FM Livni met with US Secy of State Rice prior to the trilateral meeting with the Palestinian negotiating team.
Statements to the press by Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Tzipi Livni and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Good morning, everybody. I would like to welcome Secretary Rice to the region, to Jerusalem. We are going to discuss today, of course, regional issues, but especially the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. We are going to have a trilateral meeting today with my co-partner, with Abu Ala and the Palestinian team, according to Annapolis, in order to continue and to find a way to reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Even in these hectic days, we continue to negotiate. There are meetings between Abu Ala and myself, there are meetings between different teams on different issues, and we are going to continue to do so. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. I have very little to add to that. I look forward to our discussions. The trilaterals are always helpful, to give me a better sense of how the parties are proceeding, and to see if there is anything more that the United States, or in fact, the international community can do to help the parties reach their objective. And so, I look forward to our discussions.
Q: The organization Peace Now reported today that Israeli settlement activity has nearly doubled in the past year. Foreign Minister Livni, how do you reconcile that with your stated goal of trying to reach a peace agreement?
And, Secretary Rice, what effect does this have? Does this harm or undermine the process?
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: The peace process is not and should not be affected by any kind of settlement activities. At the end of the day, we are talking about the future borders of the Palestinian state. For more than 40 years we have been talking more or less about the same settlement blocs, and this is part of the negotiations. I understand that this sometimes does affect different parts of Palestinian society. But at the end of the day, as I suggested also to my co-partners on the Palestinian side, the role of leaders is to try and find a way to live in peace in the future, and not to let any kind of "noise" that relate to the situation on the ground to enter the negotiating room. It could also have been easier also for me to use some excuses, and to say that certain events affect my ability to negotiate. But I decided not to do so, even in harder days of terror. So I would like to suggest my co-partners not to use it as an excuse. I know that they are not using it as an excuse, but I understand the frustration sometimes.
At the end of the day, the Israeli government policy is not to expand settlements, it is not to build new settlements, not to confiscate land from Palestinians. And, according to my knowledge, settlement activities have been reduced in the most dramatic way, especially in areas which are on the other side of the security fence. There were some small activities that are not going to influence the future borders of the Palestinian state.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me start there, which is that it’s the position of the United States that the parties should not take steps that somehow would prejudice the final status outcome. And, in fact, the borders of the Palestinian state and Israel will be determined by agreement.
I think it’s no secret, and I’ve said it to my Israeli counterparts, that I don’t think the settlement activity is helpful to the process, that in fact, what we need now are steps that enhance confidence between the parties. And anything that undermines confidence between the parties ought to be avoided. So, we will continue to press ahead to get agreement, so that we know what is in Israel and what is in Palestine. That is ultimately the goal. But certainly the activity is not helpful.
Q: Madame Secretary, we are hearing that the gaps between the two sides, Israeli and Palestinian, are still wide. Do you see that, by the end of the year, some kind of agreement can be reached?
SECRETARY RICE: I will start on the question of the gaps between the sides. First of all, I am very heartened by the fact that the negotiations are serious, and they are intensive. And, in fact, I believe that the parties have succeeded in moving their understandings of what needs to be achieved. And, indeed, they’re positioned somewhat closer together over this period of time. We are certainly not anywhere near the point that we were a year ago, when we didn’t even have an active process for the addressing of gaps.
It’s not surprising to anybody that there are still difficult issues to come to agreement on, that there are still gaps. After all, this is a conflict that goes back at least 40 years, if not much longer than that. And so, the ability to resolve this and to get it done, there have been many attempts. But I have to say that I think they are making a very serious attempt. And part of the reason that I am here is to help to point out places where those – not from an American point of view, but from listening to the parties – on where I hear points of convergence. And I think it has been useful for the parties to hear that.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: I would like to add something on this, if I might. We need to remember, Secretary Rice referred to the conflict, which is more than 40 years old. But we need to also remind ourselves where we stood only a year ago, when we faced terror attacks, when the situation in the Gaza Strip led to a kind of an understanding that there was no hope for peace.
We launched the Annapolis process. There is now a dialogue between Israel and diplomatic leaders on the Palestinian side. There is hope for peace, which can represent the interests of both sides. This is no less important. I think that sometimes there is a need to remind ourselves that we changed the atmosphere, the situation on the ground.
SECRETARY RICE: Of course, the goals of Annapolis remain. And we are working on a process, and that is the important point.