U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice discussed the achievements of her day in Jerusalem with her travelling press corps on Sunday. (It was earlier announced that Israel would remove about 50 roadblocks in the West Bank –) out of over 500:
“QUESTION: There is nothing in the statement about removal of any checkpoints in – particularly around Jericho. There is reference to the roadblocks but not to specific checkpoints. One, can you explain what roadblocks means? Is it meaning sort of dirt mound (inaudible) people? And second, did you want to get a commitment on moving specific checkpoints, including those in Jericho?
SECRETARY RICE: I think we’ve gotten, or the two parties have agreed to, a set of steps that constitute a very good start to improving movement and access, improving potential economic prospects for Palestinians, and to gaining some momentum on the track that has to do with on-the-ground. Let me just explain, though, that the whole point here is not to try and isolate and say we remove that or remove that. The whole point here is to have an integrated approach that looks at the security, looks at the movement and access issues, and looks at the potential for economic prospects, and then comes up with concrete steps that can move all three together in an integrated fashion. So that’s the idea, to be very concrete about an area like Jenin and what needs to be done. They’ll look at other areas in turn. But this is a more integrated approach and a more concrete approach, and I think it’s a very good stand.
QUESTION: Are there more — are there specifics on which 50 —
SECRETARY RICE: General Fraser will be following up on the specifics and will be also — the term that he uses is not verifying, but making certain that, in fact, there are 50 and that they are being removed and that they, in fact, have some impact on the access issue.
QUESTION: Can you give a sense whether those 50 — and you use the term — roadblocks, what you mean by that? Do you mean things as simple as, you know, dirt barriers, or do you mean actual checkpoints where people stop (inaudible)?
SECRETARY RICE: I think that the specific of this are — have been worked out by the Ministry of Defense. They will — we will be verifying what it is they’re doing. But this is all aimed at trying to improve the movement and access for the Palestinian people.
QUESTION: Well, Israel has promised to remove roadblocks in the past and, in fact, the number of roadblocks has increased since Annapolis.
SECRETARY RICE: That’s right. That’s why I said we’ll be monitoring and verifying.
QUESTION: Well, you’ve been trying to monitor and verify for two and a half years now.
SECRETARY RICE: No, well, but this is a very specific commitment. And no, we actually haven’t been monitoring and verifying for the last two and a half years. We’ve been monitoring and verifying since Annapolis…One of the reasons for the agreement that we have here is that, in fact, we want to be much more systematic about what is being promised and what is being done than I think we have been able to be prior to the — to General Fraser’s mission. So I think it’s a very much more systematic approach.
QUESTION: Is there a timeline for removing the roadblocks?
SECRETARY RICE: We’ve been told that this is going to start and hopefully even be completed in a relatively short period of time. I’m not going to try to give you a date, but I’m expecting — I’m expecting it to happen very, very soon.
I think one step that was very good here was the meeting of Salam Fayyad and Barak, face-to-face, I guess Wednesday night, which really, after the work that General Jones and Fraser and Dayton have done here, is trying to take a somewhat different approach to this problem: rather than just saying remove this or remove that, let’s talk about what effect it will really have. One of the interesting discussions that we had in the trilateral, without getting into too many specifics, was to look at what kind of removal of certain obstacles might really have an effect on people trying to get from Point A to Point B, rather than just saying remove something. What’s really going to be the effect? What effect would that have on the economic life in that corridor? What effect will that have on the ability of an investor to go ahead, as Tony Blair is trying to get people to do, to put a project there? Does it have the security arrangements that would make it an attractive place for an investor? Does it have the access that will allow workers to get back and forth? That’s the kind of integrated approach that I think the two of them are trying to pursue now. And I think you’ll see more of this kind of approach and the sorts of things that you see here, but increasingly tied to specific areas to integrate the security, the movement issues and the economic issues.
I have a lot of experience now with movement and access issues, going back to the end of 2005, and I — I’ve become convinced of two things. The first is that you don’t get really good movement on movement and access unless you have a political prospect, which is why this is attached to another track of Annapolis, which is the political — the process, the prospect of statehood, if you will. And secondly, that you don’t get very far by kind of generalized requests that things be moved. You need to be pretty specific in a way that harmonizes security interests, movement issues and economic interests. And I think if you — I’ve talked to Tony Blair about this. One of the issues that he’s had in trying to move forward some of the projects is investors or others who say, well, you know, how are we going to get the movement issues assessed here or how are we going to deal with the security requirements here. And so this is a package and that’s why it looks the way that it does.
The reason that we talk about subject to the Roadmap in terms of the implementation of the peace agreement is that it’s very hard to imagine the establishment of a state in which you haven’t been able to meet those conditions. But I don’t expect anyone to wait on the movement of the Roadmap obligations, to sort of wait for an agreement and then say, oh, the Roadmap obligations haven’t been met. The whole purpose is to move these along together.
…access and movement is difficult because it does have real security implications and it has real quality of life and economic implications for the Palestinians, security implications for the Israelis and the Palestinians, and ease of life and economic activity for the Palestinians. And I frankly think that one of the problems with the November agreement of 2005, if you remember, it came as we were working or had done the Gaza disengagement, but we were not — they were not yet in a position to really have the launch of a serious set of political negotiations that had the prospect of statehood. And it becomes a little bit chicken-and-egg. There’s certain things that people are more willing to contemplate as it really does appear that statehood is possible. There are greater incentives to do things, I think, in terms of the restructuring of security forces and the training of them and the responsibilities they undertake. When I said — now it must have been more than a year ago that a political horizon was essential to making progress on the ground, I think that was the — that was important.
And in order to get there, we had to think about how to keep the discipline of the Roadmap without the constraint of the phases of the Roadmap, which is really what the Annapolis process did. If you remember, the Roadmap had anticipated it should finish all of the phases — all of phase one of the Roadmap, maybe some of phase two, and then you would go to phase three, which was the negotiations on final status. And with some ups and downs, what Annapolis did was really to put these not in sequence but in parallel. And I think that has helped, but now making sure that the movement and access issues are really aimed at the right thing, that the obligations and promises that are made are really aimed at having effect on the ground and that we have a really systematic way to know what’s happening on the ground.
One thing that we’ve done, the United States has done, is we have improved the ability of our monitor, our head of our committee, to move around himself and to see things personally. And I think that’s been important.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, during your talks with the Israelis, did you raise the question of the settlements? They said recently that they were going to keep building new settlements.
SECRETARY RICE: It’s very clear, and of course, I’ve raised this issue, that Israel has a Roadmap obligation here that is essential. And what’s very important is that the reason that obligation is there is that there cannot be anything that prejudges a final status agreement. And that’s why people concern themselves with this particular obligation. And yes, we’ve talked about it.
QUESTION: It seems that before Annapolis there was the talk of an agreement within a year, a final status agreement. And then in the last couple of months, we’ve kind of moved backwards and we’re talking about a framework agreement, a declaration of principles, and both — Prime Minister Olmert has said it’ll be impossible to implement an agreement by the end of the year. And now —
SECRETARY RICE: Well, now, just a second. You just used a different verb.
SECRETARY RICE: Okay. To implement an agreement by the end of the year? We said that there — that we would hope that there would be an agreement by the end of the year. As the President said recently, there’s still plenty of time to do that. It obviously will take some time, if you just look at all the things that will have to be done in order to implement an agreement, I think nobody is expecting that you can fully implement an agreement by the end of the year.
QUESTION: But if I understand that, if I’m not mistaken, now they’re not even talking about a detailed agreement. They’re talking about some sort of —
SECRETARY RICE: I don’t think that’s accurate.
QUESTION: You don’t think that’s accurate. So you don’t have a sense that you’re moving backwards at all or that —
SECRETARY RICE: Quite the opposite. But the reason that this is somewhat difficult for everybody is that the parties have really been faithful to their agreement not to talk about what they’re talking about. And there’s great discipline on both sides in that regard.
I would like anyone to show me how you actually establish a state without having met most of the obligations or the obligations that are in the first phase of the Roadmap. So they go together. But what we had to break through is the idea that this was all sequential…But we’ve — by breaking that sequentiality, we don’t mean to imply that the Roadmap obligations are not important to fulfill.
Settlements have come up in my conversations.