Remarks After Meeting With Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement James Wolfensohn
Jim had initially intended to step down in December, but we thought that the work was not yet done and asked him to continue for a few months, until there could be elections in the Palestinian territories and in Israel so that we had a fuller picture of where this was all going. Jim was very active in supporting the need for financial assistance to the interim government, the government between the elections and the installation of a new Palestinian Government and was able to help secure funding for that Palestinian interim government and that was very greatly appreciated. Jim then decided that this was the right time for him to step down as envoy. But as I've said to him, I hope he will keep his uniform not very far from the door, because while conditions currently are very complicated in the Palestinian-Israeli issue, we all hope and all look forward to and are going to continue to work for a movement toward the roadmap and hopefully a return to the roadmap. And should conditions warrant, I really do hope that we can call on Jim again in an active role because he has done a very fine job and I know would do a very fine job again.
In the meantime, however, I expect to be able to take advantage of his advice and counsel as will other members of the Quartet. And Jim, I just want to thank you for the service that you've done, but to note that I fully expect that you will do further service in the future, so thank you very much.
MR. WOLFENSOHN: Well, thank you very much, Madame Secretary. It's been a wonderful, more than 12 months now, since I took on this job and I'm grateful to you and to the President for the honor that you showed me by asking me to participate. As all of you know, it's been a fairly difficult period, but one in which I think we have made quite a lot of progress.
But in the recent two or three months, the political events are such that I think the issues above my pay grade, these are issues between the Israelis and the United States, the principals if you like, and with the government of Hamas having taken over with the Palestinians, it's a very difficult moment to be able to try and negotiate any independent type of arrangements that would affect the future of Gaza and the West Bank, because of the emphasis that Hamas puts on the destruction of the state of Israel and the less than communicative relationship with that state. So it seemed to me that this was a good moment to offer my resignation to the Secretary and to the Quartet, but with the caveat that if they think, at any stage, that I can be of help and conditions change and they would want me to do it; that I would be honored and delighted to do it. So Madame Secretary, let me thank you and the President and say it's been an experience that I greatly appreciated.
SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, on (inaudible), Bob Zoellick is on his way. From your assessment, do you think an agreement is within reach?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, an agreement is always within reach if the parties are prepared to take the steps to overcome their differences and it is really urgent and necessary that the parties take those steps. That's why Deputy Secretary Zoellick decided to go personally to Abuja to try and see what differences need to be bridged. I don't want to try to make a prediction, Barry, about whether or not we can get to an agreement. I think it was a good thing that the African Union agreed to extend the talks. As long as the parties are talking, there's always a chance for an agreement.
And the President feels very strongly and very passionately about the need to get an agreement, about the need to get a robust security force, a blue-hatted force in to be able to protect the innocent people of Darfur. We feel very strongly that it is time to move that process forward. And understanding that an accord in Abuja would certainly help to move that process forward, it is incumbent on us to do everything that we can to try and see if we can't help the parties bridge their differences and help the very fine negotiator, Mr. Salim Salim, to do his work. He asked Bob if he would come and so, Bob is shortly to be on an airplane on his way to Abuja.
QUESTION: Mr. Wolfensohn, do you think that U.S. economic pressure on Hamas will — or do you think U.S. economic pressure will either weaken or strengthen Hamas? And maybe Madame Secretary, if you could respond to that as well? And why is there no replacement for you? And secondly, what will General Dayton's role be — or thirdly?
SECRETARY RICE: Let me just say, on General Dayton, we are assessing that situation. There obviously continue to be security concerns on the ground as well. If we believed that conditions were such that a special envoy could really do his work at this particular time, we wouldn't be seeking a replacement. Jim Wolfensohn, I hope, would be staying. And so that's why there isn't a replacement. What we need to do is to try, over the next period of time, to get the political conditions right so that we can move forward.
Nobody wants to be in a situation in which the prospects for the two-state solution, to which we are all devoted, do not seem immediately before us. And so we're going to work very hard on trying to get the political conditions right. We just have a new — we'll just have a new Israeli Government at the end of this week. We would hope to have discussions with them. We continue to hope that Hamas will take the will of the international community seriously and set the minimum conditions for engagement with a partner that the Quartet has laid out. And if those political conditions can come into place, then perhaps we can move forward. But it is really right now the absence of appropriate political conditions.
But let me be very clear. We will continue to work with President Abbas who is after all the elected president of the Palestinian Authority, and to see what we can do to support him and to help — to see what he can do to help create those conditions as well. Finally, we are accelerating our efforts to get humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people because we do not want the Palestinian people to suffer. They have needs and we're going to try to meet them.
MR. WOLFENSOHN: Well, I would simply like to say that I think this last statement by the Secretary is really crucial because it would surprise me if one could win by getting all the kids out of school or starving the Palestinians. And I don't think anyone in the Quartet believes that to be the policy, although sometimes it is made to appear that that's what it is. I think that's a losing gambit.
But I do think that the Palestinians need to understand that it is not business as usual. Here you have a Palestinian group which has said that it wants to destroy its neighbor. And I guess if Canada did that to the United States or New Zealand did it to Australia, the reaction would not be very positive in terms of the other state and that's what you're finding here. I think the Palestinians need to understand and to accept that the future has to be one where the issues, however difficult, need to be resolved, but that you don't start by telling the other side that you're going to shoot them. I find that quite understandable and I think the situation that we're now in is to try and find our way through that situation to a point where there can be a negotiated solution that is acceptable to both sides.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the question about the Palestinian territories? (Inaudible.) I mean, you talk about it reaching a crisis point. Is it reaching a crisis point? And Madame Secretary, aren't you worried about a humanitarian crisis if salaries aren't paid and if Israel's closure policy is so severe?
SECRETARY RICE: Well, I'm first concerned that we find ourselves in a situation in which the world is united on the need for a negotiated solution and on a two-state solution and where one of the presumed parties will not accept the existence — even the existence of or the right to exist of the other party. We've simply got to get through that. It can't be business as usual.
We are looking to see what we can do to continue to help the Palestinian people, to continue to help Mahmoud Abbas, because he is the elected president. But the goal right now has to be for everyone to send as strong a message as possible to Hamas that — and by the way, it's not the United States; it is the international community that's sending this message that the best interests of the Palestinian people are served by a peace process and by constructive engagement with their Israeli neighbor. After all, there are important links between these economies, between these territories that cannot be severed. And the interests of the Palestinian people are best served that way and you can't have that kind of relationship if you don't believe in the right of the other party to exist.