Remarks With Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
October 31, 2009
MODERATOR: Good evening, and we welcome Secretary of State Clinton. We shall start with a few words, and then we’ll take two questions from each side. Prime Minister, please.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It’s my pleasure to welcome Secretary of State of the United States Hillary Clinton to Jerusalem. Welcome, Hillary. You are a great friend and a great champion of peace. I think that we owe a vote of thanks to you, to George Mitchell, to your staffs, and of course, to President Obama and the entire Obama Administration for the tireless efforts to re-launch the peace process – the peace process between us and the Palestinians, and between us and the Arab world – following the President’s vision of a regional peace.
We are eager to advance on both. We think that the place to resolve outstanding issues and differences of opinion is around a negotiating table. We think we should sit around that negotiating table right away. We’re prepared to start peace talks immediately. I think what we should do on the path to peace is to simply get on it and get with it. So I’m sure we’ll discuss these things and other things in the spirit of friendship between us and you, between Israel and the United States. Welcome to Jerusalem.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you so much, Prime Minister. It is a great personal pleasure for me to be back in Jerusalem and a great honor to be here as Secretary of State once again. And I look forward to our discussion, and I appreciate the very positive words about the need to get back into a negotiation that would be in the best interests of Israel and Israel’s security, as well as create a state for the Palestinian people. Both President Obama and I are committed to a comprehensive peace agreement because we do believe that it holds out the best promise for the security and future of Israel, and for the aspirations of the Palestinians.
So I’m looking forward to our discussion tonight. I know you’re someone who is indefatigable, so even though we’re starting our meeting so late, I have no doubt that it will be intense and cover a lot of ground. And I’m very much eager to begin those discussions.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, do you think both sides should re-launch the peace process without any preconditions?
SECRETARY CLINTON: I want to see both sides begin as soon as possible in negotiations. We have worked – and of course, Senator Mitchell has worked tirelessly – in setting forth what are the approaches that each side wishes to pursue in order to get into those negotiations, so I’m not going to express my opinion as to whether or not there should be conditions. The important thing, as the prime minister just said, is to get into the negotiations. I gave the same message today when I met with President Abbas.
We know that negotiations often take positions that then have to be worked through once the actual process starts. I think the best way to determine the way forward is, as the prime minister said, get on the path.
QUESTION: Mark Landler, New York Times. Madame Secretary, when you were here in March on the first visit, you issued a strong statement condemning the demolition of housing units in East Jerusalem. Yet, that demolition has continued unabated, and indeed, a few days ago, the mayor of the city of Jerusalem issued a new order for demolition. How would you characterize this policy today?
For the prime minister, sir, there’s been increasing tension, as you know, around – surrounding the Temple Mount, some civil unrest in the streets. Every time the peace process has lagged, often matters have been settled through violence. Are you worried that we are heading into that phase?
And then a last question, if I may. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: That’s the New York Times, for you. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Dr. Abdullah’s aides in Kabul have confirmed that he’s not going to take part in the runoff. Are you concerned that a Karzai government elected without the benefit of a runoff, given all the fraud in the first round, will be lacking in legitimacy?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, let me say I have nothing to add to my statement in March. I continue to stand by what I said then.
With respect to Afghanistan and Dr. Abdullah’s decision, I think that it is his decision to make. Whatever went into that determination is obviously his choice. But I do not think it affects the legitimacy. There have been other situations in our own country as well as around the world where, in a runoff election, one of the parties decides, for whatever reason, that they are not going to go on. I do not think that that in any way affects the legitimacy. And I would just add that when President Karzai accepted the second round without knowing what the consequences and outcome would be, that bestowed legitimacy from that moment forward, and Dr. Abdullah’s decision does not in any way take away from that.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I’m concerned with the attempts to create provocations around the issue of the Temple Mount. There are parties who are trying to do that. I assure you that the Government of Israel is not one of them. There are also extraordinary falsifications. My staff decided to have a meeting, a free evening, a few weeks ago. They decided to have it in the Old City. In the David City there’s a little restaurant there. They said, “Could you come for dessert,” because I worked long hours. I said, “Sure, I’ll see what I can do. I don’t promise, but we’ll make the arrangements.”
Our security people went there. Within an hour, Palestinian news agencies carried the story that Netanyahu was coming to the Old City to burrow a new tunnel under the Temple Mount. So help me God, this became an issue of great consequence. There were rumors that the violence would break out, exactly as you said. Now, this is entirely false. I give that as one example. There are daily examples of this and daily actions by militants, particularly the militant Islamic radicals who are trying to stir up trouble on the Temple Mount.
We are going to continue our efforts to keep Jerusalem safe, open, quiet, accessible to all three great faiths – Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. And the city is now very robust. It’s got a lot of tourism, as you see in the entire area. And the best way to see what is happening there is to go for yourself. Go take a look. You’ll see. And you’ll see our actual policy in place. We want a peaceful Jerusalem without provocations on the Temple Mount or anywhere else.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you went to Abu Dhabi, and I believe you came up with not much from Abu Mazen, who is actually presenting Israel and the United States with lots of no’s. Also, United States is encountering many no’s from Iran. At the moment, it doesn't look like some arrangement is being made at the moment. What is your reaction to what – receiving the no’s from the Arab world?
And the same question, please, to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, I believe that strategic patience is a necessary part of my job, and I view the conversations that we had this morning with President Abbas and his team as being very constructive and useful in continuing the move toward engagement that leads to negotiations. So if Senator Mitchell and I appear to be patient and persistent, it’s because we are. We think it’s worth being both.
With respect to Iran, there is not yet a final decision with respect to the Tehran research reactor. The important matter that I would underscore is the unity among the P-5+1, which includes not only the United States but the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, China, and also the EU, in putting forth and in staying firm with this. The world is united in a view that Iran should not have or acquire nuclear weapons capacity. And our view is that we are willing to work toward creative outcomes like shipping out the low-enriched uranium to be reprocessed outside of Iran. But we’re not going to wait forever. Patience does have, finally, its limits. And it is time for Iran to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities to the international community, and accepting this deal would be a good beginning.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: You asked two questions, one on Iran and the other on the peace process. On Iran, I want to express our appreciation for the very clear stance adopted by President Obama that has united, as Secretary Clinton has just said, an international consensus that Iran must cease its efforts to become a nuclear military power. I think the fact that there has been unity that has not been seen for a long time on this position is something very valuable, very important. And I think it’s important not only for Israel, I think it’s important for the Middle East, for our region, for the peace of the world. So I want to commend the efforts of you and President Obama and the Western and other leaders have taken here to – on this issue that I think is central to the future of the world, to the future of peace.
As far as the question about the peace process is concerned, look, first let me, before you talk about the no’s, talk about the yes. And I want to put rhetoric aside and talk about facts. It’s a fact that since my government took office, we dismantled hundreds of earth blocks, checkpoints, facilitated movement in the Allenby Bridge, and eliminated a lot of bureaucratic hurdles to daily life and economic activity in the Palestinian Authority’s areas. And as a result, there’s been a Palestinian economic boom. That is a fact.
The second fact is that I gave a speech at Bar Ilan University in which I said that Israel will accept the vision of two states for two peoples, a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state of Israel. It wasn’t easy to do, but we did it. That is a fact.
The third fact is that we’ve been talking earnestly, openly, and transparently to the American Administration, and we’ve talked about measures that we can take to facilitate further the launching – the re-launching of the peace process. That is a fact.
The simple fact is this: We are willing to engage in peace talks immediately without preconditions. The other fact is that, unfortunately, the other side is not. It is asking and piling on preconditions that it never put on in the 16 years that we’ve had that the peace process since the annunciation of the Oslo Accords. There have not been these preconditions. It’s a change of Palestinian policy, and I hope they change back to the right thing, which is to get into the negotiating tent. We’re eager and sincere in our desire to reach an agreement to end this conflict. I happen to think that we’re able to do this, contrary to all the pessimists around us. But the only way we can get to an agreement is to begin negotiating, and that is something that we are prepared to do. That is a fact.
MODERATOR: Finally, Joe Klein from Time Magazine. Yes.
QUESTION: I’m tempted to ask why is this night different from all other nights —
SECRETARY CLINTON: Do you want us to burst into song? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Yes. For 40 years, we’ve seen American secretaries of state and Israeli prime ministers in a similar situation. Despite the prime minister’s optimism, the talks are stalled. The prospect of talks is stalled. And while you’ve said yes without preconditions to talks, so many of your – you’ve said no to a settlement freeze. And I wonder whether that would be open to negotiation.
And Madame Secretary, is the Obama Administration still in favor of a total freeze? And if not, what’s plan b?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Joe, the specific question you asked about the settlements also has to be fully factual. The fact of the matter is that we – I said we would not build new settlements, not expropriate land for addition for the existing settlements, and that we were prepared to adopt a policy of restraint on the existing settlements, but also one that would still enable normal life for the residents who are living there.
Now, there has not been in the last 16 years – not 40 years but 16 years, since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – any demand every put not on restraint, but on any limitation on settlement activity as a precondition for entering negotiations. This is a new thing. Now, it’s true that you can take a new thing and you can repeat it ad nauseum for a few weeks and a few months, and it becomes something that is obvious and has been there all the time. It’s not been there all the time.
QUESTION: It was there in the first Bush Administration, right?
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: No, there has not been a precondition for entering or continuing with the peace process between us and the Palestinians. There’s not been a demand coming from the Palestinians that said we will not negotiate with you unless you freeze all activity – something that is problematic in so many ways, judicial and in other ways. I won’t get into that. But this is a new demand. It’s a change of policy, the Palestinian policy. And it doesn't do much for peace. It doesn't work to advance negotiations. It actually – this uses a pretext, or at least does something as an obstacle that prevents the reestablishment of negotiations.
Now, mind you, the issue of settlements, the issue of territories, the issue of borders – these will be engaged in the negotiations, and they’ll have to be resolved for a peace agreement to be achieved. But you can’t resolve it in advance of the negotiations, and you certainly shouldn’t pile it on as a precondition.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I would add just for context that what the prime minister is saying is historically accurate. There has never been a precondition. It’s always been an issue within the negotiations. What the prime minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements, which he has just described – no new starts, for example – is unprecedented in the context of the prior two negotiations. It’s also the fact that for 40 years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements.
But I think that where we are right now is to try to get into the negotiations. The prime minister will be able to present his government’s proposal about what they are doing regarding settlements, which I think when fully explained will be seen as being not only unprecedented but in response to many of the concerns that have been expressed. There are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized. I mean, negotiation, by its very definition, is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests. And on settlements, there’s never been a precondition, there’s never been such an offer from any Israeli government. And we hope that we’ll be able to move in to the negotiations where all the issues that President Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you very much.
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