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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: United Kingdom
1 March 2005



PM's press conference with President Mahmoud Abbas

Prime Minister:

Right. Good afternoon everyone. First of all let me express my warm thanks once again to President Abbas and all his colleagues who have attended the conference here today but also to the United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan, to the Presidency of the European Commission, Condoleezza Rice on behalf of the United States of America and the Foreign Ministers of many different European and Arab and other countries who have attended the conference here today. And I think it may just help if I try and explain what we've been trying to achieve through the course of this conference and you will have I think now the 17-page document that is the communiqué and will set out for you in detail the agreements that we've reached. But the thing I really want to say is this - everybody can talk about the possibility of an independent, viable Palestinian state; we can all make speeches about it; we can all make declarations in favour of it. What we have today is an agreement not just on behalf of the Palestinian authority that has got to usher in such a state but also on behalf of the whole of the international community as to the practical steps, the foundation stones necessary to create that viable state in the future and without those foundation stones it simply will not happen. The agreement that we have reached today is an agreement which has three sections to it. The first is in respect of governance, where the Palestinian Authority have set out the steps that they want to take, steps in relation to elections, steps in relation to the institutions of any future Palestinian state, measures in respect of security, to bring coherence to security structures to make sure we've the best possible chance of defeating the terrorism that will inevitably want to disrupt this process and measures also in respect of economic and social development because that is a vital aspect of the future for any Palestinian state. In addition to those measures, which some of you will see summarised before you, that in the laws, in the practical steps necessary, there is the commitment by the international community to support that because building this capacity and capability takes a great deal of work. And in respect of governance, the European Commission, not only the European Commission but the European Commission principally has agreed to do a lot of the work there in order to assist the Palestinian authority with what they want to achieve there. In respect of security there is to be a United States security co-ordinating group led by General Ward, who also attended the conference here today, which will co-ordinate the support for the measures necessary to get proper security structures. And then in relation to economic and social development, the World Bank obviously, whose President Jim Wolfenson attended today, plays a crucial role. And so what you have today right from the very outset and I've tried to say to people what this conference can be and what it can't be. What it can't be is a substitute for the eventual negotiation of a final settlement between Israel and Palestine. That is something that must await a future date. However, if that is to succeed, what must be clear is what are the building blocks of that independent, viable Palestinian state - viable not just in terms of its territory, which should be contiguous as President Bush set out last week, but viable also in terms of its institutions. That's the purpose of it. And what we've achieved today is an international consensus upon that. I also want to make one other point, which is you know why is it so important for us here, not just in Britain but in Europe and elsewhere, to give this support. I described it recently as the single most pressing political challenge. There are many other challenges that we face and we'll be debating some of them at the G8 later this year, but I'd describe this as the most pressing political challenge for this reason. Right round the world, in Britain, in Europe, elsewhere, not just in Israel, in the Palestinian territory, in the Middle East but right round the world this is the issue that causes as much misunderstanding, division, concern, worry as virtually any other in the whole of the international community and if we are able to make progress on it, that is relevant and of interest of course primarily to the Palestinian people, to the Israeli people. It is also a major part of ensuring the security and stability of countries like Britain, of the European Union, of the whole of the rest of the world. You know much of the poison that we want to take out of international relations has swirled around as a result of the failure to make progress on this issue. The benefit, if we are able to succeed, will not just be felt by the Palestinian people or the Israelis, vital and primary though that is, it will be felt by all of us. That's why it's important to do it. We had a reminder last Friday in the terrorist act in Tel Aviv of how there will be people who try to disrupt this progress. The best answer we can give from the international community is to make it clear that these terrorists who want to destroy the possibility of people living side by side in peace are not going to succeed. They are not going to succeed in Palestine; they are not going to succeed anywhere else; they are not going to succeed in Israel. Now I think the other interesting thing that's happening is that the changes that President Abbas and his colleagues want to see and we want to support are part of a whole series of changes going through this region at the moment and for the past few years on occasions times have seemed very dark indeed. I think we can see some light. We don't over-state it. We don't become complacent about progress towards it but I think today's conference hopefully is one step and a significant one to achieving the goal that you I know Mr President want to see, that your people want to see and that all of us want to see, which is an Israel confident of its security, living side by side in peace with an independent, viable Palestinian state. I hope we can achieve it. Thank you, sir.

President Abbas:

I would like to thank Prime Minister Tony Blair for his invitation to attend this conference and for his effort towards holding this significant and important conference which is in line with the role that Mr Blair personally plays and Britain plays as well to revive the peace process in the Middle East. And also to consider the peace process as a priority in British politics and international politics.

Also I would like to thank all friendly and brotherly countries and organisations taking part in this conference. I would like to thank them for the support shown to us today to help the Palestinian Authority.
I would like to express my gratitude for the teams that have planned for this conference on both sides, the British and Palestinian sides. The results of this conference have been very positive and fruitful. It was an opportunity for the Palestinian delegation to express its political view and its programmes to reconstruct institutions based on democracy and the, and the right of law. We have noticed an international backing for our efforts to implement our programmes that have been put forward to the conference and these programmes included political, economic, financial support and other fields as well.

We have also witnessed the support of the international understanding towards the difficulties we are facing. We have taken opportunities for this, from this conference to express our plans regarding peace, reforms and economic reforms. We have tabled these plans to the conference and they will help us rebuild a better future for our people.

Today we have strongly condemned the suicide operation that has, that had targeted Israeli citizens. All Palestinian factions have condemned this operation. The Palestinian faction have renewed once again their commitment to the truce and we are in the process of taking a series of measures to uncover the perpetrators of that operation and will put them before trial.

We are committed to the peace process and to the results of the Sharm el Sheikh Conference. We are doing everything we can to preserve the peace and the truce and also to implement our commitments towards the Road Map. We hope for a speedy return to the spirit of reconciliation through peaceful negotiations and successful negotiation based on legality and international legitimacy that would strengthen and put an end to the 1967 occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian State, a democratic and independent state and viable that would live side by side to the State of Israel.

Mr Prime Minister we used to believe and so many people used to believe as well that we were alone in the region, that we were in conflict. However other countries are interested as well. We are confident that the international community is interested with this cause because it has become its own cause and the security of the region is the security of all the international community. Thank you.

Question:

Prime Minister notwithstanding your remarks about foundation stones, would anything have been lost if this meeting hadn't taken place? And secondly the Israelis aren't here. What do you want them to hear from this meeting and more importantly what do you want them to do?

Prime Minister:

Well first of all when you say what, what is lost, I think if you just go through the commitments on either side, from the Palestinian Authority side, now of course these are things the Palestinian Authority has been working on for some time, but to have them set out here and brought to fruition I think is important. The new electoral law, the sustainable pension law, the abolition of the state security courts, the implementation of the new judicial authority law, the amended civil service law - a whole series of measures in respect of local and legislative elections. And international community commitments for the political and financial and technical support necessary to do that.

In respect for example of security the establishment of certain clear chains of command of bringing all the forces within three branches, of the empowering of the National Security Council, of the renewed security co-ordination with Israel, the financial accountability of the services matched as I say by a new system of co-ordinating the follow up on that security. And then when you look on the economic development I don't merely mean things like the action to combat corruption and have a unified pension law, but also the legal, judicial and security measures necessary to create the infrastructure of a stronger national economy and measures to stimulate private sector growth and the creation of a mechanism to respond to Israeli withdrawals when those start to happen. Plus international commitments including donor conferences and so on.

Now I think that, that possibly there's been a misunderstanding right from the very beginning about what this conference can and can't do. It never was our intention to have this as a negotiation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. That is for a later time to negotiate a final settlement and solution, you know, based on the Road Map. But let us be absolutely clear. We're not at the point where we can do that yet, but we've got to get there.

Now we've had the election of the new Palestinian President successfully done. We have got coming up the disengagement from the Gaza and a small part of the West Bank set out by Prime Minister Sharon. What is essential is that throughout those steps there is the building of the institutions necessary to create a viable Palestinian State otherwise it remains just words. And here today you've got clear commitments from the Palestinian Authority, clear commitments from the international community, recognised methods of following those up with the European Commission, the World Bank, the security co-ordinating group led by the United States and now for the first time the entire international community agreed on this. These are the steps that we have to take.

Now the best people to answer is that significant at all are those in the Palestinian Authority. But I'm not over stating this, I'm not saying this is, you know, the final conference that negotiates the solution, I'm not saying that and that's why, you know, it always was a misunderstanding to believe that this could be a, an Israeli Palestinian conference, but it is the international community coming behind the Palestinian Authority in their desire to create viable institutions for a viable state. And if we succeed in carrying these things through there is no reason why we can not have that negotiated solution that has a just and lasting peace to it and I think when you go through the seventeen pages and they're not seventeen pages of just words, they're actually specifically setting out all the different measures, I think you'll find that actually if we're able to implement those they will make a very big difference.

Question:

The Final Conclusions mentioned the forming of security coordination groups led by the USA. But the USA and Israel call for the dismantling of Palestinian armed groups, as well as the dismantling of organisations, on top of which are Hamas and Islamic Jihad, this is an issue that falls in the arena of security coordination. What is the remit of this committee with regards to security coordination? Also don't these Israeli and US demands form obstacles in the face of this coordination?

President Abbas:

There are events going on between us and the Israelis. Perhaps incursions and counter-incursions at the borders, which greatly prejudice the peace process and the security question. We said more than a month ago that we announced a one-sided ceasefire. The Americans and the Israelis welcomed that, and then we started negotiations that lasted for two weeks and resulted in the Sharm El-Sheikh summit conclusions, the most important of which is that Israel announced on its part a ceasefire against the Palestinians anywhere. That was in addition to the withdrawal from areas in the West Bank and the agreement on measures for the release of the POWs and on those people who are wanted and those deported. All of these issues need to be monitored. They require someone to see and to tell whether there is something right or wrong. For example, if we were in the West Bank and the Tulkarm operation took place in Tel Aviv and Mr Ward were there, he would have been able to say whether the Palestinians made or did not make a mistake, and so on in many operations. Therefore, having observers of this kind is to preserve the ceasefire and progress it step by step till, God Willing, we get to a Palestinian State.

Question:

Do you believe that the Syrian government is actively trying to obstruct or destabilise the process on which you embarked? And what is your message to their government?

President Abbas:

What I can say is that from what I personally heard from the Syrian officials when I visited Damascus around two months ago, and the statement by Mr Farouq Al-Shara'a that I heard yesterday, I am confident that the Syrians believe in the peace process and are trying by all means to do their best so that all the Palestinian organisations are united, this is an issue which concerns the Palestinian organisations at the moment. And we were glad to see that when these organisations heard of this operation they condemned it and denied it and announced their commitment to the ceasefire. This is all I have to say on this.

Question:

Mr Abu Mazen, you talked about the international community's understanding of the difficulties that the PA face, but it seems that the Quartet have exercised more pressures on the Palestinians and asked for further security measures to stop what they called terrorist acts. Are you going to take more security measures than what you have already taken, that is, reaching a ceasefire by the Palestinian armed brigades?

President Abbas:

Security measures were not imposed by anybody, neither by the Quartet nor by members of the Quartet collectively or individually. Security control is a Palestinian interest. It is in the interest of us and of our people, in order to live a normal peaceful life, and so that the Palestinian people rest reassured about their living, their families and their children, so that we live in security. Therefore we imposed this and decided to do this. Thus we have unified the security forces to be consolidated side by side to carry out their security tasks. If this coincides with what was set out in the Roadmap, it does not mean that there were pressures because it is in our own interest in the first place, and indeed in the interest of the peace process with the Israelis because the Israelis too need to have peace and security by them as well as by us.

Question:

Could I ask the Prime Minister, 2 things? First of all in hard cash terms how much money has been pledged by the European Commission and other governments and the international community generally to help this process and what are the commitments that have been given today? And secondly, do you think any of this could have happened without the arrival of President Abbas to lead the Palestinians?

Prime Minister:

I think on the second point, I'm grateful that he is here and that it has happened. On the first point, there is a commitment by the European Union through the European Commission, of a sum I think is roughly 330million US dollars for the next year. I think the United States has announced I think it's 350million dollars. We have announced upping our contribution to 30million pounds, funds which I can't work out exactly what the exchange rate is, but it is more. And also many of the other countries, changes from time to time, there's also many of the other countries around the table who are committing financial support. I think the important thing is to recognise though, and this point has been made very strongly by President Abbas but also by the Finance Minister for the Palestinian Authority, in the end it is progress in getting confidence, dismantling restrictions that will let the Palestinian Authority do well. The Palestinian people want to make their own living so there is a strong financial commitment from many parts from the financial and international community, but I think the single most important thing for the Palestinian Authority is to have the progress on the peace track that allows the restrictions to start coming down, that allows things like the sea port and the airport and these things to be done, which will make a difference to their economy.

Question:

British Prime Minister, we have a lot of commitments last few weeks, even last few months, you started it where after the Labour Party conference in Bournemouth where you said that the Arab Israeli conflict and solving this problem is one of your top priorities. Also we had heard the (name) last week in Brussels talking about a viable Palestinian state. What kind of message you sent to the Palestinian who have been watching so many conferences and peace accords in Washington, in Oslo, in Cairo, you know after today?

Prime Minister:

I think the message to send to people is, everybody now knows what everybody wants and we all want the same thing. We've set out what should happen, on the Palestinian side, what should happen on the international side. We've got the Road Map there. Sure there are difficult issues to negotiate at the end of the day, but everyone has agreed we want the two-state solution and you know, of course there will be a weariness on the part of many Palestinians after what has happened over the past few years. That is very natural. But the only alternative is to get back off the ground again and go forward, and that's what we're trying to do under the new leadership of the Palestinian Authority, and the international community wants to support that. A couple of years ago, people said to me, the international community will never agree, President Bush will not push this forward but actually it's not merely my commitment to this. President Bush has been repeating this commitment in every single major speech that he has made, I think that he has made in the past few months, I think, since his re-election as President of the United States. That commitment is there. I think we've got a script that is clearer today than every before. Now, having the script is not the same as putting it into action, but the script is very clear and I think the big change that has happened is this. Everybody now accepts the two-state solution, the existence of Israel is secure, and that's got to be accepted by everybody, everybody accepts that the Palestinian Authority has a right to their own independent, viable state in which they can live as a free and sovereign people. Everyone accepts that that state has to be viable in terms of its territory, which is why it can't be little scattered pockets of isolated territory, it has to be contiguous, but it also has to be viable in terms of its democracy, it's security, its economy, and everybody accepts that it can't happen without the whole of the international community coming behind the efforts of Israel and of the Palestinian Authority to make these changes. That script is in my experience, and I've been looking at this issue for best part of a decade, and that script is clearer than it's ever been. Doing it, I agree, is the great task, but nobody can be in any doubt what it is people expect us to do and people want us to do.

Question:

Prime Minister, as you may be aware, some people in Israel remain nervous about today's conference. And there is concern that there's lack of clarity, lack of pro-active approach on certain aspects of security, they include a decommissioning of arms, decommissioning of terrorist groups, stopping the rockets that still seem to be landing on Israeli territory, the interrogation of suspects, and the tunnels that have caused a lot of problems. And may I take the opportunity to ask, President Abbas, if I may, can you say more about the origins of last Friday night's terrorist attack? Have you asked for example, if Syria can close down the offices of the terrorist groups in Damascus and does the trail actually lead back to Iran and what are we asking the international community to do? Thank you.

Prime Minister:

A fair amount of things for you to answer Mr. President. But let me try to answer the first point. One of the reasons why we wanted to hold this conference was because there are many obligations set out in the Road Map on security, then there is the Tenant Plan, which you remember, and Zinni Plan, which you remember. And it always seemed to me that the obligations in general principle were clear, to stop all terrorism, to stop all violent actions. What was missing was an agreement as to what security structures needed to be in place, so that you would have some prospect in succeeding in all these aims that were set out in the Tenant Plan, the Zinni Plan, or the Road Map. Together with a mechanism to follow it up and monitor it because as the President just said a moment or two ago, we all know what is going to happen, last Friday's events prove it. There will be people out there who watch this now and say, we will try and disrupt and derail it by terrorism, by acts of violence. Those extremists will carry on. That we know. What we are trying to do is put in place a series of structures and a mechanism headed by General Ward which allows us to say, no actually the Palestinian Authority are doing the things that are necessary for them to do, and what's more they're being supported in that by the International Community, led by an American general and a coordinating group. And that gives us the best prospect then, of what I call an insurance policy against the next suicide attempt or terrorist bomb. Because it allows us to say, look, here is what the international community and the Palestinian Authority agree must be done and here is an objective method of monitoring whether it is being done. It's not the thing being done, but it is a very clear script of what is expected. And you know, of course this is going to be very difficult, but President Abbas and his colleagues have made it very clear to abide by their obligations. What they ask in return, however, is that Israel, if those obligations are being fulfilled, also makes the moves necessary on its part to ensure that that viable Palestinian State can come into being. I think that's what he's trying to achieve and what we're trying to achieve.

President Abbas:

With regard to the operation that took place on Friday, it is only 4 days since it happened. Till now we do not have a lot of information. And before I continue answering this I promise you that we will present all the information we have available on this operation, the perpetrators and those who are behind it if there is anybody behind it. But I want you to understand one important thing, that is the Sharm El-Sheikh Agreement calls on the Israeli Forces to withdraw from 5 cities or areas, including the area from which this man who carried out the suicide in Tel Aviv comes. Of course the Israeli Forces are there, so the Israeli Forces are responsible for security, not the Palestinian Forces. I would like to mention a paradox, and I am not complaining about the Israeli Government here. When the newly appointed Palestinian Interior Minister went to investigate in Tulkarm, the IDF stopped him entering that area. I am not seeking excuses or justifications, but I only say that this is a fact. But we are fully determined to pursue those and whoever are behind them and put them to justice no matter what the reasons are.

Question:

I would like to ask about whether you have discussed the responsibilities of the Israelis toward this process because it sounds, it looks like we are talking about responsibility only of the Palestinians and I would like to ask the Prime Minister the same thing.

President Abbas:

All of us here reviewed, talked about and condemned the operation. This conference is not the place for trial or to find out how it happened or who is responsible. But everybody knows that in the roadmap there are commitments and counter-commitments. Therefore the issue is that we did not come here for investigation, but everybody condemned the operation, and everybody understands that there are commitments to be met by the PA and commitments to be met by the Israeli State. These commitments are parallel and run side by side, and both parties are supposed to implement them. But, as I said, we condemn the operation itself and we denounce it, and so did everybody else.

Prime Minister:

Of course the Israelis have got obligations that are set out in the Road Map and they're very important that they're kept. There's no doubt about that. This is a not obligation simply on the Palestinian side, this is support for what the Palestinians themselves want to do. They want to create a state with a proper judicial system, proper legal system, and proper electoral law. They want to create a state where one state mechanism is in charge of security; the elected President is in charge of security, not terrorist groups, other groups doing their work. They want to create a state in which it's clear that there is going to be a well-run economy, properly established. So when we look at these as if they're obligations, in one sense they are because they are commitments people are taking on. But another sense, they're opportunities for the Palestinian people. The importance of today is to get the international community behind the Palestinian Authority in doing this. Now, none of this obviates the need for Israel to live up to its own obligations, and those obligations will be to help President Abbas and his colleagues as they move towards progress, to help ensure for example, when there is the disengagement, that there is proper coordination and cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, to help make sure that we can have the proper negotiation that gives the Palestinian Authority the territory they want and need and deserve on the basis of international resolutions going back many many years. But you know, I have learned sufficient about this the past few years to realise that talking about this issue and expressing our desire for this independent Palestinian State is very easy but what has been more difficult to do is to describe what is actually means and to get the international community in one place behind it. Now that's what we've tried to do. And I mean just, I was saying to the President informally earlier, when we were talking together, for myself and many of the leaders of countries that take a pretty keen interest in this, the months of preparatory work we've done for this conference on our side and the European Union elsewhere with many of the other Arab countries and obviously with the Palestinian Authority. We've actually managed to bring, for me at any rate, maybe not for others, but for me certainly, a clarity about what we expect that I think is a hopeful sign but of course none of that obviates the need for Israel also to take the steps that it should take and that is important too, but this is about supporting the Palestinian Authority, it's not about pushing something on them, it's about supporting them in what they have decided what they want to do, rightly in my view.


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