SECRETARY RICE: The Arab initiative is not a negotiating document.

Joint press conference by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and US Secy of State Condoleezza Rice
Washington, DC, March 14, 2007

SECRETARY RICE: I was delighted to meet for just a brief time with the Foreign Minister of Israel, Tzipi Livni. We’ve had a chance to discuss a few issues concerning the Middle East and to talk about preparation for my trip to the Middle East at the end of next week.You’re welcome here always, Tzipi.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Like always, never a dull moment in the Middle East. We are facing new challenges, some old challenges, but I believe that we are facing some threats that are also windows of opportunity. And this was an opportunity for me before, because this is the end of my trip to the United States, I’m going back home and will be seeing you in Israel in ten days from now. And we discussed, of course, all the issues, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the situation in Lebanon, and to be continued.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Saudi peace initiative has attracted some positive comments in Israel. Do you see any particular interest now in seeing this revised and do you see any reason why the Arabs might modify it, for example, on (the question of) borders in a way that might be more amenable to the government of Israel?

SECRETARY RICE: In terms of the Arab initiative, I hope that this speaks to the clear need for the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t want to speak to the specifics of the initiative because obviously, it’s an initiative by the Arabs. We think it is a very good thing that this initiative was put forward. We have to remember that it started as the Crown Prince initiative when Saudi now-King Abdullah put forward this idea. Obviously, the Israelis would have their own ideas about how an Israeli-Arab reconciliation could take place. But I always think that it’s a favorable matter when people are talking about resolution of longstanding conflicts.

I just want to emphasize, we believe very strongly that as we are working to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict we need also to work toward Israeli-Arab reconciliation.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I would like to follow up on this question. Did you express any desire to Arab moderate leaders that they will amend the plan in a way that will be more acceptable to the Israeli government, especially of the refugees question?

SECRETARY RICE: The Arab initiative is not a negotiating document. It is a document that sets forward a position. And as I said, I think very favorably about the idea that the Arab League starting as the Crown Prince initiative would, as a whole, set forward a position on which perhaps reconciliation could take place between Israel and the Arab states. But obviously, it is not a negotiating position and I am sure that Israel would have its own views of how that reconciliation could take place. So I have not talked to people about modification.

I think it’s a favorable thing that they are putting forward something, but it’s not a negotiating position as I understand it, but rather a framework, a vision for how Israel and the Arabs might reconcile.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: I believe that there’s a need for an historical reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world. And when the Saudi initiative was at first published – it was first, I think, something that was published in The New York Times by Tom Friedman – it was very positive because it was based on the idea of two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a historical reconciliation and normalization between the Arab world and Israel.

But then in Beirut the Arab League added articles which refer to the refugee issue, which I believe is against the concept of two-state solution in which Israel is only for the Jewish people and Palestine is and should be the answer to the Palestinians. But in order to send a clear message also to the Arab world, we said that some parts of this initiative are, of course, positive – talking about reconciliation, normalization and such. Those parts referring to the refugees, as we see it, are against the concept of the two-state solution.

But I would like to see pragmatic Arab leaders normalize their relations with Israel without waiting for the peace between Israel and the Palestinians to be completed. Maybe they will take these kind of steps that can help the moderates in the Palestinian Authority to take other steps in order to achieve peace. So this is something that we are waiting for.