June 18, 2005 Print This | Email This     

Rice Says Israeli-Palestinian Coordination Key to Gaza Disengagement

Successful Israeli disengagement seen as "foundation" for future efforts

Peaceful Israeli disengagement from Gaza could provide a "foundation" for future steps toward Middle East peace, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters June 17.

In a June 17 airborne press briefing as she traveled to begin meetings June 18 with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Rice said she would focus on coordination between the two sides leading up to the planned evacuation in August by Israel of 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank. "Our goal has been to make sure that they're doing their planning together, in a way that everybody knows what their responsibilities will be at that time," Rice said.

Rice said to be successful, the Israeli withdrawal must be peaceful and leave, in its aftermath, a situation where the Palestinians are able "to establish authority and to begin to govern, where there is some hope for the Palestinian people in terms of economic development, where the Palestinian institutions are left in better shape after the Gaza withdrawal and therefore begin to built the institutions of statehood, that the successful conclusion of both conditions will lead to greater confidence between the parties, greater trust between the parties and, I believe, an accelerated progress on the roadmap" for Middle East peace."

Leading to the August disengagement, Rice said Palestinian leaders have made progress in the unification of security forces "into a manageable number of forces that can be trained and can act professionally.

But, Rice added, "more could be done" by the Palestinians "in terms of their ability to fight terror and what they do on a day-to-day basis. Rice said previous discussions have dealt with the issues of fugitives in some areas "so that the turnover of cities can continue. We've talked about the need not to allow arrests to become revolving door arrests. And those are all extremely important steps that the Palestinians need to take."

Among the many issues to be discussed during the meetings is the amount of equipment the Palestinian security forces will need after the Israeli disengagement, Rice said. U.S. Army Lieutenant General William Ward, who is assisting the Palestinian Authority on security, is "very close" to an assessment of the Palestinian security equipment needs, Rice said. "We will work at all levels with the Israeli government to make sure the Palestinians have what they need in order to carry out the functions that they will have," the secretary told reporters.

Assessing the security equipment needs of the Palestinians has not been easy, Rice said, because of "an extremely decentralized, particularistic, individualistic set of security forces that had to be brought together under an interior minister."

Rice said there were many steps on the roadmap -- the plan for Middle East peace put forward by the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and the Russian Federation -- following the Gaza withdrawal. Rice said the United States would be looking to move forward on the roadmap but the parties now must concentrate on the withdrawal. "I can't tell you how much I think this region has been bedeviled by a tendency to look so far ahead and not to concentrate on what's right before you and to build a foundation that then can move you ahead."

The transcript of Rice's press briefing follows:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesman
(Shannon, Ireland)
June 17, 2005

Press Briefing By Secretary Of State Condoleezza Rice
To The Traveling Press

En Route To Shannon, Ireland
June 17, 2005


SECRETARY RICE: Welcome aboard. I just want to talk a little bit about the first stop on our trip, which is to go to the Palestinian territories and then also to meet with the members of the Israeli government. And the principal reason for this trip, you'll remember that the President said that he wanted me to come out before the disengagement and so this is an opportunity to see how the process of coordination is going between the parties as they get ready for the disengagement and how we are supporting that process, through what Jim Wolfensohn is doing and through what General Ward is doing. And I expect this really to be principally about that issue.

I had a phone call this morning before I left with some members of the Quartet so that we were all on the same page about what we're going to be doing. And I think we're also planning to meet in London afterwards. So this is a pretty intensive period of just trying to help the parties get ready for the disengagement.

QUESTION: One of the big issues in the Gaza disengagement is balancing Israel's need for security with the Palestinian need for access. And are you planning to ask both sides to agree to a series of benchmarks or milestones so progress on issues such as the crossing points in Gaza can be, you know, measured and monitored?

SECRETARY RICE: I don't expect to ask them to put together a set of benchmarks. But I do expect to have discussions that will help me to clarify and hopefully will help the parties to clarify how they can move forward on each of these issues.

There's actually a quite long list of issues that they have to deal with. And I think they're actually working through them themselves, so I'm not here to try to negotiate settlement of the issues between them. But Jim Wolfensohn has had a couple of trilateral meetings. I think he will have further trilateral meetings to try and see if the parties can understand better each other's concerns about everything from, as you said, access issues to security issues on the day that the disengagement begins, to issues concerning the disposition of assets after the Israelis leave. But I don't expect myself to do that.

I do expect to hear from the two sides how they think they're coming on that, and to help Jim and General Ward figure out how they can engage.

QUESTION: Maybe specifically, are you going to ask Abu Mazen to try to prevent Hamas from -- to keep amassing arms, which they seem to be doing in this period?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm certainly going to talk with President Abbas about the need to provide for the Palestinians to play a critical role in providing a secure environment in which the Gaza disengagement can take place. And obviously that means that the calm that he has discussed with the various Palestinian factions is going to have to hold. And, yes, I think we have to be concerned about the amassing of arms. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yes, Madame Secretary, when the President spoke about your mission, part of it we understood was to convince the Palestinians that there was also an apr├Ęs Gaza, there was an after Gaza process there. Will you be discussing that with them and where are you going to start after Gaza?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first we're going to get through Gaza successfully. Because the real point about Gaza is not to stop with Gaza. The President has been clear, we've been clear with the Israelis that it cannot be Gaza only; there has to be a day after the successful withdrawal from the Gaza.

But as the President has said, without a successful withdrawal from the Gaza -- and I mean one that's peaceful, where the Palestinians are able afterwards to establish authority and to begin to govern, where there is some hope for the Palestinian people in terms of economic development, where the Palestinian institutions are left in better shape after the Gaza withdrawal and therefore begin to build the institutions of statehood that the successful conclusion of both conditions will lead to greater confidence between the parties, greater trust between the parties and, I believe, an ability to accelerate progress on the roadmap. That's why we really have to stay focused on the Gaza withdrawal.

Now, the roadmap is a guide to the two-state solution. There are lots of steps and obligations that the parties will have that don't relate to just Gaza withdrawal. And I think what we'll be looking to do is to move forward on the roadmap. But I do not want to get the discussions distracted about what happens after the Gaza withdrawal because it's really -- I can't tell you how much I think this region has been bedeviled by a tendency to look so far ahead and not to concentrate on what's right before you and to build a foundation that then can move you ahead. And I think we just have to be determined not to have that happen this time.

QUESTION: Just following on the expectations on the security front from the Palestinians, Prime Minister Sharon is critical in saying that they have not arrested people, they have not taken control of the areas that Israel has already withdrawn from. General Ward has been quoted as saying that progress is being made. Can you be very specific about what expectations are and what you hear or what you are being told about whether the Palestinians are meeting them?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, we'll certainly have a better idea about that after I've had fuller discussions with a wide range of officials on both sides. But I do think progress is being made. Progress is being made in terms of the unification of the security forces. Progress is being made in terms of the Palestinians' apparent determination to streamline their security forces into a manageable number of forces that can then be trained and can act professionally. And I think they are making progress on that.

In terms of their ability to fight terror and what they do on a day-to-day basis, frankly I do think more could be done, and we've talked about the need to deal with the fugitive issue in some of the cities so that the turnover of cities can continue. We've talked about the need not to allow arrests to become revolving door arrests. And those are all extremely important steps that the Palestinians need to take.

General Ward will have very soon, I think, a pretty clear plan for exactly what needs to be done in terms of equipping of the Palestinians. It has not been all that easy, frankly, to do a kind of audit of what the Palestinians need, because the security services have been so scattered and particularistic. Now that it's become a more unified force, I think he thinks he's getting a better handle on that, including the question of what kind of equipment they need.

QUESTION: Thanks, Madame Secretary. I wanted to follow on that, because apparently the Israelis have been very resistant to allowing the Palestinians to get weapons, trucks. And how can one expect that they're going to be able to maintain the peace after disengagement if you can't get an assurance that they will be able to get this equipment? Are you confident now? And can you tell us something about the meetings that General Ward has been having? Is he going to be able to convince the Israelis to allow this equipment to come in, and where will it come from? Thanks.

SECRETARY RICE: I don't think there will be any shortage of people willing to donate equipment to the Palestinians -- sorry, to provide equipment to the Palestinians. The question that General Ward first had to answer was what do they need. And it has actually not been that easy to establish that because this has really not been one security force. We really have to recognize the degree to which this was an extremely decentralized, particularistic, individualistic set of security forces that had to be brought together under an Interior Minister. And really the Defense Minister and Interior Minister have to be answered to by these people.

I think General Ward is getting very close to an assessment of what is actually needed. And at that point, we will work at all levels with the Israeli government to make sure that the Palestinians have what they need in order to carry out the functions that they will have.

QUESTION: Thank you. You mentioned the day of the disengagement or the day it begins. What are your concerns about that day and what would you like to see each side do ahead of that time to satisfy your concerns?

SECRETARY RICE: I think everybody would like to see it be peaceful and orderly. And, you know, this is going to be very difficult. What they're doing is moving thousands of people with their effects and families, and it's going to be complicated. And I know that the Israelis have done a lot of planning, I know that the Palestinians have done a lot of planning. Our goal has been to make sure that they're doing their planning together, in a way that everybody knows what their responsibilities will be at that time.

But I think -- and, obviously, it should be peaceful and orderly so that when the Israelis leave, or as the Israelis leave, the Palestinians will be able to fill back behind them in a way that shows that they have the institutions and the capability to actually govern. I think at that point, you then have yet another element of confidence as you try to move forward on the roadmap.

There is clearly a lot of planning being done, on the Israeli side, on the Palestinian side. What we've been concerned about is making sure that everybody knows everybody's plans, and it goes to Glenn's first question that there is also a clear picture of expectations about the key six or seven issues that are there, about assets, about freedom of movement and the like. So there needs to be clarity between the two sides about what to expect. That, I think, will lead to less confusion in what is likely to be, under the best of circumstances, a pretty complicated date, set of dates.

QUESTION: While the focus is clearly going to be on Gaza, will you engage the Israelis on the settlement issue east of Jerusalem? Because the back and forth, Sharon reiterated his intention to build those 3,500 homes?

SECRETARY RICE: I will certainly say to the Israelis what we've continued to say to the Israelis, which is that the United States has very clear policy on this. They also have very clear obligations under the roadmap. And we don't intend to give -- we don't intend that the Israelis try to create facts on the ground. They simply cannot engage in activities that are supposed to somehow prejudge a final status outcome.

The President said to Prime Minister Sharon when he was there in April of last year that there are certain facts that -- certain realities that have been created since 1967 that will have to be taken account of at the time of negotiation. But it will still have to be a negotiation and any changes are going to have to be mutually agreed, and I will make those points clear again to the Israelis.

QUESTION: A broader question. Have you talked to the Israelis or engaged their views on the larger goal here for the U.S. of spreading democracy and reform in the Arab world? After all, a lot of Israelis look back to 1979 and see that they had a good ally with the Shah of Iran who was pressured out by the United States talking about human rights, replaced with a regime that is perhaps the biggest problem for them. And a lot of Israelis have said they're best off dealing with reliable dictators.

SECRETARY RICE: I just don't think that the course of events supports that argument. While it is true that -- that Israel has made a peace of sorts with its neighbors, in many examples and in many cases I think it's been a colder peace than people would have liked to have seen. And in the case of the Palestinians, I think, you know, couldn't get there with Yasser Arafat. I think that was clearly a lack of accountability to the Palestinian people that was the root cause there.

I do believe that as the Middle East democratizes and Israel is not, in effect, the only democracy in the region -- although Iraq is now on its way there -- that the Israelis will be in an environment in which governments would have to be accountable to their people. And I simply don't believe that governments that are accountable to their people are going to countenance or look the other way while people within their countries plan for the day when Israel is no more, or send their children off to be suicide bombers, or engage in the kind of activities that we saw on September 11th. And I believe that the President believes that it is a freedom deficit in the Arab world that leads to that kind of hatred. The continued absence of freedom is a threat to Israel too. And when you talk to the Israelis, I think that many of them recognize that.

The strategic goal -- goals of peace and stability in the region have not been realized in the absence of democracy and freedom. So it's time we tried democracy and freedom and see if we can't get there through that course.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)