|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Ad Hoc Liaison Committee for Assistance to Palestinians
Middle East Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, along with Norway’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, briefed correspondents today at Headquarters on the work of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, and the status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
The Committee, which coordinates assistance efforts of individual donors to the Palestinian people, and Quartet principals, including Mr. Blair, were meeting on the margins of United Nations General Assembly opening this week. The diplomatic Quartet includes the United Nations, European Union, Russian Federation and the United States.
Highlighting the importance of making the economic and political processes work in tandem, the Norwegian Foreign Minister noted that there had been increased funding coming to the Palestinian budget since the Committee’s last meeting in Oslo in June. “That’s a positive note. On the negative side,” he said, “there’s still a shortfall of $400 million in the Palestinian budget.”
Echoing a statement earlier in the day on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s behalf concerning the urgency of moving forward towards the two-State solution, Mr. Støre voiced support for a Palestinian plan to further develop the institutions that would underpin an independent State and a prosperous economy. “That plan now, I think, will be a key in the way donors plan and structure their assistance,” he said.
“This is not just another development corporation project, not yet another humanitarian project. It is an investment in a political project. And that’s why the two processes are taking place in New York today -– our meeting and the other one chaired by [ United States] President [Barack] Obama –- are so inextricably linked. And the success of the one is so much laying the foundation for the success of the other,” Mr. Støre said.
During the ensuing question-and-answer session, several correspondents seized on comments made earlier in the day by President Obama concerning Israeli settlements. They noted that at a three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to encourage the parties to restart the peace process, Mr. Obama had called on the Palestinians to advance negotiations and the Israelis to “restrain” settlement activity.
Asked by a correspondent what he understood by Mr. Obama’s use of the word “restrain”, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad said: “We understand it the only way it should be understood –- that is the way it is stated in the Road Map”.
The correspondent followed up by asking if the Palestinians would settle for anything less than a complete freeze. Mr. Fayyad answered by saying that “our position is, and has been, and has to be, full compliance with Road Map obligations”. When asked later if he was disappointed by the change of language, Mr. Fayyad reiterated the importance of the Road Map for the credibility of the process. The three-phase plan required parallel steps by both parties to include a complete ceasefire, improvement in humanitarian conditions, promotion of Palestinian institution-building, and a halt to all settlement construction.
Regarding the settlement issue, Mr. Blair said that “the single most important thing is that we get these negotiations launched, that we launch them with the credibility and context necessary for success. […] The important thing about settlements is that nothing happens that puts at risk that process”.
Commenting on the situation in Gaza, Mr. Blair said: “ Gaza is still a very serious situation. […] I can assure you that Gaza remains on our agenda, on the American agenda and on the agenda of these negotiations.” Gaza is a key to the peace process and a final settlement, he said, adding: “Are we frustrated by the lack of progress? Of course we are. But that’s why we continue to raise it, we continue to push it.”
Another correspondent asked Mr. Blair about the recent report from a United Nation fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict that indicated Israel had committed serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the conflict and actions amounting to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. “I am sure these allegations would be investigated thoroughly. I have to say to you, that my own preoccupation now is with the future in Gaza,” Mr. Blair said. “If we do not ease the plight of the people in Gaza, and ensure that they’re part of a lasting political settlement as one Palestinian State, then I think it will put at risk all the rest of the progress that we’ve made.”
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