Remarks With UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, and Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby
Secretary of State
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Good evening. You know that Egypt is – the serious military escalation in Gaza and what the Palestinian people have been exposed to in terms of destruction – broad destruction and killing of civilians that claimed up until now over 800 civilians and thousands of injured. We are working incessantly to end this crisis and to spare the Palestinian people of the dangers it has been exposed to, and to prevent further military escalation. And this has led to the proposal – to us proposing our plan, and we should know that Egypt has not spared any effort to stop – or to reach a cease-fire to protect the Palestinian people and to allow for negotiations to start between the two parties in order to discuss all the issues, in order to restore stability in the Gaza strip, and to meet the needs of the brotherly Palestinian people, and to also prevent further violence which the Palestinian civilians have been exposed to.
We have continued our efforts since the beginning of the military escalation to achieve this goal in cooperation with the U.S. and the secretary-general of the UN and the secretary-general of the Arab League and other parties – other regional and international parties in order to achieve this goal. We once again call for the immediate cease-fire, a cease of all actions in order to protect the Palestinian people. And given that the parties have not shown any – sufficient willingness to stop this, we are calling for a humanitarian cease-fire to observe the holy days that we are on the verge of observing at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid for a period of seven days, in the hope that this will lead – will prompt the parties to heed the calls of conscience and humanitarian needs in order to reach a comprehensive cease-fire, and also begin negotiations in order to prevent the reoccurrence of this crisis.
And also, to propose a good framework for this objective, we have consulted over the last few days in order to formulate a formula that would be agreed to by all the sides, and also to stop the bloodshed. But unfortunately, we have to exert further effort in order to realize our common goals in this regard. The proposed ideas were focused or fell within the same framework that the Egyptian plan proposed. And once again, we will call on all parties to benefit from it and to accept it definitively. I would like on this occasion also to allow the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to speak.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you. All right. Well, let me start again. I want to thank Sameh Shoukry and President al-Sisi and Egypt for their very warm welcome here, but most importantly for their continued efforts to try to find a way to achieve a cease-fire agreement in Gaza and then beyond that, to be able to resolve the critical issues that are underlying this conflict. I thank Sameh for his help today and the work we’ve been doing together. We’ve made some movement and progress, and I’ll talk about that in a minute.
I also want to thank Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has traveled and worked tirelessly in these past days throughout the international community to try to bring people together, as well as Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Araby for his close partnership in this effort. They’ve been sources of good advice and also of tireless effort. So this is a broad effort with a broad based sense that something needs to be done.
I also want to acknowledge President Abbas who has traveled to any number of countries in recent days, and whom I met with just the other day, who expressed his desire – strong desire to achieve a cease-fire as rapidly as possible, and he has been passionately advocating for the Palestinian people and the future of the Palestinian state.
Let me just say that the agony of the events on the ground in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel, all of them together, simply cannot be overstated. The daily reality for too many people of grief and blood and loss and tears, it all joins together to pull at the fabric of daily life in each of their communities.
In Israel, millions of people are living under constant threat of Hamas rocket fire and tunnel attacks, and they’re ready to take cover at any moment’s notice. And I’ve had telephone conversations with the prime minister interrupted by that fact. Earlier this week I had a chance to visit with the family of a young man by the name of Max Steinberg, an American – one of two Americans killed in this devastating conflict – and the mother of Naftali Fraenkel, who was murdered at the outset – whose son was murdered at the very outset of this crisis.
So any parent in the world, regardless of somebody’s background, can understand the horror of losing a child or of seeing these children who are caught in the crossfire. In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians have died over the past few weeks, including a tragic number of civilians. And we’ve all read the headlines and seen the images of the devastation: 16 people killed and more than 200 injured in just a single attack yesterday; women and children being wheeled away on stretchers; medics pulling shrapnel out of an infant’s back; a father nursing his three-year-old son. The whole world is watching a – tragic moment after tragic moment unfold and wondering: When is everybody going to come to their senses?
Both the Israelis and the Palestinians deserve and need to lead normal lives, and it’s time for everyone to recognize that violence breeds violence and that the short-term tactical gains that may be made through a violent means simply will not inspire the long-term change that is necessary and that both parties really want.
I have been in the region since Monday at the request of President Obama, and I’ve spent five days on the ground here and also in Israel in the West Bank engaging in countless discussions with leaders throughout the region and even around the world, conversations lasting, obviously, late into the night and through the day. We have gathered here, my colleagues and I have gathered here together because we believe that it is impossible for anybody to simply be inactive and not try to make government work to deal with this bloodshed. We need to join together and push back.
Specifically, here is what we’ve been working to try to bring about. At this moment, we are working toward a brief seven days of peace – seven days of a humanitarian cease-fire in honor of Eid, in order to be able to bring people together to try to work to create a more durable, sustainable cease-fire for the long run, and to work to create the plans for that long haul.
The fact is that the basic structure is built on the Egyptian initiative, but the humanitarian concept is one that Egypt has agreed to embrace in an effort to try to honor Eid and bring people together at this moment. Seven days, during which the fundamental issues of concern for Israel – security, the security of Israel and its people – and for the Palestinians – the ability to know that their social and economic future can be defined by possibilities, and that those issues will be addressed. We believe that Egypt has made a significant offer to bring people to Cairo – the factions, the Palestinian factions and representatives of interested states and the state of Israel – in order to begin to try to negotiate the way forward.
Now, why are we not announcing that that has been found yet tonight? For a simple reason: That we still have some terminology in the context of the framework to work through. But we are confident we have a fundamental framework that can and will ultimately work. And what we need to do is continue to work for that, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We believe that seven days will give all the parties the opportunity to step back from the violence and focus on the underlying causes, perhaps take some steps that could build some confidence, and begin to change the choices for all.
We don’t yet have that final framework, but I will tell you this: None of us here are stopping. We are going to continue the conversations. And right now, before I came in here tonight, I had conversations with people on both sides of this conflict. Just spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu, who made it clear that he wants to try to find this way forward. I think the Secretary-General, who has graciously called for a 12-hour cease-fire, will speak in a moment about that possibility and where it will go. And Prime Minister Netanyahu’s indicated his willingness to do that as a good-faith down payment and to move forward. And I’m grateful to the Secretary-General for his leadership in that regard.
But in the end, the only way that this issue is going to be resolved, this conflict, is for the parties to be able to come together and work through it as people have in conflicts throughout history. And it’s our hope, and we intend to do everything possible. Tomorrow, I will be in Paris, where I will meet with some of our counterparts, my counterparts, and where I will also meet with other players who are important to this discussion in an effort to be able to try to see if we can narrow the gap. And Prime Minister Netanyahu is committed to try to help do that over the course of the next day.
So we begin with at least the hope of a down payment on a cease-fire, with the possibility of extension, a real possibility in the course of tomorrow. And hopefully, if we can make some progress, the people in this region who deserve peace can find at least one step towards that elusive goal. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Secretary-General.
SECRETARY-GENERAL BAN: Thank you, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry of Egypt, Secretary of State of the United States John Kerry, League of Arab States Secretary-General al-Araby. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Assalamu alaikum, Ramadan Kareem.
Let me begin by commending all the leaders here today. I’d like to particularly thank President Sisi of Egypt and Foreign Minister Shoukry as the host of this initiative to have made ceaseless efforts to bring all the parties together. And I also commend highly the leadership and commitment and tirelessly – tireless diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry, and it has been a source of inspiration to work with all these distinguished colleagues. And I have been obviously closely working with League of Arab States Secretary General al-Araby.
This is my sixth day in the region visiting eight countries, 11 stops, meeting kings, amirs, presidents, prime ministers, foreign ministers, over meeting, over telephones. I have been working very closely with the leaders here as well as all the leaders in the region. I really appreciate their kind cooperation and leadership. Our joint effort is a clear signal of a global commitment to end the bloodshed and destruction that is tearing apart the lives of hope and the hopes of so many innocent civilians. People of Gaza have bled enough. They are trapped and besieged in a tiny, densely populated sliver of land. Every bit of it is a civilian area. The Israeli people have been living under the constant fear of Hamas rocket attacks. Tensions are spreading further. We are seeing growing unrest in the West Bank. Surely now, the parties must realize that it is time for them to act, and solutions must be based on three important issues.
First, stop the fighting. We called for a seven-day humanitarian cease-fire extending over the Eid period, beginning with a extendable 12-hour pause. Second, start talking. There is no military solution to addressing the grievances, and all parties must find a way to dialogue. Third, tackle the root causes of the crisis. This effort – peace effort – cannot be the same as it was the last two Gaza conflicts, where we reset the clock and waited for the next one. The ongoing fighting emphasizes the need to finally end the 47-year-old occupation, end the chokehold on Gaza, ensure security based on mutual recognition and achieve a viable two-state solution, by which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security side by side.
Along with world and regional leaders, we continue to make every effort to forge a durable cease-fire for the people of Gaza and Israel based on those three pillars. Progress is being made, but there is much more work to do. We may not be satisfied with what we are now proposing, but we have to build upon what we are now proposing. In the meantime, more children are dying every hour of every day.
Ladies and gentlemen, today is the last Friday of Ramadan. The world is just away from marking Eid-al-Fitr. Let us all take inspiration from this season of peace and reflection. The United Nations is fully committed to ensuring the success of this proposal and securing hope and dignity for all the people of Palestine and Israel. And I thank you again for all leaders in the region and in the world who have been working together with the United Nations and the leaders here to bring peace and security to this region. I thank you very much. Shukran Jazilan.
MODERATOR: Thank you. (Via interpreter.) Secretary-general of the United – of the Arab League.
SECRETARY GENERAL AL-ARABY: (Via interpreter.) Thank you very much. I would like to thank also the Secretary-General of the United Nations. This is a very serious and grave situation. There are martyrs in Palestine have been – have died as a result of the Israeli aggression and the violation of the principles of international humanitarian law. People have been fired at, children are falling, and all civilians are being killed. This is the holiest month in the Islamic world, as those before me have mentioned. And on the eve of the Eid, we would like to support and uphold the idea of a cease-fire, as Mr. John Kerry has said and also the UN Secretary-General has said.
But before I conclude my very brief remarks, I would like to say that the occupation and the siege on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – these are occupied territories. We cannot imagine that the siege and the occupation, that there would be no resistance to them. For that reason, everyone should work to end this conflict. I would allow myself to say, in English and in very simple and brief language: (In English) In a very simple and concise way, that as much as I support the humanitarian (inaudible), but we have to look at it. I think everyone has to do that. We have to look ahead. Then it’s diplomacy, and then (inaudible) results. We have to dedicate ourselves, all of us, to reach a final solution. That means the end of the occupation. Thank you.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) We will be taking four questions, from Arshad (inaudible) first of all.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Good evening.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Mr. United Nations Secretary-General has to leave.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.) Good evening. My question is for Mr. John Kerry and Minister Sameh Shoukry. You’ve launched this proposal or plan. Has there been – have there been contacts between the two sides, and how far have you reached in these contexts, especially that the Eid is approaching fast?
With respect to the rules of engagement that Israel uses in Israel and in Gaza and the West Bank, and what we’ve seen in terms of destruction of and demolishing of hospitals, have you received any guarantees from Israel that these actions would not be repeated? And thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: With respect to the negotiating process, it’s inappropriate to sort of lay out all the details, but of course we’re talking to everybody that we can talk to who has an ability to have an impact, and obviously I’m talking directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu and directly to other foreign ministers in the region, some of whom have different ways of talking with different factions of Palestinians, as well as talking to President Abbas. In the course of that, it’s very clear to me that under very difficult circumstances some are ready to move and others are reluctant and need assurances of one kind or another. And clearly, given the history, some of those assurances are sometimes difficult to be able to make and formulate appropriately so that somebody else doesn’t wind up being – struggling with them. That’s why the simplicity of this is really the best, which is come to the table and negotiate.
But to the degree that either side needs assurances of one thing or another being talked about, without outcomes, no preconditions, but something being negotiated and talked about, then you get in a contest of priorities and other kinds of things.
I believe we can work through those things. We have. The basic outline is approved by everybody. People believe that if the circumstances are right, the structure is right, a cease-fire makes sense, a cease-fire is important, and people would like to see the violence end. But it has to obviously be in ways that neither side feels prejudiced or their interests compromised.
So that’s what we’re working on. I think we’ve made serious progress. We sat today, worked some things out to deal with some of those sensitivities, but basically we still have some more things to do over the course of the next 24 or 48 hours, and we’re going to do that. My hope is that the 12 hours will be extended, perhaps to 24, and that people will draw from that the goodwill and effort to try to find a solution. But it takes – the parties have to come together and reach an understanding, and that’s what we’re going to continue to work on because it’s urgent for innocent people who get caught in the crossfire, and obviously the – as I said in my opening remarks, people in Israel deserve to live free from fear that their home or their school will be rocketed, but people in Palestine, the Palestinian territories and people in Gaza have a right to feel free from restraints on their life where they can barely get the food or the medicine or the building materials and the things that they need.
So there’s a lot on the table. It’s been complicated for a long time; it didn’t get easy last night. But we’re going to continue to work at this, and I’m confident that with goodwill, with good effort, I think progress can hopefully be made.
FOREIGN SECRETARY SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Certainly, since the outbreak of the crisis in Gaza, we have been in contact with all parties, with the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. We have expended serious efforts based on our own Egyptian initiative, and also in cooperation with the American side. I would like to seize this opportunity to thank you, to thank Mr. Kerry for his efforts and – that he has spent and continues to expend, and his cooperation in order to achieve a complete cease-fire to protect the Palestinian people.
Military action and the serious escalation and the serious strikes taking place against the Palestinian territories, including the West Bank, prove the importance of immediate action to end this crisis so that it would not result or lead to more serious ramifications, not just in the occupied territories, but in the region as a whole. The framework we talk about is a framework that is – that the U.S. Secretary of State has talked about – is based on the Egyptian initiative, and also based on the idea of encouraging the parties to interact with it, so that we can reach a complete cease-fire and seizure of all military action, and to also save civilians from being targeted, and to end the bloodshed, just like the strike against the school yesterday. Such actions should not be repeated and should completely end, and so should military action.
And a temporary humanitarian cease-fire should be accepted to give a chance, an opportunity for interaction between the various parties, and perhaps expand it beyond there, so that all parties would come to recognize that a comprehensive solution to all this crisis and to the Palestinian conflict should be reached, and also to establish a Palestinian state in order to prevent the reoccurrence of such a grave situation.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Arshad Mohammed.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, as I imagine you are aware, there are multiple reports that the Israeli cabinet today rejected the cease-fire proposal that you had on the table and said they wanted modifications. Do you regard that as just a negotiating ploy or do you regard it as likely to be a more definitive rejection?
And secondly, have you made any direct progress on getting the Egyptians to commit to opening Rafah, on getting the Israelis to commit to increasing traffic at the Erez crossing, and on getting Hamas to agree to let Israeli troops stay in the Gaza Strip during a truce? If you haven’t made any headway on those issues, how is it possible – after five days of diplomacy, how is it possible to describe these days as having produced serious progress?
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, let me deal with the first issue, which is the fiction of diplomacy and of politics at the same time. There was no formal proposal or final proposal or proposal ready for a vote submitted to Israel. Let’s make that absolutely crystal clear. And Prime Minister Netanyahu called me a few minutes before this to make it clear that that is an error, inaccurate, and he’s putting out a statement to that effect. They may have rejected some language or proposal within the framework of some kind of suggestion at some point in time, but there was no formal proposal submitted from me on which there should have been a vote or on which a vote was ripe. We were having discussions about various ideas and various concepts of how to deal with this issue, and there’s always mischief from people who oppose certain things, and I consider that one of those mischievous interpretations and leaks which is inappropriate to the circumstances of what we’ve been doing and are engaged in.
With respect to the individual issues that you raised, I’m not going to make any announcements and I’m certainly not going to reveal issues that are of a bilateral nature between Egypt and the United States or the United States and another country, but I will simply tell you in a candid way that those issues were talked about, and I am satisfied with the responses that I received with respect to how they might affect the road ahead. And each and every one of them I believe there are ways of moving forward.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) (Inaudible)
QUESTION: My question is for Secretary Kerry and the Egyptian foreign minister. First of all, it seems that all of those efforts, the phone calls, visits have led only to a cease-fire for seven hours. Why is the reasons for not having more achievements? Who is blockading having more achievements in this? Is it Israel, or is it Hamas? Is it the Palestinians? Who is going to – we are going to blame on this? Because we have heard that Israel refused. As you have said, it’s not correct, but it was published that Israel refused, actually, some ideas of having more cease-fire, more than seven hours.
Also, it seems that all of this is because the peace process has stopped, actually, because of the settlements of Israel. This is the main cause – the blockade of course, and other things on the Gaza, the boycotts on Gaza. People can’t have food or water or other things, but also the peace process have stopped. You have – Secretary Kerry have done a lot in this, and yet you didn’t say why, who is the reasons behind it stopping.
And my question is for our foreign minister, please. (Via interpreter.) There is a lot of talk about the Rafah Crossing, and that Egypt is – closes this crossing. And there’s also an attempt to blame the siege, the Israeli siege on Gaza, on Egypt, even though it has – Israel has closed six crossings and is responsible for the siege. Can there be some clarification with respect to the Rafah Crossing, and will it continue to be closed in the coming days?
FOREIGN MINISTER SHOUKRY: (Via interpreter.) Thank you. With respect to Rafah Crossing, I have repeatedly responded to this, but it seems no one is listening. Rafah Crossing is open continuously and at all times, but it has to be under regulation related to Egyptian policy, and it’s also related to the situation in Sinai. But it is open, and it receives constantly and permanently, around the clock, people from the Gaza Strip for treatment in Egyptian hospitals, and more than 600 or 700 tons of food and medical material have crossed. And the crossing has never been tied or linked to any kind of siege on the Gaza Strip.
The six Israeli crossings that you referred to, they have to be operational. And the responsibility of Israel as an occupation authority is what – it is the responsibility of Israel, and we have called for this in our initiative, that the Israeli crossings need to be open so that the needs and the humanitarian needs of the Gazans should be met, and so that also normal life would be restored to the Gaza Strip. I hope that this response will be widely shared and it’s clear without any attempt to internationalize or to misinterpret the situation.
SECRETARY KERRY: Actually, I think a great deal has been moved in the course of the last days. Though it doesn’t meet your eye yet, those of us who are working this have a feeling that gaps have been significantly narrowed on certain things, but obviously not everything yet.
And in fairness, it’s important to say that, yes, Israel had some questions or even opposition to one concept or another concept – that doesn’t mean to a proposal by any means – at an early stage of discussion. But most importantly, I think it’s important to note that in Ramadan, when everything is on a different schedule, it’s more complicated to be able to have some meetings, particularly when I am mediating between different people who talk to different people. And it’s secondhand, thirdhand, it takes longer. So there’s a certain time consumption in all of that.
But I’m not a – I’m not somebody who I think is going to stand here and misinterpret the difficulties. At the same time, I can recognize progress when I see it and a concept that has taken shape. And I think my colleagues would agree there’s a fundamental concept here that can be achieved if we work through some of the issues of importance to the parties. That’s the art, and sometimes it just doesn’t happen overnight or as quickly as you’d like. But it doesn’t mean it can’t.
And so – by the way, it’s not seven hours; it’s 12 hours with a very likely extension of another 12, hopefully for 24, but we’ll see. The proof will be in the pudding on that. And on the peace process, I’ve purposely tried not to start pointing fingers and getting involved, because to us, the process is not over. It hasn’t stopped, and it doesn’t help to be starting to point fingers. What you have to do is figure out, okay, where do you go from here and how. In the course of this conflict right now, I would respectfully suggest to you there are some very serious warnings about what happens when you don’t have that process, and what happens if you’re not working effectively to try to achieve a resolution of the underlying issues.
This is about the underlying issues. And what we need to do is get through this first. It’s a little surrealistic in the middle of this to be talking about the other process, but those people who have been at this for a long time, my colleagues here and others, absolutely know that that is at the bedrock of much of the conflict and the trouble that we all witness here and that is going to have to be resolved if there is a chance of peace, and we believe there is.
Egypt has been a leader on that. Years ago, Egypt took extraordinary risk, and we all know what the consequences were. Egypt made peace, and it has made a difference. And the truth is that today there’s a great commitment here and elsewhere in the region to be able to get back to the process and try to address those underlying issues.
So it’s not gone. It’s dormant for the moment. It’s in hiatus because of the events that are taking place. But the leaders I’ve talked to tell me that what they’re witnessing now and what they’re seeing now has reinforced in them the notion that they needed to get back to that table as soon as possible and begin to address those concerns.
I don’t know if you want to say anything on that.
SECRETARY GENERAL AL-ARABY: (Via interpreter.) Certainly, with respect to the peace process, we call for the resumption of negotiations under U.S. sponsorship. Based from the point we have – it has stopped at, we do not want to go back to the beginning, but several accomplishments have been made on several issues. And we have to build on this progress in order to reach our ultimate goal, which the entire international community has agreed to: the two-state solution, a Palestinian state on Palestinian land with East Jerusalem, and this is the final solution to this conflict. And this will give the Palestinian people a chance to have a normal life away from killing and destruction, and to also fulfill its aspirations – the aspirations of the Palestinian people in the region, and will also ultimately lead to a final end to the conflict.
MODERATOR: (Speaking in Arabic, not interpreted) at CBS, Margaret Brennan.
QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, given the protests that we’ve seen in the West Bank over the past 24 hours, which resulted in at least one fatality, do you believe – do you fear that a third intifada is about to happen? And could you clarify – when you said that there’s a difference of terminology in regard to these negotiations, that sounds technical rather conceptual. Can you clarify what you meant there?
SECRETARY KERRY: I can, but I won’t. (Laughter.) I think it’s important to let us work quietly on those things and not put them out in the public domain, but I applaud you for a worthy try.
With respect to the incidents and events on the West Bank, I have learned not to characterize something ahead of time or predict it, and I’m not going to now. But I do know that the leaders I’ve talked to in Israel, in the West Bank, in Jordan are deeply concerned about what they are seeing right now. And it is very, very necessary for all of us to take it into account as we think about the options that we have in front of us. It’s just enormously disturbing to see this kind of passion find its way into violent protests, and in some cases not violent.
But we need to address – it’s a statement to all of us in positions of responsibility, get the job done, and that’s what we’re trying to do.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
SECRETARY KERRY: Thanks.