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Monday, December 18, 2006

Transcript: PM Blair press conference with PA president

Press conference with Palestinian President
18 December 2006

Mr Abbas: In the name of God the Mighty and the Merciful, it is my pleasure to welcome Mr Tony Blair, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, our friend Mr Tony
Blair, here in Ramallah which he visits for the second time this year, and
for the third time during his term as Prime Minister. And these visits
reflect personal interest and concern, as well as the interest of the
government of the United Kingdom for the need to achieve a comprehensive
peace in the Middle East region. I seized the opportunity to thank Mr Prime
Minister and the government of the United Kingdom for their efforts,
continuous efforts, and support for a comprehensive and just solution for
the Palestinian question.

We conducted today very important negotiations that address the critical and
dangerous situation in the Palestinian territories and the region as a
whole, and we also discussed ways and means of overcoming this crisis and we
asked from the Prime Minister the need to work on anything, the economic
siege and the closure of crossing points, the need to release Palestinian
prisoners, including Ministers and Parliamentarians and Palestinian leaders,
as well as ending the settlement expansion, the construction of the wall and
Israel's practices and ... in Jerusalem. We also reiterated to him that we
exerted continuous efforts over these past few months in order to establish
a national unity government which unfortunately hit an impasse and reached a
dead end. As we also stated in our speech two days ago, we are calling for
early Presidential and legislative elections for the Palestinian people to
have their say based on a programme that realises the Palestinian best
interest, national interest, and corresponds and is consistent with Arab and
international requirements and leads of course to the ending of the siege
and ending the current crisis, and achieving reciprocal and simultaneous
calm between the two sides, the Israeli and the Palestinian, in both the
West Bank and Gaza strip which will allow the prospect for a comprehensive
political settlement, but by keeping priority though for the formation of a
government of experts, of technocrats, national experts who would realise
such a cause. In view of the serious decline of the Palestinian question on
the international arena and the severe and dangerous internal crisis that we
are living in, I hereby reiterate that political pluralism does not mean
multiplicity of authorities and having several authorities, and the race for
factional armament and aspects of ... and breaking down of law and order and
I am confident that everybody will assume their responsibility to ... the
security and safety for Palestinian citizens and establishing the principle
of one authority, one weapon and one law.

In this context our negotiations with the Prime Minister focused on the need
to intensify the Arab and international efforts in order to achieve a
comprehensive and fair peace agreement based on the two state solution and
ending the occupation that started in 1967 according to international and UN
resolutions and also the Arab peace initiatives.

On another level we are also exerting efforts, continuous efforts, at the
Arab and international level in order to go back to the negotiating table in
order to find a drastic solution to the question of the Middle East and
invest in the realisation by the international community that military force
and the continuation of occupying the Arab and Palestinian lands is
counter-productive and will not yield any results, and that stability and
security in the region could be only achieved when the rights, the
legitimate rights of the Palestinian people are granted and the
implementation of international UN resolutions and the establishment of an
independent and sovereign Palestinian state with its capital Jerusalem, and
finding a solution for the Palestinian refugees question, and the visit of
Prime Minister Blair and his recent statements, and his positions, at all
times come within this context.

Here we also reiterate in front of you that we are ready to meet Mr Olmert
in order to start serious negotiations, direct negotiations that will end
the conflict and put an end to the cycle of violence in the region.

Mr Prime Minister, I would like to thank you again and thank the government
of the United Kingdom for your effective role in assisting the Palestinian
people and alleviating their suffering, and we are confident that you will
exert all efforts, and you have actually exerted efforts, intensified
efforts with all the relevant parties to assist the Arab and international
efforts for the realisation of peace in the Middle East. Again I welcome you
here in Ramallah, I welcome Mr Tony Blair in Ramallah and I thank him for
his visit.

Prime Minister:

Mr President, thank you very much for your kind welcome to me here today and
thank you also for your leadership at this time which is immensely important
for the Palestinian people and for the international community.

We have had a very detailed discussion today and some of those discussions
obviously involve issues that I want to take further with other parties, as
indeed you do as well. But let me try and set in context what we are trying
to do. It is important for us, but I think for the whole of the
international community, to work with people who want a genuine two state
solution - a state of Israel and a state of Palestine living side by side in
peace. We want to work with people of moderation and tolerance who
understand that in today's world people from different faiths and background
should work together, and we want to work with people who shoulder their
responsibilities, who understand the issues that are at stake and are
prepared to make sure that we do everything possible to ease the plight of
people who are suffering and to make progress. And I have no doubt Mr
President that you satisfy all of those criteria. You want the two state
solution, you are a leader of moderation and tolerance and you are showing
and demonstrating how you are prepared to shoulder your responsibilities in
achieving that. And your speech a couple of days ago was I think a landmark
speech, a very important speech, and I believe that the next few weeks I
would say, not merely the next few months but the next few weeks, are going
to be a critical time and it is a critical time for all of us who want to
see progress and we want to see progress because people are indeed
suffering, your people, the Palestinian people are suffering, the security
of the region is affected and you demonstrated by the speech that you gave
that you do not want anything to stand in the way of helping the Palestinian
people to make progress.

Now when I was here I think six months ago you went almost immediately from
the press conference that we had then to try to bring about the national
unity government that you desire to see in accordance with the principles
that have been laid down by yourself and by the international community, the
United Nations and others, to make sure that the basis of that unity
government was secure. What has happened unfortunately in those six months
is that despite your best efforts you have been unable to reach agreement on
that national unity government. Now as you rightly say, if people want to
participate in such a government the way of doing so is clear and open to
them, but nobody should have a veto on progress, nobody should be able to
say to you, or to the Palestinian people, or to the international community
that we are going to stop progress being made towards that two state vision
which is the only solution that will work in order to bring peace between
the people of Israel, the people of Palestine and the wider region.

So I believe what is important following your speech is that the
international community mobilises its efforts to support you in your office
as President, to support the Palestinian people and make sure that we stand
ready now to do everything we can to give you the strength and purpose to be
able to deliver what you wish for your people. And I hope therefore that we
will be in a position over these coming weeks to put together an initiative
that allows us both to give that support, in particular support for
reconstruction and development and to alleviate the suffering and the plight
of the Palestinian people, but also crucially that gives us a political
framework within which we can move forward on that two state solution.

Now I hope and believe that that can be done, but I would like to make one
thing very, very clear from not just my own country's position, but I think
this should be the position of the international community today. You have
given leadership in this situation, you have said you are determined to find
a way forward. If the international community really means what it says
about supporting people who share the vision of a two state solution, who
are moderate, who are prepared to shoulder their responsibilities then now
is the time for the international community to respond to the vision that
you have set out. And I intend to do everything I can over the next period
of time, but in particular because I believe this is so critical and urgent,
over the coming weeks to make sure we can deliver that support both in terms
of helping people who are suffering, but also in terms of the political
framework that can deliver a just and lasting peace. Now that is my
commitment to you and to the Palestinian people today.

And once again Mr President thank you very much for welcoming me here today.
I said when I was here before that I would come back, I have come back again
and I will not rest for a single moment until we have delivered what we both
want to see.


My question is to Mr Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair. Do you have with you any
plan to push the peace process according to your previous commitments and
promises, and do you have any British ideas about a true calm in return for
Israeli withdrawal, as Hamad Yousef the Deputy Prime Minister is saying?

Prime Minister:

Yes we have been obviously discussing the details of the plan to move us
forward, but you should just remember one thing, that we were very
supportive of the President's attempts to form the national unity
government, but the truth of the matter is that we have been unable to do so
because the principles on which such a government could be formed, and those
principles are not just the principles of the President of the Palestinian
Authority but also the international agreed principles, those aren't
accepted by Hamas. And the difficulty therefore is that we can't be in a
situation where the Palestinian people are held back, where progress is held
back by that refusal, and I can assure you that everybody is on that line,
the same line, and any reporting to the contrary is quite mistaken.


Mr President first of all, can you give us your idea of what message you
would like the Prime Minister to take on to the Israelis later on this
afternoon, particularly on the issue of Palestinian prisoners; and secondly,
can you give us your assessment of your situation at the moment, in your
view to be frank how weak are you? And Mr Prime Minister, you have made this
tour of the Middle East in the last few days, you have extolled the virtues
of democracy, particularly in Iraq, how do you respond to the accusation
that here you are picking and choosing your democracies, you like the
democrats you like, you are rejecting those you don't like; and secondly,
can you be more specific about how much money you have put on the table
today and how you respond to the criticism that this is effectively an
attempt to if you like and to be frank, to bribe the Palestinian people into
supporting the President?

Mr Abbas:

The current situation is a very difficult one from a security perspective
and we are always attempting and seeking to avoid these kinds of tensions
and which also happened last night and this morning, because it is in the
best interest of the Palestinian people to have calm, and regardless of the
results of this conflict and tensions it is going to be a big loss for the
Palestinian people. We do not look at who wins or who loses, we look at it
as any bullet that is being shot in any area to target any person is a loss,
we are in a lose-lose situation and this will not be in our best interest
currently or in the future. What we discussed with the Prime Minister, we
discussed about his visit to Mr Olmert, we talked about the British
position. We are confident of the Prime Minister's position in terms of the
peace process. What he also mentioned today, and what he mentioned in the
past, and he is committed to everything he has stated, and this is the image
that he will take with him and the message that he will take with him to the
Israeli Prime Minister. We demanded many things related to the prisoners,
related to the Palestinian money that is being restricted, and also the
alleviation of suffering of Palestinian people, the road blocks that are
imposed, the restrictions, these are things that we want Israel to alleviate
and lift and this is what we discussed with the Prime Minister so that he
can take this message and these demands to Mr Olmert. And I reiterated in my
statement today that I am ready to meet with Mr Olmert at any time because
we need each other, we have a joint cause, we have to deal with each other,
we have to communicate in order to address our problems jointly.

Prime Minister:

First of all we respect any democratic mandate, but the President also has a
democratic mandate, he is the elected President of the Palestinian people.
And it is not that people are refusing to allow Hamas to participate in the
way forward, that way is open to them, they know what has to be done, but
what we are saying is that they cannot have a veto on the process or the
progress that all of us want to see. Because if the real issue is indeed the
suffering of the Palestinian people, the desire for people to achieve
statehood, we have a way forward. And one of the things I want to say to
people in this region is understand the international community is in one
place on this, we all of us want to see the two state solution, we want a
viable independent Palestinian state where Palestinian people can govern
their own affairs, where they can achieve prosperity, where they can achieve
justice. We can't do that however unless it is done with people who accept
the very basis of that two state solution, namely that we have two states.
And therefore the issue is not about excluding anybody, the issue is whether
people exclude themselves.

And as for the financial support, the reason why it is important that we
give support to the Palestinian Authority and to the President in the work
that he is trying to do is precisely because we recognise that over the past
period of time the incomes of Palestinian people have fallen, there have
been much lower levels of economic development, people are suffering as a
result of that. So if the international community means what it says, this
is the moment, when the President has set a way forward, to come behind him
and support him. Now that is really what we are saying. And in the end, the
democratic decisions are obviously for the Palestinian people themselves,
they will make that decision themselves. But what we are saying is our job
has got to be to support the people of moderation who want to find that two
state solution and are prepared to show the leadership to get it.


Mr President, in your speech you kept the door open for establishing a
national unity government. If the calm is established on the street would
there be a dialogue with the Hamas movement about this government? And for
the Prime Minister, Mr Blair, a senior Hamas official has said that they
have contacts between the party and your government. Could you confirm

Mr Abbas:

I stated in my speech, it was very clear, we negotiated about a national
unity government that is able to end the economic siege that will fulfil the
Palestinian, Arab and international requirements, and this is something I
have mentioned everywhere and it is also stated in the national consensus
document that was endorsed by all parties, including Hamas. The new
government should be able to have the support of the Palestinian people, the
Arabs and the region and the international community. These are the
principles that we wanted to form a national unity government accordingly,
the main principle and basic objective of this government is to end the
siege. We were unsuccessful until this moment and therefore I said the other
option was to go back to the people because the basic law stipulates that
the people are the source of all powers, then we have to go back to the
people. But let me assume that we are able today, or tomorrow, or after
tomorrow we are able to establish a national unity government on this basis
I think then we will go for it and we will establish it and at the highest
peak possible.

Prime Minister:

Let me make one thing clear to you, the British government is certainly not
negotiating with Hamas or with any part of Hamas, and what is more I think
the events of the past few days have demonstrated how impossible it would be
to conceive of a situation in which people were able to reach out in
circumstances where Hamas is making it so clear that they cannot agree to
the principles that have been set out. So I think the President has
absolutely correctly described the situation. It is always open for people
to participate provided they participate on the same basis as everybody
else, but if they are not prepared to do so there is no way forward with
them. Because you cannot, as I have constantly said to people, you cannot
have a negotiated solution to this issue, which is what we all want to see,
it is the reason I am back here again, we all want to see it, but you can't
have such a solution unless people accept the basic principles, and those
are the principles laid down not just by the President of the Palestinian
Authority but by the international community, they are United Nations
principles. It is all people are asking for. And really the significance of
what has happened over the past few days is that people are saying look you
know the train should leave the station, it is time to start making progress
on this journey and if people want to get on board, that is their choice,
but they are not going to prevent the rest of us moving forward precisely in
order to help the suffering of people who are suffering, and suffering a
very great deal at the moment, and they are the people who should come


The Prime Minister's Special Envoy, Lord Levy, is sitting on the second row
of this press conference, this is the same question for both of you.
President Abbas, what has Lord Levy done for you? And Prime Minister what
has Lord Levy done for you?
Prime Minister:

I think perhaps I may be able to answer this first. He has performed an
excellent job as my Envoy in very difficult circumstances where we
desperately want to make progress. And the whole reason I am here is because
of the importance I attach to this process and anything and anyone who can
help that is someone who is immensely helpful to me.

Mr Abbas:

We know Lord Levy for a long time and we have met on several occasions, and
he visits us frequently and he always has constructive ideas for us in order
to push the peace process forward, in order to clarify the road ahead
between us and between his government and his Prime Minister who holds him
in high respect and esteem and he is also supportive of Mr Tony Blair. And
therefore we appreciate the efforts of Lord Levy in this context as a
special envoy of Prime Minister Tony Blair and as a friend to us.


President Abbas, are you still going to go ahead with the elections despite
the violence and the fighting in Gaza, and if elections take place are you
going to run for President again?

Mr Abbas:
When we decided yesterday through the organisation, official institutions,
which is the central executive committee of the PLO which is also
responsible for the PMA, as well as internally when we discussed with my
brothers in the central executive committee of Fatah movement the decision
was very clear and we are going to early elections, legislative and
presidential. There is nothing from our point of view that prohibits that,
we are democratic people, we believe in democracy. And if this is our case,
why then can't we go back to the people to have their say? The will of the
people, the people elected me on 9 January 2005 and elected Hamas on 25
January 2006, we want to experience and test the decisions of the people, do
they still have confidence in those people who they elected? It is their say
now, we are in a problem, we find ourselves in an impasse and this impasse
has lasted for more than 9 months and the people cannot wait any longer, the
people are suffering, the people are suffering from the economic situation,
the social, the financial, the security situation. As the person who is
responsible, what is my duty? My duty is to look for solutions to alleviate
the plight of the people and I am determined, as I stated in my speech, and
please go to my speech, and I am determined to conduct the elections.


A question first of Mr Blair. Israeli newspapers this morning quote Israeli
sources saying that they attach no special significance to your visit, and
also that you only go on these kind of trips when you are weak at home. They
are right, aren't they? And the second question for President Abbas. You are
already being labelled by Hamas as the candidate for Israel and the United
States. Is high profile support from Mr Blair actually going to lose you
support among the Palestinians?

Prime Minister:

First of all I think that my interest in the Palestinian issue is hardly
new. I think over the past few years I have made it clear why I think it is
so important and I don't think this is actually something to do with how
domestic politics interacts with international politics, I think it is all
to do with whether we can find the right plan that fits the bits together,
that is the really crucial thing. What we need to do now is to concentrate
on the fact that the President, after many many months of trying, has said
well there are obstructions in the way to making progress, I am nonetheless
going to find a way round those obstructions and ensure that progress is
made. And really I think it is as simple as that. And I think you probably
also you know misjudge where people are in this region. The most important
thing is that people want the progress to be made, and they realise there
isn't going to be progress unless the whole of the international community
comes behind such progress, and that includes Britain and European
countries, it includes America, it includes the Arab countries as well. And
as I shall say in the last part of my visit out to this region, I think
there are very clear strategic choices opening up in this region today for
everybody and it is important we make the right choices.

Mr Abbas:

When I went to the Presidential elections on 9 January 2005 there were
several other candidates for Presidency, there were 6 other candidates,
there were 4,000 international and Arab observers. I haven't heard from one
single observer that he saw an Israeli or American voting and casting their
ballots in the ballot boxes, I don't think that 62.5% of the Palestinian
people represent the Israeli will or the American will the vote of the
Palestinian people represents the will of the Palestinian people and the
decision of the Palestinian people, I was elected by the will of the
Palestinian people and I am here by the will of the Palestinian people.
Other than that, the accusations that I will go back alone.

IMRA - Independent Media Review and Analysis

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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