Comments from Blair and Rice in London

Here are comments made by Quartet Envoy Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after the Quartet meeting in London on 1 May:

SECRETARY RICE: … there is often skepticism right up until it actually shows that there is a breakthrough. And that’s what you work for, and you work for it every day. But I’m not surprised that people worry that it won’t happen yet again. But if you simply sit and think, well, it won’t happen yet again, then you won’t put in the work every day, every hour, to give the parties a chance to make it work. And this is hard work and it’s labor-intensive and it’s time-consuming, but I believe that they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year. And that’s what we’re going to work for every day.

I think the role that we have assumed and that is most useful to play is to be supportive of what is essentially a bilateral process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And while this is led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Mr. Abu Ala on the Palestinian side, I think you would be perhaps even surprised at the numbers of people that they each have working on this. They actually do have teams of experts who are working on the various aspects of it. Now, the foreign powers – or others can play a role of support. I, myself, sat with the parties and will continue to do that. I think it helps – if we can see if there are emerging new areas of convergence to try to point them out. But we can’t substitute for the parties. This is ultimately going to have to be an agreement between Palestinians and Israelis, supported by their regional neighbors and supported by the international community. And I think that’s how this is going to proceed.

MR. BLAIR: Over these past few months, we’ve been working on a series of proposals for the improvement of conditions on the West Bank in particular. And those have been about both economic projects, lifting the access and movement restrictions, making sure that ordinary Palestinians on the West Bank get a chance at a better life.

I hope over these next few weeks that we will get the definitive responses on a whole category of these issues that we’ve been discussing. And one thing I think is very clear at the moment, obviously, a lot of focus naturally will come on to Gaza, and that’s another matter to discuss. But in relation to the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority have been making real efforts, the donor community have been giving real support. If we were able to get this package of measures agreed with Israel and with the Palestinian Authority and implemented, then I think it would mark a significant change in the conditions to people from the West Bank.

So the next few weeks are very crucial in this. And on the West Bank the economy is actually growing. The decline in the economy that happened in 2006 was reversed during the course of 2007. There is some economic growth happening now in the West Bank, but there could be much more if we got Palestinian Authority, the donor community, and Israel doing everything that is possible to do, consistent with security to improve the situation there. And those measures will focus obviously on the issues to do with the occupation, but it will also focus on Palestinian security capability, since both of those things are important. So, we will see.

MR. BLAIR: I think it’s because people look at the situation and they look at, for example, what is happening in Gaza and they look at all the challenges in it and they say how on earth can it be put together. And my response is very simple to this. First of all, we have no option but to carry on working on this. It is, in my view, the single most important thing that we can do to bring about a different atmosphere in that whole region, never mind to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.

Secondly, it’s really important to come back — one of the questions at the opening of your colleagues asked earlier — to understand how this can work and indeed, the only way it can work. There is a political process of negotiation and the parties are discussing the issues. And they’re doing it very sensibly, not with a great public fanfare. They are actually getting down and looking at the issues that lie between them on the final status negotiations. But they need to be supported by what is actually happening on the ground. And the reason for that is that if you’re a Palestinian leader or an Israeli leader, you want to say to people, here is a possibility of lasting peace, there’s got to be some echo of that plea with what’s happening on the ground. And here is the difficulty that we are working on and focusing on day in and day out to get this done. Yes, we need to lift the occupation. But this is (inaudible) lifting the occupation. Because the occupation is the problem of the Palestinians, but the Israelis also have a security problem and we have to deal with both aspects of this. In other words, what we have to do is to find a way of lifting progressively the occupation, as we provide the proper security capability so that the Palestinians can look after not just their own security but do so in a way that is safe and secure for their Israeli neighbor.

Now, that is what this whole issue is about. And the reason why I remain in the end not merely determined but also believe that we can achieve the breakthrough that we want is that there is a purpose now, both on improving the Palestinian security capability and on getting the economic and social development going, making sure that together those things fit on the West Bank in a way that allows us progressively to change the circumstances in which people live, and then to have a political negotiation that is supported by the reality of people’s lives.

And in respect to Gaza, I just want to say one thing. Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is terrible. But as the Quartet statement makes clear, there is a different and better way through that, which is for the terror attacks and the rocket attacks and the smuggling of weapons to stop, for the action therefore by Israel also to stop, and for a progressive lifting of the restrictions and the opening of the border.

Now, we’ve got to find a way through both the situation in Gaza and the situation in the West Bank. We can do it. If we do do it, then this political negotiation, in my view, can move forward and move forward better and faster than people think at the present time but it requires an enormous amount of effort.

And one final thing I want to say to you is this, that from the American side and the European side, and the other members of the Quartet, there is a focus on this and that a determination to get something done that has not been present for a significant period of time. I pay very much tribute to what Condi Rice has been doing in the region and with the parties. You know, we are not giving up on this. We are going to carry on working on this day in and day out to try and make sure that it happens.

SECRETARY RICE: We’ve been working very closely with Tony Blair and his mission. Both General Fraser who oversees the Roadmap implementation and General Jones who has been working on – to coordinate American efforts more broadly on some of this, has been working very closely with Tony Blair. And the reason is that it is very difficult to do this in a kind of macro way or a general way. It comes down to really very specific issues. That issue of that checkpoint or that roadblock that is preventing that kind of economic activity in that town. And it gets that specific. And I think what we do have now is a much more effective way of both looking at where real improvements can be made and in checking to make sure that the parties are making the improvements that they have undertaken to make. Thus, for instance, on the 50 roadblocks that were — the Israelis promised to remove, we now have quite a bit of detail of what effect that had. And that then can be shared with the Israelis because it’s a much more labor-intensive and very specific process than I think one could imagine. And I want to thank very much our Quartet Representative because he’s put in place a process with our help that allows us to really begin to look at where we can make some changes that would then have not just an effect on the lives of Palestinians in that particular village, but really on the broader Palestinian economy.

QUESTION: Secretary of State, many in the Middle East, the majority of (inaudible) believe that such meeting (inaudible) in Annapolis. This whole meeting would be – situation (inaudible) financial and to do with investment. Now, the fact is it’s a problem with occupation because if you are in occupation, everything there will stop. There is no point in investing in territories under occupation. In the past, the EU, United States and everyone have invested (inaudible) in trying to build institution. And so Israel have destroyed everything. So what we need is a commitment that this occupation will end. And they feel that. Such meeting is just a matter of buying time until future election and (inaudible). So how far can you pass a message to the people in the Middle East. There is some seriousness and something can be achieved before the end of 2008?

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. In fact, the logic of the Annapolis process is precisely that it is important proceed on all tracks at the same time. If you remember, the Roadmap at one time had a kind of sequentiality to it. You had to finish phase one, which had to do with improvements on the ground, had to do with security, had to do with various movement and access issues. And at the end, in phase three, they were going to begin a process of negotiating for a political settlement and an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict. And what Annapolis did was to say that that will not work; these must move in parallel. Because it is precisely the point that you need to have a political settlement, an end to the occupation, and an end to the conflict in order to fully realize the potential for both Israelis and Palestinians.

And so it is nonetheless important not to forget that the improvements on the ground, the improvements in the daily lives of the Palestinians and the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deliver for its people will certainly improve the capability of that leadership to deliver a political agreement with Israel and improvements in the lives of the Palestinians, improvements in the capability of the Palestinian Authority, will improve the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians, so that Israelis can make the difficult choices. So these are completely interlinked. This is not the old idea of let’s just work on the economic side and we’ll get to the politics later. It is a need to do them in parallel and to do them together. And the commitment that the parties are showing to trying very hard to realize what they hoped for, which is to have the agreement by the end of 2008, is a commitment to all of those aspects. But we must not underestimate the importance to the Palestinian Authority and to the Palestinian people of providing the resources so that they can lay the foundation for their new state, so that they can provide for people, so that they can provide economic benefits, in anticipation of an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict.