THE GRAND HOTEL, WASHINGTON, DC 1:35 P.M. (EST) WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 15, 1992
STAFF: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We will have our third press briefing. Dr. Hanan Mikhail-Ashrawi, the official spokesperson of the Palestinian delegation, will be very happy to answer your questions after her statement. Our briefing will be immediately followed by the Jordanian briefing, and I think also the Syrian briefing. So, thank you very much.
MS. ASHRAWI: Thank you. We do have two press releases today. I don’t know if you have seen them. Press release press statement number three, which talks about "Palestinians present model for transitional self-government. Israelis jeopardize talks by continued illegal settlement." And then we have a special press statement on the settler outposts that says, "Five new settler outposts erected in Israeli race against peace."
These are the two press statements. They are available. We also have the daily status reports on human rights violations. This status report we will submit to the Israelis during the afternoon negotiating session. I will just give you a brief summary of what happened in the session yesterday afternoon and all the developments this morning, and then I’ll be glad to answer any questions.
Yesterday afternoon, we went to the negotiating session with the Israelis on the Palestinian-Israeli track. We presented the Israelis with four new documents. One was the daily report on human rights violations by Israel in the occupied territories. The other is a statement on settlements that explains exactly how settlements are pertinent to this process. And they form the real core of the substance of the process and the basis of the legal terms of reference for the peace process and negotiations. The third was a revised and expanded agenda. And the fourth was an outline model of the Palestinian interim self-government or interim self-governing arrangements, which is the Palestinian vision or view of how the transitional phase should look like and on what basis this transitional phase will proceed, as a basis for negotiations in this round.
The Israelis, unfortunately, did not have a ready agenda, nor did they have a model or a proposal on the transitional phase, although we had heard quite often from the press or through reports that they do have a model that they wish to present. So far, it has not been presented, and we certainly would like to see it. Nor have they provided us with an agenda pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli track as they see it. Therefore, there couldn’t be any discussion of the two agendas.
The discussions started yesterday immediately on the first item on the Palestinian agenda, following the reading, of course, the day before on the Palestinian position of principle. That document was presented the day before yesterday, which was also on our agenda. But the first item on our agenda after that was the settlement activity as preparing the proper conditions for negotiations on the interim self-government.
The Israelis rejected all our positions and all our proposals. They maintain that the land is theirs and they have the right to establish settlements. They refused discussion on the pertinence of the settlement process or the settlements to the whole peace process and to the negotiations and to the interim self-government arrangements. It was indicated to them clearly that we were not here to discuss ideologies or absolutist positions, but to discuss negotiations negotiating points that would prepare the grounds and that would be conducive for a genuine negotiating process on real substantive issues in order to start implementing the transitional phase.
That’s why yesterday we said that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations had a headon collision and were on a headon collision course. We were unable to achieve anything. And we were informed that this was the official Israeli government position, that they refused to cease settlement activity and they will continue settlement activity even though these violate the terms of reference, the letter of invitation, the letter of assurances, international law, as well as all UN Security Council resolutions pertinent to settlements. There was an outright rejection of cessation of settlement activity.
This morning, there was a meeting with the head of Palestinian negotiating delegation between Secretary Baker and I’m sorry, a meeting between Secretary Baker and the head of our negotiating delegation, Dr. Abdul Shafi, in which there was a quick review of where negotiations have arrived at, what the progress or lack of it was, and also a reiteration of the American commitment and position vis-a-vis the peace process and the fact that the American administration is seriously committed to ensuring progress in the negotiations. There was also later on during the day a meeting of the three heads of delegations, and it was agreed that there will be a general meeting at 4:00 this afternoon to discuss venue and timing, and a meeting of the Palestinian and Israeli delegations this afternoon at 4:15 or 4:30 in order to continue negotiations. We also had a meeting at 10:00 in the morning with State Department officials in which we discussed the multilaterals, and also the course of developments and progress in the bilaterals at this phase.
We just wish to state that settlement violence is escalating, that the establishment of five settlements overnight, or settlement outposts, is another grave violation which places the peace process in jeopardy. We would like to state that the Israelis have informed us that they are leaving finally, after they’ve informed everybody else. We feel that such unilateral decisions also should not be allowed. The duration of any negotiating session should be left to mutual agreement, and it is we are extremely dismayed at the fact that, whenever we finally pin down the Israelis to serious negotiations and we overcome procedural obstacles, they decide to take off and go back.
We cannot keep pursuing them with peace. We hope that they will stay put somewhere long enough so that we can really engage on issues of substance. We would like to negotiate with them on our model of the interim self-governing arrangements and authority. We remain committed to the peace process. We will continue to pursue the peace process, but we will continue to challenge Israeli violations of the imperatives of the peace process of international law and Israeli attempts at procrastination and buying time without getting into serious substance. I would be glad to answer any questions you may have.
Q (Name and affiliation inaudible) Dr. Ashrawi, this meeting you agreed to last night and this morning meetings with Secretary Baker and the talks that you held this morning you see any change? You are smiling much more than last night. Is that an indication that possibly there is some movement, or the Israelis are leaving tonight?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, I’m smiling because I’m good-natured. (Laughter.) I’m a pleasant person. It’s very hard for me to look grim for a long time.
The situation, no, has not eased. We haven’t had a breakthrough. We thought we had a breakthrough when we started when we entered the negotiating process in hope that the Israelis would negotiate with us on substantive issues. This did not happen. They are still preventing serious negotiations. They haven’t yet submitted any document to the Palestinians, let alone an agenda, so that we can study it and start negotiations on the transitional phase. The discussions with the Americans centered on several issues. We did not have a breakthrough with the Americans, except the fact as co-sponsors they again emphasized their commitment and Secretary Baker’s and President Bush’s commitment to insuring success the success of the peace process and their willingness to play an effective role on issues of substance.
Q Jim Anderson, DPA. As it now stands, will your delegation go to the multilateral talks in Moscow?
MS. ASHRAWI: This is still an issue under discussion. It hasn’t been resolved. It is up to our political leadership to take the decision on the multilaterals. We have been seeing this time and time again that the multilaterals deal with regional issues, they deal with issues of permanent status, they deal with the concerns of Palestinians outside the occupied territories and, therefore, the terms that pertain to Palestinian participation in the bilaterals should not be superimposed and should not be transferred to the multilaterals. This is precisely one issue we are discussing.
The whole idea of Israeli preconditions that were adopted by the bilateral negotiations should not be adopted by the multilaterals because certainly the rest of the world should not abide by Israeli preconditions.
Q On the same question, did you receive any formal invitation, or anybody in Jerusalem for that matter, to go to the multilateral and did you reject that? And my second question, on the meeting at the State Department with Mr. Djerejian or whoever, you said did not reach any breakthrough. What did you ask in particular? Did you ask for something and reach a deadlock with them, too?
MS. ASHRAWI: Okay. The first question had to do with I’m sorry
Q The invitation.
MS. ASHRAWI: The invitation, yes.
We received the same invitation that everybody else received, an oral message. There was no written invitation. We were told that the same message was relayed to the different participants, different parties all over the world. There was a meeting with some of our colleagues in Jerusalem who told them that there will be people in Washington who will be asked by the leadership to pursue the question of the multilaterals. We had been discussing with the State Department officials some of our serious concerns about the multilaterals and the fact that this is a different ball game and we have to address it any way which would insure genuine Palestinian representation and participation at the broadest level.
We were not negotiating with the Americans and there was no deadlock. We don’t have a deadlock anyway, frankly speaking. We don’t even use the term "deadlock." We said we had a head-on collision, and a collision is something which is more dynamic and explosive than a stale deadlock.
No, we had serious disagreements with the Israelis. We had diametrically opposed positions on the settlements. We feel our position is supported by international legality, by the terms of reference of the process, and even by American policy. Theirs is supported only by unilateral acts and the imposition of their point of view on the rest of the world. As far as the Americans, no. We were still continuing these ongoing discussions on the multilaterals and on other issues pertaining to this current peace process as well.
Q Yes, I’m Rob Armstrong with CBS. Now that the Israelis have announced that they are, in fact, departing, will there be another round of bilateral talks? If so, when and where?
MS. ASHRAWI: There will be a discussion of the three heads at 4:00 this afternoon on the venue and place.
Q Next week? Next year?
MS. ASHRAWI: This hasn’t been decided yet. We do not want procedural and technical issues to become the subject of negotiations. We have repeated this time and time again. We are not here to indulge in an infinite exercise of futility where we meet in order to discuss venue and place for the next meeting, and then we meet the next meeting and we discuss the same thing. You end up never getting into serious, substantive negotiations.
There will be a meeting to discuss venue. We told the Americans that we are perfectly with the US, with Washington, staying where we are, and we would like to stay in order to achieve some concrete results and some serious progress in the bilateral negotiations. We cannot allow the Israelis to keep bolting every time they feel that there is something serious about to be accomplished or something substantive. They cannot keep running away from peace.
But, unfortunately, the Israelis unilaterally have decided to leave, and they informed us of this decision. And since we cannot negotiate on our own we do need partners, after all we will have to agree to ending this round. We will try to maintain Washington as a venue, but, of course, you cannot force your will, and we’re not in the habit of forcing our will on others. We will try to reach agreement on a venue.
Our venue question, if it is not to be Washington, which is our preference, would have to be subject to the same principles that we articulated in Madrid. The fact that we need a neutral venue that would not prejudice or would not be prejudicial to the negotiations, would not exert any influence or pressure, and, at the same time, would offer us the facilities and services and security required for the negotiations. Washington did provide a good venue, and we had hoped that we would continue in Washington. There has been no decision to change Washington on the side of the Palestinians or any party as far as any other Arab side, as far as I know.
But Israel has constantly been asking for a change of venue. We don’t know why they’re unhappy in Washington. We find this place very hospitable and welcome, and we are quite willing to stay as long as it takes. But if there are other concerns, then that will be subject to discussion and to agreement. But one side cannot decide for all other sides.
Q Joseph Albright of the Cox Newspapers. I wonder whether you could tell us in as much detail as you can about your interim model, and also perhaps tell us whether it is consistent with the notion of the formation of a Palestinian government of which some of the ministers would be in exile and others would be sitting in the West Bank or Gaza occupying their positions?
MS. ASHRAWI: No, it is a different ballgame from the idea that was floating around last year and the year before on the provisional government. Is this what you’re referring to? We are not talking about the Palestinian provisional government or government in exile; we are talking here strictly on the basis of the letter of invitation and the spirit and terms of reference for the whole process. We are talking about the Palestinian perception, the Palestinian view, and concepts about the interim self-governing authority or self-government authority.
We discussed the fact that it is based on the terms of reference and it is based on universally-accepted democratic principles. We also explained the purpose of these arrangements of interim self-governmet, which is to ensure the peaceful and orderly transfer of authority from the Israeli occupation authority to a Palestinian self-government as an authority, and to create the proper conditions for negotiations towards permanent status or final phase negotiations.
About the characteristics of this interim self-government arrangements, it’s clear that they are interim. That is, they are not permanent. They are transitional and remaining in force until permanent status agreements are negotiated and arrived at. The fact that this authority covers all Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 and has different areas of jurisdiction, including the land and the people, the natural resources and so on.
We also talked about the de jure applicability of the Fourth Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Hague regulations of 1907 to the occupied territories, and the fact that we are in compliance with all pertinent UN resolutions, particularly 242 and 338, as resolutions that should be strictly observed and implemented by Israel and the self-government, the Palestinian government.
We also said that the authority of this government emanates from the people themselves since it is an elected authority and it has no outside source of authority; purely Palestinian source of authority through elections by the people, and whereby all the powers that are now being exercised by the Israeli military or civil administration will be now invested in this authority will be transferred to the Palestinian authority.
Then there was a review of the three different powers the legislative power, the executive power and the judicial power in the form of an assembly as a structural form, in the form of a legislative assembly, an executive council and a judiciary.
There was a quick review of the steps that are to be followed in establishing the self-government authority, in the form of elections that should take place in all the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, the eligibility of Palestinians for elections, people who are living there, Palestinians who are living there, as well as people who have been deported, as well as prisoners, political prisoners and so on. And these elections have to be supervised by an international body.
We also talked about the transfer of jurisdiction powers and responsibilities, along with the transfer to the authority from the military authorities and the simultaneous withdrawal of the military government and Israeli military government and its civilian administration civil administration.
We talked about withdrawal of the Israeli forces from populated areas in order to ensure free elections before the elections start and to provide the proper grounds and freedom and guarantees for free and democratic elections.
The last item had to do with security arrangements, both internal and external. This remains a general framework and we do have, of course, the detailed proposal, the body of the proposal, which would be the whole content, the whole subject for negotiations. We are quite keen to start negotiations on these issues. We are quite keen to start an elections process, and therefore we have to prepare the grounds for elections by first of all ensuring that the land which we are talking about is not separate from the people, that you cannot apply self-government to a people who are either hovering in space or living in an undefined location. We do have here we have maps of the West Bank and Gaza and Jerusalem, the occupied territories as they are 1990 as they were in 1990, and the projected West Bank and occupied territories in Gaza and East Jerusalem as they will be in 1995 according to Israeli settlement policies and plans. We think that in order to carry out such serious negotiations on issues, you have to prepare the proper conditions.
Q Dr. Ashrawi, are they for (inaudible) settlements who are saying that Israelis say they maintain that the land is theirs. How could they accept the proposals on interim self-government if they maintain that the land is theirs? What was your response to the proposals on self-government?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, we didn’t get to the discussion of the proposal because there was this head-on collision on the land, on the settlements. And maintaining of course, we have to point out to them a very simple and basic fact is that the whole basis of the negotiations, of the whole process as stated in the letter of invitation, is the principle of land for peace and the UN resolutions 242 and 338 that state, that clearly declare the inadmissibility of the acquisition of land by force or through war and that call for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territories and also the terms of reference that state that no one party can carry out unilateral actions which would preempt or prejudge or prejudice the outcome of negotiations and settlement activities certainly do that. In addition to the fact that settlement activities strike at the core of Palestinian rights, whereby we will end up with nothing to negotiate if they take away all the land, and an imposition of Israeli will over the territories which are now, whose fate is being decided, especially in view of international legitimacy and terms of reference.
Q (Name inaudible) with ABC News. There was a report today that your delegation would walk out of the talks if the settlements were not stopped. Can you confirm or deny this and explain it for us?
MS. ASHRAWI: I don’t know where that report came from. I certainly did not say that.
I haven’t seen that, I haven’t heard that. I have not made I personally have not made that statement, we haven’t said we will walk out, there is no decision to boycott the negotiations or to walk out. It is very regretable that Israel is doing everything possible in effect to provoke the Palestinians to walk out, or to prevent any progress in any way, whether on substance or even on technical issues. But we have constantly refused to be placed in a position to respond to Israeli provocations. We are genuinely committed to a peace process and will not allow Israel to play games with the peace process.
The decision to present the settlement activity as a substantive core of all negotiations and as the magic key, the cessation of settlement activity will be the magic key to the success of the negotiations. You cannot advance, you cannot have any progress on any agenda if you do not resolve the settlements issue through immediate cessation.
Q Are you still calling it a precondition to talks?
MS. ASHRAWI: We called it a prerequisite for the success of negotiations and I will repeat that.
Q (Off mike) yesterday you tied the (creation ?) of settlements to the loan guarantees. Today, you said that the US agrees with Palestinians’ stand on the subject.
MS. ASHRAWI: Yes.
Q The US position as far as I know is that they are an obstacle to peace, but they should be placed on the negotiating table. Is that satisfactory to you? Is that what you are agreeing with?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, the settlements this is a basic point of this agreement between us and the US administration because it has been the US position all along that settlements are illegal. It’s only a recent change that they called the settlements an obstacle to peace. We agree that they are an obstacle to peace, but they are also blatantly illegal and they have to stop.
Now we are in agreement on the necessity of ceasing all settlement activity if the peace process is to succeed. The US position has been very clear on that, that they should be placed on the negotiating table. They are the issue of settlements now, is squarely on the negotiating table, part of an agenda that hasn’t been disputed. Now let’s see if there is any will to deal with the settlement activity seriously and within the terms of reference and legality of the whole process. If Israel continues to violate and to defy these terms of reference, then it seems to me that people who established the terms of reference, which are the cosponsors, will have to let Israel know that this is also something that’s unacceptable.
The issue of the loan guarantees is something that cannot be separated from settlements, especially in view of the fact that Israel has allocated 25 percent of its housing budget, of next year’s budget to settlements in the Occupied Territories. This is not only illegal, it is tantamount to de facto annexation of the lands on which the settlements are built. And, as you know, Israel has confiscated 65 percent of our land already.
So all these things have to stop, and we feel very clearly, that we are convinced that financial aid that goes to Israel cannot be used in order to carry on settlement activity illegal settlement activity and human rights violations of the Palestinians, that the US cannot go on funding Israeli the Israeli occupation and violations of the principles that govern this peace process. We feel that foreign aid always has to be in compliance with US policy that the human rights record is a determining factor in the allocation of foreign aid. And, of course, the US has very clearly told Israel that it will not fund settlements. So there will have to be a clear proof that there is no fungibility of funds, that all this foreign aid will not used to enhance or to support Israeli violations.
Q Steve Howard (sp), National Public Radio. Dr. Ashrawi, do you think that the talks may have been doomed from the start because of internal Israeli politics? They are facing the Shamir government is facing an election this year. Do you think, basically, that that has doomed any type of progress?
MS. ASHRAWI: Do I think that they are doomed?
Q Yeah, that this is doomed any progress, until they have their elections.
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, we think that peace talks that the peace process and the negotiations are much too serious an issue to be left at the mercy of internal domestic Israeli politics. They cannot become a bargaining chip in a power game within Israel between extremist right-wing parties. The peace process must be rescued from this game of one-upmanship to the right in Israel, which has shifted all the parameters of discourse to the right, as we said even to a racist policy.
So the peace process must be liberated. Negotiations must have a momentum of their own, and must be carried out, and must be carried through regardless of the government in Israel because this is a policy decision. It should not be subject to the pressures and dictates and political blackmail of one party or the other in Israel.
Q But is there any momentum left now?
MS. ASHRAWI: Well, the Israelis have done their best, certainly, to rob it of any momentum, but we are going to do our best to maintain the peace process.
Q I’m Maury Neil (sp) with Ha’Aretz. If I were a Palestinian in the West Bank welcoming you back from Washington, I would probably tell you something like this is all futile, there’s no use for that, there’s no reason for you to keep conducting these talks. What are you going to say to such people on the West Bank? How are you going to convince them that there is use and that there is a reason for the Palestinian participation in the continuation of the peace talks?
MS. ASHRAWI: We have heard this argument before. We have heard it repeatedly, especially in view of what Israel is doing in the occupied territories. You know that. So, what I’m going to do is suggest that you come and hear me speak to the Palestinian people when we get back, and that would be the surest way of understanding it, because we do have a strategic and principled commitment to peace, and it is not subject to Israeli dictates or Israeli acts of provocation.
Thank you very much.
Q Did the Americans ever say the settlements would stop during the talks in the letter of assurances?
MS. ASHRAWI: I will talk to you about this later.
Q Will there be a later briefing today?
MS. ASHRAWI: There might be, depending on developments, yes.
Q How will you let us know?
MS. ASHRAWI: Through the press (inaudible).