NEWS CONFERENCE BY THE PALESTINIAN DELEGATION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS

Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City,
December 15, 1992

HANAN ASHRAWI (Palestinian spokeswoman): So it is good afternoon, and this is our second briefing of the eighth round, and probably today was the fifth meeting of the eighth round of the negotiations. I think I will startwell, first of all, we do have summaries of all the rounds availableI don’t know if you’ve picked them upbut they are available, plus a statement which we distributed yesterday on conditions in the occupied territories. So I will start with those conditions. I think you all are interested, and I’m sure I’ll anticipate many questions about the deteriorating and painful and tragic conditions in the occupied territories, and the continued loss of life and the continued loss of human rights and violations of human rights.

I would like to reiterate that this painful context the negotiations gain an added sense of urgency and importance, as one way in which we can really address the issues, as one way in which we can tackle the sources the violence. And I would invite everybody to start looking for ways and means of ending the causes rather than lamenting and deploring the outcome or the expressions of a very abnormal and unnatural situation, which is the occupation.

And this distorted reality of occupation, of course, two peoples who are normally healthy people, who normally have the same probably aspirations and commitments and are committing acts that are deplorable, that take human life, and especially when these acts are committed in cold blood. As Dr. Haider said, we deplore all acts of violence, and actually attributed to that is the fact that we are still in this peace process and we are trying in every way possible to achieve progress in this peace process as the only genuine solution to this fatal proximity between Israelis and Palestinians.

I also would like to point out that we as Palestinians are one people, there are no different Palestinians; we share the same rights and aspirations, to live in freedom and in dignity, and to end the occupation. We may differ on the means of achieving peace or of achieving freedom or bringing about the end of the occupation. We have chosen our means, our tactics, other people have their means and their tactics. That doesn’t mean that the Palestinians have become two peoples. And it is this national identity and commitment to a free future of dignity and peace that unites us as well as our past.

So I would discourage anybody from trying to look for rifts among the Palestinians that would create the good or the bad Palestinians. We are all one people; they may disagree with our means, we may disagree with their means. And of course pluralism is something which is acknowledged for everybody. But I would like to point out also that the more time that passes without progress in negotiations and with an increasing deterioration on the ground, the greater chances are of violence and erosion of support for the peace process. So it is our responsibility, both Palestinian and Israeli responsibility, to try to get the peace process moving, to take it seriously, to present proposals that are capable of addressing the real issues and bringing about a settlement.

And I would like to point out also that the iron-fist policy or a clamp-down or an escalation of collective punishments are not the most appropriate means of handling the situation. They will only aggravate the conditions on the ground. And we feel that only when we disengage by agreement can we re-engage as equals. And therefore since the purpose of this peace process is to end the occupation, I think we should disengage on the basis of ending the occupation and creating relationships of equality rather than domination in the region. I’ll answer other questions that you may have on this issue, but I think we should accept that as a principled position.

As far as the other developments, I’m sureeverybody has been asking me about the scheduled meetings with President Bush, with the administration. There will be meetings on Thursday with all delegations, equal number of delegates for all negotiating delegations, Thursday morning. There will be a separate meeting with President Bush in the Oval Office on Friday with an official Palestinian delegation that would include Feisal Husseini and myself. This has been finalized.

As far as the negotiations are concerned, as you know, throughout, the negotiations have concentrated on two basic issues. The first is the issue of human rights. And you remember last week they presented a document on human rights and we presented a thorough response as to the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and as to the steps required to implement concrete, construction changes that would produce results that can support the peace process and that can generate trust and confidence in the peace process.

The second item that we dealt with was the agenda. The Israelis gave us a draft agenda proposal in response to the one which we had presented during the sixth round, the September 24 agenda. And we also had a very detailed response to their agenda. And then we had on-going discussions on the first item of both agendas, which is the goal and the terms of reference of the negotiations.

We did study the Israeli draft very carefully. We concentrated on this issue and we tried to find means of achieving not just common ground but common language, especially pertaining to the applicability of 242 and 338, that they are the basis of the whole process, that the two phases are interconnected, that in implementing 242 and 338 and permanent status, that the nonprejudicial aspect and interim phase must be adhered to. And the interlock is one in time and in substance. It is not just an automatic interconnection based on the fact that we have a time frame, especially in view of the fact that the time frame itself has been violated.

They also presented us yesterday with a long and detailed 19-page document giving the rationale for their model or their proposals and their position on issues, in response to the, as you remember, the model that we extracted from their proposals and the discussions and the exploratory talks. We will be responding to it in due time. I will not discuss it here until after we discuss it with the Israelis. But I’ll just say the initial impression is that it just reinforces the conclusions that we arrived at. It reinforces the model that we extracted that had emerged from our discussions.

They told us that there are probably some misunderstandings that they will clarify. Unfortunately, there were no misunderstandings. The situation continues to look bleak when it comes to the Israeli model.

As far as the agenda is concerned, I think there is a possibility of moving ahead if the first item is arrived at as a result of agreement. The Israelis did frankly acknowledge that 242 is the basis of the whole process and that the interim and the permanent status are parts of the same process and that there is an interlock. So if we can define that position and if we can try to work out a joint position using common language, I think maybe it’s possible that the first item on their agenda will be agreed to some time.

Today there was a meeting of the heads of the delegations in which, of course, they deplored the situation on the ground, and Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi also presented Ambassador Rubinstein with the Palestinian agenda, another draft, response to their agenda. There was extensive discussion on the draft. There were some problems, basic problems that were isolated as basic areas of disagreement: the question of settlements, the Fourth Geneva Convention and its applicability, the question of international supervision and so onbut we did present our rationale and again, the discussion concentrated on the first item.

We are still trying to achieve common language and to bridge differences. And unfortunately, today there were no agreements. This is nothing new, but I don’t want to be a dampener. But the attempt is there, at least the will is there to try to bridge gaps. And we told them that we are quite willing to look into the possibility of a declaration of principles, and that maybe at a later phase we will be looking into presenting certain suggestions in that direction. Thank you.

Q: When you speak about (inaudible), or the coming round of talks?

ASHRAWI: Well, we are willing to look at possible suggestions in this round but we don’t want to interrupt the flow of discussion on the agendas. If we find that there is no possibility of reaching an agreement on the agenda or if we can do it simultaneously without changing course or direction midway, then fine. But we did tell them that we are open to that possibility if they want to look into it.

Q: Have you had any success with having the Americans play a more activist role?

ASHRAWI: Well, they keep saying they are willing and they are going to, and they’re still looking into the trilateral meetings that we discussed earlier, that instead of the Americans being invited by both sides to enter the negotiating room, that it may be a good idea for the Americans to invite both sides to meet with the Americans at the same time. So they still express the intention and the interest and they’re trying to influence positions separately, but so far they haven’t met with the three of us and they haven’t taken active positions or presented any creative ideas or bridging solutions or whatever.

Q: This 19-page document that you received from the Israelis, did you see anythingas you said, overall there was not much new. But nevertheless, was there anything, however slight or small that you saw, that was interpreted as an improvement in your opinion, closer to your position?

ASHRAWI: As I said, I will discuss the details of their document until we discuss it with them. But from my reading, there’s nothing at all that’s encouraging in it. But we’ll leave it until after we carry out an exercise and critical analysis and deconstruction with them, probably some time this week.

Q: It’s about the incident that happened yesterday and what it means, the implications. Yasir Abd-Rabbo (phonetic), he said in an interview from Amman that killing the soldier, the kidnapped soldier, was part of the legitimate Palestinian right to defend themselves which has caused me a bit of confusion because we deplore all acts of violence. Do you feel that there’s some contradiction there or that it might have a bad effect on the peace talks right now?

ASHRAWI: No, I think it should become a trigger for people to take the peace process more seriously and to know that we have a limited time frame and that conditions on the ground continue to deteriorate and that the status quo is bound to influence the peace process ultimately and probably will render it unworkable, if it continues to deteriorate like this.

What the PLO representative said is the official PLO position. What I said is a position that we have always held in deploring any type of wilful killing, especially in cold blood, and we have always deplored the loss of innocent lives. As I said, I will not indulge in recriminations and deploring every time anything happens to an Israeli because I end up having to ask them to deplore the way Palestinians are being killed daily. And I think this is not an exercise that is fruitful. I think we should instead use the painful conditions in order to try to overcome them and to change the conditions that would give rise to a more peaceful or a more stable environment, rather than to the very unhealthy and distorted situation of the occupation. We always say that the occupation is going to generate and is bound to generate and has generated acts that are deplorable and that the occupation does not only victimize the occupier but also distorts the moral fabric of the occupied.

Q: Can you tell us a little more detail, more with us on the visit to the White House? Why are there two separate meetings? Who’s going to attend, et cetera, et cetera? Will you, please?

ASHRAWI: Yes, well, as you know, the Palestinians are a unique delegation and therefore we have to deal with things in a very creative way. We had made the request earlier to meet with President Bush. We made this request from the occupied territories on the basis of earlier promises that were made and on the basis of the problems with the peace process. And we felt maybe the time has come to have such a meeting. And we received a positive response before we came here. So then we found out that they were having a meeting with the negotiating delegations, but the names that we had sent included the full teamrepresentatives and an accurate representation of the Palestinian people under occupation and outside rather than just the negotiating delegation.

Now if President Bush wants to meet with the negotiating delegation separately, that’s fine. And he will be meeting with all negotiating delegationsfour from each delegation, I thinkon Thursday morning. And, of course, that will be headed by Dr. Haidar Abdel-Shafi, and actually the three negotiating members who are here will go with him. And on Friday, we are having a separate meeting in the Oval Office, including Faisal Husseini, myself, and a Palestinian from outside the occupied territories, in order to discuss also issues pertaining to the peace process and probably broader issues.

Q: So if I may follow, it has nothing then to do with the rumors that I’m sure you’ve heard about Mr. Bush does not want to meet withdoes not want to consider Palestinians from Jerusalem as party to the negotiating Palestinian delegation. And that’s why he wants to leave on Friday? Is that your view actually

ASHRAWI: No, the American position has always been consistent, that they will respect and they do respect the structure of the Palestinian delegation as we set it up and not as the Israelis want to see it. We respected their request not to bring Palestinians from Jerusalem or outside the occupied territories to negotiations in order not to give Israel the excuse to walk out. But as far as our dealings with the Americans are concerned, we have always had Palestinians from East Jerusalem. We have had consistently probably the same people, as well as Palestinians from outside the occupied territories in meeting with them. So there is no problem there and they recognize the overall structure of the team. But since all other delegations are just meeting as negotiating delegations, then we agree to that arrangement. But there is no way in which, as I heard, that President Bush refused to meet with Faisal or myself, no.

Q: So on Thursday you will be (inaudible) with the Jordanian group on negotiations?

ASHRAWI: We are discussing the fact that the Palestinians have to be equal to all other delegations. So far, the numerical equality has been achieved. We are still discussing the issue of separate or at the same time or double the time or whatever. These are details that can be worked out. But what we wanted to ensure was that the Palestinians are a delegation on par with all other delegations, as we were promised. We are not a sub-delegation, or second-class citizens. And we have to ensure that. At the same time we have asked for a meeting that involves the larger representation of the Palestinian team, and they respected this request and responded positively to it.

Q: Can you please tell us what’s going to be the number one item (inaudible) in the meeting with President Bush? This is the first time an American president meets with representative Palestinians. Could you please tell us what you have in your mind?

ASHRAWI: Well, there are many issues, I don’t know that we have divided them into priorities yet. But may I reserve the answer to that question till later, please.

Q: (Inaudible) from the diaspora is going to be on the delegation on Friday? Is there going to be anyone who is affiliated with the PLO?

ASHRAWI: No, the one thing that we promised the Americans is that we would not singlehandedly restore the dialogue with the PLO, that it will be restored as a result of a conscious agreement. But that the Palestinian from outside the occupied territories will not be an official of the PLO or somebody who has an official position with the PLO.

Q: Have any decisions been made on future meetings beyond this round?

ASHRAWI: No. We have heard lots of rumors, but there have been no official consultations and no official decisions. In the meeting of the four Arab foreign ministers, or five actually, in Lebanon before this round there was an agreement that unless serious progress is achieved there is no sense in having one round after the other without any progress, if the Israelis are not willing to engage on these issues until after the inauguration of the new president. So it could be that there may be no meetings until after the 20th.

Q: Two parts. First of all, can you tell us more aboutyou said the Israelis accepted 242, that 242 is applicable to all of the parties. Can you tell us more about that, what happens? Because they refused to do that before, one. And, two, I thought that the disagreement over Jerusalem was with the Israelis not with the Americans, and what you’ve just told us now is that there is apparently a disagreement with the Americans also.

ASHRAWI: No. Let me explain. Well, actually the issue of 242 is that the Israelis accepted that it was the basis of the whole process, they finally accepted actually the letter of invitation says thatthat 242 and 338 are the basis of the whole process, or the negotiating process is based onas a totality is based on 242 and 338, that in our negotiations there are two phases which are interconnected or interlocked. The first phase on interim self-government arrangements and authority, and second phase on permanent status. So I will not give you all the details of the words, the diction, the semantics, we are discussingbut that is still being discussed. But let’s say in principle there is the admission that the whole process is based on 242 and 338, and that there are phases which are interconnected. We will define the position. If we reach an agreement, I will let you know.

On the issue of Jerusalem, there is no problem with the Americans on Jerusalem. They have been meeting with me, they have been meeting with Faisal, Baker has met with both Mr. Husseini and myself repeatedly. They do not think that Palestinians from East Jerusalem should be outside the process. And, as I said, we accepted not to bring to the negotiating table Palestinians from Jerusalem or from outside the occupied territories, because the Israelis said they would walk out if they have Palestinians from East Jerusalem. But this has nothing to do with our meetings with the Americans. They have been meeting regularly with us. So there is no problem and President Bush will be meeting with us.

Q: Do you find that this is a kind of progress, that they have accepted 242 (inaudible)?

ASHRAWI: Once we reach an agreement, we can call it progress.

Q: When you reach an agreement?

ASHRAWI: Yes, we are still exploring, we are still working on the first item of the agenda, but we would like to look at progress as having to deal with substance and not with technicalities, so let’s see if we can reach an agreement on the first item on the agenda, the goal and the terms of reference, and then we’ll be very pleased to announce progress when we have it.

Q: During the last round, you seemed very, very pessimistic about the future of the talks, whereas today you seem, if not very optimistic, at least more positive towards the possibilities of achieving some parity in the future.

ASHRAWI: Well, I never use the terms pessimism or optimism. I was reflecting the fact that the negotiations have gone beyond their one-year time frame, that there was no progress, and that on the contrary, there were some attempts at even preventing progress. In the meantime, the status quo is deteriorating and creating conditions that are not conducive, actually to progress, and that are going against the whole process per se.

Nothing has changed in this round. We still have not achieved any agreements or any genuine progress. As I said, we are trying to reach common ground, we are trying to reach a common language, which is something we should have done 10, 11 months ago, I think, and I don’t see any reason why there should constantly be evasion and procrastination. And I think that any proposals presented have to be serious and have to deal with the issues. And so far, we still have not received from the Israelis a proposal that can be workable and that is serious.

And I would like to reiterate that the commitment that the Palestinians have very clearly is to the two-phased approach, and we are now negotiating an interim, transitional phase that would lead to negotiations on permanent status. We are not negotiating permanent status now, and we have to make this clear. But at the same time, we do not want the interim phase or the transitional phase, our first phase, to become permanent status in itself because of the nature of the agreement.

Q: When and if you do come back for another round of talks, in light of what you just said, will you bring another smaller delegation or will you go back to the full size?

ASHRAWI: Well, as usual after every round, we have a meeting. We meet with our leadership, we go to Tunis and we assess and evaluate the round. And then we have meetings with the Arab parties who are involved and then we take the decision. So while we are committed to the peace process per se, the manner and the number of participants and the manner of participation would be determined for each round. And we cannot be taken for granted, either, because we don’t think we can afford to continue in an open-ended peace process that does not achieve any progress and that allows for such violations and deterioration in the situation in the occupied territories.

Q: There is no indication from the Bush administration for a coming round and there is no new administration yet, so how are you going to come in?

ASHRAWI: Well, if we don’t get invited, we will not force ourselves to come.

Q: I mean, will you wait for President Clinton to invite you?

ASHRAWI: I think willy-nilly he’s going to inherit a process. It depends on what he wants to do with it, but in our experience, they rarely let a round end without issuing some kind of invitation or indication. Okay, thank you very much. We’ll see you on Thursday.

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