NEWS CONFERENCE BY THE PALESTINIAN DELEGATION TO THE SIXTH ROUND OF MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
Time: 1:30 p.m.
Location: Grand Hotel, 24th and M streets NW, Ballroom
October 22, 1992
HANAN ASHRAWI (Palestinian delegation): I don’t know if you’ve picked up the statements that we have. We have statement number one and we have the summary of the first session available to you right outside the door here after the press briefing.
Good afternoon. First of all, let me apologize to you for the inconvenience we may have inadvertently caused you by asking you to cross the bridge. But in Palestinian experience, as you know, crossing the bridge is physical as well as archetypalwe’ve been doing it regularly. And on our journeys to the negotiating sessions, we do cross many bridges. So let’s hope we cross a real bridge this time, political bridge, and we find bridging solutions.
Let me remind you that this session has significance because it is almost one year ago that we embarked on this process in Madrid. We did go to Madrid with the commitment and the determination to make this process succeed and to transform it into perhaps an instrument of real change in order to redress the situation of conflict, of disequilibrium, and to perhaps change the course of history, not just in the region but with global implications, we felt.
One year later we still feel that although we had a specified time frame for first-year negotiations that real or concrete achievements in the peace process have not been forthcoming, and yet we still maintain that it is up to us to have a sense of not just historic responsibility but determination and commitment, to try to continue to make this process work and to try to create new realities, to inject energy into the process and to lay proper foundations for a peaceful and better future for all of us. We do need a comprehensive vision. We do need to affirm the main terms of reference and principles on which this process is based, and we do need to have a focus, as well as a commitment.
This round starts with a very difficult backdrop of human rights violations and abuses in the occupied territories, with tremendous loss of lives and rights and pain on both sides. It is about time that the innocent civilian lives do not become prey to this conflict and that we do try our utmost to change conditions on the ground because to us, that remains to be the only genuine indicator of the efficacy or the success of the peace process, whether it brings about any concrete changes.
Now, I’ll give you a brief summary of what has happened so far or what will happen today. This round began with a meeting between the Palestinian side, members of the Palestinian delegation, and people from the State Department yesterday morning. There was a long, extensive, thorough discussion, which centered on three issues. First of all, the appraisal and assessment of not just the sixth round or the last round, but also occurrences intervening between the two rounds. We also explored different ways of pushing the peace process forward, advancing it in terms of substance and in terms of mechanisms. And we also discussed the American commitment, or at least they reiterated and reaffirmed their commitment to the terms of reference and to the peace process as a while and their willingness to try everything possible to help advance the negotiations.
Yesterday afternoon we had the first session, negotiating session. The Israelis gave their response toas you remember, the last round we presented them with a draft joint agenda proposal and they presented their response to that with another draft joint agenda, and we are studying both drafts. I would say I’m not going to comment specifically on them until there is a discussion, which will take place today, on the two agendas. They are not mutually exclusive, let me assure you, but they are not, again, identical. There will be a discussion. The important part is that the first item on both agendas continues to be the terms of reference, the goals and objectives of the peace process and of the negotiations.
We still maintain that there are three ingredients that are necessary. The first ingredient is to continue the affirmation of the terms of reference for the whole process, on all fronts, as 242, and the principle of land for peace, to establish the interconnection between the transitional phase and permanent status, and therefore, to ensure that no unilateral acts or no agreements will be prejudicial to the full implementation of 242 and permanent status and the principle of withdrawal.
This evening there will be a coordinating meeting of the Arab delegations at the delegation head level, in which we will continue to coordinate positions, to discuss progress on all tracks, or developments on all tracks and to maintain unified Arab position. As you know, we are all committed to a comprehensive peace settlement and we have basic agreements on that.
We will continue to try to press ahead with this, with these negotiations, to try to achieve agreements in this round because we feel that not only are we facing a tremendous waste of human lives and resources but also that both sides need something substantive and concrete in order to generate enough energy and momentum to sustain the peace process. We cannot allow it to falter. And we will continue Arab coordination, as well, and we will try to step it up and upgrade it and give it more substance, and at the same time there will be an on-going dialogue with the co-sponsors to discuss their role and whatever positive contributions that they can make. And of course, we will continue our commitment to the issue of human rights and to trying to bring about concrete changes underground. Thank you.
Q: Dr. Ashrawi, I’d like clarification, if there is any, of your statement about needing an affirmation in the terms of reference. You know why I’m asking. Because in the last round there was a problem. The Israelis were unwilling in the interim negotiations (inaudible) to affirm a commitment to withdraw. And some of us are given to understandthe United States is advised of your allegationthat this
is an device something (inaudible) . So I’m explaining, in a long winded way why I’m asking you if this represents a change or if you’re saying what you said last time, that you want to hear the words and you want to hear them in this stage.
ASHRAWI: Well, we have heard publicly at the highest levels from the prime minister of Israel, an affirmation that 242 is the basis of the whole peace process. He restated this again. That’s why we need adherence to that principle, rather than presenting proposals that contradict 242 and the principle of land for peace. The affirmation is not something that is mechanical or just for the sake of appearance, but in a sense, there has to be, to emerge or emanate from this principle position, proposals that are coherent. Because we did enter the peace process on the basis of a letter of assurance and invitation that talks about the interconnection between phases. This phase is a preparatory phase in order to have permanent status negotiations. Therefore, there can be nothing done at this phase that is prejudicial to the implementation of 242 and permanent status.
Now, we will be satisfied with such a statement that would reconfirm 242 as the basisthe interconnection between the transitional phase and permanent status and therefore refraining from any prejudicial moves at this phase. The U.S. adviseI don’t where you got that news. Maybe you got it from the State Department, the news item. But frankly when our discussions withthe USA did reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the terms of reference. They did not isolate the two phases. They did affirm the interconnection and they continued to express their commitment to both the letter of invitation and the letter of assurances that they gave us which clearly indicates the American position and they said this will be ongoing and they will do their utmost to ensure that it will be applied. But you cannot isolate one track and subject it to different terms of reference from the other tracks, despite the fact that we have two phases but we also have an ongoing process that is governed by the same principle and guided by the same framework.
Q: If I can follow that. Maybe it’s not a matter of legalism or even negotiated strategy but a matter of tactics. Did the Americans say, as a matter of tactics, this is not the time to push that particular facet of negotiations and to move on to some other subjects?
ASHRAWI: We were discussing with the Americans the different ways in which we can get this affirmation. And they knew that without getting that basis it would be very difficult to move ahead because you do have to have the proper sense of direction. They agree with us that there are different approaches to affirm this, whether it is through the main ideas, the main topics on the agenda, like the goals and terms of reference or the concept or the jurisdiction and so on. But whichever way you look at it, whatever approach you take, you have to have the affirmation.
Now, as I said, it’s not mechanical and they understand that need. We haven’t been advised to drop 242 or to shelve 242. They know that it is essential. They are committed to it. They said that at the highest Israeli levels there has been an affirmation of 242 as applicable to all fronts and we said then we need to see it in the negotiating room as the guiding principle that binds the Israelis and that creates the sense of direction for our negotiations. We are not placing obstacles. We are trying to remove obstacles in order to get the negotiations going on a sound and clear basis.
Q: Again, just a clarification and a question. Would it be correct to say that what you’d like to see from the Israelis is actually a twofoldaffirmation of 242, one, that they believe that it should be applicable to the final settlement; and, second, that there will be nothing done in the interim phase to impede its application on the final stage. Is that the correct (inaudible)?
ASHRAWI: Yes, because you do have also to maintain that the interim or transitional phase negotiations are connected to permanent status. You cannot have them as two discrete isolated exercises; they are part of one whole process that is ongoing and connected, logically and chronologically.
Q: It sounds as if you’re beating on a dead horse here, but, you know, I would like your indulgence, because we need clarification. You keep telling us after meetings with the American officials that things are okay, that they’re not telling you what they are telling us, and yet we hear from them and they tell other interested parties that they were unhappy with the Palestinian posture during the sixth round, and sometimes in the description of your position during the sixth round they used words like the Palestinian posture was doctrinaire, we asked them not to come back with such doctrinaire proposals. What is the fact here?
ASHRAWI: Well, when there is a contradiction between what we hear from external sources and what we hear from the Americans directly, then I certainly would believe what I hear directly. We have never been told that we are doctrinaire.
Q: Did you tell them that this discrepancy exists?
ASHRAWI: Well, we didn’t discuss media reports or what we have been discussing with the media; we discussed the fact that there are necessary requirements for this process, and that these are not just logical, they are integral and they are spelled out in their letter. Now, either we have been misled by being given different terms of referencesand we go to the peace process and we find that the terms are changed, or there is a genuine and honest adherence to these terms of reference. You cannot go to a process and change the framework half way through.
Now, as far as I knowI mean, the Americans in terms of mechanism always advocate the concrete steps, step by step. And we discussed this last time when we said, okay, you want to build a house, you have to have a floor plan, you have to plot out the terrain, you have to know which is your land and which is somebody else’s land. But you cannot stop haphazardly piling stones or bricks or whatever without knowing where you’re going or how you want to build the structure.
And to us the terms of reference are the clear foundations. If you don’t have foundations, if you don’t have a floor plan or a blueprint or whatever, then you cannot build any structure. And we cannot have the peace process flounder by just trying to find ways or become a tug of war, who’s stronger, who can impose whose will on the other. The peace process has to have terms of reference.
So I’m afraid that we have two versions, what the Americans tell you and what they tell us. They keep telling us they want to ensure that we do achieve real progress and that they do understand our concerns and our needs, and they will try their best to assist in whichever way possible to achieve progress. And I don’t think that the cosponsors are there to be at judgment or to pass verdicts on people but rather to ensure that they are helping to remove obstacles.
Q: From the beginning (inaudible), from the beginning the invitation was sent to the Palestinians and (inaudible) to Madrid, and then after that the President Bush initiative of March of this year in which he said 242 and 338. What is this new exercise of trying to withdraw from the commitment of the United States to 242 and 338 and the terms of reference? I asked the State Department today about this and they said this is under discussion between the parties.
I believe that during this past year, you have been discussing it. I think 242 was so clear to everybody that even President Bush said this is a clearcut invitation to 242 and 338. So is this political expediency caused by the elections in the United States, or what? How could you explain all of this mumbo-jumbo politics of this country?
ASHRAWI: I cannot interpret, and I am not here to interpret. What I’m saying is that the Americans reaffirmed their commitment to 242 and 338, that these are the terms of reference, they continue to be the terms of reference. When we agreed to enter this peace process, we said we needed these assurances clearly articulated and adhered to, and that we are not entering into it in order to interpret 242 but in order to implement 242, and the principle of land for peace.
That’s why we agreed. And when we talked aboutwhen we accepted the phased approach, we said we have to have interconnection, there has to be the logic of internal coherence. We said that each step has to lead to the other. And that’s why we accepted the phased approach. Otherwise the interim phase might become permanent status, which is something we will not accept. We were assured again that this would not be the case.
Now, we are convinced that the terms of reference stand, the cosponsors continue to support them, the Israelis are trying to twist things around, trying to present proposals that in some ways would undermine the implementation of 242, and they are carrying out unilateral actions on the ground that would pre-empt or prejudice the full implementation of 242 and land for peace.
So basically the settlement issue, basically the annexation of Jerusalem. These are two major violations of the basic principle of the negotiations. We are still committed to the process on the clear terms of reference. The cosponsors are still committed, and I think the Israelis will find a way of expressing that commitment, not just through vague public statements, but representing them as clear proposals. I don’t think there is a change in the terms of reference and I don’t think the cosponsors are trying to change them.
Q: Was it a private commitment?
ASHRAWI: We have it in writing, and we have also a statement from Acting Secretary Eagleburgerthat is in writing.
Q: I think partly you answered my question in referring to the settlements and the status of Jerusalem as things that are prejudicial to 242. Are there any other thingsare these the two major issues that you see that are of concern to you, that if the Israelis were to say the words: we reaffirm a commitment to 242are there any other things that you think would have to then be changed in the negotiations on the interim settlement? Would that automatically mandate a different proposal, an overall broad proposal from the Israelis on an interim settlement? Or is it just those two?
ASHRAWI: Well, let’s take them one step at a time. It seems to me that if they do affirm 242 and the principle of land for peace, this means that they are affirming the issue of territoriality and the principle of withdrawal. And territoriality includes, as we said, Jerusalem and the settlements, the illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the settlements, as well as the principle of withdrawal. Therefore, nothing done must be prejudicial to that and permanent status. The linkage, as I said, the interconnection between interim and permanent status must be affirmed.
So I’m not sayingI don’t know, people seem to be obsessed with the fact that we are discussing 242. But 242 and the terms of reference are one item on both agendas, and they are the basis. And I don’t think they should be perceived as something negative or an obstacle. I think they are a means of facilitating progress in negotiations, and I’m sure that once we do work out a joint understanding of these basic principles, then we will be able to move ahead in different ways.
As we said last time, there are many different options of negotiations, whether we want to discuss the concept, the elections. Once we finish with goals and terms of reference, then we can move on to different topics, including the jurisdiction of the PISGA, including the concept and the powers and responsibilities and authorities and elections of the interim self-government authority.
Q: What if don’t work out the (inaudible), would you be willing to be on the (inaudible) and discuss (inaudible) elections, et cetera?
ASHRAWI: I think that we will find a way of making a track, and I don’t think thatas I said, this is not an obstacle, this is a way of advancing the peace process and the negotiations. I’m confident that there will be a way to move through this affirmation of the terms of reference. It is not, in a sense, a precondition but it is a real requirement for genuine progress. And this is something that cannot be changed. When you enter on the basis of clear terms of reference, you have to have them there. You cannot change them unilaterally, in the same way that you cannot change conditions on the ground unilaterally.
Q: When your delegation has been speaking with the Israelis about changing the situation on the groundI’m not talking about 242. Okay, let’s leave aside 242. You cannot do anything, though, that will change the situation on the ground because that would prejudice the negotiations. What was their answer to that?
ASHRAWI: Well, it depends on the topic. We haven’t been discussing specific issues on that. When we discuss settlements and we discuss the status of Jerusalem, there are issues that the Israelis decided are beyond negotiations. Like Jerusalem is nonnegotiable. Settlements are nonnegotiable and territoriality does not apply.
So these three issues are prejudicial to the whole peace process. We are not negotiating something outside its land context. We are not negotiating an interim phase for the people separate from the land. We have to have territoriality. Settlements are not just an obstacle to peace. They are illegal and they preempt a final outcome. And the annexation of Jerusalem is illegal. It is occupied territory, by international law. With the exception of Jerusalem, no country recognizes Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem.
So these are issues that have to be negotiated. They have to be put on the table. But they’re trying to preempt the negotiations by saying they’re not negotiable. So once youand that’s why we feel they are in violation of the terms of reference. Once you affirm all these, you can move ahead.
Okay, let me just say that the principle of withdrawal, which I mentioned, is something that is significant on all fronts because it is in conjunction with the land-for- peace principle, and that progress, on any track, is something that we encourage and we appreciate and we think will encourage progress on other tracks. That’s why we welcome references that we heard this morning about Israelis affirming the principle of withdrawal on the Israeli-Syrian track, and we hope that this will be a comprehensive commitment on all tracks.
END PALESTINIANS NEWS CONFERENCE