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Source: United States of America
27 March 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice > What the Secretary Has Been Saying > 2007 > March

Remarks After Meetings With Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
March 27, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: Good morning. During this trip, I have had intensive discussions with Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas about how to move forward.

There is a growing consensus behind President Bush’s vision of the State of Israel and the new State of Palestine living side by side in peace and security, as well as an urgent desire to achieve it. The violent extremism we see in the Middle East poses a grave threat to all who seek peace.

President Abbas truly desires to be a partner for peace. Prime Minister Sharon recognized this at Aqaba, and Prime Minister Olmert recognizes it now. President Abbas told his people that he could end the occupation by ending violence, that he could lead them to statehood by leading them to reform, and they elected him by a large majority.

The work of peace is made more complex now by the nature of the newly formed National Unity Government. The Quartet’s position is clear. A path of cooperation with the new Palestinian government exists, but it is blocked by Hamas’s continued unwillingness to commit itself, by word and deed, to the Quartet principles – renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist, and adhering to previous agreements and obligations. A Palestinian Authority that accepts those principles could contribute significantly to the fulfillment of their people’s longing for a better life and a state of their own – steps that must begin with abandoning terrorism and securing the release of Corporal Shalit.

There is, nonetheless, a path that we can and should pursue now. We will join with responsible leaders like President Abbas who are eager to make progress towards peace and the establishment of a Palestinian state. So Prime Minister Olmert, President Abbas, and I have met for discussions and agreed on new actions to accelerate that progress.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have agreed that they plan to meet together biweekly. This very positive development builds on their previous meetings and will benefit both Israelis and Palestinians.

The United States has a unique relationship with each party, and we will do our part to support their engagement. So I will meet with the Prime Minister and the President periodically – sometimes separately, sometimes together – in whatever form will be most effective to accelerate progress. The Israelis and Palestinians are taking the initial step on the path to peace, and the American role will include helping them to overcome obstacles, develop new ideas, and rally international support for their efforts.

The meetings between the Israelis and Palestinians will focus on two sets of issues. First, they will discuss immediate concerns, like movement and access, management of the passages, and preventing arms smuggling and rocket fire by terrorists in Gaza. On issues like these, the United States is already deeply involved in helping them. On this trip, however, it became clear to all of us that establishing clear benchmarks to measure progress will help us move forward. So this is one immediate task that the parties will undertake with the assistance of General Keith Dayton.

In their discussions together, the parties will also begin to discuss the development of a political horizon, consistent with the establishment of a Palestinian state in accordance with the Roadmap. As I've noted before, we are not yet at final status negotiations. These are initial discussions to build confidence between the parties. Palestinians must know that their state will be viable. Israelis must know that a future state of Palestine will be a source of security, not a threat to it. Both sides must have confidence that economic and trade relations between them will promote the welfare of their populations.

The efforts in which they engage will help to build confidence and therefore ease the path to negotiations to establish two states living side by side in peace and security. I will talk to each party in parallel as well to help structure a common approach to discussions of a political horizon – one that will lead us to more concrete and specific steps.

I will also ask the two sides to identify what the international community can help them to do -- can do to help them succeed – not after the hard work is done and the ink is dry on an agreement, but right now. Regional states and members of the international community should participate actively in diplomacy to advance the achievement of peace. Applause at the end of the road will be welcome, but help now in moving down that road is far more important. One area is helping the Palestinians build their economy through generous assistance delivered in a manner to assure its proper application.

New thinking and new action will also be necessary on the part of Israel’s neighbors. Saudi Crown Prince – now King – Abdallah’s initiative of 2002, later endorsed by the Arab League, was a welcome example of such new thinking. Now, at this critical moment, we look for our friends and partners of long-standing to build on this important initiative.

Just as Israelis and Palestinians must clarify a political horizon together, the Arab states must clarify a political horizon for Israel. These paths do not substitute for one another; they reinforce one another. The Arab states should begin reaching out to Israel – to reassure Israel that its place in the region will be more, not less secure, by an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state; to show Israel that they accept its place in the Middle East; and to demonstrate that the peace they seek is greater than just the absence of war. Such bold outreach can turn the Arab League’s words into the basis of active diplomacy, and it can hasten the day when a state called Palestine will take its rightful place in the international community.

Through tasks like these, all those nations that seek a negotiated solution can help make it possible – and help make it possible sooner. We all need to tackle the work of peace with urgency. It is a complex undertaking, and it will take time and effort. But President Bush and I are committed to this challenge. As the President said last Friday, “Peace in the Middle East is a top priority for this administration.” We want to see the creation of a Palestinian state. We want to see lasting security for Israel. And we will help the parties prepare for successful negotiations that can end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, once and for all.

Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you're interested in a discussion of the political horizon, but hasn't it become clear in the last 24 hours that the Israeli Prime Minister and many other Israelis simply don't feel the time is right in this environment to begin talking about these key issues related to the final agreements necessary to open the way for a two-state solution?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, Paul, we're finally opening doors here, not closing them, and that's the spirit in which I found my discussions with both the Israelis and the Palestinians. There's hard work to do. It's been a long time since Palestinians and Israelis really talked about their future in the way that they will. These are serious people. When we're going to begin the dialogue and when they have that dialogue, I'm quite sure that it's going to move ahead and they are going to address more and more, and I'm going to be here to help them.

But they need to build some confidence that, in fact, there is going to be a viable Palestinian state on the part of the Palestinians. There have been some signs over the last few years that, of course, that is possible. I would cite, for instance, the Herzliya speech of Prime Minister Sharon and the withdrawal from the Gaza. But there are still questions in the minds of Palestinians about whether or not, in fact, their state will be viable. There are questions in the minds of the Israelis given the continued terrorism that they face that a Palestinian state can be constructed and built, and Israel can be more secure not less secure. They really do need to talk about this future and this horizon.

But again, I'm delighted that they are going to talk and they're going to talk often. And when people talk often and they're serious people, as the Prime Minister is and President Abbas is, they will have a meaningful discussion about their future. And again, they've opened doors, not closed them.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you defined success for this trip as getting both sides to agree to parallel talks on a common set of issues, including some big ones like what might be defined as a security concept on both sides. Does this agreement do that? Will they really be talking about things of that scope?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I definitely think they will talk about a security concept. If you think about the importance of the security concept, it really is to address the question that I just raised on both sides. When you have a viable Palestinian state, what will be its character, what will be the contents of it; what then in the context of an Israel that has withdrawn then will be the security arrangements, the security context that allows Palestinians to live viably and Israelis to live in security?

We will have -- I will employ many ways to do this. I expect to talk to them about tools. I expect to talk to them about principles. I expect to talk to them about what the international community can do to support. But again, we need to let them start this discussion, Anne, and we have agreed that there needs to be a common approach and I will help them get to that common approach. So yes, I think we've achieved what we set out to achieve.

I will say that I achieved -- they achieved something that I frankly didn't expect to achieve, which is the very regularized meetings between the two of them in which they will talk not just about their specific and more day-to-day issues but also about a political horizon. As you will remember, when I came here I talked a lot about doing this in parallel and doing it with each of them bilaterally, but I think that perhaps the most important thing is that they've agreed to talk together. Now, occasionally I'll show up and I'll talk with them, but nothing can substitute for the importance of the parties sitting down together regularly talking about the issues before them.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, what is the point of talking about the core issues of a political horizon when the Palestinian side cannot deliver the basic issues like stopping terror, like releasing Corporal Shalit? And are there any benchmarks or deadlines in the sets of meetings that you set today between the Prime Minister and the President of the Palestinian Authority?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is an important point that while they talk about their future and the political horizon, it is important not to lose sight of what's going on on the ground. And that is why in this trip we also decided that General Dayton should work with each side to develop benchmarks. Now, we need benchmarks on the issue of the ceasefire; that is, stopping the Qassams and the elements of the ceasefire. We also need benchmarks on movement and access.

And when I was here and negotiated the movement and access agreement, I think that there were expectations about what that might do for the livelihood of the Palestinian people, for the vitality and viability of the Palestinian economy. And I have concerns that the movement and access agreement, even though it's moving forward, is not having the overall effect on the lives of the Palestinian people that it might. And I'm concerned that the ceasefire is not having the effect on the security of the Israelis that it ought to.

And so I fully expect that when the parties meet bilaterally they're going to talk a lot about how to make life on the ground better for Palestinians and Israelis. I think benchmarks that General Dayton can develop with them and that we can all observe and monitor will help both parties to achieve what they need to on the ground. Because you're absolutely right; as things get better on the ground, so too will the confidence that moving forward toward establishment of the Palestinian state is going to work.

QUESTION: I'm Zajuan from Al-Jazeera again and I have two questions, please. My first one is what was real reason of this delaying of this conference? Is it really -- did you really have any problems with Prime Minister --

SECRETARY RICE: Let me just answer for you. I decided to delay this conference yesterday morning because, quite frankly, I'm better in the morning than I am at 9 o'clock at night. And people who know me know that I go to bed at 9:30. I didn't last night, but I go to bed at 9:30; and frankly, I thought that it would be better to do it this morning. I'm fresher, you're fresher, and we did do some more work last night. But I think we could have tried to do that work earlier, but I decided to delay this press conference first thing yesterday morning.

QUESTION: Hope you feel better now.

SECRETARY RICE: I do. Thank you. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Always your statements are full of hope; but practical, you were here last month, you are here again and you are visiting President Abbas, you are coming back to Israel, traveling to Amman, but we don't really feel that something new is happening as the peace process and it seems like all of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict going around gradually and releasing him, no one almost anymore talking about the final solution, nothing about Jerusalem, nothing about the refugees, for example. So what's going on really? Nothing new is happening for me. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. I've been here -- you're right -- four times in the last four months and I've talked to the parties a lot. Things are changing on the ground; for instance, the establishment of the Palestinian unity government came in the midst of the time between having established that we would meet in a trilateral and the actual convening of that trilateral. That changed the circumstances and we had to work through that.

But let me just say something. This conflict has been around for decades. It hasn't ever been resolved. And I don't expect that four visits in four months is going to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What I do expect is that we have on the part of both parties, I think, a renewed desire to see a resolution of that conflict, and that has been building over now a period of years.

When Prime Minister Sharon talked in his Herzliya address about the need to share the land and make painful compromises, that was different for a segment of the Israeli political leadership that had not really accepted the two-state solution that President Bush proposed. When the Israelis withdrew from Gaza unilaterally but in a coordinated way, it established that withdrawal is possible. When President Abbas was elected by the Palestinian people in a free and fair election to be president of their country on a platform that said that peaceful negotiations is the way to a state, and by the way, the election of a man whose entire political life has been really devoted to that view, something changed. And so a lot has changed now in the circumstances underneath and I think it gives us a better chance to achieve what we all want: two states living side by side, Israel and Palestine.

But we have to recognize that a conflict that has gone on for decades and in which there is so much mistrust and in which there's been so much violence and so much death, it's going to take some time to achieve our goal. I have spent a lot of time looking back at past efforts and I've asked myself the question, "Why haven't they succeeded?" I'm quite confident that unless you prepare the groundwork well, unless you give the parties a chance to have confidence, unless you give them a chance to have confidence before they have to confront each other on the most sensitive issues, you're not going to succeed. You're just going to get people going to their corners.

And so I think the really important thing that we've done over the last few months is that they're not in their corners; they're in the same room and they're going to walk down a path together. As I said earlier, they've opened doors. They're not closing them. And that is -- that's a really important step.

I also think it will be a very important step if their neighbors, the Arab states, can support the diplomacy of Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation with Arab-Israeli reconciliation and the international community has to be involved, too. I understand the frustration and I understand the skepticism because, as I said, it's gone on for decades. But as I said in Ramallah, the Palestinian people have waited long enough for their state and the Israeli people have waited long enough for the security that would come from a democratic and secure and stable neighbor devoted to peace and security for both. So we just have to work and work and work. Thank you.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, can you just give us a sense of what you think you can achieve in the time left you have as Secretary of State. You talked about a big bang. I mean, do you think there will be a big bang whilst you are Secretary of State in the sense of trying to resolve this crisis?

SECRETARY RICE: Jonathan, I think that it's more likely that we will put in the hard work at the front end -- we have to do that; that the parties will take steps individually and together; that they will develop a sense of confidence. It is extremely important, as the journalist mentioned, that conditions on the ground continue to develop in a positive direction too because there needs to be a desire and there needs to be an effort, a successful effort, to fight terrorism and there needs to be a successful effort to improve the lives of the Palestinian people so that these discussions can continue and be fruitful.

But we're on a path here that, yes, at the beginning I think needs to be careful, needs to build confidence. But very often what happens in international politics is that you put in the hard work up front and then there's an opening, an opening that perhaps you didn't expect at the time that you started; you don't really know when it's going to come; and all of a sudden, you can move forward much more quickly because a lot of the groundwork has been laid.

Now, I can't tell if you that will happen on our watch or not. We're going to put everything that we possibly can into making it happen. We've still got considerable time ahead of us. I'm not going to try to prejudge when that moment might come, but we believe and I think everybody believes that, yes, it's going to be important to have negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state, negotiations within the context of the roadmap but negotiations that can lead to the establishment of that state.

And what we need to do right now is to lay the groundwork so that when that time comes those negotiations have a chance to succeed. A lot of work has been done over the last decades before us, and so it's not inconceivable that getting there we could really finally end this. But my goal is not to worry about whether it's on our watch or not. Obviously, the President has made it a very high priority so he would like it to be while he is President. But our responsibility is to pursue the process in a way that is likely to make it successful.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, it seems that every time -- along the same questions that we heard before, it seems that every time the United States is trying to put both Israelis and the Palestinians on a fast lane, somehow it always falls back to first square too. Are you disappointed? We hear a lot of confidence that things will happen. Are you disappointed? You know, many observers here identified frustration on your behalf. Did that come up in the meeting that you had with the Prime Minister last night? Is it recalcitrant Palestinians? What is it? Can you put a finger on it, real reason to why things are not happening?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I just question the premise of the question. Of course, things are happening. A few months ago, we had the Mecca agreement which I think we welcomed the King's efforts to end the violence between Palestinians. But it did complicate things because the establishment of a government that does not -- that is not Quartet-compliant is difficult and it causes complications in the path toward a Palestinian state. But last time I was here, I think we were able to regroup in a sense. We were able to hold the trilateral.

But then the question became what would the Palestinians and Israelis be able to do together. And so now we've established that they will work together -- President Abbas, who is the person who accepts the Quartet principles, with Prime Minister Olmert. They're going to do it regularly. They are going to do it not just on the concrete issues on the ground but also on their future and on a political horizon. I'm going to join them from time to time and I'm going to work with each of them in parallel from a common approach.

That establishes the framework now for moving forward to build this confidence so that when we get to negotiations they are on a basis that will actually have a chance to succeed. Again, this is a conflict that is decades old. I assume that had it been easy to resolve it, it would have been resolved by now. And so we're now going to take the next steps so that when they do begin to negotiate, and I think I said before I came here that the time is not now for formal negotiations, the time is now for them together in their very important bilateral channel and occasionally periodically with me in working with them, to develop this fundamental foundation of confidence.

QUESTION: Thank you. You talked about the hard work that went on last night and how you were up later than you usually are.

SECRETARY RICE: Definitely. (Laughter.) Frankly, Elaine, not that much later.



QUESTION: And you talked about the importance of having them meet regularly. But what was the sticking point that caused all this hard work to go and when was the moment that you knew that you had what you came for and so that these meetings could continue regularly?

SECRETARY RICE: Elaine, there is always a lot of back and forth and discussion and trying to understand precisely where we're going, so I'm not going to give you a play-by-play on what our people talked about. But we got to where we needed to be, and where we needed to be was that first of all -- and I want to just underscore this because I do think there was some concern -- that the bilateral channel is not going to be supplanted somehow by work that the sides do with me. That's extremely important. It's a principle that the United States President has held and, in fact, I think Americans have held for quite a long time.

And so how to structure this so that the bilateral discussions between the parties remain a focal point for them to resolve their own concerns. Then how to have a common approach that I can use with both parties so that I can help to push the discussions forward, so that we can discuss what principles they are operating under, what tools they need, what help they need from the international community, and connecting with them trilaterally periodically.

So that's one of the issues we discussed. We came out where I think we needed to come out. But again, you know, I'm not going to give you the -- talk about the play-by-play. These things are never particularly easy. Actually, I believe that the discussions last night were good and they were clarifying. My discussions with Abu Mazen have been good and clarifying. And I think we're exactly where I hoped we would be.

Thank you very much.


Released on March 27, 2007

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