Israel and the United States have a unique strategic relationship which enjoys bipartisan support and is based on common interest, but more importantly on shared values.
Joint press conference with Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni
and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
Tel Aviv, Israel
November 6, 2008
FM Livni: Hello. I would like to welcome my friend and colleague, Secy Rice, in the region once again. You come at a time when the election process in the United States has ended, while here it is just beginning.
Let me first express my personal admiration and congratulations for the wonderful example of a democratic process that the elections in the United States represent. This is a source of inspiration to millions around the world. I would of course like to congratulate President-elect Barack Obama on his historic victory, a man who has impressed Israelis during his visits here and throughout the campaign by what he represents. I would like also to express our appreciation to Senator John McCain for his leadership and his longstanding friendship, which we never take for granted.
Israel and the United States have a unique strategic relationship which enjoys bipartisan support and is based on common interest, but more importantly on shared values. We look forward to working with the new U.S. administration when it comes into office in order to enhance the unique and unshakable U.S.-Israel partnership, a partnership which has truly been strengthened in the last eight years under the leadership and vision of President Bush, which is based on deep and uncompromising values. His contribution will never be forgotten.
Secretary Rice and I will discuss today regional issues, including Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian track. We remain committed to the Annapolis process and to the solution of two states for two peoples. I know that there are doubts about this process. I think we need to remember that Annapolis came after seven years of intifada and terror, and after Hamas took control in Gaza. It created, after years, a framework of continuing dialogue and developed basic trust between the parties. It is important that we preserve the process within the structure that we have created. We are realistic enough to recognize the reality we face, but we are also determined enough to change it.
I believe deeply that stagnation is not in Israel’s interest, and it cannot be our policy. The Israeli people do not need slogans; they need solutions. And any solution must provide an answer to Israel’s interest: first and foremost, security and Annapolis and the process, preserve it.
We are committed to negotiations with the Palestinians not as a favor to anyone, but in order to ensure a peaceful and secure future for Israel and for the Israelis. We also expect the continued process to be made on the ground to ensure that we have a peaceful and responsible neighbor, rather than a terror state or a failed state on our borders.
The comprehensive approach of the Annapolis process, which combines negotiations with steps on the ground and a firm stand against extremism, has made the recent progress we have seen on the ground possible; to take one example, such – a place such as Jenin that was once the capitol of terror and is now a source of hope.
Finally, I want to make clear that we can never compromise on confronting terrorism and extremism, whether it be from Iran, Hamas, or Hizbullah, so that we guarantee that the moderates and not the extremists of this region dictate the agenda.
I am looking forward to the opportunity next week to brief the Quartet together with our Palestinian partners. While the negotiations themselves are bilateral and confidential, the unique Quartet meeting will be an opportunity for the parties to express their commitment to negotiations and the Annapolis process, to share their assessments of the serious of this talk and the challenges ahead, and to maintain and enhance international support for the process in accordance with the guiding principles that the parties themselves have agreed between them.
Secy Rice: Well, thank you very much, Tzipi, for welcoming here to the region. Let me welcome you also to the residence of our Ambassador here. I look forward to our discussions, but I first want to thank you for the very kind and moving words that you’ve just expressed about the American elections, because this is something that Americans feel very deeply.
I think that what we saw yesterday – or is it the day before now – on Tuesday, November 4th is evidence that democracy is not something that is born and then you’re done with it. It is something that you have to continue to work, you have to continue to perfect. You build it brick-by-brick, day-by-day, but it is a process in which human dignity can overcome old wounds and old differences. And particularly as an African American, as I’ve said, it was an historic day, but it shows why democracy, a value that Israel and the United States share, is really only the answer – the only answer for human beings worldwide. And I know that that is something that we deeply believe, the two of us.
We will have a discussion of the negotiations between you and the Palestinians, as well as regional issues. I just want to note that the Annapolis conference launched the first serious negotiating between Israel and the Palestinians in nearly a decade. Over the last year, the parties have really bravely demonstrated their commitment to substantive negotiations in an effort to reach a comprehensive peace covering all of the core issues. I want to thank you for your leadership as the chief negotiator for Israel and as Foreign Minister, and to assure you that the United States will continue to support and facilitate the efforts of the parties to reach a lasting peace.
We have a national interest – the United States has a national interest in sustaining that progress. We believe that it is essential for the security of Israel, to which the United States is deeply committed.
President Bush’s vision of a Palestinian state at peace with Israel doesn’t come and will not come in a single, dramatic moment, but as the result of methodical, sustained, sincere initiative to conclude a final agreement that benefits both Israelis and Palestinians. And such an initiative is now underway with the Annapolis process, and it should be carried forward.
It is critical that we continue to advance the pillars established at the Annapolis conference, and those pillars were bilateral negotiations, improvements in the situation on the ground, and institution building for the future Palestinian state, as well as marshaling international and especially regional support for the process.
We will have an unprecedented meeting of the Quartet in a few days to hear directly from Israeli and Palestinian participants in the negotiations. The Quartet expects to hear about the parties’ commitment to the Annapolis process, their views on the progress that has been made on the key pillars, and their desire for international support in continuing their efforts.
We expect that the parties will reaffirm their commitment to a two-state solution, to negotiations toward that goal, and to a process that builds on the important progress that has been achieved in previous agreements and understandings.
Let me just close by saying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that should be resolved and should be ended because it will be so important to Palestinians to live in their own state and for Israel to live alongside a democratic neighbor who can help to secure the peace.
The United States is fully committed to that goal, and I remain committed to that goal until the day that we leave office. But I want to say that I am very grateful that in the last almost eight years now we have been able to move a situation which, at the time when President Bush came to office, was the second intifada, with hundreds of Israelis under siege, with Palestinians dying in large numbers, a situation in which the thought of peace between Israelis and Palestinians was one that was quite distant with the undeniably important, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt to reach peace at Camp David.
President Bush has been devoted since then to bringing about a two-state solution on the right basis, through strong support for Israel’s security, for a belief that no Palestinian state could ever be born of terror, for a belief that democratic institutions would be important to the future of the Palestinian people, as they would be important to the future of the Israeli people, and a belief that the Arab neighbors would need to come to terms, finally, with Israel’s permanent existence in this neighborhood, and with an international community that would support efforts by the parties themselves to finally resolve their conflict. And I believe that those principles remain the basis and the foundation on which this conflict will finally end.
Thank you very much.
Q: Madame Secretary, do you think that your service as Secretary of State, one of the highest jobs in the United States, as Secretary Powell’s job, was one of the elements that led to a change of hearts in the American people and led to the election of Barak Obama as the first African American president? And what you will recommend him to do? You know that he is for engagement. Will you recommend him to engage on the Syrian track or to neglect it totally, ignore it, as you did?
And if I can ask a question for our Foreign Minister, FM Livni, what you will recommend Madame Secretary to do until the practical change of governments, and what do you think in that regard about the idea of American interests section in Iran?
Secy Rice: Let me just say that I will give my advice and assessment to my successor when that person is named, and I’ll do so privately, and then I will happily return to California and comment no further on the matter.
It’s in the great American tradition that when there is an election and when a new president is installed and inaugurated, it then becomes the – that government that is responsible for American foreign policy. But there are some perennials, some constants in American foreign policy, and the friendship for Israel is a constant. It has been since Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel in 1948, and I don’t think that that’s going to change.
As to the question about the road that paved the way for President-elect Obama, he was an extraordinary candidate, he is an inspirational leader, and I think that that is the first thing to say. I do think that America has been on a long journey to overcome what I have personally called its birth defect of slavery, a birth defect that was not fully overcome, because when I was a child in Birmingham, Alabama there were still laws that kept the races separate. And it’s been a journey. It’s been a journey of the civil rights movement, of great civil rights leaders. I think of Colin Powell as the first black Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which I think was a landmark for the United States. I think it was a landmark to have then the Secretary of State and National Security Advisor both be black at the same time, and then back-to-back black Secretaries of State. So I think there has been a process of overcoming this, but let’s not take anything away from the enormous leap that Tuesday, November 4th was, from whatever basis we were on November 3rd.
FM Livni: Thanks. Well, it’s not for me to advise Secretary Rice, even though you said that you are going to be devoted to the process until the last day in the office. I’m sure that you are going to be devoted even later because this is something that need to be to understand. In the last eight years, in different positions for both of us, I discovered that in our talks that Secretary Rice really is devoted to make a change in the region, in an understanding that peace and security is not only an American interest, but this is an Israeli interest and a Palestinian interest as well. And during these years, Secretary Rice will meet with others, try to see what are the gaps, where we stand, what are the interest of the parties, what are the interest of Israel, what are the concerns of Israel, in terms of security, in terms of the fear and maybe the need to create a state which is not a terror state.
So there’s a need to fight terrorism on the other side of the future borders within the Palestinian Authority. And this comes from a determination and understanding and something that I believe goes beyond the duty. And it is something that – and this is the reason why I believe that I’m sure that it’s not part of the job, but this is something that’s part of you as a person.
And this is part of the determination and this is part of our determination because of the interest of the state of Israel, not as a favor to anyone; as I said, not even to the United States of America, but because this is something that the Israelis deserve to live in peace and security. And I do believe that the continuousness of the process is crucial for us Israelis, for the Palestinians as well. And I do believe that in doing it in the right way, we can have the to support of the international community.
So the idea is to continue the process in a manner in which we decided between us before, Israelis and Palestinians, in accordance. And it was agreed also by the United States of America and others. It is bilateral. We need to continue it. We need to find the way to continue it regardless to the question of timelines or timetables or changes of administration in the United States of America. This is crucial for both sides to understand that this is what we need to address. And I’m sure that during the next few months, this is what we are going to continue to do.
And I know that Secretary Rice, as other leaders within the international community, know where Israel stands. And when Israel sent a message, and not only a message, a oral message, but something that is being done during this process, saying that a process is part of our interest, we want to continue this process as long as it preserve our own interest, especially when it comes to security. The world can support this process without pressuring Israel to do something which is against its interest. And I believe that this is a change that Israel during the last eight years, have done within the international community, because there were sometimes old perceptions and images of Israel. And I think that now, it is clear to the international community that Israel is serious, that stagnation is not our policy, and we are determined to continue the peace process as long as it preserve our needs and interest.
When it comes to other topics on the agenda, this Administration – I was talking about President Bush and also Secretary Rice – represent the understanding that we need to fight extremism. Iran is an example of a state that represent this kind of extreme ideology. We need to continue the pressure on Iran. And I believe that the idea of continuing the pressure comes with more intense and effective sanctions on the Iranian – and I think that this gives an answer to your second question as well.
Q: You spoke earlier about how you wanted to lay a firm foundation of solid groundwork for the next administrations, both the United States and Israel. Well, what exactly do you mean by that? Are you talking about a document that goes beyond just a simple reaffirmation of the Annapolis goals? Are you looking for something more where the parties will say exactly how far they’ve gotten and that that will be a starting point? I think the question is: What are you hoping to present to the Obama Administration as: Here’s where you can begin?
Secy Rice: Look, I am not going to try to judge what the parties will want to do during this process and as it unfolds. As I understand it, they are going to – before the Quartet and I’m sure throughout the – this next several months – affirm that the Annapolis process and the framework that it establishes is indeed the basis on which they believe they can come to a resolution of their conflict regardless of timetable, regardless of anyone’s timetable. And I think what’s extremely important in this is there’s a lot of focus on the political negotiations. And that is rightly so, because one has to have an answer to the core issues in order to establish a Palestinian state. That is quite clear. And I have been impressed at the seriousness of the parties in discussing how a Palestinian state might come into being.
But it is also the case that the pillars of the creation of reliable Palestinian institutions that can deliver for the Palestinian people and can be a stabilizing factor in this region when a Palestinian State is born, that that is an extremely important pillar. And to my knowledge, this is really the first time that a peace process has tried to build from both the ground up and from the top down. And I believe that that is one of the other elements that Annapolis brings.
And there has not been very much attention to the hard work that the Palestinians, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, has been doing to build those institutions of the future Palestinian state. And so that’s another piece that I think has to be passed on. It is also the case that there are Roadmap obligations that the parties undertook some time ago. And the Annapolis process envisions that an agreement is really not going to be feasible unless those Roadmap obligations are met, and that’s when we talked about it being subject to Roadmap obligations. That’s another piece of this process. And finally, that there needed to be a framework of international and regional support for the parties to conclude. So I don’t want to try to prejudge how this might all be, in a sense, passed on.
But I do want to emphasize again that in 2001, when President Bush came into office, we had a raging intifada, we had Israel under siege. There were still people who talked about, well, there are freedom fighters and then there are terrorists. The President laid that aside for all time. When we came into office, I do not think that you had the breadth of opinion in Israel in support of the two-state solution. I would cite, for instance, Prime Minister Sharon’s Herzylia speech which established new ground.
And so a lot has happened to change the environment. There is a very serious negotiation going on. I know that because I’ve sat with the parties. There is other serious work going on. How we express that and turn it over to those who will have to – in any case, even when an agreement is signed, there will be a lot of work to do to implement it and to make sure that it works. And so how we do that, I think, is still an open question. But I am so confident that the Annapolis process that was launched, now less than a year ago, is an extraordinary breakthrough in the history of this conflict.
FM Livni: Thanks.