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23 June 2005
MIDDLE EAST: 'THE
IS ALIVE' - JACK STRAW
EDITED TRANSCRIPT OF A JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE BY FOREIGN SECRETARY JACK STRAW AND THE QUARTET'S SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST, JIM WOLFENSON, ON THURSDAY 23 JUNE
In the second session of the G8 Foreign Ministers' Meeting it has been our very great pleasure to hear from Jim Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank, and now the Quartet's Special Envoy on the Middle East, and also from General Ward who has been appointed by the United States' President Bush to lead on Security and works with Jim.
I have now been Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom for more than 4 years. For much of that period the issue of the Middle East, I am sad to say, has been dealt with at the level of rhetoric. We have moved on a big step in recent months because we are now focussing on some practical realities - great opportunities but also potential difficulties as well - and the focus is on the Gaza withdrawal following the courageous decision by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the Israeli Government to withdraw from Gaza to ensure that that withdrawal is the first stage in the building of a viable and separate State of Palestine living alongside a secure State of Israel. General Ward and Jim are in the front line of that. We endorsed all their work, we have welcomed the Quartet's statements which they issued earlier today. Over to you Jim.
Thank you very much. I can add simply that the Israelis and the Palestinians are now very much engaged on very practical aspects of the withdrawal, dealing with the crossing points to Gaza and the West Bank, the linkage between the Palestinian territories, the outside world, Israel and the linkage between Gaza and the West Bank. They are also looking to improve mobility within the areas and I am very happy to say that joint activities between the Israelis and the Palestinians are now ongoing.
Of course there are no final decisions yet but movement is very clear. We have moved from trying to set an agenda to trying to deal with the real issues and while there are bumps in the road I have to say that I am infinitely more optimistic today than I was two weeks ago. We know that it is a difficult period ahead. I was grateful today to get the full endorsement of the G8 for the forward plans that we have to try and balance what is essential, the hope and the economic and social viability for the Palestinians, a chance for them to look forward finally with a sense of optimism, with the other balance that is needed, which is security for Israel. Everything we are doing is trying to balance the security and the optimism and aspect, and I think we are making real progress.
Mr Straw, what do you think of Israel's decision to resume its policy of targeted killing against Palestinian militants? And does Britain plan to hold any more meetings with Hamas?
Our position on targeted killings is that any action by any government has to take place within international as well as national legal obligations. What however we want to see is a decision by all the rejectionist terrorist groups not to take part in any more violence because let us be clear ? and this is the view of the Palestinian Authority ? let us be clear that it is a continuation of violent terror by groups operating from within the Occupied Territories from within Israel and from within the wider region that has the greatest potential to disrupt and undermine and abort this very important chance to create the beginnings of a separate and viable State of Palestine.
Mr Wolfensohn how worried are you that the withdrawal from Gaza will be beset by violence and specifically what ideas did you bring to the table today. What were you asking the G8 to do?
Well I unfortunately cannot control the events that will happen during the withdrawal and I suppose there is always the possibility of violence. But my impression is that both sides would like to see a peaceful withdrawal. There is no percentage for either side in having a disrupted withdrawal. What I think is in the interests of the Palestinians is to see the withdrawal take place, and what is in the interests of the Israelis is to see it take place peacefully. It already has internal difficulties within Israel, so the logic would suggest that it should be a peaceful withdrawal. But this is not a very logical part of the world, so I cannot really promise you what is going to happen.
Mr Straw I would like comments from you regarding the latest development in the Lebanon and the assassination of George Hawi and on Iran, is it true that the Foreign Office has changed its policy towards Iran?
On the late assassination I completely condemn that and those behind this series of assassinations and since we know that Syria continues to exercise a great deal of influence within Lebanon we look to the Syrian Government to do all that it can to ensure that those who are committing these outrageous assassinations stop and finish.
On Iran, no there has been no change in our approach to the Government of Iran nor to the nuclear dossier.
Mr Straw, at the same time when Israel is disengaging from Gaza, there are plans to demolish up to 100 Palestinian homes to build a national park. What is your official position on that? And a question for Mr Wolfensohn, is there a specific economic package that you are proposing in terms of numbers, actual cash to help the Gazans?
On the proposals...I think you are talking about Jerusalem...to demolish 88 Palestinian homes, we are opposed to that. We do not regard it as remotely justifiable. We have made protests about it. My understanding as of Tuesday of this week is that the Government of Israel and the Municipality of Jerusalem have decided not to proceed with those plans. I hope that that is the case.
And on the financial issues, I am working with the G8 currently to assess two particular phases. One is the phase during and immediately after the disengagement, what one can do immediately to deal with the needs of the Palestinian people involving infrastructure, housing, jobs, and give some hope immediately and the other is for a three-year programme that can allow for a longer term creation of the institutions of the state and the three-year outlook. We do not yet have numbers, but I did get evidence of support today that my approach was correct and I hope in the next few weeks to come up with numbers.
Foreign Secretary, are you engaged currently in any contacts with Hamas? And secondly there is much talk of the Israeli disengagement plan. Can we assume that the roadmap has been abandoned?
The answer to your first question is no we are not. The answer to your second question is also no, that far from assuming that the roadmap has been abandoned, the roadmap is alive, it is there and so is the Quartet which was the parent of the roadmap, and what we are all seeking to do is to ensure that the withdrawal from Gaza and from those four settlements in the North and West Bank is a first step on the way back to the roadmap which is there for one purpose only to make a reality out of the policy of the whole of the international community that there should be these two states, a secure State of Israel living alongside a separate and viable and secure State of Palestine.
Thank you very much indeed.