Olmert asks: What happened?

Speaking at a conference at Tel Aviv University today, Israel’s former prime minister Ehud Olmert said that “during his tenure he offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an unprecedented peace offer, based on a return to the 1967 borders and a fair demographic land arrangement which would see heavily Jewish areas in the West Bank remain under Israeli control. ‘I offered a land swap, I offered a solution for Jerusalem, where the Jewish part would remain under Israeli authority and the Arab sections would be given to the jurisdiction of a Palestinian state’ … According to Olmert’s plan, the Holy Basin would be demarcated under the rule of five different states with access available to believers of all religions. The offer was based on the agreements reached at a 2007 summit in Annapolis Maryland, Olmert said, and would be carried out in accordance with the Road Map for peace. Olmert said he and Abbas had reached an interim agreement on the Palestinian right of return, but he never received a final response from the Palestinians on the matter. ‘I found Abbas to be a fair partner, opposed to terror’, said Olmert. ‘What happened? That is the question of all questions, which I would answer if I could. I hope that the State of Israel will put at the top of its agenda the fact that there was a peace proposal offered by a legitimate government… It’s time the international community demand an answer from the Palestinians instead of arguing about a building here and a building there’ … Olmert added that he had ‘reached the conclusion that in choosing between the greater Israel and a Jewish, democratic state, I prefer the latter’, saying he knew it would be necessary to withdraw from much of the land the Palestinians want for a state. Olmert also said he had been ‘hours’ from meeting with the Syrian foreign minister during his tenure, but that the talks were canceled after Israel embarked on its offensive in the Gaza Strip”. here.

Why do people wait so long to say these things?

What would have happened if he had said it loudly, publicly, insistently, repetitiously, at the time?

US Consul in Jerusalem gives rare interview – causes uproar

The US Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles said in an interview with the Palestinian daily paper Al-Ayyam that there has been little observable progress in implementation of Road Map obligations — such as the end to Israeli settlement-building.

But what really caused an uproar was his statement that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice believed that the post-Annapolis direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was — and should be — conducted on the basis of 1967 borders.

This confirms what Israeli sources who follow their government’s settlement activities closely have said in interviews this past week — that there is strong American pressure on Israel concerning certain areas in and around Jerusalem, and to have a solution fast…

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post has reported that “Israel conveyed its displeasure to Washington on Thursday over remarks reportedly made by US Consul General Jacob Walles that it had agreed to start negotiations with the Palestinians over Jerusalem. The comments prompted a bitter row among Kadima’s would-be leaders. According to government sources, Walles’s comments, which appeared in the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, were ‘highly inappropriate’, since there is a US-Palestinian-Israeli agreement not to go public with what is being discussed by the negotiators … Walles said changes to those lines were possible should both sides agree”.

The JPost report added that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a Kadima Party meeting at Kfar Hamaccabiah in Ramat Gan on Thursday night that his government was sticking by its position that Jerusalem should be left until the end of the talks. ‘We have achieved significant progress, but we haven’t started the negotiations on Jerusalem yet’, Olmert told a crowd of several hundred party activists and supporters. ‘We said this issue would be handled last, and that is what we’ll do’ … Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview on Channel 1, said in reference to the Walles comments that ‘what was said was not correct’. [But] She refused to answer when asked whether she thought Israel should control the Arab neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. After the problematic nature of Walles comments became clear – they contradict what Olmert has been saying for months, and also put Livni, the head of Israel’s negotiating team, in an uncomfortable position facing next week’s Kadima primary – State Department spokesman Sean McCormack issued a clarification. ‘The US government has not taken a position on borders’, the McCormack statement read. ‘While the discussions between the parties are confidential, we can state that the parties have not in any way prejudiced long-held views on borders. A senior US official who participated in the discussions denies that the Israeli side, led by chief negotiator Foreign Minister Livni, has been willing to negotiate concerning Jerusalem. The secretary participated in the negotiations in a way that respected the Israeli position’. During his interview, Walles said that although the goal of the Bush administration was to have a working agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis by the time US President George W. Bush leaves office in January, should that deadline fail to be achieved, all progress made up until that point would pass over to the next administration … Walles also said that Israel had made little progress in removing settlement outposts, and had increased settlement construction since the Annapolis conference last November”

This JPost article can be read in full here .

Notes on Rice's visit

Here are some selected remarks from the press conference by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after they met and had lunch together in the Muqata’a in Ramallah on Tuesday:

President Abbas:

1.) “…the situation in Gaza Strip is intolerable, unbearable”.

2.) “Since things have not succeeded so far, it does not mean that we have failed”.

3.) “if we reach an agreement, then it’s very good. If we do not reach an agreement, then we wish for the new administration, that it will continue what we have already started and where we’ve reached today”.

4.) “I would like to say that these efforts that have been exerted were not wasted, were not done in vain. If they – we felt it was done in vain, then we would have stopped. So we feel that we are exerting efforts and that there is – there are benefits inevitably from these efforts. And hopefully, in the future, you will see these results”.

Secretary Rice:

1.) “We’ll continue to press the Israelis about their Roadmap obligations and to work with the Palestinians on their Roadmap obligations as well”.

2.) “I think I’ve made very clear the U.S. position that the settlement activity is not conducive to creating an environment for negotiations, yet negotiations go on..:”

3.) “I would just like it understood that President Bush has been a tireless advocate of the establishment of the institutions, and ultimately, the establishment of the Palestinian state itself. We still have a number of months before us to work toward the Annapolis goal and we’re going to do precisely that. But again, this is not easy. If this had been easy, somebody would have solved it a long time ago. And it has fallen to us to try again to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. God willing and with the goodwill of the parties and the tireless work of the parties, we have a good chance to succeed”.

4.) “What I can tell you is that it is a very serious negotiating process. They are dealing with all issues before them. No issue is off the table. This is the most intensive discussions that have been there at least since Camp David and, in some ways, they’ve employed new mechanisms to deal with these issues that were not even there in 2000. And so this is very, very hard.  I just want to repeat, if there had been an easy solution to the establishment of two states living side by side, it would have been done a long time ago”.

Condi says there's work to do — and she'll keep on pushing

Here are exceprts from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s interaction with reporters on board her airplane en route to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Ramallah on Monday:

“I’m looking forward to what will unfortunately be a brief visit to the – to Israel and to Ramallah to discuss how we continue to push forward in the negotiations, to talk with people about the situation on the ground. General Fraser is with me and he’s going to stay behind to continue to work on some of the issues on the ground. I think at some point perhaps it’ll be a good thing for him to talk a little bit with you about some of the things that have been going on there.

“But obviously, we keep trying to push all of the tracks of Annapolis forward. And the trilaterals that I’ve had have been useful in helping the two sides to find areas of convergence, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do. Undoubtedly, it will not be my last trip here.

“…the way that we’ve been conducting these trilaterals is to help the parties in what has, for the most part to date, been a process that – in which they have not wanted to have public discussion of what they’re doing. They’ve wanted to push forward on these – on sensitive issues and continue to do that. They have an agreement that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. They also have an agreement that they’re not going to go out and talk about what they’re doing in each of the meetings. And so I honor that when we go to the trilaterals, because I think it’s extremely important just to keep making forward progress rather than trying prematurely to come to some set of conclusions.

“We continue to have the same goal, which is to reach agreement by the end of the year; a lot of work ahead to do that, and obviously, it’s a complicated time. But, you know, it’s always complicated out here. And we’ll just continue to do what I’ve done in these trilaterals over the last, I don’t know, four or five that I’ve had

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Foreign Minister Livni spoke to the press last week and she warned against too much international pressure, too much pressure to try to bridge the gaps. And obviously there’s an election coming up in the Kadima party, so are you mindful of that as you head into this trip?

“SECRETARY RICE: The internal politics of Israel are the internal politics of Israel. But I don’t think that anyone has been trying to bring pressure to bridge the gaps. What we’ve been trying to do is to help the parties to see how their own conversations might converge. And we’re going to continue to do that. And I think if you look back, you will have seen – you will have seen comments like that several times before.

“QUESTION: What is your assessment now of where Israel is in terms of respecting its Roadmap commitments and in terms of the quality of the roadblocks that it has removed?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think that – let me start by saying both sides continue to have work to do on the Roadmap. And General Fraser and I have been talking on this trip about the importance of both sides accelerating their progress. I will say that there have been a couple of major – well, let me call – use the word “significant” checkpoints that have been lifted. That’s a good sign. Obviously, there is more that needs to be done. But that’s a good sign. And I think the Jenin project continues to mature. That’s also a good sign. But on both sides, in terms of Palestinian security and judicial reform, and in terms of movement and access, the Israelis and the Palestinians have work to do.

“…we said early on that if there – that calm in Gaza would be a useful thing because it – the Egyptians, who – with whom we worked, have managed to keep what is a very fragile situation at least stable, and that’s certainly a help to any process of trying to move forward on the peace process.

“Ultimately, though, Gaza has to be resolved and it has to be resolved on the basis of the – Abu Mazen’s program for it, which is that legitimate Palestinian Authority institutions have to be reinstated. I think we want to continue to look at what can be done at the crossings for regularization of those ultimately along the lines of the November 2005 agreement. So this is not, I think, a metastable situation, but it’s a situation that for now has seemed to allow at least people to – you know, the levels of violence to stay low, and that’s welcome.

“QUESTION: Do you see Hamas wanting a political role? Do you see Hamas wanting a political role and that’s why it’s calm?

“SECRETARY RICE: I think there are multiple incentives and motivations for the calm that is there. But Abu Mazen himself has laid out how a political “reconciliation” could take place. But obviously, a return to the status quo ante and a number of other steps will have to be taken, including continuing – including accepting the agreements that Palestinians have signed decades ago.

“There’s no doubt that the prisoner exchange is extremely important to – very important to the Palestinians. It’s something that Abu Mazen brings up each time we meet. And I don’t know whether or not it’s taken place, but if, in fact, it does, it would be a very good step. This is something that matters a lot to the Palestinians. It matters a lot to the Palestinian people. And it obviously is a sign of goodwill, particularly because it’s my understanding that some of these are pre-Oslo prisoners, which has been particularly of concern”…

Rice pointedly singles out Israel for the first time for failing to meet one of its Road Map obligations — on settlements

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Muqata’a Presidential Compound in Ramallah at noon on Sunday.

The main message Rice heard from Palestinian officials was a demand, yet again, to put pressure on Israel to stop its settlement activities on occupied Palestinian land.

But this is one argument that seems to have been won in advance – though how much pressure will be put, and how effectively, remains in question.

In her opening statement at the press conference, Rice said, “It’s important to have an atmosphere of trust and confidence…Actions and announcements are having a negative effect.” She did not specify which actions, or which announcements, but from the apparently satisfied reactions of President Abbas and members of his team, it seems she was referring to something Israel had done or said.

No party should be taking steps to pre-judge the outcome of the negotiations, Rice said sternly. She added that the US will not consider such actions or announcements as influencing the final status negotiations between the parties, and that the solution will be achieved on the basis of UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 338.

However, in response to a question from a journalist, Rice indicated that the US would not support a draft resolution being discussed in the UN Security Council about the recent announcements of expansion in Ramat Shlomo and other settlements around Jerusalem. “My strong view,” Rice stated, “is that this is not an issue which will benefit from Security Council action.” She did say that she was concerned, in particular, about those outposts “which are illegal under Israeli law.”

As to what pressure she might put on Israeli officials to stop settlement activities, Rice explained that “the Israeli government is a sovereign government and taking its own decisions, but it is Israel that has a strong interest in building an atmosphere of confidence…and so it is in Israel’s interest to do everything it can to build confidence.”

While en route to the region, Rice was asked in an exchange with journalists on board her flight to Tel Aviv on Saturday evening: “Are you not annoyed that every time you go there, there is a new announcement of settlements, either just before you come or just after you leave?”

Rice replied: “Unfortunately, there have been a few whether I’m coming or not.. Look, it’s a problem. And I think it’s a problem that I’m going to address with the Israelis. And … as the President said today …it gives us every reason that we really ought to be determining the boundaries of the state, because what’s in Israel will be in Israel at that point, and what’s in Palestine will be in Palestine. And that’s the best way to resolve this, but you know, I repeat, we’ve talked a great deal about the importance of Roadmap obligations, and this one isn’t being met”.

Rice also said that she will be talking with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — “so I’ll also have an opportunity to talk about what is another track of Annapolis. The negotiations are one track, but the – improving the lives of the Palestinians and building the institutions of the Palestinian state is another track, and that’s the one in which I’m most involved with Prime Minister Fayyad”.

It appears that Rice will be having one “trilateral meeting” — apparently today, Sunday — with Rice meeting the heads of the two negotiating teams — Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi LIvni, and Palestinian former Prime Minister Ahmad Qurei (Abu Alaa).

Rice will have dinner on Sunday evening with embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

A second “trilateral meeting” will be held on Monday, nvolving Fayyad and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak — who, as Prime MInister Olmert has said, is in charge of the West Bank (and, from a distance, of Gaza).

This meeting with Barak and Fayyad will focus on “improvement of the lives of Palestinians” through greater ease in “movement and access”: On this point, however, Rice refused to be drawn into a pointed criticism of Israel for failing to meet another Road Map obligation. Instead, she said politely, more could be done in this regard.

“I do think that there are improvements in Jenin on all of the elements, improvements on security with the Palestinians having responsibilities there, improvements in terms of movement and access, and the beginnings of improvements in terms of the economic side. I am told that there are other areas where there have been some improvements in movement and access as well; for instance, you know rather than — more random stopping of vehicles rather than every vehicle, that kind of thing. But it’s not enough, and there certainly and clearly needs to be more. And I understand the security considerations as well as anyone, but the obligation was undertaken to improve the lives of Palestinians and we’re going to have to work very hard if we’re going to make that true in a broader sense”

But both problem areas — continued Israeli settlement building, and humiliating hindrances in movement — are equally pressing, and have an equally awful impact on the present and on the future in the occupied Palestinian territory.

In a situation in which there is a media black-out on the negotiations themselves, Rice nonetheless offered a glimpse into the current approach, in which she denied reports that she has suggested the two parties focus first on defining the borders: “Part of the difficulty in negotiations like this is that the issues are intertwined. You know, borders and security, issues concerning Jerusalem, and issues concerning borders, and issues concerning refugees — they’re all part — and by the way, not only the big four of final status, but also issues of state-to-state relations, issues of economic relations. They’re all very intertwined. And I believe the parties have adopted the right strategy here, which is that they work on all of them, recognizing that some may move more quickly than others, but also recognizing that nothing can be agreed till everything is agreed. And it’s just very difficult to imagine a circumstance under which you could separate somehow the border issue from these other important issues. That doesn’t mean that you can’t work on the border issue separate from the others, but it’s hard to imagine that you could really resolve it without dealing with the companion issues … I’ve encouraged the parties not to hesitate to push ahead if something is moving, but the idea that you could have a separate agreement, I think that just doesn’t make sense”.

Gaza was hardly mentioned in Rice’s discussion on Saturday with journalists en route to the region, except to say that “Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is extremely difficult”, and “We all know what needs to happen in Gaza”.. Hamas, in Rice’s view, is ultimately responsible for all the problemsi n Gaza, and, she noted, Egypt is working hard to find a solution.

The solution, according to Rice is that: “The rocket fire needs to stop. There needs to be a more sustainable circumstance for the people of Gaza, meaning that there will need to be sustained openings of the crossings, enough at least to permit humanitarian conditions to – humanitarian needs to be met. And ultimately, I would hope that they can get back to something that looks more like the Movement and Access Agreement of November 2005, which everybody’s focused on as an endpoint”.

Gaza was also hardly mentioned in the Rice-Abbas press conference on Sunday. Abbas said something about hoping to reach an agreement “that will put an end to the suffering in the Gaza Strip”, and about re-gaining national unity “based on the Yemeni initiative that was adopted by the Arab summit in Damascus. If we succeed, it is quite important we regain national unity on the basis we have described”, he added.

Saeb Erekat: Americans should "judge" negotiations process

On the day that Palestinians were marking 41 years of occupation, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat told journalists in his office in Ramallah on Thursday, “we are a nation that is interrupted – economically, socially, politically, and in every sense. Yet in 2008, there are those who do not understand, even external forces”.

At that moment, there was a cut in electrical power for the second time in a few minutes.
As everyone laughed, Erekat joked: “Even the electricity is interrupted”

“It should have been different”, Erekat continued, “today should have been different…but Palestinians are still Palestinians…So, what are you going to do with us?”

Erekat agreed that the current impasse in negotiations with Israel “cannot stand”.

He was speaking as some Palestinians openly speculated that the end to the negotiations with Israel are near – and saying that this is what prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make an unusual call for renewed national dialogue, as if he might have dropped his preconditions, starting with the return of Gaza to Ramallah’s control, nearly one year after Hamas fighters routed Fatah forces.

But, Erekat said in response to one journalist’s question, “Abu Mazen did deliver an initiative yesterday, but it was according to the Yemeni initiative that was launched in the Damascus summit last year. Everybody knows it begins with Hamas rescinding its coup. Everyone knows, also, that Hamas won the last elections – but they have since failed – big time…When was the last time you read the Yemeni initiative? Abbas said [Wednesday evening] that he wants to see the Yemeni initiative implemented. He was very clear”.

In any case, Erekat added, anticipating other unspoken questions, any eventual outcome of negotiations with the Israelis “will be put to a referendum. If Palestinians say ‘yes’, we will implement it from our side. If the Palestinians say ‘no’, then Abu Mazen will say goodbye”.

Erekat said that the negotiations with an Israeli team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are “serious … and, .for the first time, we have opened all files, and we are now at the prisoners’ file…We are trying to revive hope, but the choice is Israel’s … We have defined the end game, which is to end the 1967 Israeli occupation according to the Road Map. We have serious negotiations for the first time in seven years, and we are taking a needs-oriented approach”.

What is that, one journalist asked? “You know, my needs, their needs. What do you want to know? I’m not going to show you the map”, Erekat replied.

Erekat pointed out that “in Annapolis, we chose a trilateral arrangement, in which there would be a ‘judge’, an American ‘judge’ (on behalf of the Quartet) … The question here is for the Americans and the other members of the Quartet: Isn’t it time for the ‘judge’ to speak out? There is no such thing as a secret ‘judge’…Since Annapolis there have been more settlements, more incursions, more faits accomplis. Now, at a time we are trying to revive hopes for peace, this American ‘judge’ should come out in the open and say who’s complying and who’s not – giving just the truth, just the facts. Otherwise, is it a cover-up for Israeli activities? This cannot stand any more”.

“I really urge the Americans to introduce their comments”, Erekat continued. Decisions on Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees and so on are required from both Israelis and Palestinians. You as journalists should be able to call up and ask the ‘judge’ who is complying on this matter or that. This current situation cannot continue”.

A journalist then asked: “You are saying the Israelis are not serious, so what are you waiting for?” Erekat replied “There is nothing wrong with negotiations, since Adam and Eve. Negotiations are not the end, they are the means. I don’t want to stop negotiations, I want to stop Israeli settlements, I want to stop Israeli incursions. And I want the international community to help us make Israel comply with its obligations under the Road Map”.

Erekat clearly put more hope in the evaluation being made by Lt. General William Fraser – appointed as Mr. Road Map Implementation by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice just before President Bush’s visit to the region in January – than in comments made by leading contenders for the Democratic Party nomination to be the next U.S. President.

On Barak Obama: “I thought he was a man of change…but when he says that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, I say to him, ‘Sir, you are closing all doors to peace’. I don’t care if he’s pro-Israeli or not. My concern is about those who are pro-peace or not. U.S. Policy hasn’t changed since the ‘70’s. The U.S. Embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. policy still says that Jerusalem is occupied”.

To Hilary Clinton: “If someone loses his home, his schools, his livelihood, his parents in New York, what do you call it? We call it a catastrophe – and we have here a catastrophe that has lasted 60 years”.

The Palestinians as party people

On Tuesday 29 April, Rice convened a press event in Washington, as the State Department reported in a press release, “to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the strategic importance of U.S. private sector investment in the West Bank. She was joined by leaders of the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership including Chairman Walter Isaacson, Co-chairs Jean Case and Ziad Asali, and USAID Administrator Henrietta Fore. The Partnership is working to support the Palestinian Authority’s upcoming Palestine Investment Conference, which will be hosted by Prime Minister Fayyad on May 21-23, in Bethlehem. The purpose of the conference is to showcase investment opportunities in the Palestinian territories and thereby improve the economic and social living standards through increased investment in the Palestinian economy”.

The State Department press release added that the U.S.-Palestinian Partnership “is developing quick-impact projects to promote job creation in the West Bank; projects include the creation of an Arabic-language call center in East Jerusalem and the establishment of a mechanism to attract foreign investment in the Palestinian private sector. The Partnership is also working to launch five youth development and resource centers in the West Bank”.

Rice said at the Washington press event that, as part of the Annapolis process, “there is also a very strong commitment to do something about the economic prospects for the Palestinian people, a people who are very well educated, many of them, very ambitious, many of them, but where economic opportunity has very often been lacking”.

Rice is also expected to try to rally support for the investment conference while she attends a meeting of donors to the Palestinian Authority, and with the Quartet, in London on 1-2 May.

The website of the Palestine Investment Conference, here , contains a greeting from Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, saying “We are throwing a party, and the whole world is invited. This conference is a chance to show a different face of Palestine: a Palestine conducive to economic growth and international investment. I welcome you to Palestine for a chance to enjoy our hospitality, and to learn first hand that you can do business in Palestine”.

Fayyad’s website greeting also says that this will be the “first high profile investment conference ever held in Palestine”, and that “it promises to be a historic event”. Fayyad added that the conference “will jumpstart a process of integrating Palestine into the global economy”.

“The time has come to invest in Palestine”, Fayyad added. “The international community showed its overwhelming support of the Palestinian economy in Paris last December, and PIC-Palestine intends to continue this process of creating an environment conducive to investment-led growth”.

While the conference is a private sector event, it will have full support from the Palestinian Authority, Fayyad said.

The Israelis have promised to facilitate the entry of investors to attend this conference.

Rice briefs travelling press corps on agreements in Jerusalem

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.

Rice briefs traveling journalists on latest mission

Speaking to her accompanying press corps on the plane en route to Tel Aviv on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said: “I will have an opportunity to meet with all my usual interlocutors. This time I’ll meet Abu Mazen in Jordan because that’s where he is going to be, so I’ll see the King of Jordan and Abu Mazen in Jordan. I am looking forward to the opportunity to see President Olmert tonight. The purpose of this trip really is to continue to work on the three major tracks of Annapolis, as well as on the Arab track to get the King of Jordan’s advice and counsel on how we continue to move the Arab support for the Annapolis process forward.

This time, I will spend a good deal of time on the issues concerning the West Bank and issues concerning the ability to provide a better life for the people of the West Bank, including ways to improve movement and access in pursuance of some of the economic projects that I know Tony Blair and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad would like to get going. You may know that Defense Minister Barak and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad met last week to talk about some of the things that might be done to make some really concrete progress on the ground, because I’ve become convinced that it’s harder to talk about movement and access just in general than to have rather specific ways to get certain economic projects going and knowing what movement and access obstacles there are and then working on those obstacles. So that’s the approach that General Jones took when he was out here that he’s now briefed to me and that I’m now going to follow up. I’ll do that in a trilateral format with Barak and Fayyad together with me, I think, tomorrow, is that trilateral.

The other element is to talk about how the negotiations are going. As I said to you before, they are doing those quietly, below the radar screen. I think that’s absolutely appropriate. And I’m not coming to insert American ideas into this process. I think they’re doing a lot of work on their own, but I do want to talk to them, get some sense of how it’s going, see where I can be helpful. But most importantly, this is an informal conversation with the two chief negotiators, and I’ll do that also in a trilateral format on Monday, in addition to my normal bilateral meetings with all the parties. Obviously, we’re continuing to try to find an answer for Gaza, where there needs to be an end to the rocket attacks on Israel and where we need to find solutions, sustainable solutions, for the humanitarian situation for the people of Gaza. So those are target questions and the way that we’ll carry it out.

“…One of the places that I think we really do need to see, something of a step-wise functional improvement is on the West Bank movement and access issues, the ability to start to get some of these economic projects from Tony Blair, not in place, because some of them are quite large, but to really clear away the obstacles to them and to get agreement between the parties on how that piece of Annapolis is going to go forward. So the improvement of life on the ground is the piece that has to be pushed forward pretty hard … we’ve known and thought for some time that part of the problem is to be pretty concrete and specific about what you’re trying to do in a specific area, what economic projects you’re trying to put there, what Palestinian security forces are available in that area to take the transfer of Palestinian authority, of Palestinian security forces, in the way that was done in Nablus, forward. Because if you think about it, that gets at one element of the Roadmap, which is increasing Palestinian security, competence, and authority, and it begins to get at the questions of improvement of movement and access and economic life for people. And so to start to move forward concretely in some areas on those, and so to be able to be more specific about what movement and access obstacles there are and to work on those. Think of them as ways to move forward, areas that might be able to move on both security and on economic development.

QUESTION: What about actual removal of checkpoints? Is that something that you think is possible? Are the Israelis getting ready to do that despite the risks?

SECRETARY RICE: “I certainly want to take a look at that. Obviously, there are security issues, but we do have to find ways to improve movement. There are obstacles that are not checkpoints and then there are checkpoints that are obstacles and I think you have to look at both“.

QUESTION: You said earlier that, obviously, part of you’re doing this weekend is continuing to try to find an answer to the situation in Gaza. What sort of things are you exploring? Are you getting more involved in the whole idea of a ceasefire or what?

SECRETARY RICE: “No. I think, though, that there are questions about how humanitarian access could be more sustainable, how the Palestinian Authority might have more of a role in providing for the people of Gaza. You know that we supported, for instance, Salam Fayyad’s ideas sometime ago, the Quartet did, on, I think, what could be done about getting back to – not the full November 2005 agreement, but something that might take elements of the 2005 agreement help in the management of crossings, that kind of thing”.

…”I just said I thought it was important to keep in contact with our key Arab allies who are the supporters of the Annapolis process, because we don’t want to lose that thread, which is why I’m spending this time with the King of Jordan. If you remember the last time I was here, I spent some time with Mubarak, and so I just think that’s very important as well“.

The transcript of this briefing was received by email

The Associated Press then reported that “Israel agreed this past week to issue more permits for Palestinian laborers and merchants, but has yet to take down any of the hundreds of West Bank checkpoints it says are necessary to stop suicide bombers. Broader peace negotiations have bogged down despite pledges from all sides to reach at least the outline of a peace deal by the time President Bush leaves office in January. On this issue, Rice said she was not coming to the region to ‘insert American ideas into this process’ … ‘What is useful right now is for the parties to continue what I think is a pretty fruitful discussion between them’. In addition to seeing Barak and Fayyad on Sunday, Rice planned to meet with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before a quick trip to Amman for talks with Jordanian King Abdullah II as well as Abbas, who is currently in Jordan. Rice then returns to Jerusalem for a three-way meeting on Monday with Livni, who is leading the Israeli negotiating team, and the Palestinian’s chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia. Rice later will head back to Amman for further talks with Abbas”. This AP report can be read in full here .

Condoleeza Rice to return to region this weekend

The U.S. State Department announced that “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Israel and Jordan on March 28-31, 2008. She will meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support their ongoing bilateral dialogue and the serious effort underway to achieve agreement this year on the establishment of a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. The Secretary will also discuss efforts to improve conditions on the ground and to advance Palestinian economic development and capacity building. Additionally, she will meet with King Abdullah to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the political situation in Lebanon, stability in Iraq, and other regional developments”.

At a State Department briefing with journalists on 25 March, spokesman Sean McCormack said: “She’s going to be traveling to Jerusalem. She’s going to be traveling to Amman. I think she’s going to be having some of her meetings with Palestinian officials actually in Amman. They are going to be transiting there. I’ll try to clarify for you whether or not there will be any travel to the West Bank”.

The Jerusalem Post has reported that Rice is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Saturday night.

Haaretz reported that ” ‘Rice will meet Abbas in Amman on March 30 after the Arab summit in Damascus ends. She will then travel to Israel for talks with Olmert and return to Amman for further talks with President Abbas’, a senior Abbas oficial said”. The full Haaretz article can be found here .