17 June 2002
U.S. Says Israeli-Palestinian Border Issue Should Be Negotiated, June 17, 2002
(Peace between the parties will bring security, says Boucher)
The issue of borders and other permanent status issues in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict need to be resolved through negotiations, said State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher during the June 17 regular press briefing.
The position of the United States on this subject has not changed, noted Boucher. "We've always opposed unilateral attempts to try to decide these issues," said Boucher.
Referring to the Israeli security fence currently being built along the border of the West Bank, Boucher said that real security for Israelis can only be achieved through peace.
"[T]hat means having a Palestinian entity, a partner, on the other side that can control security in that area in cooperation with Israel," said Boucher.
"[W]e do remind the Israelis that offering hope to Palestinians, offering them a decent life and end to the barriers is an important part of achieving security and peace, and that remains on our agenda," Boucher added.
Following is an excerpt from the June 17 State Department briefing:
QUESTION: Richard, over the weekend, the Israelis have begun to build a physical wall between the West Bank and the heart of Israel. How do you regard that, and do you see that as a -- more restraint on the Palestinians, because they have objected as well, as well as right-wing Israelis?
MR. BOUCHER: I think it comes back to fundamentals for us. The issue of borders between Israel, living side by side with a future Palestinian state, is one that needs to be resolved in negotiation. So the question of permanent status issues like borders, those questions need to be resolved in negotiation. We have always opposed unilateral attempts to try to decide these issues, and that position hasn't changed.
QUESTION: Richard, (inaudible) kind of a unilateral attempt, to set up a barrier to being attacked by suicide bombers? Is that --
MR. BOUCHER: I think depending on how you look at it. That's -- I don't think I'm able to say, on behalf of the Israelis, exactly what their intentions are. But as far as the issue of borders goes, then that's something that we have always had a clear position on.
QUESTION: No, you haven't heard what I said. Is this a unilateral action, in your view?
MR. BOUCHER: Well, once again, it's being looked at in different ways. Some call it a demarcation of a border; some call it a security barrier; some call it other things. I don't think it's for me to describe what the purpose of this is. But to the extent that it is an attempt to establish a border, we would have to say that that really has to be done through direct talks.
QUESTION: Richard, looking at the larger issue of borders, have you -- as these plans have become to start being put into fruition, have you talked to the Israelis about how the further imposition of these kind of walls or stuff are going to hamper the ability of Palestinians to move through the West Bank? I mean, in the short term it seems as if it's only going to exacerbate the kind of closures that you've been arguing that the Israelis should ease up on.
MR. BOUCHER: We have certainly talked to the Israelis about these plans. This is something that, as you know, has been under discussion on the Israeli side for some time, and something that we've heard about and we've heard discussed. We've seen the Israeli debate on the subject as well.
To the extent that it affects ordinary Palestinians, I think we do remind the Israelis that offering hope to Palestinians, offering them a decent life, an end to the barriers, is an important part of achieving security and peace. And that remains on our agenda.
QUESTION: And not to put them out?
MR. BOUCHER: Again, I don't think I can tell you specifically on the fence. There are a variety of views on the Israeli side, and they -- you know, they need to decide what they want to do.
QUESTION: But on the US side, was there anybody from -- whether it be the Embassy, or the Secretary -- was the message conveyed to Israel that the US doesn't think it would be helpful?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't know that that specific message was conveyed, I guess. I can't say yes or no.
QUESTION: Richard, asked precisely the same question a few hours ago, one of your colleagues at the White House said only that Israel has the right to defend itself, that it's a sovereign nation. As far as I'm understanding, this person didn't mention -- an NSC spokesman didn't mention anything --
MR. BOUCHER: This is Scott McClelland in the gaggle?
QUESTION: He did the --
MR. BOUCHER: I think he --
QUESTION: He did the consequences. He did the consequences.
QUESTION: The consequences?
MR. BOUCHER: He did a little more than that.
QUESTION: -- the other side of it --
QUESTION: Be aware of the consequences.
QUESTION: The traditional --
QUESTION: Of talking about -- did he talk about you oppose unilateral --
QUESTION: I don't -- yes, that's what I'm getting at.
MR. BOUCHER: No, I --
QUESTION: Is that an intentional omission? Or did he just, you know --
MR. BOUCHER: First of all, you have to ask him. Second of all, he may have more to say during the course of the day. And third of all, we do cooperate and coordinate with the White House, and we agree with everything that he said. And I'm sure he agrees with everything that we've said. So don't fret over that one; we're okay.
QUESTION: Just taking a step back, given that this fence and other sorts of things the Israelis have done are for security reasons, in the many discussions the State Department has had with the Israelis, do you have constructive or positive ideas for the Israelis to deal with their terrorism problem? Have you suggested other sorts of things?
MR. BOUCHER: We have a very active and ongoing discussion with the Israelis on these issues. And certainly, you know, the visit of Director of Central Intelligence Tenet out there was to talk to the Palestinians about their security organizations and how they take control on their side, but he's also in close touch with the Israelis. So we do talk to the Israelis all the time.
The basic, I think, framework that we come at is that you do have to do certain things to defend yourselves. You have to protect yourselves as best you can. But you also have to understand that each of those steps can have consequences, and second of all, that ultimately the only way to get real security for the Israelis is to get peace. And that means having a Palestinian entity, a partner on the other side, that can control security in that area in cooperation with Israel.
QUESTION: So -- just to follow up, do you have short-term -- I mean, I think that the Israelis get that. But I mean, do you have short-term recommendations, too? That, you know, instead of building a fence, why don't you -- you know, I don't know -- do something else?
MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- not in any formal manner, we don't tell them what to do. And nor do they ask us what they should do.
QUESTION: Richard, you've noted that there's been considerable dispute within Israel about this effort. And indeed, for the last few weeks, it wasn't entirely clear that it would begin. Now that it has begun, I don't mean to -- is the United States in any way surprised or -- surprised that it's in fact going forward?
MR. BOUCHER: No. As you say, it's been discussed for many weeks. There's been a debate on it. There have been, as we all know, a variety of discussion and explanation of what its purpose was. But, you know, I don't think we're surprised that it's going forward. It's something the government did say they wanted to do, and they're doing it.
QUESTION: Yes, but is it --
QUESTION: The Secretary had a meeting on Friday with the Israeli Chief of Staff. Did this, the question of this fence or wall come up in that meeting? And did the Secretary express anything on it?
MR. BOUCHER: Don't know. Did Phil brief on the meeting? On Friday? Do you remember?
MR. BOUCHER: No? I don't know; I'd have to check.
Okay, Barry, you had one?
QUESTION: Yes, I might as well try to follow up Todd. Is what Israel's doing at cross-purposes with US policy? Meaning, does it make more difficult to go ahead with what you all are trying to do, what is called a political (inaudible) -- so-called political track?
MR. BOUCHER: I come back to what we've said. In the end, for Israelis and Palestinians to lead safe and decent and ordinary lives, we need to be able to resolve the political issues, we need to be able to move forward on the three tracks that we have been pursuing: to get security and the security structure that can maintain security, to get serious political talks going, and to get reformed Palestinian institutions that can develop and support the future of a Palestinian state.
In the end, that's the only way to give calm, and as I said, to give Israelis and Palestinians alike, to give them back their lives.
QUESTION: Richard, I think it was yesterday, Prime Minister Sharon said that he was against this -- the idea of this provisional Palestinian state. What effect does that have on the initiative that you're preparing? Is that just something you'll take into account, or --
MR. BOUCHER: We obviously have talked to all the parties in great detail about their views of different things. And the President is continuing to review what he has heard over the past few weeks. He is talking to his top advisors, and he will decide how best to move forward. So I'm not going to get into kind of handicapping the various ideas that may or may not appear.
QUESTION: Richard, are you concerned, because the President has had a number of announcements of the new US Middle East policy that the international community, particularly in the Arab world, is not going to take it seriously this time?
MR. BOUCHER: Huh?
QUESTION: Well, I'm saying that you've had all these speeches -- the President says, you know, on the April speech, which was the new policy, and now we're going to get another new policy -- you know, it seems that you're always reevaluating and coming up with a new policy. You know, how do they know it's not going to be --
MR. BOUCHER: I think -- Eli, I think that's just the wrong way to look at it, frankly. It's just flat wrong. The administration right from the start has described how we needed to proceed. I'll go back right to the beginning statements by the Secretary and the President: we needed to have a basis of security, we needed to have a political settlement, we needed to have movement towards confidence, economic reconstruction.
Last year, in the fall, the President said at the UN that we look forward to having, to creating two states, Israel and Palestine -- creating a Palestinian state that could live side by side with Israel. The Secretary laid that out further with his support of the President in Louisville. The President, on April 4th, then talked further about the responsibilities of the various parties in doing that, describing in more detail than he ever had before what people needed to do in order to take their responsibility. We have now seen people take that responsibility, and for example, for the Arab states to become more actively involved. He has talked about the need to reform in order to be able to achieve that.
So I think if you look at this with some perspective, as you're trying to, the correct conclusion is the President's laid out right from the start, and then amplified and carried out in more detail through a series of speeches and statements, what he intends to do. And I would expect him to continue to do that at this juncture.