Remarks With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Ramallah, West Bank
March 4, 2009

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, we welcome Mrs. Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, in her first visit to the Palestinian territories, and we thank her for the positions, the supporting positions towards the Palestinian question, and for what His Excellency President Obama has expressed and demonstrated in terms of such positions, particularly what happened during the Sharm el-Sheikh conference, which – and the support to this vital conference for the reconstruction of the Palestinian territories in Gaza Strip.

And we also thank President Obama for this dynamism and for this vitality, and pushing the peace process forward, whether during the visit of Mrs. Clinton or during the visits of Mr. Mitchell to the region. And we have reiterated to Mrs. Clinton our insistence to move forward with the peace process according to the international legitimacy and the Roadmap plan and the two-state vision and our firm commitment towards that.

And we have also discussed the Palestinian national dialogue that has been taking place and continues to take place in Cairo, and about the formation of a Palestinian unity that abides by our obligations fully and works towards overseeing presidential and legislative elections in – within – no longer than the 24th of January 2010.

I believe that the time has become opportune now to put all the final status issues on the negotiation table, and also to conclude and finalize them and reach a final solution. And I’m talking about Jerusalem, the borders, refugees, water, security, and other issues, as well as the issue of prisoners, that we believe it is very important to release them all at the end of this process.

As we have also discussed, the Israeli Government – the new Israeli Government – and we have reiterated that we respect the choice of the Israeli people, and we respect the elections that took place in Israel. But we demand that the Israeli Government also commits itself to the Roadmap plan and the two-state vision and solution, and for the Israeli Government to work towards ending all settlement activities and lifting the checkpoints and end the settlement projects, particularly what is happening these days in E1 area, and the displacement that was decided in C1 area. These are issues that we cannot accept or tolerate. We have also stressed that we are waiting – awaiting from President Obama’s Administration and from the Quartet to work to push the two parties towards abiding by these commitments.

There’s also another important issue that has taken place at Sharm el-Sheikh conference regarding the aid, the assistance that is going to be provided to the Palestinian people. But we have talked with Mrs. Clinton about the need to open the crossing points and the borders, and to lift the siege that is imposed upon our people in Gaza Strip and allow the humanitarian and basic needs to flow into Gaza Strip, because the Palestinian people are suffering a lot. And the time is passing by and people are suffering and in need, and that is not tolerated.

We reiterate again that we are committed to the complete and comprehensive and final solution that was described in the Roadmap plan, and we hope that peace can be concluded at all other tracks – the Syrian track and the Lebanese track – so that we have a comprehensive peace and genuine and just peace in the region. We also reiterate here that the Arab Peace Initiative that was endorsed by more than one Arab and Islamic summit would be ready for implementation, but we hope that no longer time passes by before we can implement it. And I – we think that it is a sure opportunity and only opportunity for a peace to be achieved in the Middle East region and in the whole world.

Again, I’d like to welcome you, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, and I thank you for your visit.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, President Abbas. It is a pleasure and an honor to be back here and to have the opportunity to meet with you, a leader of courage and dedication to the Palestinian people. And I am very proud to stand beside President Abbas to deliver a message from my country and our President.

The United States supports the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people. And as a partner on the road to a comprehensive peace, which includes a two-state solution, our support comes with more than words. As I pledged in Sharm el-Sheikh, we will work with President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, and the government of the Palestinian Authority to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security, and infrastructure needs, both in Gaza and in the West Bank.

As I said in Sharm el-Sheikh, a child growing up in Gaza without shelter, healthcare or an education, has the same right to go to school, see a doctor, and live with a roof over her head as a child growing up in any country. That a mother and a father here in the West Bank, struggling to fulfill their dreams for their children, have the same right as parents anywhere else to have a good job, a decent home, and the tools to achieve greater prosperity.

The United States aims to foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized, a state that can provide these opportunities, a state that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors, and is accountable to its people. That is the state that this government is attempting to build.

I met with Prime Minister Fayyad this morning and I expressed to him the appreciation we had for his presentation at Sharm el-Sheikh, which outlined the specific needs of the people in Gaza.
I also believe that it is imperative we continue to do the reform work that the president is leading in order to bolster the credibility of the government and to serve the needs of the people.

I’m very grateful that President Abbas has remained firm in his commitment to move forward on a comprehensive peace and a two-state solution. President Abbas is offering the Palestinian people the chance, finally, to fulfill the aspirations to be free, independent, prosperous, and peaceful, flourishing in a state of your own. And the only way to achieve that goal is through negotiations. So all who believe in this comprehensive peace, we urge you to work with the Palestinian Authority and with us, because we are determined to move forward.

Time is of the essence. We cannot afford more delays or regrets about what might have been had different decisions been made in the past. The Obama Administration will be vigorously engaged in efforts to forge a lasting peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and all of the Arab neighbors. I will remain personally engaged. As I said in Sharm el-Sheikh, this is a commitment that I carry in my heart, not just in my portfolio as Secretary of State.

And Senator George Mitchell is the President’s and my Special Envoy. As you know, he has been here already. He is here today. And he will return soon. We all know and respect that in the end, it is up to the parties themselves to make peace. We offer you our support, not just today, but for all the tomorrows to come until the goal is realized. We believe that you have begun to establish the base on which the comprehensive peace can be built. And we will encourage and support you as you continue to advance the cause of the Palestinian people.

Earlier today, I met with some young Palestinians, young men and women who are furthering their education, and I was very impressed. We talked about women, because it’s Women’s History Month, and then I answered questions. And they asked about what I admired when I was growing up and what their dreams were, and then I was interviewed by two young Palestinian broadcasters. And they asked me what I would say to a young woman living in a village outside of Ramallah who might be losing hope, who might believe that there is no future.

And what I would say to her is what I have said and will say to young people everywhere. There is never reason to give up hope. There are many obstacles and challenges that lie in the way of realizing dreams, whether it’s individual dreams or the dreams of a people. But persevering, rethinking, regrouping, being committed will eventually result in the goal that we are seeking together.

So perhaps even more than the wonderful meeting that I had with President Abbas and the prior meeting with Prime Minister Fayyad, my meeting with those young Palestinians, Mr. President, made it very clear what is at stake and how important it is that we complete the journey we have begun. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. President Abu Mazen, did Mrs. Clinton convey a letter or a message to you from President Obama about their strategy for ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? And did they – did she convey a message from you – from Olmert to you that – or Netanyahu that you – they are ready to solve the problem?

Mrs. Clinton, the peace process had started since the presidency of Bush, Sr. And are you going – are you ready to do something tangible on the ground to end this conflict? The second part of this question: Netanyahu refuses a Palestinian state and he will have Lieberman on his government, and he was a member of Kach, a group that was considered at one time as a terrorist group. Are you going to deal with this government, this new Israeli Government?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: The message that we received and we received today from His Excellency President Obama is that he is committed fully to the peace process, and that he will exert all efforts in order to realize peace, and that he supports the Palestinian National Authority in all its efforts and provide support at all levels, and that he supports the Roadmap plan and the Arab Peace Initiative. This is what we’ve heard, yet every time we met, last time we heard that also from President Obama himself.

As for the Israeli prime minister, I believe that he is in a situation where he is forming his government. And so we might hear from him something that is clearer and straightforward after he forms this government and after he presents his program to – for his people for their approval and after he presents his plans and his electoral program.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, the president is right. The United States, through President Obama, is committed to a comprehensive peace, including a two-state solution. I have said that publicly. I have said that privately. There is no difference in any message that I am delivering in public or in private.

As the president also said, the Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu is forming his government. As soon as that government is formed, Senator Mitchell will return to begin meeting with that government. We are not waiting. We are moving forward. And we believe that there will be very constructive talks with the new Netanyahu government.

MR. WOOD: The next question is Glenn Kessler from The Washington Post.

QUESTION: Yes. Madame Secretary, Israel last week approved the demolition of 88 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem and, as you arrived, another 55 homes were slated for demolition, the largest number in one area since 1967. Will you, as James Baker did in 1991, urge a halt to such unilateral actions?

And President Abbas, what do you think of these demolitions, and has the U.S. been too silent on this issue?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Glenn, clearly, this kind of activity is unhelpful and not in keeping with the obligations entered into under the roadmap. It is an issue that we intend to raise with the government of Israel and the Government at the municipal level in Jerusalem, because it is clearly a matter of deep concern to those who are directly affected. But the ramifications go far beyond the individuals and the families that have received the notices you referenced. So yes, this will be taken up with the Israeli government.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) These measures that the Israeli Government has decided to go forward with are completely rejected and at all levels. And we believe that it is a clear message to us that whoever is undertaking these measures does not want peace. And therefore, the Israeli measures, we have told everyone and we’ve sent messages to everyone, to all concerned parties, that such measures are clear signals to us that they do not want peace.

And I’ve mentioned earlier in my speech that the Israeli Government – the new Israeli Government – should abide by the Roadmap obligations and the two-state solution and to end all activities related to settlement and activities and demolition of homes. Otherwise, we cannot consider – they cannot consider themselves as partners in the peace process

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Mr. President, first of all, how do you view this attack launched against you by Iran, and particularly, the latest statements by the – one of the senior spiritual leaders of Iran?

Mrs. Secretary of State, as we’ve heard from President Abbas, settlement is one of the main obstacles, but the American administrations in the past have promised but was unable to end the settlement activities. Are there new tools for the new American Administration to end these settlement activities?

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) We tell the Iranians and all others that they should keep off our internal affairs and not interfere with our affairs. All these interferences are negative and do not serve the best interest of the Palestinian people or the Arab world. They should stop and refrain from all these kinds of interferences. But we even consider that such interferences are to obstruct and to put obstacles in the Palestinian national reconciliation process. And Iran nor Khamenei have the right to say such – to make such statements, and we reject it utterly and completely.

Iran has to see its own affairs and manage its own affairs and stay away from interfering into the Palestinian affairs. They are interfering only to deepen the Palestinian divisions. And since their interference began, they have always tried to deepen the intra-Palestinian divisions and not to help the Palestinians to reach their goals and objectives.

SECRETARY CLINTON: We will certainly be raising that issue. We will be looking for a way to put it on the table, along with all the other issues that need to be discussed and resolved. And at this time, I think we should wait until we have a new Israeli government. That will be soon, and then we will look at whatever tools are available.

MR. WOOD: The last question (inaudible).

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, the newspaper Al Haaretz reported today that you told Defense Minister Barak that Israel needed to do more to open border crossings, and that you told Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu that his plan to offer economic peace to the Palestinians would not work without a political track. Can you confirm now that you – now that your meetings are over, that you made those points to the Israelis?

And for President Abbas, do you have concerns with the U.S. sending envoys to Syria and also, focused on Iran, that the Palestinian track will not receive the attention it deserves going forward? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say that I have not said anything differently in private that I’ve said in public. We have obviously expressed concerns about the border crossings. We want humanitarian aid to get into Gaza in sufficient amounts to be able to alleviate the suffering of the people in Gaza. That’s been a public and a private message that I have carried with me in numerous different settings.

On each of these matters, we are expressing the view of the United States Government in a way that we hope proves helpful. Obviously, we are trying to express constructive ideas that we think will, on the one hand, alleviate the immediate crisis in Gaza, and on the other, give us an opportunity to set the table for a constructive and eventually successful resolution of the issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians and reach the goal of two states living in peace and security side by side.

PRESIDENT ABBAS: (Via interpreter) We are not concerned at all about sending envoys – American envoys to Syria, but we feel comfortable about that. Yes, we are comfortable about that, that an American delegation has visited Damascus. And at the same time, we are saying that if we want a comprehensive and a fair peace, just peace, then all the tracks need to be resolved – the Palestinian, the Syrian, and the Lebanese tracks.

And we also believe that it would not be possible for any track to be – to move forward on the account of the Palestinian track or vice versa. We know clearly that the Palestinian track is moving on, as well as the Syrian tracks and they run in parallel, and they will not be taking away from the progress in one against the other.

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PRN: 2009/T2-10