OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON / GRAND HOTEL CONFERENCE CENTER
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25, 1992
MR. NASSER ATTA: Hi, everybody. Good afternoon. Dr. Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi will brief us, and then she will be very happy to answer your questions after her statement. And she will also tell you a little bit about a certain booklet we have today, and she will talk about it. Please, Dr. Hanan?
MS. ASHRAWI: There are two things today. We do have the human rights violations update, with specific violations in the last few days, and we have here the Facts of Peace booklet. We managed to get a few copies for you. They are available after the press conference.
This is a detailed account of the toll that the Palestinians are paying for the peace process. It has in it instances of Israeli policies against the Palestinian civilian population, deaths, arrest rates, and torture in detention, curfew and other movement restrictions, expulsions, education, taxation, uprooting of (trees?), demolitions and house (ceilings?). Then you have a detailed survey of Israeli land confiscation and settlements since the start of the Madrid peace conference, settler violence in the occupied territories, and media disinformation in two stages. So these are detailed accounts that are available, and you may pick up your own copies later.
Today I will start with yesterday’s meeting, since many of you were not there last evening. There was a meeting between 4:00 and 7:20 p.m. of the Palestinian-Israeli track. There were several issues discussed in the meeting. The first item was a discussion on settlements. We presented them with the settlement paper. I have given you a preview of the major items of the settlement paper. There was discussion on that.
The Israelis, of course, refused to acknowledge the validity of the arguments. There was no progress on the discussion. The Palestinians presented the legal and geopolitical realities and the imperatives of the peace process and how this is in violation of the terms of reference and the requirements of peace as well as international law and international humanitarian law. The Israelis responded with the same old ideological argument and the absolutist claim, claiming absolute right to settle anywhere and to take the land.
We had to make it clear to them, as we make it clear to everybody, that these two processes are incompatible and are mutually exclusive. The process of settling occupied Palestinian land and the peace process cannot be reconciled. Israel has to choose one or the other. It seems also that they do have a perceptual problem.
They still haven’t realized that there is an occupation going on in the occupied territories, that the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem are all occupied territories. And it’s going to take some time to make them see the facts. Everybody else in the world sees the occupation and its substance and its actions and its implications, but the Israelis have not yet realized that the people whose houses they are demolishing and whose land they are confiscating are people under occupation and that the land they’re taking, by law and by the consensus of the international community, is occupied territory and therefore subject to the fourth Geneva Convention and subject to all the terms of international law, especially the resolutions of the United Nations and the Security Council in particular.
There was also an Israeli oral response, a verbal response to the Palestinian position paper which was presented last session. It was a rejection out of hand. They said they disagreed with all the premises and all the arguments. And therefore there was again no agreement on this point.
Third, the Israelis handed over two documents. The first document was an expanded agenda ideas presented expanded agenda ideas, and the second presented the Israeli perceptions on the transitional phase, which is now being very carefully studied. We can talk about the preliminary general response. But what is curious is that the talks yesterday were a reiteration of statements that were already made of refusals to deal of a refusal to deal with concrete geopolitical realities and with the needs of the peace process and with the principles underlying the peace process.
This morning, there was a general meeting which lasted from 9:40 to 10:30 a.m. to discuss purely procedural issues. The issues raised were the question of venue next venue, duration of this session, the duration of the next session, or the timing of the next session, the request to establish direct channels and some technical aspects on minutes.
This afternoon there will be a meeting of the Palestinian-Israeli track. There was a morning meeting of the Jordanian-Israeli track and the Jordanian spokesperson will tell you about this in a little while. This afternoon there will be a Palestinian-Israeli negotiating session, and our focus, of course, will continue to be the two crucial issues that will make any progress on discussions of the transitional phase possible: primarily again the issue of settlements and how continuing settlement activities are incompatible with the requirements and imperatives of peace and international legitimacy, and the issue of Ehuman rightsF. And we will be glad to present them with the documents on the Fourth Geneva Convention and how international humanitarian law, whether the Hague accords or the Fourth Geneva Conventions are applicable to the occupied territories, and all the different ways in which Israel systematically has been defying and violating international humanitarian law, and its practices, measures, and policies in the occupied territories.
A brief description of the documents it seems that other than the perceptual problems that Israel has dealing with the fact that it is an occupying power and that we are a people under occupation and our land is occupied territory, this the document that we got seems to be a reconfirmation of the occupation. It looks like Israel is taking the opportunity of this peace process in order to reorganize the occupation. Most of what’s in it is really outright annexation or attempting to legitimize the annexation of the occupied territories and again attempting to legitimize or create a coherent system of apartheid two sets of laws, two sets of standards and attempting to separate the people from the land. There’s also a negation of even the barest minimum of the Camp David accords, which is something they committed themselves to. They had concluded an agreement with the Egyptians and the Americans on in Camp David, and they are negating that agreement. We did not sign the Camp David accords, but they did. And it seems to me they are violating their own commitments.
In the meantime, as Palestinians we continue our own commitment to the human substance, to the human dimension, and our unceasing efforts to try to alleviate the plight of Palestinians under occupation, and to try to point out the fact that it is illegal and immoral and counterproductive to continue using the captive Palestinian population under occupation as hostages to Israeli political aims. Thank you.
MR. ATTA: Okay. Two things before we start taking questions. As you know, the Jordanian briefing will follow immediately after our briefing. And then also the Syrians will have a press briefing after the Jordanian delegation.
Please identify yourself and your media.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible) It seems from the way you’ve described the Israeli (inaudible) plan to reject it this evening, and do you think the terms of the self-government mentioned by the Israelis, are they close to what the Americans would see as a reasonable settlement for this dispute?
MS. ASHRAWI: Not at all. We are not going to enter into discussion with the Israelis on their document yet. We still feel before we start discussing the transitional phase, and our perspective and our vision, which we gave them, on what constitutes an appropriate and legal transitional phase according to the terms of reference, that we do have to solve the two outstanding issues which are jeopardizing the peace process.
The first and most immediate issue is that of the continuing settlement activities in the occupied territories and the de facto annexation and the creation of facts in the region, and the human rights the continuing human rights violations, which are targetting a captive civilian population. These two issues are of crucial importance, and they are liable to indicate or prove whether Israel is genuinely committed to peace or is just in the peace process as a matter of form.
The document that the Israelis presented this afternoon is an insult to anybody’s intelligence. I think anybody who reads it very seriously understands that in a sense, it violates the terms of reference of this process, that it is just an attempt at regulating the occupation, that it does not respond to what was asked of all sides and of both parties to present, and in a sense it is trying to legitimize the occupation. We have detailed responses, we have a detailed analysis which we will present at a later stage. However, nothing can be discussed until we resolve the two outstanding issues which are busy creating facts, undermining the peace process, and rendering it irrelevent and meaningless.
So we have to solve the settlement issue and the human rights violations before we can enter into any discussion of the transitional phase. That’s why I cannot tell you that we’re going to reject or accept. Of course, the document in itsels preposterous, the wastepaper basket.
However, the negotiations themselves will have to proceed along the two lines that I mentioned earlier.
MR. ATTA: Yes, please?
Q (Off mike.)
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, I don’t want to enter into discussions of the paper itself, but let’s say when we say it’s apartheid, for instance, because it tries to legitimize two sets of laws. Military orders continue to be applicable to the Palestinians in the occupied territories, but not to the settlers and the settlments. They have Israeli law. It continues to state that the Israelis have the right to settle, to continue settling, and to settle in the future in Judea, Samaria, and EGazaF. Now the use of this terminology is, of course, unacceptable. It refers to the Palestinians as inhabitants of the territories.
Again, it tries to separate the land from the people, that it applies only to the people and not the land, whatever the agreement are. It is purely administrative, functional, dealing with no issues of substance at all. It is like consolidatineole of the civil administration and the statutes of the civil administration, but plugging in Palestinians in different posts along the hierarchy without any authority. It mentions very clearly that the source of authority is, of course, Israeli, and not Palestinian, which is entirely unacceptable.
At the same time, it has nothing in it which indicates a willingness to withdraw. On the contrary, it says that the authority it doesn’t even call it authority these officials are going to be able to run their internal affairs some of their internal affairs, but at the same time, that they have no authority over the soldiers, the army which is in the region, the settlers who are in the region, and it entirely excludes East Jerusalem, or the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. These are just examples. I cannot go into all the details, but suffice it to say that it negates the purpose of the whole peace process. What it’s trying to say is that this peace process should legitimize the occupation, and frankly speaking, we have, through the Intifada, and through our process of nation building and social transformation, we have managed to take over more responsibility and authority than the Israelis are willing to give us in this document. And we think, again, it is an insult to our intelligence. It would be much better if the Israelis had thought more seriously and responsibly about these issues.
If you examine what’s happening in the occupied territories, you would see that this is even a regression, but it makes the occupation legitimate through the peace process. And in a sense, it is an abuse of this opportunity to make genuine peace.
I told you earlier that we do have our own document, we do have we have presented it on an outline, we do have all the details and a comprehensive plan on a transitional phase that would maintain a Palestinian source of authority and legitimacy that would be entirely democratic and in compliance with international legitimacy, and with the terms of reference of this peace process.
Q But you view it as an opening position? As terrible as it is, it’s still an opening position?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, we’ll discuss it later. We are not willing to start negotiating neither here nor in the negotiating room until the issue of settlements and human rights is resolved.
MR. ATTA: Yes, please?
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) What do you mean, resolved? I mean, are you saying that you won’t sit down, negotiate until Israel withdraws? Are you saying until Israel stops new settlements? What do you mean?
MS. ASHRAWI: No, we are actually the purpose of the negotiations is to make Israel withdraw from the occupied territories within the next five years, along two bases along two phases. So we’re not saying that Israel has to withdraw a priori, although if we are to be in compliance with international legitimacy, then UN Security Council resolutions do call for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories. But we are negotiating precisely how to go through a transitional phase in order to prepare for Israeli withdrawal and transfer of authority.
I think we are in negotiations, we have been negotiating. Israel has refused to negotiate issues of substance. But negotiations cannot proceed on a transitional phase when the land which is supposed to be negotiated on, the area and the people who are supposed to negotiate this transfer of authority are not defined, and when the land is being taken away daily.
If you want to negotiate on the basis of land for peace, you really have to restore the land to its rightful owners. Otherwise, you cannot have peace. If you confiscate all the land, there will be nothing to negotiate about. And also, there is no way in which Israel can continue to exploit its position as occupier in order to exert pressure and coercion on the negotiating delegation and to try to manipulate our public opinion and the human condition in the occupied territory.
Any country in the world is held responsible for its human rights violations. Israel has not been held accountable for the human rights systematic and deliberate human rights violations of the Palestinian people. And this is much more sinister because it is happening within the peace process. While we are negotiating with Israel, it is escalating these violations.
So, all we’re asking is that there is accountability for Israel, there is international law applicable to this region, that we are not in a jungle or in chaos. And I think that
Q I’m still quite confused about what if I were Israel, I’m not sure I would know what you are asking. If you
MS. ASHRAWI: Very clearly, we are
Q (Off mike) Palestinians in that room this afternoon will not talk substance with Israel until Israel what, withdraws from the settlements, or
MS. AHSRAWI: No. You’re rephrasing my answer. Let me tell you. We are discussing substance from the beginning. The real substance of the peace process is land, the settlements. So, unless Israel is willing to stop settlement activities, we cannot proceed to any other agenda items. Settlements are on the agenda. Human rights violations are on the agenda. So we cannot skip over these two stages and start discussing the transitional phase when the conditions necessary to create an atmosphere conducive to negotiations and peace are not carried out.
MR. ATTA: (Name inaudible.)
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible.) A couple of questions, Dr. Ashrawi. First of all, can you bring us up to date with the issue of the two detainees who have been put behind bars who are supposed to be administrative assistants in the delegation?
And the second thing, if I’m correct, I listened to the Israeli briefing yesterday, or last night, and he wants to take this self-rule thing, or self-government, piece by piece and discuss it separately from the whole package of proposal (inaudible) proposal for self-government. And is this a way that they want to exhaust your patience to try to possibly give up on the possibility of arriving at any peace agreement with the Israelis? What’s the philosophy behind discussing the self-rule or self-government piece by piece by the Israelis with you?
MS. ASHRAWI: First of all, both Mohammed Horani and Jamal Ash-Shobaki, who are not just administrative personnel, who were supposed to come with us in January to the Washington the last Washington round of negotiations, were placed under administrative detention, which is detention without charges and without trial, without accusation. Administrative detention is an automatic placing of a person under detention for six months or one year without trial, without charges, in one of the military detention camps, and they are right now being under detention.
We have asked that if they have any evidence these people, these two members of our delegation should be tried, that they should present evidence if they have any. Clearly, they don’t, and this is one way, in a sense, of exercising coercion and pressure on the Palestinian delegation. We are still asking for their release. We have asked that lawyers be allowed to see them. We have asked that the Red Cross be allowed to see them.
As you know, detainees are prevented from seeing their lawyers the first 18 days of detention, and the Red Cross is prevented from seeing detainees the first 14 days of interrogation. So, within that period they are totally at the mercy of the authorities. We are still working to get them released. The US is interested in their case as well, and all sorts of international human rights organizations. We do not give them special status as individuals because, as you know, there are 13,000 administrative detainees, but the fact is this is one way in which Israel is particularly trying to send a message to us that we can control and dominate negotiations through the use of coercion against the delegation itself.
As far as the Israelis trying to exhaust our patience, if we were impatient, we would have withdrawn a long time ago. We have been very, very patient. We have seen many different tricks, very inventive and creative tricks of wasting time and buying time and preventing progress, but we are determined to pursue the peace process and to challenge them and to see how far they can go without presenting anything concrete or without achieving any accomplishment or progress on substance. We are in the peace process, regardless of the method of discussion; we have our own strategy, we have our own proposals. The Israelis, as I said, have been very slippery and very mercurial, but we will pursue them with the challenge of peace as long as it takes, until we feel that the price of peace has become too exhorbitant.
Q Hanan (name and affiliation inaudible). You’ve been stressing the issue of the settlements and other members of the delegation that I’ve been talking with. Now, I have I was under the impression that some members of the delegation believe that settlements will be halted only if the United States denies Israel the guarantees, long guarantees, that is. Now, it is becoming clear that even if the United States denies the guarantees to Israel, settlements will continue.
What are you planning? Do you accept that thesis, first of all, and if not, what do you plan how do you plan to deal with the continuation of the settlements even though the United States is opposed to it and will deny Israel the guarantees?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, there are three ways in which the settlement activities are being pursued. Number one, the Palestinians are presenting it as a violation of international law and international legitimacy, as a continuing act of aggression against the Palestinian people. Number two, we are presenting the settlements as a violation of the imperatives of this peace process and of the terms of reference of this process process, and therefore they are negating the validity and their own commitment to the peace process. Number three, right now we see in the States that the loan guarantees issue is clearly pointing out to the fact that settlements are in violation of US policy and that the US is not willing to fund illegal acts or to fund acts that violate its own policy. So these are three ways.
If Israel continues to defy all these three ways, then it seems to me that you can’t take any more drastic action but that they will have to take the consequences of their own actions and destroying the peace process, if they’re continuing settlement activities.
Q Doesn’t that Hanan, if I may, does that mean that you really would consider withdrawing from the peace process, and would
MS. ASHRAWI: All options are open. If there is no land to negotiate on, if Israel has annexed, de facto, all the occupied territories, why are we in the peace process to give it legitimacy, to keep up the charade that there is a peace process, while Israel is busy creating facts in a mad scramble since Madrid?
It has settled, it has right, built 60 percent more settlements this year, 1991 last year, the year in which the peace process was launched, than throughout the 22 previous years of occupation.
Q Dr. Hanan (name inaudible). You said that you are going to discuss agenda and venue this afternoon. I understood it has been proposed by the Israelis. What kind of agenda, what kind of venue
MS. ASHRAWI: No, we are not discussing agenda and venue. In the general meeting this morning, there was a discussion of venue. We don’t think venue should become the substance of discussions because we don’t want or negotiations, we don’t want Israel to pull procedurals on us or technicalities again.
There is a way of dealing with venue, and the sponsors have asked us to deal with that particularly by presenting lists of suggested names to the sponsors, and they will look for overlapping sites. So it is a question that can be dealt with a technicality that can be dealt with through the sponsors, through the US, rather than allowing venue to become the substance of negotiations because that certainly is not a substantive issue.
We are willing to consider venues on the basis of the principles we gave before, that at the present venue in Washington we do achieve concrete accomplishments or progress, that any venue will have to have conditions that will allow the Palestinians to participate on par with other delegations, that there will be the services and the security required, and that it will be a neutral venue which would not interfere in the work of the in the negotiations themselves. So it’s not such a major issue that has to become a source of contention, and we think that venue can be dealt with through the sponsors.
As far as agenda is concerned, there are two different agendas. Of course, the overall agenda presented by the cosponsors when we were invited to the peace process was the transfer of authority, was the interim self-government arrangements and authority as a transitional phase, which should be the negotiations should terminate within one year; the transitional phase should not last more than five years; at the beginning of the third year we will start negotiations on permanent status. We are still within this timeframe and within the same terms of reference, but we do not want to have the agenda again become an issue.
MR. NASSER ATTA: Yes, please?
Q Syd Volen (ph), UPI. This may sound like an obvious question, but why do you suppose Israel is trying to derail the peace talks, and if so, why are they wasting so much time, energy, money, and thought being here in the first place?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, I think there are many ways to present your own analysis and conclusions why Israel is trying to derail the peace talks. First of all, it is an occupying authority, and it is using the time in order to change the status of the occupied territories and of the people there. It is busy acquiring more land and resources. It has occupied 65 it has annexed 65 percent of the West Bank alone and 40 percent of Gaza 45 percent of Gaza, which is the most congested area in the world. It has prevented us from using 78 percent of our water, again. So all these are facts which undermine the peace process.
So Israel wants to create the semblance of being part of the peace process, the appearance, because it doesn’t want to pay the price of not joining the peace process and doesn’t want to be perceived as a belligerent country that is not committed to peace, while at the same time, its actions are belying the appearance that it is part of the peace process.
Q Just one moment, please. If the currency of that price is appearing not to want peace, what will they lose?
MS. ASHRAWI: I think you can use your own judgment on that.
MODERATOR: Yes, please, the last question.
Q (Name inaudible). Do you expect in light of all what you said of the gaps in positions and all the difficulties that are still here, the American administration to play a more substantial role in the negotiations, to intervene, to try even maybe to impose compromises on the parties so we could achieve something ultimately?
MS. ASHRAWI: I don’t know if anything can be imposed on the parties, but I think the role of the cosponsors continues to be a role of a driving force and a constructive role to try to intervene in cases of dead ends or impasses and to try to find, as they said, bridging ideas. However, when the chasm and the gap are so wide it’s going to be very hard to find the bridge of the right proportions. But I think that there has to be, as we said, a self generating momentum in the negotiations, not just attempts at scoring points, and a real willingness to address genuine issues. And we will be presenting the Israelis, as soon as we finish with the first two items, will be presenting them with an even more detailed proposal that is workable and that is practical and democratic and concrete that probably will be convincing to them. I still think that the sponsors have a responsibility to ensure that there are no attempts at prolongation or wasting time and that we will address substantive issues soon.
Q Are you ready to prolong the talk, I mean up through the it was mentioned that the talks might be prolonged after the fourth.
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, you can waste many days and accomplish nothing or you can use time in order to accomplish a great deal. If we feel that we have achieved substantive progress, then we are quite willing to stay in order to pursue it. We do not put a time limit on peace. If these are fruitful negotiations and we are actually engaging and getting somewhere, then we are willing to stay as long as it takes, and I have said this before and we are committed to it. But if we find out that this is just a waste of time and another exercise in futility and posturing, then we
MODERATOR: Okay, thank you very much.