Press Availability at the End of the Gaza Reconstruction Conference

Press Availability
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt
March 2, 2009


We had a very productive conference today. I was privileged not only to participate in the plenary session, but to meet with a number of my counterparts in the region. The opportunity to meet with leaders, prime ministers, foreign ministers, and others has given me additional insight as to the way forward. I particularly appreciated the meetings that were hosted by President Mubarak and his commitment to bridging the divides and ending the conflict. And I want to again thank Egypt for hosting this important conference.

I announced today that the United States is joining others in responding to the needs of the Palestinian people. We have made a pledge of over $900 million for humanitarian and early recovery assistance.

Now, two points clearly emerged from the conference: First, that the international community is committed to providing immediate assistance to meet the humanitarian needs in Gaza and to help the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to improve the lives of all the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. Second, that the assistance we are offering is integral to our broader goals of a comprehensive peace and a two-state solution.

We are working with our Palestinian partners to help pave the way for a responsible Palestinian state that can be independent, accountable to its people, and live in peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors.

President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad both displayed their leadership today as they outlined their objectives in their remarks. And it wasn’t only goals. There were very specific requests that I believe helped to create the confidence that led to the very large sum of money that was pledged today.

Senator Mitchell, our Special Envoy, joined me throughout the day. And as you have already seen, the United States is prepared to engage in aggressive diplomacy with all sides in pursuit of a comprehensive settlement that brings peace and security to Israel, the Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors.

And with that, I’d be glad to answer some questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you called on Israel today to show the Palestinians that there are benefits to negotiating. I guess I’m interested in what you have in mind there. Does it include freezing settlements and opening border crossings? And added to that, your EU colleague, Ms. Ferraro-Waldner, said that you will certainly make the case in Jerusalem on opening border crossings. Will you?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Israel is in the process of forming a new government, and we will be discussing specific policies with that new government once it is formed. Tomorrow, Senator Mitchell and I will be meeting with all of the major players in Israel. On Wednesday, we will go to Ramallah and meet for a working meeting with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.

As a general principle, we believe it is important for Israel to work with its responsible Palestinian partners, including President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to improve the lives of Palestinians, to expand opportunities for Palestinians, and to strengthen their capacity to govern the Palestinian people and move toward a viable state.

As I said in my remarks, to me, this is about what happens to the children in Gaza and the West Bank. I got into politics because I care deeply about what happens to children. I could never have imagined that I’d be sitting here as the United States Secretary of State. My work has always been about how to give children a better chance to live up to their God-given potential.

A child in Gaza has the same right as a child anywhere in the world to a good education, to health care, and to a better future. Parents in the West Bank have the same right as parents anywhere in the world to a good job, to housing, to a better opportunity for their children.

That is what motivates me, and I believe that will be the basis on which we discuss how best to realize the goal of a two-state solution, a comprehensive peace, and a better future for Israeli and Palestinian children.

QUESTION: This is a question from (inaudible) magazine. Will the U.S. try to convince Israel to agree on the ceasefire agreement that Egypt has done a lot to reach it? And the second point: Will you consult with the countries in the region concerning your dialogue – future dialogue with Iran? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I commend Egypt for the role that it has played in working toward a ceasefire and attempting to bring the parties together – the Palestinian parties as well as with Israel – for a durable and lasting ceasefire. But I have to confess I am troubled by the continuing rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, 15 to 18 rockets in the last several days.

We call upon all parties to move toward a durable ceasefire, but it is very difficult for any country to just sit and take rockets falling on its people. That is the crux of the Israeli problem. How are they supposed to respond when they continue to have that kind of attack? So I commend the Egyptians and know that they will continue to work toward a durable ceasefire, but I hope that we are able to get a position established where that can be done.

As to Iran, we have made it very clear that we are going to consult constantly with our friends and partners. We have made our point to the people here in Egypt, in Jordan, as well as in the Gulf and elsewhere that, as President Obama said, we are willing to extend a hand if the other side unclenches its fist in order to have some process of engagement. But it will only be done in close consultation with our friends.

MR. WOOD: Sue Pleming from Reuters, please.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in some of your meetings today, particularly with the United Arab Emirates, you expressed doubts about whether Iran will accept your overtures for talks. If indeed this is the case, then why is it such a good idea to reach out to Iran? And secondly, could you please tell us about your meeting, or your brief exchange, with the Syrian foreign minister? And do you plan to send an ambassador or an envoy there soon?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Sue, with respect to any of my meetings that I held today, I will not characterize them in any specifics. I will say, in general, that they were productive and constructive and I thought, created a greater depth of understanding and basis for our working relationship going forward.

With respect to talking with the Syrian foreign minister, I will reiterate that in consultation with our friends and allies, our partners, we are reaching out to determine what, if any, areas of cooperation and engagement are possible, and that includes with respect to Syria.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Clinton, the people in this region are pinning a lot of hope on the Obama Administration to engage actively and to help bring about a just solution. Will the U.S. Administration consider engaging with Hamas, the same way you’re reaching out to Iran, at any point? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Hamas is not a country. It is an entity that has to understand what the principles for any engagement are not just from the United States. The Quartet – which consists of the United Nations, Russia, the European Union, and the United States – as well as the Arab League are in agreement that there are certain principles that Hamas would have to adopt in order for any of us to engage with Hamas: recognize Israel, renounce violence, and agree to abide by the prior PLO agreements. Now that is not the United States talking. That is the Quartet and the Arab League. Everyone knows what Hamas must do, and it is up to Hamas.

MR. WOOD: Last question right here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible). Madame, President Sarkozy said today that he hopes to see a conference by the end of the year, to see to a declaration of a Palestinian state. From your point of view, is it possible as circumstances on the ground? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Is it possible to see the declaration of a Palestinian state?

QUESTION: In a year.



SECRETARY CLINTON: I am a very hopeful person. It would be our hope that there could certainly be progress that was tangible, that positively affected the lives of the Palestinian people, which led to the possibility, the probability, of a viable state.

You all know that this is a very difficult and complex set of issues. You also know that I personally am very committed to this. And I know that it can be done. I believe that with all my heart. The timing of it will depend upon human effort and political will on all sides. It is not either/or, it is everyone. We have to decide whether we are ready to move on to other issues, whether we’re ready to say: yes, let’s take a chance on peace, and let’s provide the opportunity for the Palestinian people to build and create a better future for their children.

You will see the amount of effort that the United States puts into this. I was talking to President Mubarak this morning about the many, many conversations he had with my husband in the 1990s, where they would stay up all night, night after night, and make maybe this much progress. But that much progress was worth it, because somebody didn’t die and somebody had a better life and somebody wasn’t turned from hope to despair.

I wish it could happen tomorrow. I wish it could happen certainly by the end of this year. But I will not give up. We will make progress. We made progress today. The amount of money committed was significant. The presentation from Prime Minister Fayyad was as good as I’ve seen from anybody. I mean, that’s a presentation that should make every person proud, because it was so professional, so well thought out, and it inspired confidence. The statement of President Abbas about working together to achieve a state should give absolute proof that we’re not giving up on the two-state solution; we are committed to it.

I feel passionately about this. This is something that is in my heart, not just in my portfolio.

And it is something that means a great deal to our Special Envoy. Some of you know that George Mitchell’s father was Irish and his mother was Lebanese. Well, he solved half of his family’s problems. So now he’s here working on the second half, and we hope that we will see it come to fruition. (Applause.)


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PRN: 2009/T2-2