Today’s meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee had proved to be of “political significance” in preparation for the international conference on the Middle East in November and the upcoming donor’s conference in December, Norway’s Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre said this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference.
Mr. Støre, who had chaired the meeting this morning, was joined at the briefing by the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, and the Foreign Minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni.
Describing the Committee as the structural support group of donors to the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Støre said the group, which was established in 1992, had not met in the difficult years since 2005. His country had proposed the meeting and the idea had gained momentum with the support of United States President George W. Bush, the Quartet and leading players in the region.
He stressed that the meeting had not dealt with substantive issues between the Palestinians and Israelis. Those would be undertaken during bilateral discussions between the two parties prior to the November and December conferences, already in preparation.
After presentations this morning by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), among others, concerning the situation and the Palestinian economy, he said that participants had confirmed that key players supported the reform initiatives taken by Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. Furthermore, both he and Israel’s Foreign Minister had agreed that a new air of cooperation existed in the region, with a new spirit of shared goals and objectives.
Foreign Minister Livni said the idea of holding the meeting in the context of an international gathering was to help the Palestinian Authority build the foundations for a Palestinian State. While the political issues to be settled on the bilateral track between Israel and the Palestinians had not been taken up, it should be made clear that the creation of a Palestinian State “is an Israeli interest”. Her country was working with the new Palestinian Government towards two aims: one to make the situation of the Palestinian Authority easier for the Palestinians in terms of day-to-day life; and to help build the foundation for a future Palestinian State. That was a mutual goal.
Of course there were security needs to be addressed, including by the Palestinians, she continued. It had been agreed this morning that Israel’s security was also a Palestinian interest, an understanding that should help promote ideas in a more concrete manner.
Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad said the most important “deliverable” of the “very good” meeting was that it had set the stage for the international donor conference, where specific commitments of support for the Palestinian Authority would be pledged for the Authority’s development, priorities and budgetary needs. The Ad Hoc Liaison Committee was more of a steering body that concerned itself with overall strategy related to organizing donor efforts. In that sense, the meeting had been highly successful in delivering on its main task.
Both the Palestinians and Israelis had much work to do before then, he added. Both had roles in making economic life “possible” and “making room” for the economic revival of Palestine. The international community also had a role to play in laying the foundation for specific support.
Asked to elaborate on how a Palestinian State was in Israel’s interest, Israel’s Foreign Minister Livni said, “living side by side in peace, for example, and security for Israel”. There was a vision of a two-State solution. It rested on two pillars. One was the idea of two States, two homelands for two different peoples. The other pillar was Israel’s security, which was not just Israel’s concern, but, according to the current Palestinian Government, terrorism was not part of the Palestinian ideology and that it needed to be combated, including for the safety of the Palestinians and future generations.
Ms. Livni said that the desired outcome of the bilateral track between Israelis and Palestinians was to have on the other side of Israel a “viable and vibrant” State. That was the goal and vision.
Turning to the situation in Gaza, about which a series of questions were asked, the Prime Minister said that some issues needed to be addressed as a matter of urgency. Earnest efforts had been undertaken to try to improve the security environment in Gaza, and important progress had been made, but resource management, public reform management and governance reform remained priorities. Also crucial was the international community’s role in assisting Palestinians. Another element was the role of the other principal, Israel.
He said it would be extremely difficult for normal economic life to resume until the Palestinian people could move around freely, trade and have access to international markets. At the same time, Israel’s security was of paramount concern for everyone. Security was as much a Palestinian need as it was an Israeli need, and everything was being done to improve law and order.
Was progress towards a two-State solution a two-stage process, the West Bank first and then Gaza? a correspondent asked.
“An emphatic no, absolutely not”, the Palestinian Prime Minister said. The two-State solution had been agreed and was the basis for the work -– to have a State of Israel next to a State of Palestine that obviously included the West Bank and Gaza, the land occupied in 1967.
Ms. Livni said she was familiar with the unfortunate ongoing suspicion that Israel was trying to gain time, but she assured correspondents that “stagnation is not in Israel’s interest, nor is it the Israeli Government policy”. A few years ago, Israel had withdrawn from Gaza in an effort to jumpstart the Road Map when the Palestinians refused to implement the first step towards a Palestinian State. That action had been intended as a measure that would create hope for peace, but what Israel got in return was terror.
So the problem was not Israel’s willingness, but rather the difficulties on the ground as a result of that experience, she stressed. Yes, there were conspiracy theories about the Israeli vision of dividing Gaza from the West Bank. “Not at all”, she emphasized. As for the situation on the ground, there was an effective Government in the West Bank that met the requirements of the international community and, in the Gaza Strip, there was a terrorist organization that controlled the territory, in order to attack Israel on a daily basis. At the end of the road, it was hoped that the situation in Gaza would change. Israel was working with the Palestinian Government to create one Palestinian State, she added.
Mr. Fayyad said that the current situation on the ground was not accepted as fate. On the contrary. Gaza had always been an integral part of the Palestinian Territory and always would be. The political process could go forward. The fact that a circumstance currently prevailed in Gaza was in no way an obstacle to launching the political process. The Palestinian Authority represented the Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza, and was fully empowered to enter into negotiations with Israel. Implementation would come later, subjected to internal processes.
Basically, Ms. Livni added, implementation could occur in places where there was an effective Palestinian Government that met the requirements of the international community. That might occur at different times, but the idea was to negotiate on both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Was a shadow cast over today’s talks by Israel having labelled the Gaza as an enemy entity? a correspondent asked.
The idea that Hamas won the elections and controlled the Gaza Strip was not Israel’s excuse for any kind of delay, Ms. Livni replied. It was simply an unfortunate fact, one that Israel had to face on a daily basis as Israeli civilians were targeted from Gaza. Israel’s dialogue was with the Palestinian Government that met international requirements. Internal Palestinian differences were not for Israel to comment upon, but clearly, there was a huge difference between those who believed in a two-State solution and those who represented the extreme religious ideology, which could not even accept Israel’s right to exist.
The description of Gaza as a hostile entity was merely a description of the reality, she said. That was merely a reality Israel faced as it continued simultaneously to supply the humanitarian needs of the civilians in Gaza.
Mr. Fayyad said that the declaration of Gaza as an entity of any kind was “unacceptable”. Gaza was not an entity, but part of the future State. As for the situation there now, that was temporary and transitional, and not an end fate. The 1.5 million Palestinian people living there must be kept in mind. The Palestinian Authority was responsible for them, and the world must not be indifferent to their plight.
Finally, he said, the stated intention of the Palestinian Authority to reverse the effects of the so-called “coup d’etat” in Gaza was a statement of principle regarding the current situation there. It was a logical requirement for any forward movement and a clear indication from Hamas that it would give up any and all claims to legitimacy as authority or Government over Gaza. That was what was meant by reversing what had happened.