NEWS CONFERENCE BY THE PALESTINIAN DELEGATION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
Time: 2 p.m.
Location: Ritz Carlton at Pentagon City
December 8, 1992
PALESTINIAN SPOKESPERSON HANAN ASHRAWI: Let’s start with the announcements. We have a large number of announcements today. First of all, it is International Human Rights Day today, which is very appropriate, considering one of the reasons why we are protesting and why our delegation is so limited, is because of human rights violations.
So on the occasion of this International Human Rights Day, we do have a statement by the PHRIC, the Palestine Human Rights Information Campaign, which is available here. It’s not a statement, it’s a survey of the 13 months since Madrid and the human rights violations since then, the toll that the peace process has exacted from the Palestinians.
And in addition, we also have the monthly report of the Palestine Human Rights Information Campaign, as well as a study on the use of electric shock torture in Israeli interrogation.
We alsoI would also like to remind you that tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the Intifada. And as we approach the beginning of the sixth year of the Intifada, as usual, the Palestinian delegation will be commemorating it. And also, there will be a rally between 7:00 and 9:00 tomorrow evening here in this hotel. And we do have a Palestinian art exhibition by one of our leading artists, Sliman Mansour (phonetic), in which he expresses Palestinian motifs using organic materials. And I do hope you will take the time to come and see the exhibit.
The Intifada continues to be to us the overwhelming expression of a people’s spirit and a people’s will that refuses defeat and that is dealing with a very difficult and harsh occupation in a way which expresses determination not to succumb to the cruelty or injustice of occupation. And it is precisely the Intifada that gave the Palestinians the will, the self- confidence and the courage to enter this peace process despite its disequilibrium, despite its painful aspects, because only a people with confidence can look for ways of achieving conflict resolution through discourse, through negotiations, rather than through violence and hostility.
I also have something for you which was commissioned by Professor Forad Mograbi (phonetic), I’m sure you know him. It’s called "Public Attitudes Toward Events in the Middle East." There is the executive summary, which is available. There is a bit of good news in everything. This is a survey of public opinion in the U.S. pertaining to issues on the Middle East, whether it is the question of the Palestinian state or whether it’s a question of the right of return, the loan guarantees and the peace process itself. Can the parties achieve peace on their own, for instance. Seventy percent said they did not think the parties can achieve peace on their own.
As far as Palestinian statehood, 63 percent favor the establishment of an independent state for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. And only 18 percent oppose it. So the results of the survey, which will be released soon, are extremely encouraging. You have the executive summary here. And at least it points out to the fact that American public opinion is probably more informed and more favorably inclined towards Palestinian rights than the administration. Maybe the time lag and the gap between the public opinion and administration will be reduced through this peace process, and it will affect policymaking.
Dr. Forad Mograbi will be glad to respond to any questions or queries you may have. His phone number is here. It’s a Gallup poll commissioned by him. He worked on it. The full questionnaire is available, so if you would like to pursue this.
We also have for you statement number one on the occasion of this eighth round, and we also have a summary, summary number one of the first meeting, negotiating meeting yesterday. We also have severalfour, actually, documents in Arabic on analysis and a summary and statements. So please feel free to pick them up.
Now it looks like the peace process in itself is in need of Operation Restore Hope, but not in the way, not by sending troops or food to the region. I think one should try to inject some energy and direction in the peace process in a more vitalized and active role for the co-sponsors.
We came here with a small delegation, with a reduced delegation, as a dual sign actually, as a sign of commitment, number one, that we are committed to the peace process, and regardless of the difficulties and hardships we have not boycotted, and we will attend the negotiations. But at the same time the reduced delegation is to protest the fact that over one year has passed, and yet there has been no tangible progress, or concrete achievements or changes on the ground. That we do not accept violations of the terms of reference, whether by default or sins of omission, or willfully.
We think that we must take the terms of reference seriously and the one year target date that has elapsed is a very significant date for us. At the same time we feel that there are several factors or basic ingredients that are missing in this peace process, that would give it this vitality and the sense of direction. Foremost among which is the compliance of the Israeli delegation with the terms of reference and the imperatives and needs of the peace process.
As we explained to you during the last round, the Israeli model as it emerged from our questions and our informal meetings and our probing and exploratory talks, was a model that was unworkable, impractical, illegal and unfair, and is prejudicial to the permanent status negotiations. Ultimately it might end up either by creating a full apartheid system, or annexation of the land, and neither of these alternatives is acceptable and neither is within the terms of reference, especially the principle of land for peace and U.N. resolutions 242 and 338.
We also would like to protest the continuing human rights abuses and violations in the occupied territories. That remains the real test of Israeli intentions to negotiate in good faith and commitments to the peace process, and the spirit of peace and reconciliation.
We also would like to explain that the role of the co- sponsors has drastically been diminishing, that we feel a more active involvement is called for, not because we want the U.S. to force on anybody and not because we want an intermediary or somebody to mediate between us. And not because we want anybody to negotiate on our behalf, but the fact of the matter is that the U.S. persuaded all parties to participate, and particularly the Palestinian delegation, on a certain set of assurances, and thereby they have adopted certain responsibilities. And we have repeatedly said that in this asymmetry of power between occupied and occupied, you need neutral third party intervention and that third party was supposed to be the co-sponsors.
Now intervention, by putting pressure on individual sides, separately, does not produce results. Clearly since this whole last year has not produced result. So we feel there should be a more active role on the part of the co-sponsors, especially the U.S., whether in the negotiating room or in creating conditions more conducive to progress in negotiations.
We feel that peace has enough enemies, and we are trying very hard to save this peace process, and we have a lot invested in this process, personally and collectively as a people, and we don’t want to see it fail and we don’t want to see it being manipulated only in order to legitimize occupation.
Yesterday there were several activities. Yesterday noon there was a meeting at the State Department with a team from the State Department, with Ed Djerejian, Ambassador Djerejian as heading the American delegation. We discussed there the reasons for the reduced delegation size, including Israeli measures and activities, including the Israeli position, and the fact that it violates the spirit of the peace process, and as well as the terms of reference. We also discussed the role of the U.S. as co-sponsor and that’s where we proposed trilateral meetings.
We had been proposing a more active role. We thought trilateral meetings, probably not as a substitute for bilateral negotiations, but as a means of augmenting and supporting the peace process, should be helpful because the U.S. can play a persuasive role, either in proposing creatively bridging solutions or trying to find common ground or trying to understand, really, the fears and the obstacles on both sides. We think it can play a more constructive and active role in this context.
We also discussed bilateral U.S.-Palestinian relations and urged particularly the restoration of the U.S.-PLO dialogue, especially in view of the constructive and positive role of the PLO in the peace process as a whole. We were also told of the invitation to meet President Bush towards the end of this session, and we will be meeting him, of course, as a separate delegation.
The American team again stressed the U.S. commitment to the peace process, whether on the part of the outgoing administration or on the part of the incoming administration, the fact that during this transitional phase, they feel that genuine progress can be made. And we again reiterated our position, that the Palestinians have always made their position clear pertaining to this transitional phase in the U.S., that we view this as an opportunity to prepare the groundwork, to have some serious agreements or progress that would allow the peace process beyond next yearor beyond, sorry, the inauguration of the new president.
The meeting, we felt, was quite productive and very useful and detailed. And we hope to be able to see results during this session.
We also had our first negotiating session in the afternoon. As you know, Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi was not feeling well. He had a bad cold, probably the flu, so he was unable to attend either meeting. But he’s feeling much better today, and we hope he will attend this afternoon’s session.
Yesterday’s session was headed by Dr. Sa’eb Erakat, and again the discussion was quite candid, very serious and non- confrontational. Both sides presented their positions in a serious and calm and controlled way. The Palestinian side explained the reasons again for the reduced delegation, while the Israelis protested this reduction and considered it a violation of the terms of reference.
We explained to them that the terms of referenceor the agreement we made at the beginning of the bilateral negotiations in Washington specified the maximum number; they did not specify the minimum number. And at the same time, we said that it doesn’t matter how many people you have if you continue to present proposals that are illegal and non- constructive. It’s not the number that determines whether you are seriously committed to the peace process. It is actually the substance of your ideas and your proposals that determines whether you are serious about the peace process. So we could have a huge delegation that would present entrenched positions. That wouldn’t lead us anywhere. The Israelis have had a full delegation constantly, and have not presented yet serious proposals that would lead us to actual progress.
We affirmed again the Palestinian seriousness and our continued commitment to the peace process. And we urged the Israelis to think constructively and creatively. We discussed their models as being non-workable and as being in violation of the terms of reference. They said that there is a misunderstanding, that probably some of the issues they presented were not clearly understood, so we urged them to reconsider. Again, Dr. Erakat urged them to respond constructively to the letter which we had sent with them at the end of the seventh round.
So far, they have not been forthcoming, they have not presented any responses, but we hope that they will in this afternoon’s session, because I heard from the press, I think, their briefing, that they do have documents or letters that they will present. So we are looking forward to a more positive reaction from them. And we assured them that any positive move on their side will be met with positive reciprocity on our side, and that the real impasse or the deadlock in the negotiations is a result of Israel trying to employ the tactics of dictating positions rather than the commitment to genuine negotiations, which imply parity on both sides and a willingness to try to find common ground.
Again, we expressed our understanding of the difficulty of their position and the complexity of the Israeli perceptions of the transitional phase, but we said that, in order to have a genuine transitional phase, nothing must be done to preempt permanent status, and that both sides’ concerns and fears must be taken into account. We are willing to discuss Israeli security concerns, we are willing to assure them that the transitional phase is transitional and not permanent, that we are not trying to set up a Palestinian state in the transitional phase. We maintain that it is our right to have independence and self-determination, and we are willing to negotiate that and permanent status.
But right now, we are still discussing the transitional phase, interim self-government arrangements and authority, which means arrangements to have a self-government. And therefore, the more responsibility that this self-government has, the more effective it will be as a test case, as an experiment in coexistence and reconciliation. We explained that we did not violate, of course, the terms of reference in that sense. We again said that we look forward to a change of heart and approach on the Israeli side. Maybe we will get it today or in the course of this week. And we look forward to their response in today’s session. I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have.
Q: Dr. Ashrawi, the State Department said today that under the terms of reference, if the United States or the cosponsors go into the room to join the negotiations, that can only be done at the request of both parties, not one. Are they right?
ASHRAWI: Yes. According to the letter of invitation, both sides will have to request the intervention or the participation of the cosponsors. Now, Israel has consistently refused that. So we said maybe they should urge the Israelis to accept it. We have urged them, and they haven’t. In that case, then, there is nothing to prevent the cosponsors from inviting the two parties to a trilateral meeting to sit down and work out what are the obstacles.
We are doing this in a very constructive spirit, to try to overcome obstacles. And that’s why I said yesterday that they are considering this proposal. We have been asking for such trilateral meetings because sometimes when you have an obstaclewe don’t want them to negotiate, but at least let them play the role of a driving force to overcome these obstacles.
If you have separate trilateral meetings to discuss the problems that are creating this impasse, then I think you can give the peace process a real push forward, because we can’t afford the time, the means nor the energy to enter into an open- ended peace process which incorporates within it the domination of the occupier over the occupied. We do need neutral, third- party intervention to diagnose, to analyze and to suggest constructive ways of overcoming problems and difficulties.
Q: One very small question, and then another one. The small one is, this time last year, as I recall, you did not have negotiations on the anniversary of the beginning of the Intifada. As I recall, the Israelis had just reached town, you had been here for five days waiting for them, and then on that Monday, you waited another day. Are you going to follow that tomorrow, or are you going to talk tomorrow? That’s the small question. The larger one is, was there any response to your request to resume dialogue with the PLO? And have you raised this with the Clinton transition team, and what has their attitude been?
ASHRAWI: Well, with the Intifada anniversary, of course, we do, like every year, observe the anniversary of the Intifada. We do have specific activities, but I will not propose here suspension of the talks tomorrow or anything until our delegation talks it over with the Israeli delegation this afternoon. But certainly we will observe the anniversary, the fifth anniversary of the Intifada, as has been our habit since 1987-88. As far as their response to the resumption of the dialogue, I would much rather leave that to the Americans to respond to. We have been making this request repeatedly. We feel that the PLO has made its position very clear. It has taken very brave and historical decisions to send the delegation, to enter into a peace process, to support our work, and this should be a decisive factor in restoring the U.S.-PLO dialogue. We haven’t discussed this with the Clinton people, no.
Q: This follows, please. Is Mr. Bush’s meeting with the Palestinian delegation, and the others, of course, is that a step in that direction?
ASHRAWI: Well, I wouldn’t know. I think it’s a step first of all, it’s to acknowledge publicly the significance of the negotiations, which is very important, and that probably would send a signal also, not just to the public at large, but to the incoming administration. It also
Q: Sorry, I meant a stepI think I didn’t state the question right. Is that a step in the direction of a U.S.-PLO dialogue?
ASHRAWI: Oh. Well, if he would meet with the PLO, that would be a step in that direction. Possibly, but the fact that hehe has met, as you know, with the head of our delegation and a member of our delegation in Madrid, and we thought it is appropriate now to have a meeting with the president. Now, the Palestinians, as you know, are a delegation that is not separate from their leadership or their people. So we are, in a sense, doubly linked, and meeting with the Palestinian delegation is an acknowledgment of the separate identity of the Palestinian people. But whether it contributes to the U.S.-PLO dialogue, I wouldn’t know.
Q: We asked the Israeli spokesperson yesterday about inviting the U.S., and he said thatyou know, the usual answer that they give, which is if we have to live together in the Middle East, which we have to, then we should learn to live together and communicate with each other here. Now, you’re saying that you want the United States to come in, but you’re also admitting that the terms of reference do not allow for American intervention, at least in the talks and where the talks are being conducted, without two parties accepting it.
Nowand you want them to come in, as you said, to rid the imbalance between occupied and occupier. Well, if you believe that they can do that in the room where you’re sitting, why don’t they do it outside the room? Why don’t they try to rid that imbalance with the Israelis outside of the talks, if the talks prevent them from coming in? And do you think they’ve been doing that? Can they do that? Are your expectations correct of them to do that?
ASHRAWI: First of all, we did not ask the Americans to enter into the negotiating room itself. We did before, and they said they cannot do that because the Israelis would not allow it. And the terms of reference therefore make it clear that one side has the veto and the other side cannot ask on its own. In light of the continued Israeli refusal to have the Americans intervene in the negotiating room or participate in negotiations directly, we thought setting up three-way meetings would be a useful way of trying to overcome obstacles, very simply. I tried to answer this question.
We’re not saying that we’re violating the terms of reference. We would have like to have seen more cooperation on the Israeli sides to have the cosponsors effectively participate, because that would save time and energy and that could break impasses and deadlocks. At the same time, we have been asking the U.S. as cosponsor and as the author of the letter of assurances, in which several assurances and promises were given and made to the Palestinians, that they should play a role to even out the playing field, that we cannot continue in this asymmetry without any kind of intervention. We talked about accountability for Israel, protection for the Palestinians. We constantly stressed the human rights issue. We stressed the power politics tactics of Israel in negotiations. And we said perhaps they should try to persuade the Israelis to have more sense when it comes to the negotiations and the requirements of the presentations, and not to start by presenting always maximalist positions that do not adhere to the requirements.
Q: Does the Palestinian delegation consider the killing of the three Israeli soldiers yesterday as part of the Intifada? And in a more general sense, what’s the delegation here, their opinion about the action?
ASHRAWI: Okay, well, since the Palestinian delegation is not the political leadership of the Intifada, we do not make statements on that. But frankly speaking, the Intifada at its essence has always been not a violent movement. The three soldiers who were killed were killed in Gaza, I think, by Hamas. Hamas announced responsibility for that. We have said that the real way of dealing with such violence and such confrontations is to end the occupation. And actually, we have a concrete proposal as a delegation. I think if they accept our proposal to withdraw the army from populated areas, to minimize areas of friction, to redeploy troops in security zones, then that would end this friction and the violence.
But the only way to really end the violence is to make the peace process succeed. And if we are called upon every time, every round, every time any incident occurs of violence to comment on that or to deplore it or to express a position, then I don’t think that’s very productive. I think the real constructive attitude is to work very hard to make this process succeed, to end the causes of violence, and to end the situation, the conditions that are creating such a volatile situation. And as I said, the peace has enough enemies without creating more.
Q: At the end of the last round, Dr. Allaf said, listen, we’re going to keep trying to make progress through the transition, through the inauguration, but after a Clinton administration has been in place two, three months, if nothing’s happened by then, if there’s no progress by then, he sort of saw that as a general deadline that his country may not want to participate further in the talks. Do you have any kind of a timeline in your mind for the amount of time you’re going to give a Clinton administration a chance to try to make progress or move the talks forward before you decide that you’ve had enough?
ASHRAWI: No, we have not had discussions as to the deadline itself. We are not trying to impose an artificial deadline. We keep saying that the negotiations are not open- ended and there has to be a realistic deadline that emerges from the situation on the ground, from concrete conditions rather than imposing something ahead of time. If we can achieve something before inauguration or right after inauguration, that would be very positive and very good. If not, then I think we should try our best to achieve it soon because the status quo itself is going to determine whether the peace process will continue or not. As you know, opposition increases, skepticism increases, violence increases. And as a delegation, we are extremely disadvantaged with serious handicaps.
Now, unless we can redress some of these issues, we cannot give you an open-ended guarantee that we’ll stay here forever, but we will not either project a negative outcome or say that we give you an artificial deadline and we will walk out if things don’t work out. We would much rather see a date for the beginning of permanent status negotiations, for example. I think that would be a constructive way of looking at the peace process, of establishing interlock, of saying that these interim phase negotiations, even though they went beyond their deadline, will not prejudice the beginning of permanent status negotiations. We would like to see real moves to change conditions on the ground. That would give more time to the peace process rather than to allow the conditions to deteriorate as they are doing.
Q: One of the PLO spokesmen has suggested that the time clock is running on the three years. Can you confirm that that is your understanding of the Madrid agreements?
ASHRAWI: Well, we feel that because the time frame has been violated, it should not be prejudicial to the five-year transitional phase. Our understanding is that after we reach an agreement, we will begin the transitional phase, and at the beginning of the third year, we will have negotiations on permanent status. But that means you have an open-ended beginning. It means that the negotiations on interim phase could last for years, and the more they last, the longer they postpone the beginning of the transitional phase or the beginning of permanent status negotiations. So we are trying to find a key, a way of locking in place in a time frame that is serious and realistic the whole process, and we do not want the time used up, or the excess time used up to be prejudicial to the Palestinians in the interim phase.
Q: I was wondering if you could be a little more specific about the misunderstandings that the Israelis said you took from their model? And also, on a related point, I recall at the end of the last round that you had a physical model that you had extrapolated from their proposals. I wondered if you had shown that to them, and if so, what their reaction was?
ASHRAWI: Yes. Actually, Dr. Erakat handed over a copy of the flow chart of the model to the Israeli delegation, and said this is how we saw your proposal emerging after our discussions and question and answer session and exploratory talks. They were talking about the judiciary system, for example, that is not really six separate courts, but probably three. But again, it’s not very clear because I don’t think they have a very clear position on that. Sometimes they present examples that are in themselves improvised and exploratory.
That’s one example. The other example, there is really no clarity over control of the land or ownership of the land or use of the land. These are issues that still have to be worked out. But as it is, there are two basic problems we have: incorporation of the settlements as a legality is something we cannot accept; and the prevention of genuine authority, especially legislative authority, and jurisdiction over the territory is another we cannot accept. In between, you can work out different structures that could meet these needs.
Q: Two questions. First you said you were willing to discuss Israeli security concerns. What does it mean? And second, do you have any reaction to Peres’s statement today that retreat from Gaza (inaudible)?
ASHRAWI: Peres today announced that he would retreat from Gaza unilaterally.
Q: He said that (inaudible), something like that.
ASHRAWI: Withdrawal from Gaza, you mean?
ASHRAWI: Again they said that. Okay. No, we are quite willing to discuss Israeli security concerns. As you know, we’re discussing land, peace, security. And since security is an umbrella for all sorts of activities in Israel, and since it is the excuse to prevent any kind of equitable settlement, especially since it’s an excuse they use to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state, we said, fine, I mean, let’s discuss your security concerns during the transitional phase so that it will not be used as an excuse to maintain settlements, to maintain control of the land or to prejudice the final outcome.
And security concerns means discussing redeployment of troops away from populated areas, it means issues that have to deal with legislation or modification of the legislation authority of the Palestinian self-government on the basis of mutual security, as well as arrangements that have to do with borders, and so on. These are all issues that we are willing to take into account in forming and coming to any agreement.
But Israel has to define its own security needs. We cannot define them for Israel. They have to present their proposals on security and we will discuss them. But the problem is that Israel maintains that security is an issue that is solely or exclusively the domain of Israel, that it will not be presented for negotiations.
Oh, as far as Peres and withdrawal from GazaI mean, we wish that they would withdraw from all the occupied territories, not just from Gaza. We have not asked for a fragmented approach. This is the Israeli modus operandi. But it is not our proposal, it is not the way we see things. We see things as integrated and coherent. However, should they unilaterally withdraw overnight from Gaza, we’re not going to say, no, please stay as an occupier in Gaza. We’ll have to deal with it. But hopefully, withdrawal will take place from all the occupied territories as a result of a comprehensive agreement.
Q: According to the terms of reference, aren’t you supposed to be talking about interim self-government, not the final status?
ASHRAWI: Yes. We are negotiating interim self- government.
Q: But you also wanted to talk about the final status as well?
ASHRAWI: No. No, we said nothing done in the interim self-government must be prejudicial to permanent status. And especially since permanent status is on the basis of 242, land for peace, and should implement that in permanent status, therefore and since there’s an interlock between the interim phase and permanent status, not just in time, temporal interlock, but also in terms of substance, then nothing in the interim phase must be prejudicial to the full implementation of 242 and permanent status and must not preempt the outcome of permanent status negotiations. Now we are negotiating interim phase.
Q: Dr. Hanan, when you meet with President Bush, and I hope you’ll meet with him, do you have a certain kind of demands, a certain kind of appeal you would be more interested to present to him than to present to lower level officials of the government?
ASHRAWI: Well, we are still discussing what to present to President Bush. I’m sure we will have a very convincing and compelling case to make. And we should be able to present also a review of the American position, including President Bush’s position and statements on the issues. And it seems to me that this higher level meeting should be able to produce more results than the daily follow-up meetings with State Department officials.
Q: All of you are going to meet, including yourself?
ASHRAWI: They said representatives. As you remember, when we were meeting with Secretary Baker, he said that Faisal Husseini, myself and others, if we want, will be invited to meet with President Bush. So we will be setting up a small delegation to meet President Bush that would
Q: Including yourself?
ASHRAWI: Yes, and Faisal Husseini, as well as Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi.
Q: Only for that purpose?
ASHRAWI: Yes, we will have him come for that purpose. Thank you very much.