Clinton's speech: Time to grapple with the core issues

‘US discussions with both sides will be held in the next few months on the key questions of a framework agreement.’

December 12, 2010 04:48
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton

Hillary Clinton face and flag 311 AP. (photo credit: AP)


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In Washington on Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set out the new approach the US will follow in pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace, having abandoned its earlier effort to obtain a three-month Israeli settlement freeze that might yield new direct talks.

In an address to the Brooking Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East policy, she urged the two sides to set out their positions on the core issues of dispute without delay, and promised that the US would offer its “own ideas and bridging proposals” in order to broker an accord.

You don’t have to read secret diplomatic cables to know that we are meeting during a difficult period in the pursuit of peace in the Middle East...

Rather than dwell on what has come before, I want to focus tonight on the way forward, on America’s continuing engagement in helping the parties achieve a two-state solution that ends the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians once and for all, and on what it will take, finally, to realize that elusive, but essential goal.

Before I go further, I want to offer the deepest condolences of the American people for the lives lost in the recent fires in northern Israel. Israelis are always among the first to lend a hand when an emergency strikes anywhere in the world. So when the fires began to burn, people and nations stepped up and offered help. It was remarkable to watch...

The United States will always be there when Israel is threatened. We say it often, but it bears repeating: America’s commitment to Israel’s security and its future is rock solid and unwavering, and that will not change...

For Israel and for the region, there may be no greater strategic threat than the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran... Let me restate clearly: The United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons...

We have also stepped up efforts to block the transfer of dangerous weapons and financing to terrorist groups like Hizbullah and Hamas.

But Iran and its proxies are not the only threat to regional stability or to Israel’s long-term security. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and between Israel and Arab neighbors is a source of tension and an obstacle to prosperity and opportunity for all the people of the region. It denies the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people and it poses a threat to Israel’s future security. It is at odds also with the interests of the United States.

I know that improvements in security and growing prosperity have convinced some that this conflict can be waited out or largely ignored. This view is wrong and it is dangerous. The long-term population trends that result from the occupation are endangering the Zionist vision of a Jewish and democratic state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. Israelis should not have to choose between preserving both elements of their dream. But that day is approaching.

At the same time, the ever-evolving technology of war, especially the expanding reach of the rockets amassed on Israel’s borders, means that it will be increasingly difficult to guarantee the security of Israeli families throughout the country without implementing peace agreements that answer these threats.

Continuing conflict also strengthens the hands of extremists and rejectionists across the region while sapping the support of those open to coexistence and cooperation. Radicalization of the region’s young people and growing support for violent ideologies undermine the stability and prosperity of the Middle East. The United States looks at these trends. We reflect on our deep and unwavering support of the State of Israel and we conclude without a shadow of a doubt that ending this conflict once and for all and achieving a comprehensive regional peace is imperative for safeguarding Israelis’ future.

We also look at our friends the Palestinians, and we remember the painful history of a people who have never had a state of their own, and we are renewed in our determination to help them finally realize their legitimate aspirations. The lack of peace and the occupation that began in 1967 continue to deprive the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination. This is unacceptable, and, ultimately, it too is unsustainable.

So for both Israelis and Palestinians and, indeed, for all the people of the region, it is in their interest to end this conflict and bring a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace to the Middle East based on two states for two peoples.

For two years, you have heard me and others emphasize again and again that negotiations between the parties is the only path that will succeed in securing their respective aspirations; for the Israelis, security and recognition; for the Palestinians, an independent, viable sovereign state of their own. This remains true today. There is no alternative other than reaching mutual agreement...

I regret that we have not gotten farther faster in our recent efforts.

That is why yesterday and today I met with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators and underscored our seriousness about moving forward with refocused goals and expectations.

It is time to grapple with the core issues of the conflict on borders and security; settlements, water and refugees; and on Jerusalem itself.

And starting with my meetings this week, that is exactly what we are doing. We will also deepen our strong commitment to supporting the state-building work of the Palestinian Authority and continue to urge the states of the region to develop the content of the Arab Peace Initiative and to work toward implementing its vision.

Over recent months, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have met face to face multiple times. I have been privileged to be present during their meetings in Sharm e-Sheikh, in Jerusalem, and in Washington. I have also had the chance to talk with each leader privately.

These were meaningful talks that yielded new clarity about the gaps that must be bridged.

Significantly, both sides decided together to pursue a framework agreement that would establish the fundamental compromises on all permanent-status issues and pave the way for a final peace treaty.

Reaching this goal will not be easy by any means. The differences between the two sides are real and they are persistent. But the way to get there is by engaging, in good faith, with the full complexities of the core issues and by working to narrow the gaps between the two sides.

By doing this, the parties can begin to rebuild confidence, demonstrate their seriousness, and hopefully find enough common ground on which to eventually relaunch direct negotiations and achieve that framework.

The parties have indicated that they want the United States to continue its efforts. And in the days ahead, our discussions with both sides will be substantive two-way conversations with an eye toward making real progress in the next few months on the key questions of an eventual framework agreement.

The United States will not be a passive participant. We will push the parties to lay out their positions on the core issues without delay and with real specificity. We will work to narrow the gaps asking the tough questions and expecting substantive answers. And in the context of our private conversations with the parties, we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate.

We enter this phase with clear expectations of both parties. Their seriousness about achieving an agreement will be measured by their engagement on these core issues...

First, on borders and security. The land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean is finite, and both sides must know exactly which parts belong to each. They must agree to a single line drawn on a map that divides Israel from Palestine and to an outcome that implements the two-state solution with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan and Egypt. The Palestinian leaders must be able to show their people that the occupation will be over. Israeli leaders must be able to offer their people internationally recognized borders that protect Israel’s security. And they must be able to demonstrate to their people that the compromises needed to make peace will not leave Israel vulnerable. Security arrangements must prevent any resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with new and emerging threats. Families on both sides must feel confident in their security and be able to live free from fear.

Second, on refugees. This is a difficult and emotional issue, but there must be a just and permanent solution that meets the needs of both sides.

Third, on settlements. The fate of existing settlements is an issue that must be dealt with by the parties along with the other final-status issues.

But let me be clear: The position of the United States on settlements has not changed and will not change. Like every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.

We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and two-state solution, but to Israel’s future itself.

And finally, on Jerusalem, which is profoundly important for Jews, Muslims, and Christians everywhere. There will surely be no peace without an agreement on this, the most sensitive of all the issues. The religious interests of people of all faiths around the world must be respected and protected. We believe that through good faith negotiations, the parties should mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations for both parties, for Jerusalem, and safeguard its status for people around the world.

Even as we engage both sides on the core issues with an eye toward eventually restarting direct negotiations, we will deepen our support of the Palestinians’ state-building efforts. Because we recognize that a Palestinian state achieved through negotiations is inevitable.

I want, once again, to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister [Salam] Fayyad for their leadership in this effort. Under the Palestinian Authority’s two-year state-building plan, security has improved dramatically, services are being delivered, and the economy is growing.

It is of course true that much work remains to reverse a long history of corruption and mismanagement. But Palestinians are rightfully proud of the progress they have achieved, and the World Bank recently concluded that if the Palestinian Authority maintains its momentum in building institutions and delivering public services, it is – and I quote – “well positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.” The United States is continuing our efforts to support this important work... Last month I was pleased to announce the transfer of an additional $150 million in direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority.

This fall, to cite one example, American experts in partnership with the Palestinian Water Authority began drilling new and muchneeded wells in Hebron. And with recent Israeli approvals, we soon will begin several water infrastructure projects in Gaza that the Palestinian Authority has identified as priorities. These and other efforts to expand wastewater treatment and provide sanitation services have already helped 12,000 Palestinian families gain access to clean water.

The United States is working with the Palestinian Authority, with Israel, and with international partners to ease the situation in Gaza and increase the flow of needed commercial goods and construction supplies while taking appropriate measures to ensure they don’t fall into the wrong hands. We are pleased with Israel’s recent decision to allow more exports from Gaza which will foster legitimate economic growth there. This is an important and overdue step, and we look forward to seeing it implemented...

Security is one area where the Palestinian Authority has made some of its most dramatic progress. I have seen it myself on recent trips to the West Bank, where well-trained and well-equipped Palestinian security forces stood watchful guard. Families in Nablus and Jenin shop, work, and play with a newfound sense of security, which also contributes to the improved economic conditions. As the Palestinian security forces continue to become more professional and capable, we look to Israel to facilitate their efforts. And we hope to see a significant curtailment of incursions by Israeli troops into Palestinian areas.

BUT FOR all the progress on the ground and all that the Palestinian Authority has accomplished, a stubborn truth remains: While economic and institutional progress is important, indeed necessary, it is not a substitute for a political resolution. The legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people will never be satisfied, and Israel will never enjoy secure and recognized borders, until there is a two-state solution that ensures dignity, justice and security for all.

This outcome is also in the interests of Israel’s neighbors. The Arab states have a pivotal role to play in ending the conflict. Egypt and Jordan in particular have been valuable partners for peace. In the days ahead, as we engage with the parties on the core issues and support the Palestinian people’s efforts to build their own institutions, we will also continue our diplomacy across the region and with our partners in the Quartet. Senator [George] Mitchell will leave this weekend for Jerusalem and Ramallah and will then visit a number of Arab and European capitals.

Our message remains the same: The Arab states have an interest in a stable and secure region. They should take steps that show Israelis, Palestinians and their own people that peace is possible and that there will be tangible benefits if it is achieved. Their support makes it easier for the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and a final agreement.

And their cooperation is necessary for any future peace between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria.

We continue to support the vision of the Arab Peace Initiative, a vision of a better future for all the people of the Middle East. This landmark proposal rests on the basic bargain that peace between Israel and her neighbors will bring recognition and normalization from all the Arab states.

It is time to advance this vision with actions, as well as words. And Israel should seize the opportunity presented by this initiative while it is still available.

In the end, no matter how much the United States and other nations around the region and the world work to see a resolution to this conflict, only the parties themselves will be able to achieve it.

The United States and the international community cannot impose a solution. Sometimes I think both parties seem to think we can. We cannot. And even if we could, we would not, because it is only a negotiated agreement between the parties that will be sustainable. The parties themselves have to want it. The people of the region must decide to move beyond a past that cannot change and embrace a future they can shape together...

Palestinians must appreciate Israel’s legitimate security concerns.

And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinian people. Ignoring the other side’s needs is, in the end, selfdefeating.

To have a credible negotiating partner, each side must give the other the room, the political space to build a constituency for progress...

Demonizing the other side will only make it harder to bring each public around to an eventual agreement...

To demonstrate their commitment to peace, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas and their respective teams should ...

help build confidence, work to minimize distractions, and focus on the core questions, even in a period when they are not talking directly.

To demonstrate their commitment to peace, Israeli and Palestinian leaders should stop trying to assign blame for the next failure, and focus instead on what they need to do to make these efforts succeed.

And to demonstrate their commitment to peace, they should avoid actions that prejudge the outcome of negotiations or undermine good faith efforts to resolve final-status issues. Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust. Provocative announcements on east Jerusalem are counterproductive. And the United States will not shy away from saying so...

We will push the parties to grapple with the core issues. We will work with them on the ground to continue laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state. And we will redouble our regional diplomacy.

When one way is blocked, we will seek another. We will not lose hope and neither should the people of the region...

A just and lasting peace will transform the region. Israelis will finally be able to live in security, at peace with their neighbors, and confident in their future. Palestinians will at last have the dignity and justice they deserve with a state of their own and the freedom to chart their own destiny. Across the Middle East, moderates and advocates of peace and coexistence will be strengthened, while old arguments will be drained of their venom and the rejectionists and extremists will be exposed and marginalized.

Excerpted from the secretary’s December 10 address to the Saban Forum.

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