help us achieve it.
QUESTION: Dr. Rice, (inaudible) failure is not an option the Annapolis meeting. However, you acknowledged the Israeli position which doesn't want to tackle the core issues. What are the measures of success in U.S. view when the substantial issues are not discussed And when you expect the Annapolis meeting to be held?
(Via interpreter) And to President Abbas, (inaudible) the things coming out. What are these encouraging signs?
SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I said publicly last night that failure is not an option. That's right. I've said that before. I think we all know how important it is that we make progress toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. We are in an environment in which good and moderate leaders who see the future of their people as a peaceful path of prosperity and independence need a very strong prospect, a very strong indication from the international community that they are going to indeed achieve statehood. And that is absolutely crucial. As I've said, the establishment of a Palestinian state on this basis, on a basis on which it is -- we're helping it to also develop the institutions of governance, the institutions of security -- that's in the interest of the United States and that's why we're working so hard toward this.
Now, I heard Prime Minister Olmert say last night that Annapolis would be a launching pad or a jumping-off point, I think he said, for continuous negotiations on all outstanding issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And all -- we know that there is actually a long list of outstanding issues and we also know what they are. They're, for instance, enumerated in the roadmap. And so I heard him say that no issue was off the table. And I would refer you to read that speech because I think that it is an important speech.
Now, none of this means that what is ahead of us is easy work. What is ahead of us is indeed very difficult work. If this had been an easy conflict to resolve and to end, it would have been done years ago. There have been attempts that have not succeeded. And so the question that we have to ask ourselves is how do we prepare the ground for the very best possible chances of success? Because the will is there. I am quite confident that the will is there on both sides, that people want to end this conflict, but will together with proper preparation and some persistence will help us to achieve our goal.
And as to when Annapolis will take place, the President has said by the end of the year.
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) No doubt that there are positive indications and there are positive points that we are building upon and we are accumulating these good signals. If we talk about them today, then we might ruin the opportunity, so we prefer that we reach a result and then we can share with you the results, full results, the results that we will reach.
QUESTION: President Abbas, what is your reaction to last night's speech from Prime Minister Olmert, particularly his pledge that all fundamental and historic issues separating the Israelis and the Palestinians are "on the agenda"? My question is, is that enough of a commitment for you from the Israelis before Annapolis? And will you also pledge to negotiate all final status issues, including a compromise on the right of return?
PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) I expressed in my statement about the positive nature of the statements that I've seen in what Prime Minister Olmert mentioned yesterday regarding all the basic and fundamental outstanding issues and that are known since Oslo until this day. All these outstanding issues will be put on the agenda and will be discussed, and it is very premature to say what are the solutions. If we had the solutions, then we would not need to negotiate. So all the issues, the basic issues, are on the agenda and will be discussed in good faith in order to reach results that will be satisfactory to us, our people and that is based on international legitimacy and international resolutions. We do not want to violate any of these international and legitimate resolutions -- not less, not more.