PM Netanyahu: "There has not been, since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, any demand ever put, not on restraint, but on any limitation of settlement activity as a pre-condition for entering negotiations. This is a new thing."
Secretary Clinton: "What the Prime Minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described – no new starts for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations."
Press Conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
PM Netanyahu: It’s my pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State of the United States, Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem. Welcome Hillary. You’re a great friend, a great champion of peace. I think that we owe a vote of thanks to you, to George Mitchell, to your staffs and of course to President Obama and the entire Obama Administration for the tireless efforts to re-launch the peace process between us and the Palestinians and between us and the Arab world following the President’s vision of a regional peace. We’re eager to advance on both. We think that the place to resolve outstanding issues and differences of opinion is around the negotiating table. We think we should sit around that negotiating table right away. We’re prepared to start peace talks immediately. I think that what we should do on the path to peace is to simply get on it and get with it. So I’m sure we’ll discuss these things and other things in the spirit of friendship between us and you, between Israel and the United States. Welcome to Jerusalem.
Secretary of State Clinton: Thank you so much, Prime Minister. It is a great personal pleasure for me to be back in Jerusalem and a great honor to be here as Secretary of State once again, and I look forward to our discussion, and I appreciate the very positive words about the need to get back into a negotiation that would be in the best interests of Israel and of Israel’s security as well as create a state for the Palestinian people. Both President Obama and I are committed to a comprehensive peace agreement because we do believe that it holds out the best promise for the security and future of Israel and for the aspirations of the Palestinians. So I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight. I know you’re someone who is indefatigable so even though we’re starting our meeting so late, I have no doubt that it will be intense and cover a lot of ground, and I’m very much eager to begin those discussions.
PM Netanyahu: Thank you.
Q: Madam Secretary, do you think both sides should re-launch the peace process without any pre-conditions?
Secretary Clinton: I want to see both sides begin as soon as possible in negotiations. We have worked and of course Senator Mitchell has worked tirelessly in setting forth what are the approaches that each side wishes to pursue in order to get into those negotiations. So I’m not going to express my opinion as to whether or not there should be conditions. The important thing as the Prime Minister just said is to get into the negotiations. I gave the same message today when I met with President Abbas. We know that negotiations often take positions that then have to be worked through once the actual process starts. I think the best way to determine the way forward is as the Prime Minister said – Get on the path.
Q: Madam Secretary, when you were here in March on your first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing in East Jerusalem. Yet that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed a few days ago the Mayor of the City of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today?
For the Prime Minister: Sir, there’s been increasing tension as you know surrounding the Temple Mount., some civil unrest in the streets. Every time the peace process has lagged, often matters have been settled through violence. Are you worried that we’re heading into that phase?
And then a last question if I may. I’m a little worried. Dr Abdullah’s aides in Kabul have confirmed that he is not going to take part in the run-off. Are you concerned that a Karzai government elected without the benefit of a run-off given all the fraud in the first round will be lacking in legitimacy?
Secretary Clinton: Well, let me say I have nothing to add to my statement in March. I continue to stand by what I said then. With respect to Afghanistan and Dr. Abdullah’s decision, I think that it is his decision to make. Whatever went into that determination is obviously his choice but I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations in our own country as well as round the world where in a run-off election, one of the parties decides for whatever reason that they’re not going to go on. I do not think that that in any way affects the legitimacy and I would just add that when President Karzai accepted the second round without knowing what the consequences and outcome would be, that bestowed legitimacy from that moment forward and Dr. Abdullah’s decision does not in any way take away from that.
PM Netanyahu: I’m concerned with the attempts to create provocations around the issue of the Temple Mount. There are parties who are trying to do that. I assure you that the Government of Israel is not one of them. There are also extraordinary falsifications. My staff decided to have a meeting – a free evening a few weeks ago. They decided to have it in the Old City, in David’s City – there is a little restaurant there. They said: “Could you come for dessert?” because I work long hours. I said: “Sure. I’ll see what I can do. I don’t promise but we’ll make the arrangements”. My security people went there. Within an hour, Palestinian news agencies carried the story that Netanyahu was coming to the Old City to burrow a new tunnel under the Temple Mount. So help me God. This became an issue of great consequence. There were rumors that the violence would break out exactly as you said. Now this is entirely false.
I give that as one example – there are daily examples of this and daily actions by militants, particularly militant Islamic radicals who are trying to stir up trouble on the Temple Mount. We’re going to continue our efforts to keep Jerusalem safe, open, quiet, accessible to all three great faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and the city is now very robust. It’s got a lot of tourism as you see in the entire area and the best way to see what is happening there is to go for yourself – go take a look. You’ll see and you’ll see our actual policy in place. We want a peaceful Jerusalem without provocations on the Temple Mount or anywhere else.
Q: Madam Secretary, you went to Abu Dhabi, and I believe you came up with not much from Abu Mazen who is actually presenting with Israel and the United States. What arrangement is being made at the moment? What is your reaction to receiving the No’s from the Arab world? The same question please to the Prime Minister.
Secretary Clinton: Well, first of all I believe that strategic patience is a necessary part of my job, and I view the conversations that we had this morning with President Abbas and his team as being very constructive and useful in continuing the move toward engagement that leads to negotiations. So if Senator Mitchell and I appear to be patient and persistent, it’s because we are. We think it’s worth being both. With respect to Iran, there is not yet a final decision with respect to the Teheran research reactor.
The important matter that I would underscore is the unity among the P5 +1 which includes not only the United States, but the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China and also the EU in putting forth and in staying firm with this. Now the world is united in a view that Iran should not have or acquire nuclear weapons capacity, and our view is that we are willing to work toward creative outcomes like shipping out the low-enriched uranium to be reprocessed outside of Iran, but we’re not going to wait forever. Patience does have, finally, its limits and it is time for Iran to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities to the international community and accepting this deal would be a good beginning.
PM Netanyahu: You asked two questions – one on Iran and the other on the peace process. On Iran, I want to express our appreciation for the very clear stance adopted by President Obama that is united, as Secretary Clinton has just said, in international consensus that Iran must cease its efforts to become a nuclear military power. I think the fact that there has been unity that has not been seen for a long time on this position is something very valuable, very important and I think it’s important not only for Israel – I think it’s important for the Middle East, for our region and for the peace of the world so I want to commend the efforts of you and President Obama and the Western and other leaders have taken here on this issue that I think is central to the future of the world, to the future of peace.
As far as the question about the peace process is concerned – look before you talk about the ‘no’s’, talk about the ‘yes’. And I want to put rhetoric aside and talk about facts. It’s a fact that since my government took office, we dismantled hundreds of earth blocks, checkpoints, facilitated movement in the Allenby Bridge and eliminated a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to daily life and economic activity in the Palestinian Authority’s areas and as a result there’s been a Palestinian economic boom. That is a fact. The second fact is that I gave a speech at Bar-Ilan University in which I said that Israel will accept the vision of two states for two peoples – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish State of Israel. It wasn’t easy to do but we did it – that is a fact. The third fact is that we’ve been talking earnestly, openly and transparently to the American Administration and we’ve talked about measures that we can take to facilitate further. The re-launching of the peace process – that is a fact too.
The simple fact is this: We are willing to engage in peace talks immediately without pre-conditions. The other fact is that unfortunately the other side is not. It is asking and piling on pre-conditions that it never put on in the sixteen years that we’ve had the peace process since the enunciation of the Oslo Accords. There have not been these pre-conditions. It’s a change of Palestinian policy and I hope they chase back to the right thing which is to get into the negotiating tent. We’re eager and sincere in our desire to reach an agreement to end this conflict. I happen to think that we’re able to do this contrary to all the pessimists around us, but the only way we can get to an agreement is to begin negotiating it. And that is something that we are prepared to do. And that is a fact.
Q: I wanted to ask you “Why is this night different from all other nights?”
Secretary Clinton: Do you want us to burst into song?
Q: For forty years, we’ve seen American Secretaries of State and Israeli Prime Ministers in a similar situation. Despite the Prime Minister’s optimism, the talks are stalling. While you’ve said ‘yes’ without pre-conditions to talks, you’ve said ‘no’ to a settlement freeze… Is the Obama Administration in favor of a total freeze? I refer the same question to the Prime Minister.
PM Netanyahu: The specific question you asked about the settlements also has to be put factually. The fact of the matter is that I said that we would not build new settlements, would not expropriate land for addition for the existing settlements and that we were prepared to adopt a policy of restraint on the existing settlements, but also one that would still enable normal life for the residents who are living there. Now there has not been, not in the last sixteen years, not forty years, but 16 years since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians any demand ever put, not on restraint, but on any limitation of settlement activity as a pre-condition for entering negotiations. This is a new thing. Now it’s true that you can take a new thing and you can repeat it ad nauseam for a few weeks and a few months and it becomes something that is obvious and has been there all the time – it’s not been there all the time.
No, there’s not been a pre-condition for entering or continuing with the peace process between us and the Palestinians. There’s not been a demand coming from the Palestinians that said ‘We will not negotiate with you unless you freeze all activity, something that is problematic in so many ways – judicial and other ways – I won’t get into that. But this is a new demand, it’s a change of policy – of the Palestinian policy and it doesn’t do much for peace – it doesn’t work to advance negotiations. It actually is used as a pretext or at least as something, as an obstacle that prevents the re-establishment of negotiations. Now mind you, the issue of settlements and the issue of territories and the issue of borders, these will be engaged in the negotiations and they’ll have to be resolved for a peace agreement to be achieved, but you can’t resolve it in advance of the negotiations, and you certainly shouldn’t pile it on as a pre-condition.
Secretary Clinton: Well, I would add just for context that what the Prime Minister is saying is historically accurate. There has never been a pre-condition, it’s always been an issue within the negotiations. What the Prime Minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described – no new starts for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations. It’s also the fact that for forty years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements, but I think that where we are right now is to try to get into the negotiations.
The Prime Minister will be able to present his government’s proposal about what they are doing regarding settlements which I think when fully explained will be seen as being not only unprecedented in response to many of the concerns that have been expressed. You know, there are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized. I mean negotiation by its very definition is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests, and on settlements there’s never been a pre-condition. There’s never been such an offer from any Israeli government and we hope that we’ll be able to move into the negotiations where all the issues that President Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve.