OPENING STATEMENT OF PALESTINIAN SPOKESPERSON HANAN ASHRAWI AT THE DELEGATION NEWS CONFERENCE

Time: 2:10 p.m.
Location: ANA Westin Hotel, 2401 M St. NW

HANAN ASHRAWI (Palestinian Delegation Spokesperson): Good afternoon. During the meeting yesterday evening, the Arab coordination meeting, there was a decision taken by all the Arab parties involved to accept the American request to extend this session for a third week, and therefore, you will be seeing us in Washington through next week. And we hope that next week will afford all parties the chance to see some progress and some positive developments, and therefore we’re willing to give this round the extension requested.

The second week of negotiations so far continues to be serious and discussions are substantive and businesslike, and I’m afraid we cannot assess these talks on a daily basis. I think we have to look at them in a more comprehensive way because, as you know, there are ups and downs. The fact that there are basic disagreements necessitates a negotiating process. If we are in agreement, then we wouldn’t have to negotiate.

And precisely because the issues on the table are central issues and they form the core of the substance at hand, this forms a very difficult phase. Right now we are busy delineating areas of basic disagreement or discussion as well as the different approaches in order to untangle the problems or the knots in negotiations.

But I would like to stress that the human context of negotiations to us continues to be primary, and this has witnessed a major setback. It is unconscionable that as we speak, there are Palestinians who are being killed. In the 48 hours, we have had 10 Palestinians killed, and in April alone, we have had over 700 Palestinians wounded. The atmosphere is very visibly deteriorating. And the promises of positive steps that we began to see last week, the return of some deportees have not been followed up with further steps that have to be taken on the ground in order to demonstrate actually that Israel is committed to the requirements and the imperatives of this peace process.

And as we always say, the real intentions of Israeli attitudes are always judged by actions on the ground more than just by public statements and declarations. And therefore we do need swift and concrete steps, and there are basic, pressing issues, like the speeding up of the return of the 400 exiles in Majis Hur (phonetic), the release of Palestinian prisoners in categories, and the reopening or the ending of the state of siege, the closure of the occupied territories and particuLarly Jerusalem.

If the initial steps have validity, they must be sustained, they must provide a sustained atmosphere in the occupied territories that Israel is committed and does mean business and is not just involved in cosmetic moves. Remember in the first briefing we talked about cosmetic changes. What we need are serious changes that would confirm that Israel does adhere to the requirements of the peace process and does respect human rights in the occupied territories.

And we have based the expectations on the basis of statements and promises, and these expectations must be fulfilled. Otherwise there will be a tremendous letdown.

And we do need to see progress in the human rights working group. This afternoon there will be a meeting of the human rights working group. We hope that they will address these issues in concrete steps, and that way the credibility of the peace process will be sustained or preserved.

The working group on land continues to discuss, again, issues of substance. The Israeli presentation during this week concentrated on the current areas of powers and responsibilities practiced by the Israelis, whether in registration or administration of land, categories and zoning, planning and special sites.

The Palestinian presentation this morning centered on the following terms of referenceterritorial jurisdiction, transfer of powers and responsibilities to the organs of the Palestinian interim self-government in an institutional way, and the third aspect, the availability of relevant maps and data.

We are pursuing the Israeli discussion on the integrity of the land or the fact that the land will be treated as an integral whole, and we are seeing how that can beprobing to see how that can be translated into functional steps dealing, or into concrete positions and negotiations and not just a statement that should be sustained in both the interim and permanent phase.

The discussions on water also were two presentations, an Israeli presentation and a Palestinian one. Ours focused on the water rights or the denial of water rights, on the mis- distributionmaldistribution of water, on the profligate use of water by the settlers, on, again, institutional control, the fact that we have no control over our water, and finally access to information pertaining to water.

Israel concentrated on resource management and use and the database.

The working group on concept continued discussions on the terms of reference, the goals and objectives of the peace process, the linkage between interim and permanent status, and permanent status being the full implementation of 242, 338, and anything in interim must not be prejudicial to this implementation in permanent status.

There was also extensive discussion on legislation and on elections under international supervision. Legislation, two areas raised by the Israelis were areas of (unintelligible) of legislationI don’t know whether this is the right term, but that’s the term used, and the second is the process of mutual confirmation. These were Israeli presentations.

But the Palestinian presentation continues to be the right to primary as well as secondary legislation, and that legislation must be then treated as a whole and not fragmented into spheres or subject to Israeli veto.

Again, this is another area that is being pursued.

In terms of elections, we’re discussing international supervision as well as eligibility for elections, to vote and to run. There was also a discussion on the possibility of a declaration of principles or discussions of possible drafts. Still there is no conclusion on that, but we said if there is progress, then that will be considered by the Palestinians.

But I just want to make it clear that at this phase, things are difficult, there are still serious gaps. Things are difficult because we are getting into the core of the issues, into the real serious substance. What is needed is continued persistence, determination, willingness to take these issues seriously. The negotiations, as I said, are not easy. The topics are critical and central, and we shall continue to take them seriously and push for progress, although we haven’t seen any breakthroughs. I would stay away from terms such as pessimism and optimism. As usual, I would say things are serious, though difficult.

Although in our land we have seen epiphanies before, but I don’t think you will see epiphanies in this peace process. It is a cumulative, incremental process that takes tremendous hard work and attention to details, and work that cannot be daily discussed with the media. Let’s say that the nitty- gritty, the real substance is that which goes on in the negotiating room, the areas we can discuss, but we do not expect miraculous progress.

It’s important that the attitudes determining negotiations continue to be attitudes of responsibility and seriousness, whether in the negotiating room or outside the negotiating room, particularly in Israeli behavior on the ground.