"This is my first visit as Israel’s foreign minister, and it comes after dramatic events in the world, especially in our region. The world is now at a crossroads and there’s a need to take very important and urgent decisions regarding to in confronting the Islamic extremist terrorists."
Joint press conference by
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
following their meeting
SECRETARY RICE: Good afternoon. I am delighted to welcome Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel. We have met on a number of occasions. We actually first met when neither of us was yet in government, in 2000, and so we’ve gotten to know each other over the years and I’m very much looking forward to working with you in what are clearly challenging times but still hopeful times in the Middle East.
We’ve had an extensive discussion of all of the issues on our agenda. We have talked about the situation in the Palestinian territories, about our continued desire for a two-state solution, for getting back to progress on the roadmap, but a recognition that this can only happen if a government of the Palestinian people accepts the principles on which a two-state solution is based, including recognition of the right of Israel to exist, dismantlement of terrorist organization, the importance of the renunciation of violence. It’s a simple fact that if you’re going to have a two-state solution you would have to have those conditions in place. And so we talked about the need for the international community to remain sound and strong on these issues. I think that the Foreign Minister has welcomed the statement of the Quartet in London last week regarding these issues.
We talked also about other regional issues, Syria and Lebanon, about Iran and the importance of international – the strength of the international community in making very clear to the Iranians that they have no alternative course but to accept the just demands of the international community that any peaceful – any nuclear – civil nuclear energy programs would be ones that do not have proliferation risk, meaning that there would not be enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil, and the importance of Iran taking the message, the very strong message that the IAEA Board of Governors sent in reporting the Iranian dossier to the UN Security Council.
We talked also about our bilateral relations and the great strength that Israel and the United States draw from each other as countries that share common values as well as many ties of kinship. Thank you very much for being here.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you. It is a special visit for me today here because it is my first visit as a foreign minister, as Israel’s foreign minister, and it comes after dramatic events in the world, especially in our region. In a way, the world is now at a crossroads and there is a need to take very important and urgent decisions in confronting the Islamic extremist terrorists. We also spoke about the situation in Iran and the rise of the Hamas in the Palestinian Authority, in which a terrorist organization took power.
We believe that it is now very important and crucial that the international community and those who believe in America’s values and its ability to lead the international community send a very clear message that terror is not acceptable, and that there is a need for the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to meet the following requirements: to renounce terrorism and violence, to dismantle terrorist infrastructure and terrorist organization, to accept the existence of the State of Israel as such, or even to accept the existence of Jews in the land of Israel – this is something which is totally against the Hamas Charter, by the way; and of course to adopt the agreements which were signed between Israel and the Palestinians until now. And then maybe we have a chance to see a change in the Middle East.
Our feeling is that Israel made very important and painful steps in implementing the Disengagement Plan in order to give a chance for both our peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, and to embark on a new road. It was, from our perspective, an open window of opportunity and I hope that it has not been closed. We rely on the international community to send a unified message to the Palestinians, saying that this is not acceptable unless they meet the above-mentioned requirements, which were adopted by the Quartet, by the United Nations, by of course the United States of America and accepted also by Israel.
So we face challenges and I hope that we can do the right things for our people. As Secretary Rice said, this is not our first meeting and I have full confidence in Secretary Rice’s leadership and values, which are needed to help to solve the problems in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you discuss the future of U.S. and other international aid to a Hamas-led Palestinian government? Can you update us on where the U.S. review stands? And does it seem likely to you that in the long run, really all but the direct U.S. aid to the government – in other words, the larger pot of humanitarian aid – would continue to flow?
And for the Foreign Minister, does Israel have the legal authority to continue to withhold customs and other remittances from a government after Hamas takes over? Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: We have discussed this matter, but I think our position is well known. The review continues of our programs. Let me just say that we’re all in agreement that the current caretaker government should be supported. Abu Mazen is, after all, still the President of the Palestinian Authority and we have worked hard with some of the Palestinians’ neighbors to try and find ways to support the near-term needs of this interim government and we were very gratified that the Israeli Government decided to make, on this one-month basis, the transfer of tax revenues to help the Palestinian Authority in this interim phase.
We are going to review all of our programs and we are doing that. Obviously, this is a changing and evolving situation. The very best outcome would be if any new Palestinian government, whatever its composition, accepts the requirements that the international community is putting forward. There simply has to be a recognition of the state of Israel’s right to exist. It simply has to be. Israel is a member of the United Nations. It cannot be that you have a government that does not accept even its right to exist that then says that it wants the international community’s support for its programs.
Obviously, there are commitments that are already in place. We would expect those to be accepted. So that would be the very best outcome. We are reviewing our aid. We are mindful of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people. But I do want to make clear that there are two phases here. We are continuing to support the caretaker government. The international community has undertaken to do that. But we await the outcomes of the government formation process because that will tell the tale of what is possible.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: The Israeli Government decision to transfer the money is based on this interim period of time in which, even though we are after the elections in the Palestinian Authority, a new government has not yet been formed. But it is important to understand that from the legal point of view – I am also the Israeli Minister of Justice – it is important to understand that this transfer of money is based on agreements that were signed between Israel and the Palestinians.
Now we are talking about Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization, and which is going to lead the Palestinians. I think it is unacceptable to demand that Israel implement its obligations under these agreements while the other side doesn’t even agree that we have the right to live – simple as that. So this is also the legal basis. And more than that, there are legal international conventions, and it is totally forbidden under Israeli law to transfer money that can be used for terrorism. This is part of the global international role against terrorism and Israel accepted it.
So the situation in which we may find ourselves, if they will not meet these requirements in the future, is that this money will go to finance terror against our citizens. So I believe that not only legally, but even morally, this is something that Israel will have to rethink in the future. When we transferred the money, we stated that we are doing it based on the interim period of time and we will judge the situation on a monthly basis in the future.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Israel Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he wants to set the permanent borders of Israel and the U.S. position is well known about such unilateral acts by Israel. Are you considered to revise your position or modify it right now that, on the other side, there is actually no partner for Israel to deal with?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, we certainly hope that over the next period of time that there will be a partner for Israel to deal with. That is everyone’s hope for the roadmap. That depends on what happens in the Palestinian territories. The United States position on this is very clear and remains the same. No one should try and unilaterally predetermine the outcome of a final status agreement. That’s to be done at final status. The President did say that at the time of final status, it will be necessary to take into account new realities on the ground that have changed since 1967, but under no circumstances should those realities be – should anyone try and do that in a preemptive or predetermined way, because these are issues for negotiation at final status.
But let me put the whole thing into context. We’ve been through a tumultuous period over the last several months in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, but I just want to underscore something that the Foreign Minister said. Israel withdrew from Gaza and has just gone through a painful withdrawal as well from a number of settlements in the West Bank. I think everyone was — has remarked at the way that this democracy has gone through this and gone through it in a largely peaceful way, although it is obviously a painful episode.
And this did open an opportunity for peace, for a new kind of peace. We saw, in the Gaza, the beginning of coming to life of economic life there. We successfully got a Rafah crossing agreement.
All of this is still possible. The Palestinian people have been through an election. They voted for change, but I don’t think they voted to change their aspirations for a peaceful life. And the only way that a peaceful life can be delivered is if there is a two-state solution and that two-state solution has to begin from the premise that both Palestinians and Israelis have a right to exist.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in the aftermath of the printing of the cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, there has been outrage around the world that we’ve all seen. The question is: Do you think this is spontaneous as it continues? If not, who is behind it? What group or what governments might be behind it?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me first say that this has been a difficult period. We are strong proponents of the freedom of the press. It is one of the most fundamental freedoms of democratic development. We also believe that with press freedom comes a certain responsibility. And the United States has been a place where there has been also freedom of religion and that means that people have to exist in the same body and to respect each other’s religious traditions and respect each other’s religious sensibilities and that is also very important.
Now, nothing justifies the violence that has broken out in which many innocent people have been injured. Nothing justifies the burning of diplomatic facilities or threats to diplomatic facilities around the world. This is a time when everyone should urge calm and should urge that there is an atmosphere of respect and understanding.
I think that there have been a lot of governments that have spoken out about this. Note, for instance, Afghanistan and Lebanon, very important comments even by the Ayatollah Sistani about this.
But yes, there are governments that have also used this opportunity to incite violence. I don’t have any doubt that given the control of the Syrian Government in Syria, given the control of the Iranian Government, which, by the way, hasn’t even hidden its hand in this, that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes. And the world ought to call them on it. All responsible people ought to say that there is no excuse for violence. We all need to respect each other’s religions. We need to respect freedom of the press. But you know, again, with freedom of the press comes responsibility as well.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I’d like to ask you a comment about the fact that the UN Secretary General expressed his concern yesterday of the targeted killing in Gaza Strip. There were like nine or ten in the last week. Do you share his concern?
And Madame Minister, it seems that it’s quite clear that there is an American-Israeli plan for the time till the Hamas government is formed, but I’m not sure we understand what is the plan on the day after it. What does Israel and the United States do? Because sooner or later, there will be a Hamas government in the territories. Thank you.
SECRETARY RICE: Well, the U.S. position on this issue has not changed. It has long been our view that all actions should be viewed with a mind to the consequences the day after of any actions. No one denies to Israel the right to fight terrorism. Israel is a democratic state and has a right to protect its citizens, just as the United States has a right to protect its citizens and to fight terrorism. We are hopeful that the fight against terrorism for the United States as well as for Israel can take place in the context of a process that recognizes that violence and terrorism are not permissible in the international community ever. There isn’t any excuse for the wanton taking of life of innocent life.
And so we have spoken out that the way, the context that we need to resolve these problems, is put forward in the roadmap, that terrorist organizations would be dismantled, that people will not use terrorist techniques, they will in fact not just dismantle terrorism but fully renounce terrorism. And in that context, everybody will be better able to protect their citizens in an environment in which all responsible states and all responsible groups are pulling in the same direction.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Any future Palestinian government should meet these preconditions or requirements: adopt all the former agreements, recognize the right of Israel to exist, renounce terrorism and violence and dismantle terrorist organization and infrastructure of terror. If this doesn’t happen and the Hamas is going to be the next Palestinian government, the answer is simple. The Hamas is a terrorist organization. It is a designated terrorist organization. And here comes the conclusion. When an entity, a state, is being led by terrorists, the meaning is that this entity, this authority, this state, is transformed into a terrorist state. And the international community has its own sanctions and measures when it comes to an entity which has been transformed into a terrorist entity.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER LIVNI: Thank you.