20 March 2010

Secretary-General's press conference with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad [unofficial transcript - revised]

SG: Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, Senior Advisors, salam alaykim, shukran jazeelan.

It's a great pleasure for me to visit Ramallah for the third time as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and I thank Prime Minister Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people for such a warm welcome and hospitality.

Even though this time I am not able to meet President Abbas I would like to ask you to convey my warmest regards and best wishes for his early recovery and I'm looking forward to meeting him in Sirte, Libya where I will attend the League of Arab States Summit meeting.

The Prime Minister and I have had very good discussions on all the matters pertaining to the Middle East Peace Process and how the United Nations, the Members of the Quartet and the international community as a whole can help the Palestinian people and authority to promote socio-economic development and how [interruption related to interpretation issue] so we are committed to work together with the Palestinian people and help your cause to complete negotiations on a settlement of all core issues within 24 months. Yesterday in Moscow, the Quartet sent a number of very clear messages and I am bringing these messages and I have just conveyed [them] to Prime Minister Fayyad.

[For] these core issues to be realized we have to get negotiations underway. The Quartet warmly welcomed the decision of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government to have indirect talks, and I encourage all Palestinians to support negotiations. Negotiations must lead to an end to the 1967 occupation. All final status issues, including Jerusalem, refugees and [inaudible] have to be resolved. That is the only way. There is no other alternative. For negotiations to succeed it is vital that the parties act responsibly on the ground.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for bringing me to Maysoun this morning where I realized how difficult life is and the challenges you have when you are not able to develop your own territory as your priority requires.

The world has condemned Israel's settlement extension plans in East Jerusalem. Let us be clear. All settlement activity is illegal anywhere in the Occupied Territory, and this must stop. The Quartet has reaffirmed it. I am also concerned about actions in Hebron, Jerusalem and elsewhere. I urge all parties to respect sensitivities and promote calm. We can, and must, find a way for Jerusalem to emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states with arrangements for holy sites acceptable to all. I commend the significant gains the Palestinian Authority has achieved in improving the economy and providing law and order, thanks to the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, this agenda is taking root.

The Quartet strongly backs the agenda for completing preparations for statehood in a timeline the Prime Minister set out. But of course, much more needs to be done. The Prime Minister and I talked about how the United Nations can support his agenda. I also expressed my concern to the Prime Minister about Palestinian prisoners. The release of prisoners would be a very important confidence-building measure, and in my talks with Israeli leadership I will urge Israel yet again to undertake just such a step.

The Prime Minister spoke forcefully about the situation in Gaza, and we see eye to eye on this matter. I will go to Gaza tomorrow to express my solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people there, and to underscore the need to end the blockade.

The United Nations has been urging Israel to allow the United Nations to begin recovery and reconstruction in Gaza, and the Israeli authorities have indicated approval for a number of UN projects. I will be pressing for speedy implementation and for more to follow. This includes, as you may know, 115 housing units in Khan Younis, and a flour mill and sewage treatment and classrooms in UNRWA and many other [inaudible]

But the problems in Gaza are much deeper and require a different policy. It is also vital for Palestinians to overcome their differences and unite on the basis of Palestinian and international legitimacy.

Finally, let me stress that the framework of international law must be the basis for the actions of the parties on the ground, and for a common settlement in accordance with United Nations resolutions and previous agreements.

Thank you again, Mr. Prime Minister, for your efforts. The international community will stay no matter what the ups and downs. This is a critical moment, and we are determined to see through a positive agreement.

Shukran jazeelan. Thank you.

Q: Your Excellency, as you know, the peace process has been going on for almost two decades, and concerning your call yesterday with the Quartet to implement the peace deals and are you mulling some kind of sanctions if either party does not adhere to your demands?

SG: I agree with your assessment that there have been lots of ups and downs and frustrations felt by, not only by the Palestinian people, but the whole international community, and there have been many initiatives and many agreements which have not been realized. This time, despite a lot of political challenges and again ups and downs, the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to engage in proximity talks with US facilitation. That is important and that was supported and welcomed by the Quartet and this is what the international community wants to see happen as soon as possible, as agreed. Our goal is to encourage those proximity talks which should be launched very soon, I hope. But this is not an end in itself, this should lead eventually to direct negotiation between the two parties. The international community and region powers have a role to play, and the United Nations, together with the members of the Quartet, together with the Arab leaders in the region, will work hard to facilitate and to encourage so that this will have positive results. It has been too long and it is high time now that Palestinians and Israelis should be able to live side by side in peace and security. That is the aspiration of the Palestinian people and that's the wish of the international community, so let us work hard and let us support the leadership of the Palestinians and Israelis so that they can sincerely sit down together and resolve all these issues.

Q: Secretary-General, you have said many times that settlements are illegal, you have called on Israel to stop building settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. So far the Israelis have said no, so what's different about this visit? Will you be bringing a new message to them and do you have any way of exerting leverage or pressure on the Israelis to actually get them to stop building settlements?

SG: I am sure that the Israeli authorities must have heard clear and loud the call by the international community and the Quartet issued collectively in a strong statement condemning such settlements. We have been repeatedly saying that settlements are against international law and against the Road Map. The Quartet has previously stated that all these settlement activities should cease, including natural growth. That was reaffirmed again in Moscow. I sincerely hope that the Israeli authorities refrain from taking such unilateral actions which may undermine and prejudice the final outcome of the negotiations. The politically conducive atmosphere should always be encouraged and facilitated and created so that negotiations itself can move on the basis of mutual understanding and with a sense of flexibility and sincerity. That's what we hope to see and I will discuss again and press hard the Israeli authorities.

Q: To Mr. Ban, the Palestinian says it will ask the UN to support it to establish a Palestinian state, if indirect talks doesn't achieve? The UN will support their [inaudible], and how?

SG: As I said, indirect talks are not an end in itself. That should lead to direct negotiations, that's the best way, there are no other alternatives. Now, the United Nations will work very closely with, first of all, the Quartet members to help the negotiations proceed as smoothly as possible. Both parties should engage with sincerity and flexibility, that's the best way. I do not envisage any strong failure of this. I sincerely hope this time that they will be able to agree on major issues. President Abbas and former Prime Minister Olmert of Israel and even the current Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel have had very sincere negotiations until a year and a half ago. I understand that they have come quite substantial [inaudible] and they have to build upon what they discussed at that time before negotiations were stalled. Now is good timing with the full support of the international community that they engage in proximity talks first then move forward to direct negotiations for a final settlement of all these issues.