The Israeli government with the help of Secretary Rice will continue the peace negotiations while giving an answer to Israeli civilians being attacked by Hamas.

Joint Press Conference with Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Jerusalem, 5 March 2008

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Hello. I would like to welcome again Secretary Rice in the region, for a very short but yet fruitful visit, I hope – I know. Of course, we discussed the situation in the region and we needed to address very important issues. On one hand, the bilateral peace process between Israel and the Palestinians according to the Annapolis understanding, and on the other hand, the situation in which Israeli civilians are under attack from the Gaza Strip, and this is something that we also need to address.

This kind of complicated situation needs some answers and the idea is to continue the peace negotiations while giving an answer to Israeli civilians being attacked by Hamas, and this is what the Israeli government is going to do with the help of Secretary Rice. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. Thank you, Minister. Thank you, Tzipi, for having me here. We’ve just concluded very good discussions, as I’ve concluded very good discussions with all of the parties. We’ve talked about the need to restore calm and, of course, that means also to stop the rocket attacks against Israeli citizens. We have talked about the need to return to the path of negotiations.

There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state. And Hamas, which in effect, holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands, is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. And we cannot permit that to happen. We’re working very hard to address the situation, particularly in Gaza. Assistant Secretary Welch is going to return to Egypt for discussions with the Egyptians about how the situation can be improved, including how to deal with issues that we have been addressing for some time, like the tunnels in which Hamas is using to smuggle goods and weaponry into Gaza.

I know too that the Israelis and Egyptians have been in touch. I’m concerned about the need to improve conditions on the ground in the West Bank and I’ve urged both sides to live up to their roadmap obligations and in furtherance of that goal, Lieutenant General Frazier will convene the Tripartite Committee on Roadmap Obligations next week. We have to set a date, but I believe it’s likely to be on Thursday of next week, at which we will have the first of those trilaterals to deal with roadmap obligations.

And we are, of course, concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The U.S. government has pledged to UNRWA – that pledge has reached $148 million for 2008. I’ve also talked a lot about the importance of continuing the negotiations because ultimately, the answer to many of these problems has to be given in the solution that Annapolis put forward, which is two states living side by side in peace and security. And to that end, I’ve been informed by the parties that they intend to resume the negotiations and that they are in contact with one another as to how to bring this about.

And so thank you very much for a very good visit here and I look forward to continuing our discussions.

Q: Abu Mazen said this morning that he wants a truce or a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas before he resumes peace talks. Is that in conflict at all with what you just said? And a majority of Israelis say they support some kind of truce talks. Madame Foreign Minister, do you see any alternative to talking to Hamas on some level given that they control Gaza and aren’t going away? And Madame Secretary, are you advocating such a deal or truce?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, I have talked with Abu Mazen and President Abbas and he obviously would like to see calm. He has spoken publicly about his desire for a ceasefire, but this is not a condition for resumption of the talks. Secondly, as to how calm comes about, I have made clear our view that it ought to be pretty clear how calm comes about. The rocket attacks against Israel ought to stop. And as I’ve said, as Israel defends itself, Israel also needs to be very careful about innocent people who get caught in the crossfire, about the humanitarian conditions in Gaza. And so there is a path forward and I leave it to the Israeli Foreign Minister to give her answer to your question, but I think it ought to be pretty clear how we get to a calm situation.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Well, clearly, since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip, we adopted a dual strategy. And when I say “we,” I mean the international community and, of course, the United States of America, Israel, and the pragmatic leaders in the Palestinian Authority. The idea is to work with diplomatic leaders, to try and reach a peace treaty with them, while simultaneously working in order to delegitimize Hamas as a terrorist organization and to find an answer to these terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip to Israel. In facing the threat coming from the Gaza Strip, it is important to understand that Israel left the Gaza Strip, we dismantled settlements, we took our forces out. So it’s not part of our ideology to be there, but we need to give an answer to the lives and to security of Israeli citizens who are under daily attack from the Gaza Strip.

The problems there are, one, the attacks on Israel and the other is the buildup of Hamas, which has now begun to be more like a small army and less a terrorist organization, and they are trying to get more and more weapons coming through Egypt to the Gaza Strip. So we need to address these two problems simultaneously and this is also what Secretary Rice said about the talks with Egypt. Of course, as was said since the beginning, Israel needs to provide security to its citizens and we need to provide an answer to terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip to our cities. This is the reason for the Israeli decision to take military action against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Q: I would like to have both Secretary Rice and Minister Livni address this question. First, if you could verify a report that we have heard that you are about to dispatch David Welch to Cairo regarding this progress – maybe a ceasefire, maybe an Egyptian solution to the situation? Another question is being that the United States refrained from transferring $120 million to Egypt for a good reason, saying that Egypt doesn’t do enough to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza from Sinai. And lately, on the last visit that you had to Cairo, you actually okayed that sum. How does that meet with the fact that those Katyusha rockets are still being fired to Ashkelon and Sderot?

SECRETARY RICE: First of all, in terms of David Welch, yes, I have asked David Welch to go back to Egypt, but it is to look at the entire situation in the Gaza. We have been working all along with Egypt and with Israel, and indeed with the Palestinian Authority, to deal with the situation that has obtained in Gaza since Hamas’ illegal takeover there. That means security issues, it means humanitarian issues, it means trying to do something about the tunnels which continue to be a problem. So that is the reason for David’s return to Egypt. But as I said, Israel and Egypt have their own direct contacts too. We’re not trying to broker something here. It’s just a matter of all parties discussing.

As to the waiver, I would just note that the Administration sought the waiver for flexibility in dealing with our complex relationship with Egypt and it is called a national interest or a national security waiver. And it is, in our view, best at this point to exercise that waiver. I have said to the Egyptians that we continue to be concerned about the situation internally in Egypt in terms of democracy, human rights, and the reforms in Egypt. That was also part of the concern, as well as needing Egypt to do more to deal with the tunnels. But the waiver is a national interest or a national security waiver and I took it on those grounds.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Of course we are talking about the border, which is now between Gaza and Egypt. When Israel decided to leave the Gaza Strip according to the disengagement plan, we also left what is called the Philadelphi Corridor, which is now the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Now clearly, this border is being used – abused by – Hamas in order to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip and this is something that we cannot afford. Everybody needs to understand that the Israeli citizens are being terrorized by rockets coming from the Gaza Strip. We were talking about the smuggling of weapons, about the fact that the range of the missiles now covers also other civil population centers in Israel, and this is something that we cannot live with.

So we need to address these two major threats coming from the Gaza Strip. One, of course, is the missile attacks on Israeli civilians. This is one thing. But we cannot afford a situation in which, on the surface, there may be some quiet days, but simultaneously, the terrorists are acquiring more and more weapons and will decide when to use it. And also on this, when I say "we," I am referring to the region. “We” is, of course, the Israeli citizens and the government officials, and Of course Egypt cannot afford it and the pragmatic Palestinian leaders cannot afford it.

But there’s a need to understand that when we are talking about two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace and security, there is a need, of course, to continue the peace negotiations. Israel, of course, is willing to do so. And we believe that it is important to continue to do so because we don’t want to place the keys for our future in the hands of Hamas. But on the other side, there’s a better understanding now that the path to the establishment of a Palestinian states, which includes Gaza Strip, needs to give an answer to the situation on the ground in Gaza Strip. We cannot afford a terrorist state in Gaza. We cannot afford a failed state as part of the future Palestinian state or an extreme Islamic terrorist state as Gaza seem to be right now. So we need to give an answer both to the missiles coming from Gaza Strip and to the buildup of Hamas, the tunnels, and Egypt.

Q: This is for both of you. Hamas seems to have now shown that they can hijack this peace process whenever they want –

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Unfortunately.

Q: – even if there is a ceasefire. You know, we have no guarantee that this will last and they start rocket attacks again. Given this, how can we expect this peace process to continue and to be successful if Israel does not either begin negotiations with Hamas and take them into account or go into Gaza and rout them out?

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Okay. This was the understanding in Annapolis. The Annapolis understanding, based on the fact that we will negotiate with the pragmatic leaders even though they don’t control Gaza Strip right now, while meeting the challenge coming from the Gaza Strip in order to change the situation in the Gaza Strip in the future in order to create and to establish a Palestinian state, which includes, according to the Palestinian aspiration, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Now, I said in advance, and I said it in Annapolis and I said it in Paris and I said it today: I knew when we signed Annapolis understanding that there woule be temptations to stop the negotiations because of the situation on the ground. And I said that the success of the negotiations is based on the determination of the two leaderships, Israeli and Palestinian –  to continue the negotiations. Even though I was sometimes accused by leaders from the opposition – and the Israeli coalition – as well for negotiating in the face of terror, we were determined to continue. The same day when a suicide bomber killed an Israeli in Dimona, the same day last week when an Israeli was killed in Sapir College near Sderot – the next day, the day of his funeral, I said clearly and I said it also in the parliament that we will not give Hamas control over our lives and our future. This is why we need to continue the peace negotiations and simultaneously to work against terrorism.

Now, clearly I expect my co-partners – and I said it to them as well – to act the same. It is important for them as it is important for us. Peace negotiations is not a gift that somebody givesanother. It’s a mutual interest, it’s a mutual aspiration and it’s a mutual dream of our two peoples. So we need to be strong enough to face internal criticism. It’s easy to do so when we know that we are doing the right thing.

SECRETARY RICE: Look, the situation has been difficult. But in my conversations with both leaders, I’ve had very strong affirmation of – not just the desire to get this agreement, but the necessity to get this agreement. And I am pleased that the parties have said that they’re going to resume negotiations, they intend to do that, and that contacts will begin between them to bring that about. To be very clear, Annapolis, of course, was the point at which we recognized – and by the way, you only had to look at the history of any negotiation in this region to see that rejectionists have tried from time to time, actually, almost every time, to derail, to hold hostage the negotiations. And so we have to find a way to make these negotiations robust.

You know, one point that I have made to both sides is that one thing that will make these negotiations more robust is more robust activity on the other two pillars of Annapolis. We do need to have improvements on the ground. We do need to have the parties meeting their roadmap obligations. That’s why General Frazier is going to hold the trilateral. It’s why it’s important that everybody look what they can do to support the Tony Blair mission on the ground. Life needs to improve for the Palestinian people. Life needs to improve, frankly, for Israelis who are under fire, as well in cities like Ashkelon and Sderot. But all three pillars need to move in simultaneously. And I believe that if the two pillars that we – that are not just the political negotiation, but rather the conditions on the ground and the roadmap obligations, if those move as well, that will help to bring some robustness to a peace process that I think is going well, but by it’s necessity, cannot be in the newspapers every day with what the parties are saying to one another.

Q: Madame Secretary, you were talking about the stability of the truce and the need for the end of the violence. At the bottom line, do you accept the Israeli current policy that as long as Hamas is continuing to fire rockets into Israeli towns, Israel has the right and actually has to respond in a military offensive against Hamas in Gaza? And another question for both of you, Prime Minister Olmert declared a few times lately that you agreed, Madame Secretary, with him that the issue of Jerusalem should not be discussed now between Foreign Minister Livni and Abu Allah did you agree to that position?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it is not for me to set the tactics for what Foreign Minister Livni and Mr. Abu Ala do in their negotiations. I think these are decisions that they will have to take and will have to make. The position of the United States is that in order to get to a final status agreement, you are going to have to have agreement on all the core issues. And obviously that includes Jerusalem, how they choose to organize their negotiations. Frankly, that’s not my business. They have to deal with all the core issues. Everyone knows that. So it’s not my job to organize them.

As to the circumstances that have led to the situation in Gaza, I think I’ve been very clear. Number one, it’s clear what needs to be done. Attacks need to stop on Israeli cities by these rockets. I believe and I think everybody believes that Hamas can do that and they ought to do it. Secondly, I understand and have said that Israeli has a right to defend itself. There are, of course, concerns about the next day and do you still have a partner and what has been the effect on the innocent citizens of Gaza who have the misfortune to live under Hamas siege. And I’ve made very clear that we continue to impress upon our Israeli friends, both that element and the need to deal with the humanitarian situation.

I just want to add one thing on Egypt because as Tzipi said, the Egyptians, I do believe, know that it is in their interest also to have a Gaza that is not a terrorist state, that is not a problem for the citizens of Gaza and that’s why I have some confidence that the parties will work very much in coordination and cooperation to improve the situation in Gaza. And so David Welch is going there to see what can be done to help. But there are also contacts directly between the Israelis and the Egyptians.

FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: According to the Annapolis understanding, Israel and the Palestinians decided to address all the core issues. In our first meeting, Abu Ala and myself decided that we will address the issues according to the order that we decide upon. We decided also that unless everything is concluded, nothing is concluded, and we are not going to share with the public or the press any details of our discussions. I would like to say also clearly that the prime minister and myself are working together and there is a full coordination on these issues between us. I know that this can lead to some frustration when we don’t share with the press all the details of the negotiations, because everybody expect some news. Sorry, but the fact that we don’t respond to this kind of question – it’s not a yes or a no and I will not answer questions relating to borders or other issues. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.