PALESTINIAN DELEGATION TO THE MIDDLE EAST PEACE TALKS
BRIEFER: HANAN ASHRAWI
GRAND HOTEL / WASHINGTON, DC
TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 15, 1992
MS. ASHRAWI: Good afternoon. Now this is our first briefing after the post or in the post-recess era, and we had hoped that we will have some very earth-shattering news to give you. As you know, there has been a flurry of activities during the recess and right after. We had extensive and intensive consultations with our respective governments. We also had a meeting Sunday with Ambassador Djerejian and others from the State Department. There was, yesterday afternoon, the first session after the break of bilateral negotiations between the Israeli and the Palestinian delegations, and this morning there was again a meeting in the State Department between the Palestinian delegation and some members of the Palestinian delegation and some people from the State some officials from the State Department. And there was also a session the first session of the multilateral working group on water. So we’ve been actually quite busy.
Let me just state that in our last briefing, we stated that we expected the Israeli delegation to come back with a new mandate which would reinvigorate the talks and reenergize our deliberations, and we sent them off with two memos, with two documents that we had hoped would give them sufficient grounds for further elaborations and work.
We have been and we continue to be determined to do everything possible to try to ensure the success of these negotiations, and we will continue to try to do everything possible to work out an equitable settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And we are committed to the phased approach the two phases. We are here to negotiate an interim phase, a transitional phase, and not to negotiate permanent status. So on that basis we felt that it is important that whatever takes place in the interim phase be firmly grounded on the terms of reference of the whole peace process, that both parties adhere to the principles and the requirements of this phase and that no one side should take unilateral actions that would preempt or prejudice the outcome or that would also preempt permanent status negotiations. We do understand that the task at hand is interim phase negotiations, but at the same time we do know that whatever we agree to at this phase is going to determine the course of events for the permanent phase.
For the last few months, as you know, negotiations have been stalled in many ways. Despite the fact that there have been many proposals and counterproposals, some of them attempting to accommodate the requirements of the other side, we expected to hear some serious, positive reactions to the latest proposals we presented. The Israeli side came back and offered us yesterday two documents: a document called Informal Concept of the Interim Self Government Arrangements and the cover memorandum which tried to respond to some of our questions and presentations. Unfortunately, their responses, we found, were quite unsatisfactory, especially as related to issues of territoriality, to issues of Jerusalem, settlements, jurisdiction of the interim self government authority, and, of course, to the concrete issues pertaining to experts and pertaining to access to information.
So it was agreed by it was decided by the Palestinian side that in order not to allow the continuation of exercises in futility or digressions or sidestepping central issues that both sides should reaffirm their adherence to the principles on the basis of which this peace process started, primarily UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of territory for peace, or land for peace.
Since throughout our negotiations the Israeli side has refused to acknowledge the principle of territoriality, the application of international legality, including 242, since they refuse to acknowledge the principle of withdrawal, and since unilaterally they have been carrying out measures and steps especially in terms of settlements throughout the occupied territories, including within and around Jerusalem, we felt the only safeguard to ensure that the whole process is going on the proper track towards permanent status negotiations, that we have to adhere to the terms of reference. That’s why we feel that it is absolutely imperative that 242 be acknowledged and recognized as applicable to all phases of negotiations and on all fronts. We understand the Israeli Prime Minister had announced that 242 is applicable on all fronts, and we think that it should be reiterated in the negotiations, not just applicable on all fronts but throughout all phases of negotiations.
Again, the principle as reiterated in the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242, the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force, has to be affirmed and has to guide the whole process of negotiations in this phase and following in order to ensure that what we’re doing adheres to the framework and the principles agreed to.
The idea of interconnection or internal coherence in negotiations is very clear. You cannot treat the interim phase something in a vacuum or in isolation. It has its firm basis and it has its objectives, and at the same time, it will influence permanent status, and we cannot allow one side to continue to violate the terms of reference by exploiting its power as occupier in order to create facts on the ground that might render the negotiations irrelevant or meaningless.
As such, we would like to reaffirm that whatever we do in this phase has to be based on 242, has to reaffirm the principles of territoriality and control over resources and the principle of Israeli withdrawal. And we are willing to work these out in phases. We are not negotiating permanent status. We reiterate we will negotiate only interim arrangements and authority, but we cannot invalidate the terms of our participation in the peace process. And we hope that following this, we would have an activated and intensive peace process and negotiations that would get very quickly into issues of substance and concrete issues pertaining to the transitional phase.
As far as the multilaterals are concerned, we did have our first session this morning on the water working group. There was a presentation of opening papers or position papers. Of course, the US and the Austrians as the hosts, the ex-hosts, presented their positions. The Jordanians, the Palestinians, the Egyptians and the Israelis presented their papers. This afternoon there will be another session dealing with computerization and data availability in the afternoon.
The Palestinian position reiterated first of all the need to readjust Palestinian participation in all working groups to include Palestinians from the occupied territories and outside the occupied territories and, of course, the participation of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. We also called for the participation of the United Nations as the source of the legitimacy of the conference.
And we also reiterated the need to establish a situation of parity in the region, that any agreements arrived at while one side is at a severe disadvantage is going to be as strong or as weak as its weakest link. And therefore, we reiterated the need for the Palestinian side to gain control over its own resources, over its own water, and to gain control over its own decisions. And that guides our work in the water group. We also pointed out Israeli practices in the occupied territories, a very tragic situation with an extreme water shortage, where Israel is expropriating most of our 80 percent of our water resources. And we called for a fact finding mission. Again, we call for a fact finding mission to look at the realities on the ground and to report back to the multilateral working group on water.
Thank you, and I’ll be glad to answer your questions.
MODERATOR: Please introduce yourselves and your media affiliation.
Q Barry Schweid, Associated Press. Will the Palestinian delegation respond at any point to Israel’s proposal for (inaudible). And if you’re not responding, what it is that you need to see or hear before you respond?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, we have responded to their proposal and we have presented I told you last time we gave them 30 questions and comments. We also gave them counterproposals, and we expected serious responses from them. Presently, we are studying very carefully and in detail what they have presented now, which is their latest proposal. It’s informal, it’s not final. We are looking at it, but we are hoping that if they do acknowledge the applicability of 242 on all phases, then that would guide the discussion on both proposals, theirs and ours, and we will respond very carefully and we will enter into negotiations on specifics.
Q May I do a quick follow-up
MODERATOR: One question please.
Q No follow-ups?
Q Maybe tomorrow.
Q (Off mike.)
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, I did allude to the two memos, the two letters that we gave the Israeli delegation before it went home to consult with its government the way we went not home to consult with our government. They did respond, not directly to the letter, but in their covering memorandum to their proposal.
They did respond to some of the issues. They particularly they responded to the issue of experts, and they said that experts will be allowed in only according to need and as they see pertaining to requirements and only within the conditions that they think will not create political problems and so on. So it’s again a situation where they reserve to themselves the right to decide when do we need experts and what type of experts do we need.
The same thing on the question of access to information. They said information will be provided when we when they see that it is necessary, for instance, on population registers after we come to an agreement on election modalities. But we do need the information before in order to prepare our position on election modalities. So again they reserve to themselves the right to behave as occupiers and to tell us when we need the information and for what purpose.
So these responses, we feel, must not be final. We are not looking at them in an entirely negative light. We say that these responses can be worked out, that they shouldn’t be so inflexible on issues of common sense and basic rights, and we hope that they will understand that this is counterproductive for the whole peace process, not just for our work. And I think that given the proper as I said, positive spirit and predisposition, then we should be able to overcome that. But right now we still have the major concern of trying to reaffirm the terms of reference so that we can move ahead on concrete issues.
MODERATOR: Yes, sir?
Q (Name inaudible) CBS. Are you saying that you want the Israelis to offer you the same declaration as at the peace talks table that they offered the Syrians, and official (inaudible) to say yes, we do recognize 242 as covering the West Bank and Gaza Strip and that this point (inaudible)?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, I don’t know if it has to be the same. I think it has to be a bit different because our statement has to indicate that it’s applicable to all phases of negotiations and not just to permanent status.
At the same time, we have been asking I don’t know well, we haven’t distributed our documents, but in every document we gave, whether it was a draft agenda or a framework agreement proposal or a statement of position or principle, we started with the first point being affirmation of 242 and the applicability of 242. And so far, they haven’t responded. We thought maybe they can respond to that through specific discussions on territoriality, on geographical limits and boundaries, on the settlements issue, and so on. And obviously, all their answers were negative and, as I said, were unsatisfactory. So we felt in order not to keep getting specific negative responses, maybe we should get them to reaffirm the principle very clearly so that we can move on the specifics. But in every document, in every session, 242 has been the first item on the agenda.
Q Norman Kempster, Los Angeles Times. A question on the multilaterals. You said that the Palestinian delegation spoke of participation of Palestinians from outside of the occupied territories (namely ?), the PLO. Are you making that a condition for continued participation or not?
MS. ASHRAWI: That’s a standing request. We have participated with unfair and uneven conditions, we will continue to participate, but that doesn’t prejudice our rights to have comprehensive and legitimate Palestinian representation and participation in all working groups, including security and arms control.
Q (Name inaudible, United Press International. As I’m sure you’re aware, this week legislation for (inaudible) meetings of various State Department officials, White House officials (inaudible). Have they told you the details of that? And if so, what are those, and how do you feel about them?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, the issue of the recommendation for the granting of the loan guarantees, the $10 billion loan guarantees, has been an issue of ongoing and tremendous concern for the Palestinian delegation, and it is something we have raised repeatedly with the American side. We have not received the details from the American side. We have some access to information on the details, but State Department officials did not give us the details. We did express our concern, and we have been given general assurances, broad assurances from the American officials, from US officials, on the conditions pertaining to the loan guarantees. Only when they announce or when they give us officially the details will we discuss them openly, but I think perhaps you should talk to them about the details since we don’t have them officially.
Q Generally speaking, it doesn’t look like the (off mike)?
MODERATOR: No follow-up questions, please.
MS. ASHRAWI: It’s okay, (inaudible name). You’re consistent and it’s good.
MODERATOR: Go ahead.
MS. ASHRAWI: Slave driver.
Q This might be a stupid question, but about the terms of reference you are talking about
MS. ASHRAWI: About what? I’m sorry.
Q The terms of reference.
MS. ASHRAWI: Yes.
Q Under the terms of reference which started the whole peace process (inaudible)?
MS. ASHRAWI: (Good ?) question. We are not really going back to the terms of reference because we have never departed from the terms of reference. We made sure in everything we presented that we used the bases, the principles, the references, and even the diction and the expressions from the terms of reference which include the letter of invitation and the letter of assurances.
Now, these have been, of course, agreed upon, but each party, each side has its own letter or assurances. We have been assured by the US that the letter each letter of assurances would not contradict the other letter of assurances, but might have a different focus. So what we go by is our letter of assurances and the letter of invitation and, of course, the public and official statements by President Bush and Secretary Baker and other officials who made some very serious declarations and statements and assurances that grounded the peace process firmly within international legality and solutions.
(Off mike remarks to aide)
Q Dr. Ashrawi (inaudible) if I could follow up, please, the terms of reference specified that these talks (would be based ?) on 242 and 338, but Secretary Baker made a point of saying that each of the parties (inaudible). From his previous statement, it appears that he now wants Israel to go on record affirming the principle of withdrawal from the occupied territories, including the West Bank. Is that correct?
MS. ASHRAWI: Frankly, the terms of reference for the whole peace process bilateral, multilateral, and everything are 242, 338, land for peace. That’s the basis. Then, in our letter of assurances, there is no reference whatsoever to interpretation. There is reference only to the implementation and to the fact that these UN resolutions are the basis, are the foundations for the whole peace process.
Now, we don’t know whether the Israelis took that to mean interpretation of 242, because as far as we’re concerned, 242 does not need interpretation. It’s very clear. Its preamble about the inadmissibility of acquisition of land by force very clearly indicates Israeli withdrawal and, of course, grounds the whole discussion firmly within territoriality and geographic considerations.
I’m sorry, the last part of your question, about the principle
Q Can you are you now asking the Israelis to affirm (inaudible)
MS. ASHRAWI: Oh, 242.
Q for a withdrawal from all occupied territory, including
MS. ASHRAWI: We are asking them to accept the fact that 242 is the basis of the whole negotiating process and is applicable on all fronts and to all phases of negotiations, that’s all. And from there, you would generate the positive spirit and good will to deal with all other issues stemming from that, including territoriality, geography, withdrawal, the principle of withdrawal. Since Israel has refused to acknowledge any of these things, which means it is in violation of the terms of reference.
So we cannot have one side imposing its own will, changing the terms of reference at will. And they’re saying it is negotiating in good faith. At least if there is no accountability for Israeli behavior in the occupied territories and there is no protection for the Palestinians, let the bases, the terms of reference, let the peace process offer us this assurance so we will know that we are heading in the right direction, that we are not there in order to just legalize Israeli measures and practices and preempt the final outcome later on.
Q (Name inaudible) from Washington, DC. I’m confused about something. In in your statement, you acknowledge that the Israelis have indeed said (inaudible) 242 is applicable on all fronts; yet at the same time you say you want people to affirm that it is applicable on (this front ?) in all phases? Why the need for the reiteration and why is it not redundancy? And does it mean that you are, therefore, dropping for now your attempts to engage the Israelis on the specifics as embodied in all these proposals that you (inaudible)?
MS. ASHRAWI: No, that’s not true. Well, the statement that we alluded to is something that the Americans told us about. Ambassador Djerejian told us that Prime Minister Rabin declared very openly that or publicly that 242 is applicable on all fronts. We said, fine, then let them repeat this to us in the negotiating room because everything that they’re saying and all the proposals that they’re giving us and all the actions on the ground negate the validity of 242. So we said have them confirm 242 as applicable not just on all fronts but throughout all phases.
There is no redundancy there because we have a long record of Israeli public utterances contradicting substance and actions. And if this is the case, then I don’t see why they shouldn’t reaffirm them, reaffirm the principles in the negotiating room, directly and clearly, so that we will know that we’re heading in the right direction on the proper foundations.
We are not in any way dropping our attempts to engage them on issues. We are going to continue to try to engage them on specifics and on issues, but in order to have those specifics and concrete issues be based on the proper foundations, then we have to have this affirmation. Otherwise, it becomes clear that this exercise is one of avoiding the bases and the principles of the peace process and creating facts which negate the very validity of this peace process. If, in that case, they affirm that, then it will be a sign of good will that they will adhere to these basic principles and that what they offer is not a unilateral attempt to prejudge or prejudice the outcome of negotiations and to close all options except the option of maintaining control over the occupied territory.
MODERATOR: We’ll be taking questions in Arabic now.