Netanyahu: Framework Deal Still Possible Within A Year

  • Netanyahu: I call on President Abbas to continue talks
  • Notable increase in attacks against Israelis; pregnant woman shot
  • TV networks see settlers’ building as “publicity stunt”

Jerusalem, Sept. 27 – There can still be an “historic peace framework agreement within one year,” despite the end of the self-declared construction freeze in the West Bank, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement on Sunday (Sept. 26).

Netanyahu urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to walk out on the talks that began just three weeks ago pledging that he is serious in his commitment to peace.


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell and U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton meeting on September 2, 2010. (State Deparment Photo by Michael Gross.)

“Many in the world realized that my intentions to achieve peace are serious and genuine, and that I honor my commitments,” he said.

Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak extended his trip to the United States last week in order to continue discussions with American and other officials to try to find a formula that would allow the talks to continue. Israeli President Shimon Peres has also been using his international recognition as a peacemaker to ensure the negotiations stay on track.

Netanyahu has spoken in the last few days with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan in a bid to safeguard the peace process.

This diplomatic activity has been taking place amid a backdrop of increased attacks against Israeli civilians.

Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank shot a pregnant woman and her husband on Sept. 26. As a result the woman was taken into emergency surgery where the baby was successfully delivered.

“I’m delighted to say he was induced by a most unexpected source,” new father Sharon Shoker quipped when speaking with the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot.

Other incidents included Molotov cocktails being hurled at a Jerusalem home and towards security officers just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

Israeli soldiers seized an AR-15 assault rifle, three handguns, an improvised rifle and ammunition in the early hours of Sept. 27. Five Palestinians were arrested during the raid.

The West Bank is at the center of media attention this week, with dozens of cameras focusing on any signs of settlers building new homes or nursery schools. The journalists themselves have said that what is currently transpiring is little more than theater produced specifically for their consumption.

CNN described a concrete-pouring ceremony on Sept. 26 as “a show,” while it was dubbed “a publicity stunt” by Al-Jazeera.

Netanyahu Urges Abbas to Recognize Jewish State

  • “Just do it,” he urges Abbas. “Recognize Jewish homeland”
  • Netanyahu says agreement if leaders are flexible and creative
  • Security at heart of negotiations, he declares.

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is urging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, saying that the lack of such recognition was at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In a conference call with Jewish leaders Monday, Netanyahu said none of the obstacles standing in the way of a peace agreement was insurmountable.

“I believe that an agreement is possible. But to succeed, President Abbas and I have to be willing to stick it out even when we disagree,” he said. “We have to be willing to address the issues with an open mind.  We have to be flexible and creative in finding compromises that are anchored in a realistic assessment of what is possible.”

Netanyahu said Israeli security was at the crux of the negotiations which resumed earlier this month after a 20-month hiatus. “We want peace, but it has to be a secure peace and it there have to be solid security arrangements on the ground to ensure the peace – for us and for our Palestinian neighbors, and maybe for the entire neighborhood,” he said.

He recalled that Israeli withdrawals from south Lebanon and Gaza were followed by a terrorist buildup by Iranian-backed Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which are heavily armed with tens of thousands of rockets and missiles capable of hitting Israeli population centers.

On the issue of recognition, Netanyahu said he acknowledged the Palestinian right to self-determination and sovereignty and it was time for Palestinians to do the same for the Jewish people and its homeland, the state of Israel.

“President Abbas has to decide.  He cannot skirt the issue.  He cannot find clever language designed to obfuscate or to fudge it.

“He needs to recognize the Jewish state.  He needs to say it clearly and unequivocally.  He needs to say it to his own people in their own language.  

“Remember that famous commercial – Just Do It?  I think for the Palestinian leadership, it’s even simpler:  Just Say It.  Say that you recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  Say that you recognize the Jewish state,” Netanyahu declared.

L’Shana Habaa b’Mitzrayim – Next Year in Egypt


Netanyahu, Abbas to Meet Again in Two Weeks to Pursue Peace Talks

  • Leaders to hold negotiations every two weeks
  • Talks described as “productive”
  • Both leaders condemn Iran-backed Hamas terrorist attacks

WASHINGTON, Sept 2 – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet again in Egypt Sept 14-15 and at regular two-week intervals after that to continue peace talks.

U.S. peace envoy George Mitchell told reporters: “They agreed that for these negotiations to succeed, [the talks] must be kept private and treated with sensitivity.”

Earlier, in public statements before going into private session with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Netanyahu and Abbas condemned the terrorist attacks that in the past two days claimed the lives of four Israeli civilians and left two more wounded.

Iran-backed Hamas claimed responsibility for the murders.

In his opening statement, Netanyahu said: “Just as you expect us to be ready to recognize a Palestinian state as the nation state of the Palestinian people, we expect you to be prepared to recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
“There are more than a million non-Jews living in Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people, who have full civil rights. There is no contradiction between the nation state that guarantees the national rights of the majority and guaranteeing the civil rights, the full civil equality, of the minority.”

Abbas responded: “Yesterday we condemned the operations that were carried out. We did not only condemn them, but we also followed the perpetrators, and we were able to find the car that was used and to arrest those who sold and bought the car.

“And we will continue all our efforts to take security measures in order to find the perpetrators. We consider that security is of essence, is vital for both of us. And we cannot allow for anyone to do anything that would undermine your security and our security.”

Mitchell said Netanyahu and Abbas had agreed to seek a “framework” accord as part of their peace talks. The accord would lay out the compromises needed to complete a comprehensive peace treaty within a year, which all parties have set as a target to complete a comprehensive and final peace agreement.

Full text of remarks by President Obama, President Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah follow the jump.

UNITED STATE PRESIDENT OBAMA:  

Good evening, everyone.  Tomorrow, after nearly two years, Israelis and Palestinians will resume direct talks in pursuit of a goal that we all share — two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security. Tonight, I’m pleased to welcome to the White House key partners in this effort, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the representative of our Quartet partners, former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Your Majesty King Abdullah, and President Mubarak — we are but five men.  Our dinner this evening will be a small gathering around a single table.  Yet when we come together, we will not be alone.  We’ll be joined by the generations — those who have gone before and those who will follow.

Each of you are the heirs of peacemakers who dared greatly — Begin and Sadat, Rabin and King Hussein — statesmen who saw the world as it was but also imagined the world as it should be. It is the shoulders of our predecessors upon which we stand.  It is their work that we carry on.  Now, like each of them, we must ask, do we have the wisdom and the courage to walk the path of peace?  

All of us are leaders of our people, who, no matter the language they speak or the faith they practice, all basically seek the same things:  to live in security, free from fear; to live in dignity, free from want; to provide for their families and to realize a better tomorrow.  Tonight, they look to us, and each of us must decide, will we work diligently to fulfill their aspirations?

And though each of us holds a title of honor — President, Prime Minister, King — we are bound by the one title we share. We are fathers, blessed with sons and daughters.  So we must ask ourselves what kind of world do we want to bequeath to our children and our grandchildren.


Tonight, and in the days and months ahead, these are the questions that we must answer.  And this is a fitting moment to do so.

For Muslims, this is Ramadan.  For Jews, this is Elul.  It is rare for those two months to coincide.  But this year, tonight, they do.  Different faiths, different rituals, but a shared period of devotion — and contemplation.  A time to reflect on right and wrong; a time to ponder one’s place in the world; a time when the people of two great religions remind the world of a truth that is both simple and profound, that each of us, all of us, in our hearts and in our lives, are capable of great and lasting change.

In this spirit, I welcome my partners.  And I invite each to say a few words before we begin our meal, beginning with President Mubarak, on to His Majesty King Abdullah, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.


EGYPTIAN PRESIDENT MUBARAK:

I am pleased to participate with you today in relaunching direct peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.  Like you, and the millions of Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs and the rest of the world, I look forward that these negotiations be final and decisive, and that they lead to a peace agreement within one year.

Our meeting today would not have taken place without the considerable effort exerted by the American administration under the leadership of President Obama.  I pay tribute to you, Mr. President, for your personal, serious commit and for your determination to work for a peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine since the early days of your presidency.  I appreciate your perseverance throughout the past period to overcome the difficulties facing the relaunching of the negotiations.

(Continued as translated.)  I consider this invitation a manifestation of your commitment and a significant message that the United States will shepherd these negotiations seriously and at the highest level.

No one realizes the value of peace more than those who have known wars and their havoc.  It was my destiny to witness over many events in our region during the years of war and peace.  I have gone through wars and hostilities, and have participated in the quest for peace since the first day of my administration.  I have never spared an effort to push it forward, and I still look forward to its success and completion.

The efforts to achieve peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis encountered many difficulties since the Madrid Conference in October 1999, and progress and regression, breakthroughs and setbacks, but the occupation of the Palestinian Territory remains an independent — an independent Palestinian state is yet — remains a dream in the conscious of the Palestinian people.

There is no doubt that this situation should raise great frustration and anger among our people, for it is no longer acceptable or conceivable on the verge of the second decade of the third millennium that we fail to achieve just and true peace — peace that would put an end to the century of conflict, fulfill the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, lift the occupation, allow for the establishment of normal relations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

It is true that reaching a just and comprehensive peace treaty between both sides has been an elusive hope for almost two decades.  Yet the accumulated experience of both parties, the extended rounds of negotiations, and the previous understandings, particularly during the Clinton parameters of 2000, and subsequent understandings of Taba and with the previous Israeli government, all contributed in setting the outline of the final settlement.

This outline has become well known to the international community and to both peoples — the Palestinian and Israeli people.  Hence, it is expected that the current negotiations will not start from scratch or in void.  No doubt, the position of the international community, as is stated in the consecutive statements of the Quartet, in particular, in its latest August 20th statement, paid due respect to relevant international resolutions and supported the outline of final settlements using different formulation without prejudice to the outcome of negotiations.

It has stressed that the aim of the soon-to-start direct negotiation is to reach a peaceful settlement that would end the Israeli occupation which began in 1967, allowing for the independent and sovereign state of Palestine to emerge and live side by side in peace and security with the state of Israel.

I met with Prime Minister Netanyahu many times since he took office last year.  In our meetings, I listened to assertions on his willingness to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and for history to record his name for such an achievement.  I say to him today that I look forward to achieving those assertions in reality, and his success in achieving the long-awaited peace, which I know the people of Israel yearn for, just like all other people in the region.

Reaching just peace with the Palestinians will require from Israel taking important and decisive decisions — decisions that are undoubtedly difficult yet they will be necessary to achieve peace and stability, and in a different context than the one that prevailed before.

Settlement activities on the Palestinian Territory are contrary to international law.  They will not create rights for Israel, nor are they going to achieve peace or security for Israel.  It is, therefore, a priority to completely freeze all these activities until the entire negotiation process comes to a successful end.

I say to the Israelis, seize the current opportunity.  Do not let it slip through your fingers.  Make comprehensive peace your goal.  Extend your hand to meet the hand already extended in the Arab Peace Initiative.

I say to President Mahmoud Abbas, Egypt will continue its faithful support to the patient Palestinian people and their just cause.  We will continue our concerted efforts to help fulfill the aspirations of your people and retrieve their legitimate rights.  We will stand by you until the independent state of Palestine on the land occupied since 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.  We will also continue our efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation for the sake of the Palestinian national interest.

Once again, I’d like to express my thanks to President Obama, and I renew Egypt’s commitment to continue exerting all efforts, sharing honest advice and a commitment to the principles on which Arab and regional policy rests upon.

Please accept my appreciation, and peace be upon you. (Applause.)


JORDANIAN KING ABDULLAH:

(As translated.)  In the name of God most merciful, most compassionate, President Obama, peace be upon you.

(In English.)  For decades, a Palestinian-Israeli settlement has eluded us.  Millions of men, women and children have suffered.  Too many people have lost faith in our ability to bring them the peace they want.  Radicals and terrorists have exploited frustrations to feed hatred and ignite wars.  The whole world has been dragged into regional conflicts that cannot be addressed effectively until Arabs and Israelis find peace.

This past record drives the importance of our efforts today. There are those on both sides who want us to fail, who will do everything in their power to disrupt our efforts today — because when the Palestinians and Israelis find peace, when young men and women can look to a future of promise and opportunity, radicals and extremists lose their most potent appeal.  This is why we must prevail.  For our failure would be their success in sinking the region into more instability and wars that will cause further suffering in our region and beyond.

President Obama, we value your commitment to the cause of peace in our region.  We count on your continued engagement to help the parties move forward.  You have said that Middle East peace is in the national security interest of your country.  And we believe it is.  And it is also a strategic European interest, and it is a necessary requirement for global security and stability.  Peace is also a right for every citizen in our region.

A Palestinian-Israeli settlement on the basis of two states living side by side is a precondition for security and stability of all countries of the Middle East, with a regional peace that will lead to normal relations between Israel and 57 Arab and Muslim states that have endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative.  That would be — well, that would also be an essential step towards neutralizing forces of evil and war that threaten all peoples.

Mr. President, we need your support as a mediator, honest broker, and a partner, as the parties move along the hard but inevitable path of settlements.

Your Excellencies, all eyes are upon us.  The direct negotiations that will start tomorrow must show results — and sooner rather than later.  Time is not on our side.  That is why we must spare no effort in addressing all final status issues with a view to reaching the two-state solution, the only solution that can create a future worthy of our great region — a future of peace in which fathers and mothers can raise their children without fear, young people can look forward to lives of achievement and hope, and 300 million people can cooperate for mutual benefit.

For too long, too many people of the region have been denied their most basic of human rights:  the right to live in peace and security; respected in their human dignity; enjoying freedom and opportunity.  If hopes are disappointed again, the price of failure will be too high for all.

Our peoples want us to rise to their expectations.  And we can do so if we approach these negotiations with goodwill, sincerity and courage.  (Applause.)


ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:

Mr. President, Excellencies, Shalom Aleichem.  Shalom Alkulanu.  Peace unto us all.

I’m very pleased to be here today to begin our common effort to achieve a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

I want to thank you, President Obama, for your tireless efforts to renew this quest for peace.  I want to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator Mitchell, the many members of the Obama administration, and Tony Blair, who’ve all worked so hard to bring Israelis and Palestinians together here today.

I also want to thank President Mubarak and King Abdullah for their dedicated and meaningful support to promote peace, security, and stability throughout our region.  I deeply appreciate your presence here today.

I began with a Hebrew word for peace, “shalom.”  Our goal is shalom.  Our goal is to forge a secure and durable peace between Israelis and Palestinians.  We don’t seek a brief interlude between two wars.  We don’t seek a temporary respite between outbursts of terror.  We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all.  We seek a peace that will last for generations — our generation, our children’s generation, and the next.

This is the peace my people fervently want.  This is the peace all our peoples fervently aspire to.  This is the peace they deserve.

Now, a lasting peace is a peace between peoples — between Israelis and Palestinians.  We must learn to live together, to live next to one another and with one another.  But every peace begins with leaders.

President Abbas, you are my partner in peace.  And it is up to us, with the help of our friends, to conclude the agonizing conflict between our peoples and to afford them a new beginning. The Jewish people are not strangers in our ancestral homeland, the land of our forefathers.  But we recognize that another people shares this land with us.

I came here today to find an historic compromise that will enable both our peoples to live in peace and security and in dignity.  I’ve been making the case for Israel all of my life.  But I didn’t come here today to make an argument.  I came here today to make peace.  I didn’t come here today to play a blame game where even the winners lose.  Everybody loses if there’s no peace.  I came here to achieve a peace that will bring a lasting benefit to us all.

I didn’t come here to find excuses or to make them.  I came here to find solutions.  I know the history of our conflict and the sacrifices that have been made.  I know the grief that has afflicted so many families who have lost their dearest loved ones.  Only yesterday four Israelis, including a pregnant women  — a pregnant woman — and another woman, a mother of six children, were brutally murdered by savage terrorists.  And two hours ago, there was another terror attack.  And thank God no one died.  I will not let the terrorists block our path to peace, but as these events underscore once again, that peace must be anchored in security.

I’m prepared to walk down the path of peace, because I know what peace would mean for our children and for our grandchildren. I know it would herald a new beginning that could unleash unprecedented opportunities for Israelis, for Palestinians, and for the peoples — all the peoples — of our region, and well beyond our region.  I think it would affect the world.

I see what a period of calm has created in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, of Janin, throughout the West Bank, a great economic boom.  And real peace can turn this boom into a permanent era of progress and hope.

If we work together, we can take advantage of the great benefits afforded by our unique place under the sun.  We’re the crossroads of three continents, at the crossroads of history, and the crossroads of the future.  Our geography, our history, our culture, our climate, the talents of our people can be unleashed to create extraordinary opportunities in tourism, in trade, in industry, in energy, in water, in so many areas.

But peace must also be defended against its enemies.  We want the skyline of the West Bank to be dominated by apartment towers — not missiles.  We want the roads of the West Bank to flow with commerce — not terrorists.

And this is not a theoretic request for our people.  We left Lebanon, and we got terror.  We left Gaza, and we got terror once again.  We want to ensure that territory we’ll concede will not be turned into a third Iranian-sponsored terror enclave armed at the heart of Israel — and may I add, also aimed at every one of us sitting on this stage.

This is why a defensible peace requires security arrangements that can withstand the test of time and the many challenges that are sure to confront us.  And there will be many challenges, both great and small.  Let us not get bogged down by every difference between us.  Let us direct our courage, our thinking, and our decisions at those historic decisions that lie ahead.

Now, there are many skeptics.  One thing there’s no shortage of, Mr. President, are skeptics.  This is something that you’re so familiar with, that all of us in a position of leadership are familiar with.  There are many skeptics.  I suppose there are many reasons for skepticism.  But I have no doubt that peace is possible.

President Abbas, we cannot erase the past, but it is within our power to change the future.  Thousands of years ago, on these very hills where Israelis and Palestinians live today, the Jewish prophet Isaiah and the other prophets of my people envisaged a future of lasting peace for all mankind.  Let today be an auspicious step in our joint effort to realize that ancient vision for a better future.  (Applause.)


PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY PRESIDENT ABBAS:  

(As translated.)  His Excellency President Barack Obama, His Excellency President Hosni Mubarak, His Majesty King Abdullah II, His Excellency Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Mrs. Hillary Clinton, Mr. Tony Blair, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to start by thanking President Obama for his invitation to host us here today to relaunch the permanent status negotiations to reach a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement covering all the permanent status issues within a year in accordance with international law and relevant resolutions.

As we move towards the relaunch of these negotiations tomorrow, we recognize the difficulties, challenges and obstacles that lie ahead.  Yet we assure you, in the name of the PLO, that we will draw on years of experience in negotiations and benefit from the lessons learned to make these negotiations successful.

We also reiterate our commitment to carry out all our obligations, and we call on the Israelis to carry out their obligations, including a freeze on settlements activities, which is not setting a precondition but a call to implement an agreed obligation and to end all the closure and blockade, preventing freedom of movement, including the (inaudible) siege.

We will spare no effort and will work diligently and tirelessly to ensure that these new negotiations achieve their goals and objectives in dealing with all of the issues:  Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, border security, water, as well as the release of all our prisoners — in order to achieve peace. The people of our area are looking for peace that achieves freedom, independence, and justice to the Palestinian people in their country and in their homeland and in the diaspora — our people who have endured decades of longstanding suffering.

We want a peace that will correct the historical injustice caused by the (inaudible) of 1948, and one that brings security to our people and the Israeli people.  And we want peace that will give us both and the people of the region a new era where we enjoy just peace, stability, and prosperity.

Our determination stems to a great extent from your willpower, Mr. President, and your firm and sweeping drive with which you engulfed the entire world from the day you took office to set the parties on the path for peace — and also this same spirit, exhibited by Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator George Mitchell and his team.  The presence of His Excellency President Mubarak and His Majesty King Abdullah is another telling indication of their substantial and effective commitment overall, where Egypt and Jordan have been playing a supportive role for advancing the peace process.  Their effective role is further demonstrated by the Arab Peace Initiative, which was fully endorsed by all of the Arab states, and the Islamic countries as well.

This initiative served a genuine and sincere opportunity to achieve a just and comprehensive peace on all tracks in our region, including the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese-Israeli track, and provided a sincere opportunity to make peace.

The presence here today of the envoy of the Quartet, Mr. Tony Blair, is a most telling signal, especially since he has been personally involved in the Palestinian Authority for many years and in the efforts for state building in Palestine.

Excellencies, the time has come for us to make peace and it is time to end the occupation that started in 1967, and for the Palestinian people to get freedom, justice, and independence.  It is time that a independent Palestinian state be established with sovereignty side by side with the state of Israel.  It is time to put an end to the struggle in the Middle East.

The Palestinian people who insist on the rights and freedom and independence are in most need for justice, security, and peace, because they are the victim, the ones that were harmed the most from this violence.  And it is sending message to our neighbors, the Israelis, and to the world that they are also careful about supporting the opportunities for the success of these negotiations and the just and lasting peace as soon as possible.

With this spirit, we will work to make these negotiations succeed.  And with this spirit, we are — trust that we are capable to achieve our historical, difficult mission — making peace in the land of peace.

Mr. Netanyahu, what happened yesterday and what is happening today is also condemned.  We do not want at all that any blood be shed, one drop of blood, on the part of the — from the Israelis or the Palestinians.  We want people in the two countries to lead a normal life.  We want them to live as neighbors and partners forever.  Let us sign an agreement, a final agreement, for peace, and put an end to a very long period of struggle forever.

And peace be upon you.  (Applause.)

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  

I want to thank all the leaders for their thoughtful statements.  I want to thank the delegations that are represented here because they are the ones who oftentimes are doing a lot of the work.  This is just the beginning.  We have a long road ahead, but I appreciate very much the leaders who are represented here for giving us such an excellent start.

And I particularly want to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for their presence here.  This is not easy.  Both of them have constituencies with legitimate claims, legitimate concerns, and a lot of history between them.  For them to be here, to be willing to take this first step — the most difficult step — is a testament to their courage and their integrity and I think their vision for the future.

And so I am hopeful — cautiously hopeful, but hopeful — that we can achieve the goal that all four of these leaders articulated.

Thank you very much, everybody.

 

George Mitchell on the Upcoming Middle East Peace Talks


Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Senator George Mitchell spoke briefly and took questions today regarding the upcoming Middle East Peace Talks.

SENATOR MITCHELL:  Thank you, Mike.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  

    Last week Secretary of State Clinton invited President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington on September 2nd to resume direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues.  We believe these negotiations can be completed within one year.

    As you know, both have accepted.  They will have bilateral meetings with President Obama tomorrow, as will President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.  The four leaders then will join President Obama for dinner at the White House to help launch these discussions.

Egypt and Jordan have a critical role to play, and their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to success.

After the bilateral meetings, the President will make a public statement, and then just prior to the dinner, the President and the other leaders will make public statements.

    On Thursday, Secretary of State Clinton will convene a meeting at the State Department between Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas and their delegations, following which I will provide a readout to the press.

    Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve worked with the Israelis, the Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including two-state solution, which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.

    We’re pleased that negotiations will be relaunched after a hiatus of more than a year and a half.  And we will engage with perseverance and patience to try to bring them to a successful conclusion.

    Thank you.  And with that, I’ll be glad now to take your questions.

Question & Answer Session

    Sir, can you put the negotiations in the context of the unfreezing of the settlement moratorium, and how much of it — how important that deadline is, whether or not you guys are counting on Ehud Barak to not approve settlements going forward or whether you expect that settlements will commence once again?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our position on settlements is well known, and it remains unchanged.  We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.

    As Secretary of State Clinton has said, as we move forward it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

    Do you expect that the settlement freeze will continue, or what are the Israelis telling you in terms of if negotiations are still going on on the 26th, whether they will continue the freeze?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our discussions continue with both sides, and they are consistent with and comprise in part the points that I just made.

    Senator, as you know, there’s so much pessimism in the region that they talk about failure more than success.  And many people believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was tested in 1996 and he did everything to destroy the peace process.  Now they enter in this phase of negotiation where there’s no, like, timetable, there’s no, really, preconditions.  So what makes you optimistic that anything is going to substantially come out of it?  

    And if I may, something else.  The President talked about in the beginning of the administration about comprehensive peace talks, on two tracks.  But now we’ve seen two leaders from the region being invited, and that excluded Syria.  So why Syria was not on the table?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  With respect to opinion in the region, by coincidence I just received last evening from Shibley Telhami, who is at the University of Maryland and with whom I consult regularly, among others, for advice and counsel, some key findings from polls taken in conjunction with the Zogby polling organization in six countries in the region:  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

    Among the key findings are that over 80 percent of Arabs polled are still in principle open to the two-state solution; also, that if and when a two-state solution were to come about, a plurality of those polled — 39 percent — believed it would happen through negotiations, and only 16 percent believed that it would come about through another war or conflict.

    And finally, those polls, the respondents, believed that if prospects for the two-state solution collapse, a majority of those polled believed that the result would be intense conflict for years to come.

    Now, I believe that it is an awareness of these and other realities by the two leaders and their leadership that there is a window of opportunity, a moment in time within which there remains the possibility of achieving the two-state solution, which is so essential to comprehensive peace in the region, that difficult as it may be for both leaders, and we recognize that difficulty for both of them, the alternatives for them and the members of their societies pose far greater difficulties and far greater problems in the future.

    And so having spent much of the time that I served in this position in the region, meeting with these leaders and with many, many others in both societies, I think it is that general recognition combined with the presence, the patience, the perseverance and the commitment of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the leaders of this administration that have persuaded these leaders to take this step which, as I acknowledged and repeat, is difficult for them in many respects — because their societies are divided, not just the Arab nations to whom I referred in these polls, but Israeli and Palestinian society.

    With respect to Syria, our efforts continue to try to engage Israel and Syria in discussions and negotiations that would lead to peace there and also Israel and Lebanon.

    You will recall that when the President announced my appointment two days after he entered office, he referred to comprehensive peace and defined it as Israel and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel at peace with and having normal relations with all of its Arab neighbors.  And that remains our objective.

    I was wondering if you could tell us more about what comes after September the 2nd in terms of further meetings?  Is there any sense that while the parties are committed to a process, is there any sense of how you’re going to conduct the next round of talks?  And are you expecting there will always be an American presence in the room, or are you going to let the two parties sit together and call on you when needed?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  I’ll answer the second question first.  The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process.  That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting.  We recognize the value of direct, bilateral discussion between the parties and, in fact, will encourage that between the two leaders on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, it does not mean that the United States will simply stand aside and not participate actively.  We will operate in a manner that is reasonable and sensible in the circumstances which exist, but the guiding principle will be an active and sustained United States presence.

    At what point did you —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Oh, I’m sorry.

    What comes after September the 2nd?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  We hope to proceed promptly on an intensive basis with the parties.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas about every two weeks.  We think that’s a sensible approach, which we hope is undertaken and that, in addition to that, there will be meetings at other levels on a consistent basis.

    Indeed, we have had extensive preparatory meetings with the two sides last week and yesterday and today and continuing through tomorrow, right up until the time when the two sides get together.  And so we want to maintain this — we want to establish this process going forward and to maintain it in an intense way at several levels of engagement.

    At what point during the proximity talks you realized the two parties are ready for direct talks?  And everybody realizes during these future talks that Hamas will be the elephant in the room.  How confident are you that these talks will succeed and will achieve the two-state solution while excluding Hamas?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Once again, let me take the questions in reverse order, if I might.  We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process.  But as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times, while in the Middle East and in the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are, of course, a prerequisite to engage in these serious types of discussions.

    There has been a good deal of a discussion about references to Northern Ireland, and I have repeatedly been asked by reporters and individuals when I make public appearances, well, Senator, you talk to the IRA in Northern Ireland, but don’t you talk to Hamas here.  The questions reflect an incomplete understanding of what occurred in Northern Ireland and its relationship to this situation.  

    So, first, let me say they’re very different.  It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different.  And while we should learn what we can from other processes, each is unique.

    But on the central point, the reality is that in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, the political party that is affiliated with the IRA, did not enter the negotiations until after 15 months had elapsed in the negotiations, and only then because they met two central conditions that had been established.  The first was a ceasefire, and the second was a publicly stated commitment to what came to be known as the Mitchell Principles because I was the chairman of the commission that established them.  

    And those commitments included — I’ll just quote briefly from them — a commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; a commitment to renounce for themselves and to oppose any efforts by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or the outcome of the negotiations; and finally a commitment to agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.

    So there are analogous — not identical and not directly comparable — conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet with respect to Hamas.  And if there is movement to accept those principles, as occurred with Sinn Féin and the IRA in Northern Ireland, why then, of course, they would be welcome.  And we would want them to participate in those circumstances.  So I want to make clear in that regard what our position is.

    Go ahead, I’m sorry.  Did you want to follow up?

    At what point in the proximity talks you realized that —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Please keep in mind that when we began the proximity talks, I stated publicly in announcing them that the purpose was to provide a transition into direct negotiations, to encourage the parties to establish the conditions and reach the conclusion that this would be the best to accomplish.  

The circumstances were such that before we reached the four-month period which had been established for a review of those proximity talks by the Arab League Follow-up Committee, we felt that following the President’s personal meeting with President Abbas in June and his personal meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in July, and his direct discussions with them, that the opportunity existed to make the transition from proximity to direct talks at an earlier time.  As it turns out, the time is very nearly consistent with the four-month period that had been established.

    Yes, sir, Senator Mitchell.  We’ve seen — we’ll see that President Obama will be taking a direct personal role tomorrow in the bilateral talks and the dinner with the leaders.  But going forward, how much of a personal engagement will we see from the President?  Will he be ready step in himself to help bridge any differences?  Would he possibly be looking at another meeting, a trilateral meeting at the U.N. General Assembly at the end of the month?  And what about a trip to the region that he’s talked about in the past?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The President has been engaged personally from the very beginning.  As you may recall, on January 21st of 2009, less than 24 hours after taking office, the first calls he made to foreign leaders were to leaders in this region.  And on the following day, he announced my appointment.

    Please do not confuse personal engagement exclusively with public activities, because as you know, there’s a lot that a President does that isn’t in the public arena but that is a very — represents very active participation.  

    With respect to all of the items that you mentioned, I’m certain that what the President will do will make a judgment based upon the circumstances at the time, the reasonableness and the necessity of his participation, and will continue to be fully and actively a participant in the process, as necessary.  He has many, many important obligations, but he places a high priority on comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

     Senator, good to see you.  Two questions.  The one-year deadline, does that reflect what the parties have communicated to you and others what they believe is possible, or is the one-year deadline meant to create a sense of urgency and place them in a calendar that sorts of tries to apply a bit of pressure?  That’s one question.

    The second question is, of course these talks occur in a larger security context for Israel as it relates to Iran.  There are national security questions facing Israel and there will be diplomatic implications to whatever they do or do not decide.  Can you give us any sense of how this larger context, the question of Iran, and what may or may not happen, could in any way shape the outcome of these talks?    

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The latter is obviously an issue of high importance, not just to Israel and the United States but to all of the countries in the region and indeed around the world, and has been the subject of intensive activity at the United Nations and elsewhere.  I think you would be better served if I deferred on that to those who are directly involved in the specific formulation and implementation of policy toward Iran.

    But I can say, with respect to this conflict, it is an important issue.  I was struck that when I first went to the region last year, I took out and reviewed the report that I had authored in 2001 and President Bush as chairman of what came to be known as the Sharm el-Sheikh commission regarding the conflict.  And I read it through quickly, but I found no reference to Iran.  And yet on my first visit and subsequent visits, during which I met with the leaders of, I believe, 14 or 15 countries in the region, without exception Iran was included in the conversation.  And in most of them, it was the first or second item mentioned.  So clearly that is an important issue and one which has an impact on this process.

     What was the first part?

    The one-year deadline.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes.  During his visit to the United States in July, Prime Minister Netanyahu in a public statement, not at the time of the meeting in the White House, said that he believed this could be done within one year.  And we were pleased to hear him say that, and President Abbas has privately expressed to me his view that he does not want this to drag out, that he wants to get it done as soon as possible.  And I would let him speak for himself.  But he has provided us with an indication that he wants to move as soon as possible.

    People ask whether the long history of negotiation has been beneficial or harmful.  It’s actually been both, in some respects.  Beneficial in the sense that this has been discussed so often that people have a good sense of what the principal issues are and how they might be resolved; harmful in the sense that it’s created attitudes among many in the region that it’s a never-ending process, that it’s gone on for a very long time and will go on forever.  So it’s very important to create a sense that this has a definite concluding point.  And we believe that it can be done and we will do everything possible, with perseverance and patience and determination, to see that it is done.

     You mentioned the long, rich history of U.S. mediation in the peace process.  There have been any number of frameworks under which these talks have taken place in the past — the road map, the Tenet agreement, the “shelf agreement,” Annapolis.  Assuming that you’re not going into this sort of winging it, can you give us some sense of which parts of those frameworks you’ve adopted?  Give us a little review of the framework you’re using for these talks.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  What we’ve tried to do is to avoid a slavish adherence to the past while trying to learn what might have been improved in the past, what worked, what didn’t work.  And so we have avoided deliberately any specific label or identification that this is a continuation of process A or B or C.  

Rather, what we want to do is to learn what we can from those and take the best of them.  And they include, in my judgment, frequent direct contact between the leaders, between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority.  

Secondly, active and sustained United States participation so that we are not on some distant sideline cheering the parties on without active participation, but at the same time we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation, and in the end the parties must make this decision by and for themselves.

Thirdly, maintaining broad international support, which is critical.  I have been to the region many, many times, and that’s all been widely reported.  What has been less widely reported is that on most of my trips, I stop in Europe and in other places on the way over and back.  I’ve made many visits to Brussels, to European capitals and to the United Nations.  We think it important that there be a broad basis of international support.  We take seriously the Quartet’s role, and that’s reflected in Prime Minister Blair’s presence at the diner tomorrow evening.  

And finally, it is to try very hard to create an atmosphere that is conducive to success and positive development of the process.  That’s not easy.  There is a free and vigorous press in the societies that are involved — here as well, as there should be.  There’s a constant back-and-forth, and conflict and sensational statements, of course, generally get quick and widespread coverage.  But we think it’s very important that they establish some degree of confidence in the sincerity and the seriousness of purpose of each other so that they can begin to contemplate the very difficult decisions that each of them will have to make if we’re going to achieve success in the process.

    What’s your estimate, Senator, of the sincerity of purpose on each side?  Following up on Major’s question, many people in the region see the one-year deadline as simply a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Well, we can’t avoid the fact that many people in the region disagree with one or more aspects of this.  Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that if you took every sentence that I’ve uttered today and spent 24 hours, you could find someone in the region who disagreed with some part of it or all of it.  That’s just the reality.  This is a conflict of longstanding, very deeply held views, very strong emotions, high level of mistrust, and therefore sharply divided.

    So if — anybody who wants never to be challenged or face confrontation ought not to get involved in this process because that’s just the reality.  And we have to do our best in a realistic way to try to create the conditions, imperfect in all circumstances, that will enable them to go forward.

    What was the other part of it, Bill?

    The people in the region seeing the one-year timeline as a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes, yes.  Well, we don’t — we disagree with that.  We think it is realistic.  We think it can be done.  We recognize that there are many — indeed, many very knowledgeable and experienced people who hold a different view.  And there are also many who aggressively advocate the view that this can’t be done and shouldn’t be done — on both sides — in public statements and public advocacy.

    But in my judgment, what it really comes down to in the end is what is best for the people of Israel and what is best for the Palestinian people.

    And I believe that a strong and persuasive and convincing argument can be made and must be made by us and others that a peaceful resolution, which ends this conflict, which ends all claim, which creates a viable, democratic, contiguous Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel is in their best interest.  And the alternative to that, of the possibility of continuing conflict into the indefinite future, is far more problematic.  

Peace Talks Not Derailed by Terrorist Attack

— Alan Elsner and Jennifer Packer

(The Israel Project) A terrorist attack that killed four Israeli civilians including a pregnant woman on Tuesday (Aug. 31) will not sabotage this week’s direct peace negotiations in Washington, Israeli Embassy spokesman Jonathan Peled said.

In a telephone conference call for The Israel Project, Peled said the attack near the West Bank city of Kiryat Arba was deliberately intended to sabotage the talks, which will convene at the U.S. State Department on Thursday after a 20-month delay.

More after the jump.

“It (the attack) impacts, but it shouldn’t derail the talks that are coming to fruition this week,” Peled said. “This terror act is a clear sign of the imperative need for us to ensure that if Israel’s security needs are not addressed, it’s going to be very, very difficult to begin making concessions in the West Bank.”
“The timing of this is deliberate to try and derail the Palestinians and all those who seek peace in the region from coming and sitting down at the table with Israel,” he said.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, congratulated the attackers saying the attack was a normal reaction to what he called “the crime of occupation.” Hamas, which controls Gaza, opposes direct talks and the continued existence of Israel.
The attack appeared to be carefully planned. The gunmen opened fire on the car at short range, leaving the vehicle riddled with bullet holes and killing all its occupants. Israeli security forces launched a hunt for the perpetrators.
Peled said Iran and its Iran-backed Hamas and Hezbollah proxies were intent on sabotaging the peace process but Israel was ready, on coming to the table, to make “painful concessions” for a secure peace. He said 70 percent of the Israeli public supported such concessions, including withdrawing from parts of the West Bank so that a Palestinian state could be established.
The attack took place shortly before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington. He and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will meet separately at the White House with President Barack Obama on Wednesday before Thursday’s direct talks.
Peled said the main goal of the meeting, which Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah also will attend, is to set up a timetable for further face-to-face negotiations in the region.

Gaza Update: Remarks by Pres. Obama & Palestinian Authority Pres. Abbas

(White House) We saw the tragedy with the flotillas, something that I think has drawn attention all around the world to the ongoing problems in Gaza. As part of the United Nations Security Council, we were very clear in condemning the acts that led to this crisis and have called for a full investigation. And it is important that we get all the facts out. But what we also know is that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable. I think increasingly you’re seeing debates within Israel, recognizing the problems with the status quo. And so President Abbas and I had very extensive discussions about how we could help to promote a better approach to Gaza.

We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory.

Full text of the remarks follow the break.

 

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Before I begin, I know that there was just a vote in the United Nations Security Council.  I’m going to comment on that separately.  I don’t want to detract from the topic at hand here. So for reporters who are interested in that issue, I will be making a statement about that after our session here.

 

I just want to thank President Abbas for being here, and his delegation.  We just concluded some very productive discussions on this issue.  I commended President Abbas for the excellent work that he and Prime Minister Fayyad have been engaged in over the last several years in strengthening the security as well as improving the economic situation for his people.  He’s done so through hard work and dedication, and I think the whole world has noticed the significant improvements that we’ve seen as a consequence of his good administration.

 

But obviously there is a lot of work that remains to be done so that we can create a two-state solution in the Middle East in which we have an Israel that is secure and fully accepted by its neighbors, and a Palestinian people that have their own state, self-determination, and the ability to chart their own destiny.

 

Now, we’ve just gone through a difficult period in the region.  We saw the tragedy with the flotillas, something that I think has drawn attention all around the world to the ongoing problems in Gaza.  As part of the United Nations Security Council, we were very clear in condemning the acts that led to this crisis and have called for a full investigation.  And it is important that we get all the facts out.  But what we also know is that the situation in Gaza is unsustainable.  I think increasingly you’re seeing debates within Israel, recognizing the problems with the status quo.  And so President Abbas and I had very extensive discussions about how we could help to promote a better approach to Gaza.

 

We agree that Israelis have the right to prevent arms from entering into Gaza that can be used to launch attacks into Israeli territory.  But we also think that it is important for us to explore new mechanisms so that we can have goods and services, and economic development, and the ability of people to start their own businesses, and to grow the economy and provide opportunity within Gaza.

 

And so we are going to be working hand in hand to make sure that we come up with a better approach, and urge Israel to work with all parties involved — Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, and the international community — to find a resolution to this issue.

 

In the meantime, the United States — which is already the biggest humanitarian aid donor in Gaza — is going to be announcing an additional $400 million in assistance for housing, school construction, business development — not only in Gaza, but also in the West Bank, because we think it’s important for us to reaffirm once again our commitment to improving the day-to-day lives of ordinary Palestinians.

 

Now, what we also discussed, though, and what we will continue to work on over the next several months is the fact that not only is the status quo with respect to Gaza unsustainable, the status quo with respect to the Middle East is unsustainable. It is time for us to go ahead and move forward on a two-state solution that will affirm the needs of Israeli citizens and will affirm the needs of Palestinian — Palestinians who are desperate for a homeland.

 

We have had very productive proximity talks.  Senator Mitchell — who is here, I think standing in the back — has been very active, working with both the Palestinians and the Israelis to try to start moving this process forward.  And I want to thank President Abbas for participating in these proximity talks even under some difficult circumstances.  He has shown courage and tenacity in wanting to resolve this issue.  And we believe that with Israelis and the Palestinian Authority coming together, making clear that a peaceful, non-violent solution that recognizes both the security needs of Israel as well as the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians is the right way to go, can yield real progress in the coming months.

 

It’s important that we understand the sense of urgency that the Palestinian people feel in this process.  Obviously you’ve got organizations like Hamas that have not recognized Israel, have not renounced violence, who are calling for a different approach.  And we think it’s important that, given President Abbas’s commitment to a peaceful diplomatic solution to these issues, and I think the desire of people both in Israel and Palestine — Palestinian Territories for a peaceful solution, that we move forward.  And the United States is going to put its full weight behind those efforts.

 

I did share with President Abbas, in order for us to be successful in these next several months, that both sides have to create an environment, a climate, that is going to be conducive to an actual breakthrough.  And that means on the Israeli side, curbing settlement activity and recognizing some of the progress that has been made by the Palestinian Authority when it comes to issues like security.  It means on the Palestinian side — and I was very frank with President Abbas that we have to continue to make more progress on both security as well as incitement issues.

 

And if we can over the next several months try to lift up what are the honest and legitimate concerns of both sides and if both Palestinians and Israelis can recognize that they have a common interest in moving off of what has been this dead end, then I believe that potentially we can make significant progress before the end of the year.

 

So I just want to let President Abbas know that I said when I took office this was an issue that I cared deeply about and I was willing to spend a lot of time and energy and political capital on.  That commitment has not wavered.  And I think the American people want to see a resolution of this issue that is equitable.  We will continue to work side by side with you, as well as the Israelis, to resolve this in a way that is good for the children and future generations both in Israel and in a future Palestine.

 

So thank you very much.

 

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (As translated.)  Thank you, Mr. President.  And we, indeed, have just held very important discussions that touched on the political process as well as the very important latest development that happened in Gaza.

 

Of course we value and deeply appreciate all the efforts of the United States, as well as the effort of President Obama, and all the assistance and help for pushing forward the economic and security levels.  And we have reached a satisfactory picture of the economic and security levels.  Yet we are determined to keep pushing forward in our efforts to bring it up to the next level.

 

And I also appreciate the attention and the determination of President Obama in seeing that we push forward the political process as soon as possible.  And I assert and I affirm that we will not give up on this endeavor ahead of us, because it is in our interest, it in the interest of Israel, in the interest of the world, and also, most of all, in the interest of the United States.

 

We know that time is of essence; we know that we must not miss this opportunity.  We affirm the importance of bringing about peace and security in the region.

 

And I would like to thank President Obama for the support that he will give to Gaza — and we have just talked about that now.  This is a positive signal of the United States that the United States cares about the suffering of the people in Gaza and about the suffering of the Palestinian people.

 

And we also see the need to lift the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people, the need to open all the crossings, and the need to let building material and humanitarian material and all the necessities go into the Palestinian people.

 

And also we appreciate the attention given to the formation of an investigation committee that would investigate what happened in the latest events, the events of what we call the Freedom Flotilla, or the Freedom Fleet.

 

And I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we’re not doing that.  What we care about is to live in coexistence with Israel, in order to bring about the independent Palestinian state that will live side by side with Israel in peace and stability.

 

We adopt and we affirm the Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted in summits, in Arab summits, as well as in summits held by Islamic countries.  Fifty-seven Arab and Islamic countries have said that they would recognize Israel if Israel withdrew from the occupied Arab land.

 

Mr. President, we thank you and we express our deep respect for all your efforts, specifically on the peace process and bringing about peace in the Middle East.  We know the two-state solution you said is a critical interest of the United States.  This is a slogan that we are proud of and we will pursue very seriously our efforts in order to bring about peace in the Middle East.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  We got time for, I think, two questions.  So, on the U.S. side, we’re going to call on Matt Spetalnick of Reuters.

 

Q    Yes, Mr. President, I know you’re going to be making a statement later on Iran, but I just wondered if —

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Yes, so just don’t waste that question on that.

 

Q    You’re not going to answer anything —

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  I’ll do that at the next one.

 

Q    Okay.  Did President Abbas ask you to take a tougher line with Israel over the Gaza aid flotilla raid, and will you in fact do so in outright condemnation of Israel’s actions?  And do you support Israel’s insistence on doing a flotilla investigation on its own, perhaps with some foreign involvement, or are you in favor of the U.N. proposal for a completely independent inquiry?

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Well, let me take the second question first.  What the U.N. Security Council called for was a credible, transparent investigation that met international standards.  And we meant what we said; that’s what we expect.

 

I think everybody — people in Israel, people in Turkey, people within the Palestinian Territories, certainly people here in the United States — want to know the facts of this tragedy, what led to it, how can we prevent it in the future.  And I think I’ve said to the Israelis directly and certainly my team has communicated the fact that it is in Israel’s interest to make sure that everybody knows exactly how this happened so that we don’t see these kinds of events occurring again.  And we expect that the standard that was called for in the U.N. Security Council to be met.

 

With respect to the issue of taking a tougher line, I think President Abbas and I spent most of our time discussing how do we solve the problem.  One of the things that we see is that so often rhetoric when it comes to issues in the Middle East outstrip actually solving issues.  And our conversation was focused on how do we actually allow more goods, more services into Gaza?  How do we allow businesses to thrive?  How can we get construction moving?  How can we put people to work in Gaza?

 

The Palestinian Authority is already doing a number of things inside of Gaza, providing employment opportunities, providing assistance to people directly.  The United States is already providing assistance.  But the status quo that we have is one that is inherently unstable.  And I think the Israelis have come to recognize that.

 

The question now is how do we create a different framework so that people in Gaza can thrive and succeed; so that extremists are isolated as opposed to having an excuse for engaging in violent activities; but also, how do we do it in a way that Israel’s legitimate security concerns are met.

 

We — and I think President Abbas agrees with this — recognize that Israel should not have missiles flying out of Gaza into its territories.  And so there should be a means by which we are able to stop the flow of arms that could endanger Israel’s security.  At the same time, we’re doing so in a way that allows the people in Gaza to live out their aspirations and their dreams both for themselves and their children.  And that’s something that we’re going to spend a lot of time focusing on.  And we’ve already begun some hard-headed discussions with the Israelis in achieving that.

 

Q    (Asks a question in Arabic.)

 

And, Mr. President, if I may ask you a question —

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  Okay, I was just finding out what you were asking him.  (Laughter.)

 

Q    I can translate that to you if you want.  I just asked him that there is talk that the administration wants to move from proximity talk to direct negotiation, what the Palestinian Authority wants to see as a condition to move to that stage.

 

And if I may ask you, the European Union has proposed opening of the Gaza crossing.  Would you endorse that, with the E.U. supervision?  And the money you talked about now, the $400 million, what mechanism — who is going to distribute this money? Because in the past it has been a problem regarding the money.

 

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (As translated.)  With regards to the transitioning from the proximity talks to the direct talks, we did not say — we are not saying that we have conditions.  What has happened is that we agreed that should a progress be achieved, then we would move on to direct talks.  We are working in order to make progress.  President Obama is working for that to see progress.  And we — this is what we have.

 

PRESIDENT OBAMA:  With respect to the aid to Gaza, I’ll let my team give you the details in terms of how that will be administered and how the money will begin to flow.

 

With respect to the broader issue of lifting the blockade, as I said before, I think the key here is making sure that Israel’s security needs are met, but that the needs of people in Gaza are also met.  And it seems to us that there should be ways of focusing narrowly on arms shipments, rather than focusing in a blanket way on stopping everything and then in a piecemeal way allowing things into Gaza.

 

So if we can get a new conceptual framework — and I’ll be talking to my European counterparts, as well as Egypt and Israel and the Palestinian Authority — it seems to me that we should be able to take what has been a tragedy and turn it into an opportunity to create a situation where lives in Gaza are actually directly improved.

 

But let me make this final point, that in the long run, the only real way to solve this problem is to make sure that we’ve got a Palestinian state side by side with an Israel that is secure.  And so we’re going to be dealing with these short-term problems, but we also have to keep our eye on the horizon and recognize that it’s that long-term issue that has to be focused on.  So many of the immediate problems in front of us have to do with the fact that we haven’t solved this broader problem.

 

Okay?  Thank you very much, everybody.