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OPT: Rice cites Israel's planned Gaza pullout as key in peace process

News and Press Release
Originally published
Secretary calls for Palestinian freedom of movement after withdrawal

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority recognize the "enormous stake" they have in the success of the impending Israeli withdrawal from Gaza as a step on the road to peace, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

Speaking to reporters with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after their meeting July 23 in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Rice said that Israel must allow freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank for the Palestinian people after the pullout.

In return, the Palestinian leadership must heighten its ongoing efforts to improve security and "ensure that areas vacated by Israel will not once again to used as bases for terrorist actions," the secretary said. "Important steps have been taken, but much remains to be done," she observed.

Abbas said the planned withdrawal marks "a very important turning point in our national process towards ending the occupation and building the state." He stressed that Israel must not consider the Gaza evacuation an end in itself; instead, Israel must be "aware that withdrawal from Gaza should be a first step in the roadmap, whereby immediately the political process will be resumed."

Both Rice and Abbas decried the terrorist bombings earlier July 23 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheikh -- an action Abbas described as a "criminal act which we condemn utterly as we have condemned all the terrorist attacks that took place in London and Turkey and Beirut."

Rice expressed solidarity with Egypt and declared that the civilized world is "united in the view that terrorism must be confronted and that they [the terrorists] will not succeed in destroying our way of life."

The secretary praised Abbas and his government for their own commitment to "ensuring security and tracking down those who perpetrate violent acts that only delay the achievement of a Palestinian state."

Rice said her discussions with the Palestinian leader, held as part of a three-day swing through the region, focused on the issue of "how best to re-energize the road map to realize President Bush's vision of two independent and viable states: Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security."

Expanding on the issue of "connectivity" between Gaza and the West Bank -- a key unresolved issue -- Rice said it is vital to the economic revival of the Palestinian territories.

"That means that when the Israelis withdraw from Gaza it cannot be sealed or isolated area, with the Palestinian people closed in after that withdrawal," she said. "We are committed to connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank, and we are committed to openness and freedom of movement for the Palestinian people."

Responding to a question, she said the United States has "deep concern" about the route of a wall being build by Israel, particularly as it applies to the area around Jerusalem, and that "the American policy on settlement activity remains that it should stop."

"We will continue to work towards exactly that," she added.

Rice said the United States seeks to enhance information exchanges between the two sides as to the details of what must be a coordinated Gaza withdrawal effort. "The Palestinians need to answer to the Israelis and the Israelis need to answer to the Palestinians -- this is not a one-way street," she said.

Following is the State Department transcript of the joint press availability:

(begin transcript)

Office of the Spokesman

Press Availability
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Following Meeting
With President Mahmoud Abbas
July 23, 2005

PRESIDENT ABBAS (in Arabic): Our thanks and appreciation for your personal role and the role of the US administration in supporting our efforts towards obtaining our liberty from occupation and building this state and setting the foundations of democracy under the umbrella of the unity of the Palestinian Authority and the unity of Palestinian weapons and under law and supremacy of pluralism too. Hereby, I must express sincere condolences first to President Hosni Mubarak and to the Egyptian people and to the families of those afflicted and my sincere wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured as a result of the terrorist and criminal act which we condemn utterly as we have condemned all the terrorist attacks that took place in London and Turkey and Beirut.

We have affirmed in our discussions today that we are at the threshold -- a very important turning point -- in our national process towards ending the occupation and building the state. The Israeli withdrawal that is anticipated from Gaza Strip will constitute an opportunity for us to develop the institutions of the state and spreading our authority over that dear part of our Palestinian homeland. We are committed to develop the Gaza Strip and all the Palestinian territories politically and economically and administratively to the best interest to our Palestinian people and we have put the economic and civil and security plans to achieve those goals accordingly. We have repeated what we said before, that we will not let anybody, whatever their personal or partisan motives are, to impede our process and impede our national goals. We have confirmed in our discussions our thanks for the assistance of America and the international community in general and we hope that they will support us even further while we go on planning for the upcoming stage we seeks partnership with friendly countries. Our success and the success of the endeavor is an international success to bring stability and peace and security to our region.

In return we have also emphasized the role of Israel in the upcoming stage whereby Israel must aware that withdrawal from Gaza should be a first step in the Roadmap. Whereby immediately the political process will be resumed. We in Palestine as leadership and people and authority we will not accept utterly that the withdrawal from Gaza will be at the expense of our national project. Israel must meet its obligations under the Roadmap and stop the policy of expansion and annexation symbolized in settlements and building the Wall. It's inconceivable that we talk about a Palestinian state that's independent and at the same time Israel is taking more land of that state especially in sacred Jerusalem, the upcoming capital of our state, the Palestinian state that will be democratic too. Also it's inconceivable that Israel will continue its repeated aggressions such as murders and invasions and siege and arrests and detentions that impede our efforts to bring back safety and security and calm to everyone.

Also, coordinating the withdrawal from Gaza from the beginning is a vital thing, very vital, so that we can take that step smoothly without surprises and so that we can prevent any ramifications of any shape and we look to role of Dr. Rice in that endeavor. Our dear secretary friend, today while we are working very hard to end the occupation and build the democratic Palestinian model which embodies the challenges and sacrifices of our people over decades, we look forward to working with the administration and people of the United States of America -- those people that share with us the belief in liberty and ideals of democracy so that we can achieve our national dream and the vision of President Bush of the Palestinian state next to the state of Israel which I hope, God willing, our state will be a source of stability and prosperity and a beacon of development and progress in our region and for the whole world as well. Thank you, thank you Dr. Rice.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President. Let me join President Abbas first in condemning the terrible events that have taken place in Egypt -- in Sharm el-Sheikh and the surrounding areas and to express our deepest condolences and sympathy and our solidarity with the government of Egypt and the people of Egypt in this difficult time. Obviously, our present thoughts are with the families of those who have been killed and with the wounded that they may have a recovery. We continue, all of us in the civilized world to face great challenges in terrorism and we continue to be united in the view that terrorism must be confronted and that they will not succeed in destroying our way of life.

I am honored to be here with President Abbas to discuss how best to re-energize the road map to realize President Bush's vision of two independent democratic and viable states: Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security. We are committed to working for a better future for the Palestinian people and to bringing lasting peace between the parties so that Palestinians may live in peace and security and dignity and in prosperity.

I want to take this opportunity to commend President Abbas and his leadership as well as that of his government for their ongoing efforts to enforce the rule of law in the West Bank and in Gaza.

These efforts demonstrate the Palestinian leadership's commitment to ensuring security and tracking down those who perpetrate violent attacks that only delay the achievement of a Palestinian state.

There is much work to be done, but President Abbas has taken these actions with the active support of all those in the region and the international community to support a future of peace. We, our partners in the Quartet, and friends in the region like Egypt and Jordan remain committed to enhancing Palestinian security capabilities and continuing to actively support of the efforts of the Palestinians to live up to their international obligations to fight terrorism.

Important steps have been taken but much remains to be done to ensure that areas vacated by Israel will not once again be used as bases for terrorist actions.

We attach great importance to a successful continuation of the democratic process that began in January with a free and fair Palestinian presidential election, and it was followed up by successful municipal elections. The Palestinian Legislative Council elections planned for later this year are all indicators of growing Palestinian political reform and commitment to democracy that will serve the interests of the Palestinian people as they move forward towards statehood.

We also recognize that the economic revival of the Palestinian Territories is a key element for peace, as we look for the creation of a bright and optimistic outlook for a future Palestinian state. That means that when the Israelis withdraw from Gaza it cannot be sealed or isolated area, with the Palestinian people closed in after that withdrawal. We are committed to connectivity between Gaza and the West Bank, and we are committed to openness and freedom of movement for the Palestinian people.

At the G-8 Foreign Minister's meeting at Gleneagles, we discussed practical ways in which the international community can help the Palestinians achieve the bright future they so intensely want and so richly deserve. Disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank is our best chance to move forward on this agenda. We believe that we can re-energize the roadmap and achieve the goals of a brighter future for the Palestinians.

The Israeli disengagement plan, if carried out in a manner that is consistent with the roadmap, with co-ordination with the Palestinians, and with appropriate support from the international community, has the potential to move both parties closer to a peaceful resolution. The efforts of Jim Wolfenson as Quartet Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, and U.S. Security Coordinator General Ward have been invaluable to advancement of these objectives. I suspect they will both be very busy in the next several weeks. Thank you very much.

QUESTION (in Arabic): Dr. Rice, did you brief the Palestinian side and President Abbas on any information regarding the disengagement in Gaza and is it a fact that the Israelis are ready to give Palestinians such information - especially that they are fully ready, the Israelis?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Well, first of all we have agreement with the parties that this needs to be a coordinated effort, a coordinated withdrawal. There are meetings that are going on between Israelis and Palestinians, including at the ministerial level, and the sharing of information is taking place there, but to the degree that there needs to be further sharing of information, we will encourage both sides to do so.

I have been raising, as a part of my efforts to support Jim Wolfensohn's work, specific issues that the Palestinians have questions of the Israelis and the Israelis have questions of the Palestinians, that's the way this works, and we will continue to make sure that we're moving forward in a way that both sides understand what is coming. There needs to be coordination and there needs to be a sense of predictability because this is going to be a very complicated operation for the Israelis, for the Palestinians, and I think understanding between both sides of what is going to transpire is extremely important.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you were quoted as saying that you are still completely in the dark about details of the Gaza handover. My question to you, sir, is have you heard anything today that gives you more concrete details? And Madame Secretary, are you in a position to say that you would be able to nail down these concrete details before this August 17th deadline? And Madame Secretary, one other question, about the Egyptian bombings: a couple of weeks ago you said defeating the insurgency in Iraq would be a deathblow to terrorism as we know it. Since then we have had bombings in Egypt, in Beirut, we've had in London, of course, my question is, do all of these bombings outside of Iraq (inaudible) underlie the administration's strategy that Iraq is a center for Middle East terror?

PRESIDENT ABBAS (in Arabic): As Dr. Rice has indicated regarding the coordination between us and the Israelis, definitely there are contacts and there are meetings, but there is also information which we haven't obtained yet. And we spoke to Dr. Rice and we said that it's inevitable that we get some information on the issue of the withdrawal and the nature of the withdrawal and the places and deadlines also of things. We are following up on the matter and I think that Dr. Rice will also follow up with the Israeli side.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, yes, I will follow up on some issues of information. There is information sharing going forward. There are questions on both sides. We are about a month plus before the disengagement begins. There's going to be pretty intensive activity between the two sides. I think everybody wants to clarify what specific questions, and, so I hope to clarify those specific questions.

As to the issue, Peter, of Baghdad, and the insurgency in Iraq, and of course, the point was that we are looking to the day when the Iraqi people, by having won their political will be able, in effect, to knock the legs off the political foundation of the insurgency. And I think they're on their way to doing that.

The way that is put best for some, actually I think it was General Abizaid, but I can't be certain of that, who said that the end of the insurgency and a free and democratic Iraq would be the beginning of the end for terrorism as we know it. Now I am not going to say that every, we will ever be able to prevent every terrorist incident. But if you look at the rise of this particular kind of extremism that is spawning the attacks around the world that created the circumstances of September 11th and continue to spawn these attacks, the point is that there needs to be a different kind of condition here in the Middle East so that extremism doesn't flourish, and so that there are peaceful and free and prosperous people, circumstances which we hope to achieve, who we do not believe will want to send their children off to be suicide bombers. And so, yes, a democratic and peaceful Iraq that is at peace with its neighbors that is very different from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, would be a very important part of that -- and I think essential part of that.

But it is also the case, as the president has said, when you have a democratic, Palestinian state that is independent and living side by side with Israel, you will also have an element of a very different kind of Middle East. And so we're working on these issues piece by piece, it took a long time for us to get to this situation, but we've seen this extremist element come to be, and it is going to take a while to reverse it. But the good news is that the people who seek freedom, people who seek peace, like the President here and others with whom I've been meeting are determined that we're not going to have extremists destroy the hopes and aspirations of peace loving peoples.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, first of all yesterday you were in Lebanon and you asked that the decision 1559 must be put on the ground. Today, they are surrounding the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Is this what you asked for? My second question is, you know, you knew from the Palestinians that they don't have any information. You said that you are trying to do something, but up until now nothing, and less it's than three weeks from the withdrawal.

(In Arabic) Mr. President, have you received confirmation from the American side regarding the wall and expanding the settlements especially around occupied Jerusalem? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Well if you don't mind, I'd like to speak to the second of those questions first. We have been very clear about the Israeli obligations under the Roadmap not to try and do anything that will prejudge a final status outcome. We've expressed our deep concern about the route of the wall particularly around Jerusalem and we have expressed the American policy on settlement activity remains that it should stop. We will continue to work towards exactly that.

Now as to what happened around the Lebanese camps, I've heard some reports - I can assure that this is not something that the United States suggested by any means. I don't even actually know what has happened there. My discussions with the Lebanese about 1559 were that they have an international obligation that they've undertaken concerning 1559. They know they have that obligation, they've reaffirmed that they have that obligation.

We also understand that this is going to take place in context of a Lebanese political system that is evolving, a political effort to bring about national reconciliation. I heard a good deal about that process yesterday. We are confident that the Lebanese people want to be in a position where there is a government -- I think the President has probably put it best in the Palestinian context -- where there's one gun and one authority. That is really the aim of 1559. The Lebanese are just beginning and we really do believe that they have every intention of fulfilling their obligations, that they'll do it in this political context and they need some time.

PRESDIENT ABBAS (in Arabic): As to that part of the question that was answered by Dr. Rice I will confirm once again that the U.S. position which we heard from President Bush and we heard it more than once from Dr. Rice regarding settlements and the wall is what we adopt, and we feel that the U.S. Administration is serious about talking and working on this issue.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, first to you. We've heard you talk about connectivity and about agreements but it's only 24 days away and many Palestinians working under President Abbas and others say that they have no answers yet on passages, no answers on how to get from Gaza to the West Bank, certainly no answers on the long-run problems of airports, seaports and other ways of getting in and out, and that Gaza will become a prison and once isolate that way, it will only promote more violence, not less. What is the United States, which has the biggest clout in all of this, to do? Are you using your extraordinary influence with Israel sufficiently to get them to provide more answers to the Palestinians on these really specific and necessary questions? And to you, President Abbas, with all due respect, isn't there the likelihood of more violence if you don't get the political tools to enable you to carry out your promises about cracking down on violence, particularly in the weeks to come.

SECRETARY RICE: Andrea, let me put the point a little bit differently. The Palestinians need to answer to the Israelis and the Israelis need to answer to the Palestinians -- this is not a one-way street. One reason that I've been in Jerusalem and now here in Ramallah is that both sides need to provide answers to each other. That is the effort that is being facilitated by Mr. Wolfensohn, that is the issue that is being facilitated by General Ward. We are talking to both parties -- that's why I'm here, by the way , is to help bring the weight of the United States.

I think you want to be a little careful of how you talk about this. It's about one side providing answers to the other. This is a coordinated withdrawal in which the two sides both have responsibilities to make this coordinated withdrawal work. And therefore, what I'm doing is making sure that the Israelis and the Palestinians understand where the United States stands on various issues, where necessary trying to facilitate an answer if one does not appear self-evident to each of the two parties. I'm trying to help Jim Wolfensohn with that process.

But there are discussions, meetings that have been going on between the two sides and that continue to go on between the two sides and I think that they're making some process. Now I think we can close many of theses issues very expeditiously with enough will and perhaps a change in view here or change in view there. But it's going to take both sides, and not just one side, to make these decisions so we can move forward on a coordinated withdrawal.

This is a coordinated withdrawal, that's what we've agreed. It's not just the Israelis leaving and handing it over to the Palestinians -- it's a coordinated withdrawal. These are relationships and mechanisms that have been intertwined now for more than 30 years. And so it's not surprising that it takes some effort and some time and some difficult decisions on both sides to figure out exactly how Gaza is going to operate.

The principle that the United States is operating on is that Gaza is going to be Palestinian and that means that the Palestinian people have to experience freedom of movement in Gaza. It is also the case that there has to be a link between Gaza and the West Bank and it has to be the case, which we've been saying for many months, that there needs to be greater freedom of movement in the West Bank itself. Operating from those three principles, I think we will come to solutions on many of these issues.

PRESIDENT ABBAS (in Arabic): We are not telling a secret if we say that our objective is the unity of the Palestinian Authority and unity of the law unity of legitimate weapons and political pluralism. This is what we always say. These are the principles we are seeking to achieve, too. We are at the threshold of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and we are definitely in dire need for international support, whether on economic and financial and civic issues - also on security issues, as well. This is no surprise. We have asked the international community to help us with all that so that we can achieve an ideal situation on the Palestinian land between now until, God willing, the state is established.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, just a follow up. You've said that, the Palestinians have said that they don't have all the answers. You've just suggested that they've not provided answers to the Israelis on some questions. Could you be specific?

SECRETARY RICE: Andrea, these are negotiations and discussions. I'm not going to have them in the press. I'm going to have them with Minister Peres and Minister Dahlan, with Minister. Moafaz and Minister Yusif, Minister Dahlan and Minister Moafaz -- that's how I'm going to have these discussions. I can assure you that I know the questions to which the Israelis need answers and I know the questions to which the Palestinians need answers.

I can also assure you that people are working very, very hard to make sure that this withdrawal is a success, because the very good thing about this time, and I can sense it here, being with the Palestinians and having been with the Israelis, is the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority know that they both have an enormous stake in the success of this withdrawal from Gaza in a way that accelerates progress on the Roadmap rather than throwing it back. Because both sides are seriously committed to making this work, we are working in at atmosphere that is, to my experience in the time I've been working with these issues, very different than in the past. These two are partners and there's a lot of mistrust overcome from many, many years of difficulty but they've recognized that they're partners and we're going to strengthen that partnership. Thank you.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: