MR. CROWLEY: Good afternoon from Washington, and good evening to our friends in Ramallah. Here in Washington we are joined by the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and in Ramallah by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. We’ll begin the program with Secretary Clinton and then follow by remarks by the prime minister.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much. Welcome, and I’m delighted to be able to speak via technology on this important issue. I know that Prime Minister Fayyad and our Consul General in Jerusalem, Jake Walles, and others are joining us from Ramallah. I want to thank you for taking the time to meet with us. And I express – especially appreciate, Mr. Prime Minister, that you and your colleagues agreed to do this late on Friday evening, which I know is not convenient, to allow me to participate once I returned to Washington from Asia.
I wanted personally to announce the delivery of budget support to the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Because what is at stake for the Palestinian people, for the future of a Palestinian state, for the future security of Israel, and for the region is so critical. This is important also to the United States and the Obama Administration. Finding a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader conflict that has plagued the Middle East for decades has been a priority for the President and me from the very beginning of the Administration.
I am pleased that Senator George Mitchell, our Special Envoy for Middle East Peace, is back in the region. And I believe we are making progress in our efforts to create the environment for a successful resumption of negotiations in the near future. As I said at Sharm el-Sheikh, human progress depends on the human spirit. The broader goals we seek to accomplish – a comprehensive Arab-Israeli agreement and a two-state solution – are more likely to grow out of opportunity than futility, out of hope rather than misery.
As I also said, the point of our engagement is to help the parties make the decisions that are in their best interests. And it is our hope that the support of the United States and other nations will help foster conditions in which a Palestinian state can be fully realized, a state that is a responsible partner, is at peace with Israel and its Arab neighbors, accountable to its people, a state that Palestinians everywhere can be proud of and that will be respected worldwide.
This shared goal depends on strengthening the Palestinian Authority and its ability to meet the needs of its people. In just over two years, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have put in place the foundations of a responsible, transparent, accountable government. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that the United States has transferred $200 million in direct support to the Palestinian Authority. This transfer fulfills a critical portion of the assistance package that I announced in March in Sharm el-Sheikh. The ability of the United States to provide support directly to the Palestinian Authority is an indication of the bipartisan support for the effort to secure the peace in the Middle East, as well as for the fundamental reforms that the Palestinian Authority has undertaken. Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle worked closely with us to make this assistance possible.
An important marker of progress is that the Palestinian Authority now has systems in place to ensure that donor funds are handled transparently and in an accountable manner. We will continue to work with the Palestinian leadership to bolster these safeguards to make sure that the funding ends up exactly where – and for whom – it is intended.
But we are confident, because the Palestinian Authority, under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, has a very exceptional two-year track record of performance on economic reform and prudent financial management, as noted by the World Bank, the IMF, and our own internal reviews. These fiscal reforms serve a larger purpose. We are seeing the positive impact that responsible government is having on the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank, daily improvements in security, law and order, and economic opportunities.
For these improvements to take root, the capacity of the PA must be both deepened and strengthened. To continue this impressive record of reform, the PA needs financial help, and they need it now. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have worked hard to lower the burden on donors, but continued progress will depend on donors meeting their commitments. The United States has and will continue to be a partner with the Palestinian people for peace, prosperity, and security.
Now many other nations, including our European partners, have contributed generously to support the PA. I call on all nations that wish to see a strong, viable Palestinian state living in peace and security with its neighbors to join us in supporting the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has proven to be a reliable partner for peace. It offers the Palestinian people the option of a peaceful, free, and prosperous future, and an end to the violence and conflict that have deprived so many Palestinians of the opportunity to fulfill their hopes and dreams and for their children to live up to their God-given potential.
So these are the goals we seek to accomplish: a comprehensive Arab-Israel peace agreement and a two-state solution. And it is our hope that this support will further conditions in which a Palestinian state can be realized.
I’m very grateful for the changes and reforms that have been instituted in the Palestinian Authority, and I look forward to continuing to work with President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad on moving forward with these extremely important and critical goals. Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER FAYYAD: Thank you very much. Thank you, Madame Secretary, for taking the time to be with us today to take part in a very important event. Indeed, it is a hugely important event on at least three counts. For one, $200 million assistance package of yours represents the largest amount of external financial assistance to be made available to the Palestinian Authority in a single tranche by any donor toward any purpose since the inception of the PA, Palestinian Authority.
Second, the entire amount assistance is earmarked for budget support – the very type of external assistance we need the most, particularly at this juncture, given the severe financial difficulties that we have been facing for many months now. So your assistance couldn’t have been more timely, and it will enhance our capacity to deliver vital and needed services to our people in Gaza and in the West Bank. For all of this, we are grateful to you, Madame Secretary.
In this case, our sense of deep gratitude is matched, if not even surpassed by the by immense pride in what we have accomplished – to be worthy of the confidence of our people and the international community in the legitimacy of our financial management system. Given the very high and indeed exacting standards of accountability and transparency set forth by the U.S. Congress of aid disbursement, the fact that you have chosen to disburse the full $200 million directly to our treasury carries with it a clear signal amount of confidence in our financial systems and our financial management.
It is indeed a huge vote of confidence and one which we deeply cherish. Madame Secretary, any aid receiving country would be proud to qualify for your assistance being delivered directly to its treasury. For us Palestinians, it takes on added significance, given what it implies, in terms of our readiness for statehood and the fulfillment of our ultimate goal of living in freedom and dignity in a country of our own.
So, Madame Secretary, on behalf of President Abbas, the Palestinian National Authority, and the Palestinian people, I thank you personally. I also would like to thank President Obama, the U.S. Congress, and of course, the American people. Thank you so very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Fayyad, and I just want to underscore how much we appreciate all of the steps and changes that your government has undertaken. Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER FAYYAD: (Inaudible), thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: I think we’ll take a question or two. Is that okay, Jake?
SECRETARY CLINTON: On this subject. Yes.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, we’ve heard from Maliki, and perhaps Prime Minister Fayyad can speak to this as well, that as you’re – as you say, you’re making progress in creating the conditions for negotiations, that they’d like to see the Obama Administration make some kind of declaration or vision statement in terms of how you see the negotiations taking place, and your vision for a Middle East settlement so that that perhaps could, you know, get the parties onboard in terms of moving forward, that that’s what you need, and they want you to do it before Ramadan.
Do you anticipate any statement of this nature? Do you think that the Obama Administration will lay out its vision before the negotiations resume? And – because Senator Mitchell had said that he thought it would be done in weeks, not months, and we’re kind of approaching months at this point.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this is one step at a time. And as you know, Senator Mitchell is back in the region having further consultations and exploring, in depth, some of the actions that are being considered. He will be in Israel in a few days, and we’re going to let the parties continue to drive this process because we want to get back to the negotiations between the two of them. The final status issues, which are obviously very important, can only be resolved by agreement between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. So at this point, we’re working very hard to get to that step and then we’ll see where we go from there.
QUESTION: Could you be a bit more specific, though, as to when you think these negotiations could begin? Are you making any progress, for example, on the settlement issues? That seems to be the key issue that’s holding this up. Are you expecting Senator Mitchell to come back with something special, something resolved there?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’m not going to preempt Senator Mitchell. He is the person conducting these consultations on behalf of the President and myself. Obviously, this is very complicated work. There are lots of moving parts. So I think we’ll wait until there is some announcement to be made, and then once that happens, it will be, obviously, right to ask questions about it. But let’s let Senator Mitchell continue the important work that he’s doing.
MR. CROWLEY: Perhaps one or two more and then --
SECRETARY CLINTON: Okay. Okay, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Madame Secretary, a large number of senior American officials are going to Israel next week to talk with senior Israeli officials. I wonder if the Administration has decided maybe this is a good time to try to ratchet down some of the tensions with the Israelis over the issues that are being discussed, led by the settlements.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, when we talk with the Israelis, they are conversations between friends. I mean, we have a deep and durable relationship with Israel. It has been our commitment, no matter who is in the White House and no matter who is the prime minister in Israel. So I think that the conversations that we’re engaged in with our Israeli counterparts are very forthright, very clear that we have to work through a lot of the concerns that are expressed. Our goal is to ensure a peaceful and secure future for the Israeli people and future generations of Israelis.
So I think that there is a great deal of positive communication that is taking place. And it’s not only on the issues that Senator Mitchell is driving, but we have many interests and concerns with the Israelis that will be explored and discussed when General Jones and his delegation arrive there.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, Senator Mitchell is going to Syria. Do you expect that you can make progress on the Syrian-Israeli track before the Palestinian-Israeli track?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Again, I think this is one of the issues that is being explored. As you know, we began a policy of reengaging Syria when I became Secretary of State, and working with our teams here, Jeff Feltman and others from the State Department and the White House. And we think that it’s a fruitful engagement that we intend to pursue. We have notified the Syrians that we are returning an ambassador to Damascus.
But it is just the beginning. I mean, I don’t want to leapfrog over the hard work that has to be done in working through many of the issues that are of great concern to the United States that Syria has to be willing to discuss with us and, hopefully, make some changes going forward.
So as we move through this process, we obviously will be informing you as to where we are. But I think the question of either/or track – Senator Mitchell is exploring deeply with the Syrians how they would respond to renewed negotiations with the Israelis. The timing on that, the simultaneity of it; that’s all to be determined.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR. CROWLEY: One more?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. Following up on this track, on the Syrian track and also Senator Mitchell’s visit, importantly, for a solution to be viable, other Palestinian actors will have be to involved. Syria has important sway with Hamas and other Palestinian factions. So what do you expect from the Syrians on that track, and how important is it for national unity between the Palestinians? Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, of course, the Palestinians themselves have been, as you know, meeting in Cairo over a number of months to discuss some of the challenges to unity, and I leave that to them to describe, because there are internal dynamics that have nothing to do with any other party. It’s between them.
But with respect to Hamas being a part of any negotiations, we’ve set forth the conditions that would be necessary for Hamas to meet. And they’re conditions that not only do we support, but the Quartet -- the UN, EU, United States, and Russia – support, and the Palestinian Authority supports. I mean, the Palestinian Authority is working very hard, as evidenced by their reform efforts, the changes that they’ve instituted, to try to be a responsible and effective partner with Israel in any peace negotiations going forward.
So they don’t want someone at the table who doesn’t even agree with the purpose of the negotiations. So the conditions are clear – Hamas has to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and agree to the enforcement of prior agreements that have been entered into by the Palestinian Authority.
That hasn’t yet come to pass. But I think the path forward for Hamas is very clear. If the Syrians or anyone else can persuade them to take a positive path forward, well, clearly, I think the Palestinian Authority and others would welcome that. But at this moment, that is not yet their position.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you all very much. I leave you in the good hands of P.J. And I don’t see anybody who was on that trip with me. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Oh, well, I mean, gosh, I was just looking to see who (inaudible). (Laughter.) Thank you all.
MR. CROWLEY: We can say for the record, she got off the airplane, came straight to the office. (Laughter.)
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