, Newseum - Washington, DC

Excerpts from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas:
“I am the first [Palestinian leader] maybe who recognized Israel. I led the negotiations in Oslo and I convinced many of my leadership to recognize Israel. … Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine, were in the Middle East.”

“We don’t want [the Palestinian people] to lose the hope. It’s a matter of time because if they lose hope they will turn back, maybe a new intifada, they will do beyond the imagination. For that I am asking everybody around the world, please, we want peace, the sooner the better, otherwise the alternative will be disaster.”

Transcript

President Abbas:

Thank you very much to my dear friend Danny Abraham and to all who are present. This is something I have long wanted for us to meet and discuss frankly, candidly, truthfully. This is not the first meeting I have had with the Jewish community. This is something that is important. I would like to seize the opportunity to speak openly and frankly. I had mentioned to my friend Danny Abraham that on my next visit to Washington that I would like to have the opportunity to meet with the leadership of the Jewish community in the United States and to speak to them the truth as I see it and hear from them the truth as they see it.

It is for this reason that I am pleased to be with you this evening and to be among some very old friends that I have known for a long time. Before I address some of the political issues and the meetings I have had here today, I would like to take a moment and talk a little about the situation in the West Bank.

You know that from the year 2000-2005 we had a period of Intifada. That period destroyed everything that had been built earlier. This is why when I presented my candidacy for the Presidency my slogan was the rejection of any armed type of Intifada. However, I faced great hurdles. It was very difficult for me to achieve this slogan. It took me about two years.

And of course the objective was to spread stability and security in the West Bank. It is for that reason that we have exerted a lot of efforts to not allow any parties to use violence whether among Palestinians or against Israel.

I am pleased to tell you that today in the West Bank we have complete peace and stable security and there are no military operations or incidents that destabilize. And of course we did need the assistance of the US administration, especially in helping us rebuild our security forces. I can tell you there is absolute and total cooperation between our agencies and the Israeli ones on the security area as well as parties from the United States and all the generals that have been helping us in this endeavor.

Following the establishment of security, economic development and growth has started. We can say this has been happening in a dramatic way. Once again we see the correlation between security and economic development and growth. We were able to hold about a week ago the second investment conference in the city of Bethlehem. More than 1700 investors had participated; most of them came from abroad. Those investors had come seeking cooperation with Palestinian investors in an effort to help build the Palestinian state. Here we were able to spread the culture of peace and replace the old culture of violence. This is in preparation to reach peace with the state of Israel.

When we held the Annapolis conference we had the opportunity to discuss with Prime Minister Olmert all the issues which we call the core issues. We did agree on the most prominent of the issues which is the issue of the border. The American administration, the Israelis and us agreed on the border of 67, keeping in mind there is a possibility for some modifications in kind and respective. We started exchanging, me personally and Prime Minister Olmert the maps as well as the possible swaps. However most unfortunately we were not able to bridge the gap that existed between the Palestinian position and the Israeli one.

We also discussed the issue of security as we refer to it – security the day after. Because we fully understand that the main preoccupation for the Israelis is the issue of their own security the day the Palestinian state emerges. They want to be comfortable with the security issue.

And General Jones was there participating in these discussions, who is now National Security Advisor to the President. I would like you to know that we discussed this file fully, we agreed to it and we closed it. And we then discussed the presence of a third party in the Palestinian territories. Of course we would agree on the period for their presence, their location, where they would be deployed, as well as their missions with the agreement that this would be under the leadership of the United States.

As far as this file was concerned, it is closed, it is in the hands of General Jones and we are now waiting to see what comes next and of course we are waiting to tackle the other files, the other issues. Of course there is a new administration in the state of Israel and there is a new American administration. We have entered a new period. Then we started what is referred to as proximity talks and we did have discussions with George Mitchell and focusing on bringing to closure these two files, hopefully in a period of four months, in order for us to move forward and tackle the remaining files.

This is where the situation stands right now. Both files are in the hands of the Israeli government. We are waiting to hear their response and their comments on this. Of course what we wish now is to hear the Israeli comments, their view on these two files, hoping if successful to move to direct negotiations. I must also ad that with Prime Minister Olmert we did discuss all the various issues including the issue of Jerusalem, refugees, water, etc, to name a few. It was basically us discussing together so each side became more aware of the other side.

Before I close I would like to address one specific point, something that we hear that we are putting preconditions on moving forward, especially when it comes to the topic of settlements. Of course we are not in a position where we can demand preconditions from the state of Israel or from the American administration. You are all fully aware that the issue of settlements was addressed in the first article of the road map where it was clearly stated that all settlement activity must cease, including natural growth.

In addition to that, there are other references. I am referring here to interim agreements signed between us and the Israelis, that state clearly that no side should take any unilateral action that can prejudice the final settlement. So when we are asking for a stop of settlement activity, we are not placing preconditions. We are basically restating agreements that have been reached between us and the Israeli side and also what has been clearly stated in the road map as well as what has been agreed upon by the Quartet. Thank you very much. I am of course willing to take any questions you may have.

Toni Verstandig:
(S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)
Mr. President, thank you very much for your very thoughtful comments. Obviously there are many people gathered around the table so we want to open the table up for conversation. Alan Solow, I am going to ask if you would be kind enough to begin the conversation. I am going to try to keep track of everyone who’s here and make sure everyone is called upon. Thank you very much. We look forward to a very good conversation with you.
Alan.
Alan Solow: (Chairman, Conference of Presidents)
Thank you Toni. I want to begin, before I address the comments of President Abbas to thank Danny Abraham for his graciousness for hosting us this evening. There are very few people in the world who can pull together this type of a crowd. It is a very valuable experience and we owe you a deep debt of gratitude for the efforts you have made not only to bring this crowd together today but the years of work that you have done in the cause of peace and we appreciate that.
Mr. President, it is a great privilege to be with you today. We are pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you. You asked for, and I wrote this down carefully, a frank, candid and truthful exchange that you’ve wanted to have for some time. So as one of the leaders of American Jewry I want to express to you what I think our concerns and our hope as we move forward, I hope together, down this path, that is the United States, Israel and the Palestinian people as well. Both our peoples, the Palestinian people and the Israelis, have suffered too long with the problems that afflict the Middle East. Now is the time to find a path to the resolution of disputes that have been the cause of the conflict…
Very important… I know this is not the first time you have made them but they are particularly impactful to be here and hear them directly tonight. I would comment that I had the opportunity this February to visit Jenin and to meet with Prime Minister Fayyad and to see the enormous progress that has been made in a city that was once very troubled. One can readily observe the improvement both in the economic conditions in Jenin and of security conditions in Jenin. I can testify on your behalf that much of what you have talked about that is being accomplished by the Palestinian Authority is in fact true when one observes it on the ground. We think this is very promising. On the Israeli side of the spectrum, Prime Minister Netanyahu has publicly declared his support for a two state solution – a state for the Palestinian people and a nation state for the Jewish people. The problem we seem to face today is that both the Palestinians and the Israelis have expressed a lack of confidence in the partner on the other side of the table. That is, you have publicly questioned whether or not the current Israeli government is a serious partner in the peace process and I think it’s fair to say that the Israeli government has raised questions as to whether or not the Palestinian Authority is prepared to be serious about the peace process. What we need to do at this point, I think, from my perspective, as an American Jew, is to find the methods to build the level of confidence to the place where the discussions can advance on the very subjects that you have already identified in a meaningful way.

From our perspective I would say that we have the following concerns regarding the ability to build confidence. First of all, I think that it’s wonderful that you are here tonight with a group of American Jewish leaders. I think that these types of conversations have to be conducted directly with the government of Israel. We should move forward promptly away from the proximity talks that are currently being conducted by Senator Mitchell and move as promptly as possible to direct negotiations.

I say that Mr. President, not only because direct negotiations we believe are the only way to resolve the long-lasting problems between our people but because the commencement of those direct negotiations and the building of relationship between you and Prime Minister Netanyahu will send a signal to the people on both sides of the conflict that confidence can be built and that goals can be achieved and that trust can be undertaken with one another in order to advance the cause of peace. I can tell you that Jewish Americans overwhelmingly believe that only direct discussions between the parties can lead to a successful outcome and that no imposition of a peace plan by any outsider, whether it be the United States, the Quartet or any other invention that we come up with in the short term will serve the cause of peace. Ultimately peace has to be agreed upon between our two peoples. You described in great detail and in a very promising way the progress that you made with Prime Minister Olmert.

We would urge you as American Jewry to return to those types of discussions with Prime Minister Netanyahu directly. Second of all I would say on the trust issue that despite some enormously positive steps which you outlined and which I discussed such as what’s happened on the ground in Jenin in terms of overall economic development in the PA, the very state building measures which you have undertaken…From our perspective, an issue of trust continues to exist because incitement to violence, incitement to hatred remains a problem that severely damages confidence. It’s still the case, we believe, that too many, not all, but that too many textbooks used in Palestinian schools do not promote the cause of peace between our peoples.

Recently even events such as the attempt by your government, your authority, to undermine the entry of Israel into the OECD are not helpful, they do not promote the cause of peace. I would say to you that the recent incident with respect to the flotilla into Gaza, as heartbreaking as the consequences are, as difficult as they are to accept, the immediate effort on the part of the world as a whole and on yourself in particular to jump to conclusions concerning what the cause of it was and who was at fault without any information yet available concerning the facts which we are still uncovering, and need to be investigated, we agree. But without knowing them in advance doesn’t build confidence on the Israeli side. So I say these things to you not in any disrespectful manner, I can assure you, but in the hopes that you will understand what needs to be seen on the side of Israelis and on the side of American Jewry to build the type of confidence that will enable us to have a partnership that will lead to a peaceful resolution.

I would just make one final comment in that regard. That is that too many Palestinians have failed to acknowledge or recognize that just as the Palestinian people have a tie to the land, which is so precious to both of us, so too do the Jewish people. When Israelis and American Jews and Jews around the world read reports of denials by Palestinian leadership that there is a Jewish history in the Middle East that goes back thousands of years. This does not contribute to the type of confidence building that will lead to peace.

So I would say to you Mr. President, as you have said to us this evening, the time to start is now, there is no reason to delay. The way to do that is by, as you’ve said, discussing frankly, candidly and truthfully the challenges that we face and working hard together to overcome those challenges in order as I say to put behind us the situation that our peoples have suffered from for too long. I can assure you that American Jewry is interested in working with our government here in the United States to promote a peaceful solution, one in which the end will be two states living side by side in peace and security. A state for the Palestinian people, a nation state, Israel, for the Jewish people, that will go forward together in peace and harmony. I look forward to the day when I will see you again in the Palestinian homeland and in the state of Israel and we can celebrate the day when peace has been achieved.
President Abbas:
Thank you. Concerning the direct talks, ladies and gentlemen, from the very beginning when President Obama came to office, he asked the Israeli government to… And he waited more than 9 months. The response from the Israeli side – what did they decide about settlement activity. But the American administration failed to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu to cease settlement activity. After that, they came to us with a proposal; let us go to proximity talks. They sent a letter to us. We will go through in the proximity talks for a while. If we achieve any progress we will go to the direct talks. That is exactly what we are doing. Now we are in the proximity talks. We are talking about any achievement, progress from the Israeli government concerning the two core elements – security and borders. Any positive sign we will go to the direct talks. It is not our problem. This is what they proposed to us and we accepted. We do not reject at all the direct talks. In the same time of course we have our direct contacts with the Israelis and the Americans. We have every minute, every second between us the and Israelis contacts about security because we want to coordinate our efforts with the Israelis to prevent any incidents, any terror acts against the Israelis or against us. This is concerning the first question.

About the incitement – I am ready and we reiterated our position many times – there was a committee established during the era of Wye River, trilateral committee to deal with the incitement. Anytime, anytime they want to revive this committee we are ready to sit around the table and to talk about the incitement from both sides. We are ready, if the judge who is the Americans will say that this is incitement from the Palestinians, we are ready to eliminate any kind of incitement.

Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine, were in the Middle East.

I agree with you that Israelis are in need of security. They should be provided with security. When we suggested for a third party to be located in our territories it is because we want the Israelis to feel that they are secure in their country. The Palestinians are in need for independence. If we understand this equation, I think we can find a solution. We are not in need for spending a lot of time on details. The Israelis are in need for security, ok. The Palestinians are in need for independence inside 67 borders with modifications here and there. If we both understand this equation I think we will find a solution. Thank you.
Toni Verstandig:
Sandy, may we ask you to offer some comments, especially since Abu Mazen gave us a walk back to our days at Wye River.
Sandy Berger:(Former National Security Advisor to President Clinton)
Ten years ago on this evening I was with President Clinton and our team preparing for Camp David and President Abbas was with his team preparing for Camp David. I hope that we cannot only get back to that point but reach a successful conclusion this time. I have a question Mr. President about the relationship between the institution building in the West Bank and the peace process. I think all of us have great admiration and inspiration from what is happening in the West Bank under your leadership and Prime Minister Fayyad. I have two questions. One is, can institution building be sustained in the absence of a viable peace process. In the absence of that, at the end of those two years, you said that you oppose unilateral steps including a unilateral declaration of statehood. What do you then see your choices being at that point?
President Abbas:
The question about the institutions – we have worked very hard to build our institutions in order to pave the way for an independent state. But if we fail to achieve our goal I don’t know what the future will be. The people are becoming disappointed and desperate. Some of them don’t believe in a two state solution. If you go to Ramallah now, some of the NGOs made advertisements – one state solution. We don’t like it. We want a two state solution but when people lose hope to have an independent state they will think about a one state solution, occupation, whatever it is, the results will be bad for everybody in the region.
Toni Verstandig:
Mort, please.
Mort Zuckerman:(Past Chairman, Conference of Presidents)
I have been working for the object of a two state solution for many years. I have two questions – one is, to what extent is the existence of a different regime and attitude in Gaza in the form of the Hamas leadership there, make it more difficult for you to reach an agreement with the Israelis?
My second question is, somebody was saying earlier, the problem often in many of these… peace talks – there are always things that occur on the outside, instead of bringing people closer together often divide. Would it not be the case that confidential talks outside of public visibility would be a more conducive way to reach an agreement?
President Abbas:
You ask me about confidential talks. I conducted Oslo talks. 8 months without leaks on our side. I believe in secret talks but now I don’t think we can keep secret for one day.
About Hamas – Hamas knows that myself as the head of the PLO is in charge of the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. But despite that I know that we cannot reach peace agreement without reconciliation between us and Hamas. You know that the Egyptians concluded a document. We signed this document on 15th of last October because we want the reconciliation to take place between the two parts of our homeland. Hamas is still reluctant, till now, why? Because they are under the instructions of Iran. Now, we are trying to put pressure from here, from there, we are even asking the Turkish government to help, I don’t know if they can help or not. Anyhow, we will continue our efforts to restore our unity with this kind of reconciliation between us and Hamas. I know that it is difficult but we will not stop our talks with Israel, we will continue our talks with Israel. If we reach an agreement we will send it to a referendum. This is what I can do. I cannot do anything else.
Mort Zuckerman:
One more question. The Israeli experience with troops to provide security in Lebanon for example, has not been a positive experience. Would you be comfortable with having, in the event that there is an agreement, and the issue of security in the West Bank is very important, to allowing on some terms Israeli troops to protect against terrorist attacks from the West Bank. If there were terror attacks from the West Bank, it would make an essential part of Israel, which includes Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, uninhabitable.
President Abbas:
The troops in Lebanon are doing a good job but we are talking about the need to be in our territories. Maybe 10 years or more, it doesn’t matter. But we cannot, believe me, we cannot accept the Israelis to be in our territory. Because it means that the occupation stays. I will be frank with you, and I told by the way Prime Minister Olmert that any kind of third party around the world, it doesn’t matter but if there will be one single Israeli it means we have an occupation and we cannot accept that.
Danny asked me to tell him that if the third party comes from Jews it doesn’t matter to me, or from Europe, I am not against the religion of the people, I am against the citizenship. If they are Israelis… I can accept any religion from any country around the world to come to our country as a third party. They are welcome.
Lee Rosenberg:(President of AIPAC)
It’s great that you are here. I appreciate the chance to have a direct and frank conversation. And thank you Danny for organizing this.

In the spirit of a frank conversation that we are having here, direct, you have mentioned that you are having direct conversations with many Israelis, currently. And in the past you have had direct conversations with Prime Minister Olmert. You conducted those conversations in spite of settlement policy which I’m sure you have not felt has been appropriate and yet you have had direct conversations. And so now we are in a situation which to me does not seem to be appropriate to say that you are waiting for direct conversations which you know is the way to peace… this evening we are having a direct conversation. I again ask you, although its been asked, what are the circumstances that don’t allow you today to have a conversation, leadership to leadership, President to Prime Minister, something that you have done in the past, and why that is not something that you can reach for today?

And if I can ask a second question. You had acknowledged to Alan’s question, a historical Jewish connection to the land, that nobody denies that Jews have been in this land for so many years. Just a more pointed question to that – if you could make a statement about the Jewish claim to any part of Jerusalem, any part, West, East, if that is also part of your understanding. Thank you.
President Abbas:
Concerning the direct talks – I told you the story. Why we in the beginning didn’t accept and why we came to the proximity talks. The proximity talks came as a position from the American administration. The American administration asked the Prime Minister to cease the settlement activity. When they failed to convince him they came with this proposal for proximity talks and said to us, in a letter, that if we achieve any progress we will go to direct talks. Nothing prevents me to do anything or to…but this is the agreement and the consequences from the beginning to now. So it’s not a big problem to us. I admit that with Prime Minster Olmert for one year but after that that’s exactly what happened. I want the Israelis to cease their settlement activity and I ask many times, they didn’t listen, I went to the negotiations but when I heard from the American administration that Israel should stop settlements what shall I say?
Concerning Jerusalem – we say that West Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. East Jerusalem is an occupied territory since 1967. In the road map there is one paragraph that says to put an end to the occupation that began in 1967. And when we started our trilateral talks we defined what the occupied territories are. At that time, Condoleezza Rice told both sides that we understand the occupied territories as the following – Gaza Strip, West Bank, we mean by West Bank east Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan Valley and the no-mans-land. You understand? We said ok. Go tomorrow, start talking about the swaps and we started talking about the swaps and maps. Our right is East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Olmert reiterated many times – the Palestinian neighborhoods will be part of the Palestinian capital and the Jewish neighborhoods will be the Israeli capital. And we continue that Jerusalem as a whole will not be re-divided but it will be an open city for all the religions. The East part as Palestinian, the West part will be Israeli. Here there will be a municipality and here there will be a municipality and there will be coordination between both parts of Jerusalem. This is what we believe. This is what we talked about with Prime Minister Olmert.
David Makovsky:(Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
Mr. President thank you for this opportunity. Danny, thank you for this opportunity.

According to the polls Mr. President, both people want a two state solution but both people are skeptical that the other side wants a two state solution. This suggests that leadership is crucial in conditioning public opinion. Each side might have political constraints, I understand this. But I wanted to ask you how you feel you could use your office as President of the PA in a way to condition public opinion. As you said, they are frustrated, they don’t believe anymore in the very enterprise of peace making. My question on these three points is how can you synchronize with the Israeli side, maybe through George Mitchell, to acknowledge the good that the other side is doing. Maybe the Israelis are taking down checkpoints. Maybe you are doing more on security. Maybe Netanyahu needs to acknowledge what you are doing. Maybe you could acknowledge the good the Israelis are doing, because the people are only hearing bad news.

The second point is on the issue of refugees. I think I heard this story from you personally. How you went with your son to Safed, where you were born, where my grandfather was also born –
President Abbas:
We are relatives –
David Makovsky:
You said your son wanted to go to the house where you were born. And you said you don’t want to embarrass them. We don’t live here anymore; we live in Palestine, in the West Bank, we should go home. Maybe this is a story the Palestinian people need to hear too. And by the way, the conditioning should go on the Israeli side. I’m not saying only on the Palestinian side, on Jerusalem and the like.
The final point which has been touched on by others. Your predecessor, Abu Amar, used to say that the Jews and the Palestinians are cousins, we are fellow Semites. You said here in the Koran it says that the Jews are in the land but the people don’t hear is that each side has a legitimate claim and that’s why we’re having this peace process because each side has a legitimate, valid claim and that’s why we have to solve the problem. I think on all three levels – whether it’s acknowledging what each side is doing, whether its conditioning the people on refugees and Jerusalem, whether it’s talking about how each side has a valid claim. I think If you did all three things together we could break some of the cynicism that exists, but only the leader can do this. Nobody can do this like you. I just want to ask you, dugri, if you think it is possible politically in your situation, to make these steps, to condition the public so the cynicism finally gives way to some hope for a better future and all they don’t hear is bad news on the other side. Thank you.
President Abbas:
I am the first maybe who recognized Israel. I led the negotiations in Oslo and I convinced many of my leadership to recognize Israel. When I ran for the Presidency I raised the slogan, no violence against Israel. No armed struggle against Israel. All these things, to tell everybody that I believe in peace and everybody from our people should believe in peace. Now you can go and see that the culture of peace is prevailing. This is one point. The second, I appeared on Israeli tv, second channel, for 25 minutes. I think everybody praised it, from the Israeli people. I asked Netanyahu to appear on our TV. He refused. I want him to come, not to come to the West Bank, I don’t know if he will come or not, but at least to address the Palestinian people on TV. He refused.

Maybe four or five months ago I sent my ambassador in Warsaw to participate in the Holocaust commemoration and I sent my ambassador in Moscow to participate in the same occasion. Why? Because I want to tell everyone that these people suffered and we are suffering. Now we want peace between each other. And we do not deny, as rumors say we deny the Holocaust.

Our people and myself all the time I am talking and working for peace. For instance, I heard that some of the mosques on Friday, their sermons are against Israel. I identified all the sermons in the West Bank – it is the first time, it is the first country around the Arab world, around the Islamic world, that these sermons are unified, only in the West Bank because I don’t want any incitement against anybody.

I’m afraid that I will be disappointed. For that I decided not to run for the elections. I want a two state solution. I want to see peace between both sides. I want my grandchildren to live in peace and the Israeli grandchildren to live in peace. But if I can’t do what, what shall I do?

My colleague Saeb asked me to ask you put yourself in my place, what shall you do?

So really, if we cannot achieve, and I am telling you the truth, if we cannot achieve peace within a year more or less I don’t know what will happen. You see the advertisements in the West Bank, some of our people are discouraged, they are talking about a one state solution. We don’t want it. We want the Israelis to live in their state and we will live in our state in peace and security. We don’t want to have a one state solution but what shall I say to these people who don’t believe in a two state solution? They don’t see it on the ground. Now we want to convince each other in peace? We are ready. We accepted 67 borders with swaps. What else can we do?
Toni Verstandig:
I would like to recognize Steve Hadley. As I did with Sandy, you have two great pillars here who have been stalwarts as National Security Advisors in support of peace. There has been a lot of reference to the Annapolis process and Roadmap. Elliott, I know you would like to ask a question. Maybe the two of you could in a true bipartisan spirit…
Steve Hadley:(U.S. Institute of Peace)A lot of us have felt that, and I don’t want you to speak ill of others or other countries, but a lot of us have felt that Arab countries have not done all they could to support you in negotiations but also in the institution building in the West Bank. Is there something we can do to encourage through various channels…
President Abbas:
Some of the Arab countries are helping to build our institutions, some. But I highly appreciate one thing from the Arabs – the Arab Peace Initiative. This is the most gracious initiative for peace since 1948 and this initiative to come from the Saudis, it is very important. Please please please tell Israel not to waste this opportunity. Some of the Israelis used to say the Palestinians do not miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They are right, they are wrong. We missed one opportunity which is very important – 1947 when we rejected the partition plan. But in 1988 we accepted everything – 242, 338 and everything and nobody listened. Now we ask Israel, don’t miss this opportunity. The Arab Peace Initiative is very important. Some of the Arabs are wavering. The moderate Arabs. Some say to remove the initiative. I heard it at the last summit. This is the only tool in our hands to talk about peace because the alternative is war and I am not ready to go to war or to armed resistance. If you are ready ok, they said no, we are not ready, which is good. Now I am afraid they don’t miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity will imply on the Israelis.
Elliott Abrams:(Council on Foreign Relations)
In the meeting with the President today you said we have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, we are not doing that. When Alan Solow raised it you gave what I would call a bureaucratic answer – lets form a committee with the US and Israel. I want to suggest and urge you that that is not good enough. There is incitement every day. There are reports on the internet everyday of official PA tv and official PA newspaper. There are children’s shows where children are asked, name a Palestinian city and they say, Haifa, and the moderator says, good, that’s a good answer. Day after day there are maps and they never seem to show the state of Israel. This has been going on for many years. It continues even now when the indirect talks have begun. I don’t see why you need a committee with the Israelis to stop it. Why can’t it stop on the official media of the Palestinian Authority.
President Abbas:
Why shouldn’t they accept the trilateral committee to sit around the table and define every type of incitement? On the other hand, there is some kind of incitement in Israel. We have to deal with the issue from both sides. I accept your accusations.
Yasser Abd Rabu:
No, I don’t accept them.
President Abbas:
I will say ok, let us say there is incitement, how can we deal with this? Shall I talk about Israeli incitement? Shall I talk about Ovadia Yosef incitement? Many people use incitement against the Palestinians but it is not the issue. If we want to eliminate the incitement let us go to this committee and the Americans will be the judge. It is agreement in Wye River.
And Netanyahu was the Prime Minister. What’s the problem?
Elliott Abrams:
The problem is the Americans shouldn’t do it, you should do it.
President Abbas:
If they cannot do it who will do it…
There are many kinds of incitement. I accept your accusations but let us settle it around the table.
Debra DeLee
:(President of Americans for Peace Now)
Danny, I want to thank you, not just for this evening and this dinner but for years of tireless and generous commitment to a two state solution and for the wisdom of bringing Rob Wexler to the Center. Just so his reputation is not ruined, we do not agree on everything. Mr. President, thank you so much, again, not just for this evening but for your many years of commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
I have been thinking and wrestling about both something that Alan raised as well as David Makovsky which is the issue of both sides feeling that there is no partner. I was in the region a few months ago both in Tel Aviv and in Ramallah with pollsters, polling the Palestinians and the Israelis. There is an amazing consistency in the responses that although when asked about a particular issue, on Jerusalem or refuges, you could not get support on either side but when taken as a package similar to the Clinton Parameters or the Geneva Initiative, that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians as an end of conflict could support that package. Interestingly, individuals said though I would accept it I don’t believe the other side would and I don’t know if my side would. On top of that when we’ve done polling with both Arab Americans and Jewish Americans we found the same thing, that a majority supports a two state solution along the Clinton Parameters but they do not believe the other side does. So my question was going to be about how you can prepare your people and build a trust of the other side. I guess my question is more along the lines of what David Makovsky said but somewhat different because he talked about giving people hope and I guess my question is can we give the people a vision? I’m wondering if it’s possible perhaps to give a vision of what two states could be for your people.
President Abbas:
When you see security in the West Bank prevailing, when you see the economy is flourishing, when you see 1700 investors coming to attend the 2nd economic conference, to participate, to help – I think this situation envisions to everybody that peace is coming. For that they have the hope.
What is the vision of peace? To have a two state solution. Everybody knows that on 67 borders plus/minus we will have our state. One condition only – East Jerusalem will be our…for that the people fear that something is coming. We don’t want them to lose the hope. It’s a matter of time because if they lose hope they will turn back, maybe a new intifada, they will do beyond the imagination. For that I am asking everybody around the world, please, we want peace, the sooner the better, otherwise the alternative will be disaster.
Robert Sugarman
: (National Chair, ADL)
Thank you Mr. President for spending the time with us and Danny, thank you for hosting this. You said that you were the first to recognize Israel, for that we thank you. My question is, do you recognize and will you publicly state and acknowledge that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people?
President Abbas:
Israel can name itself whatever it wants. It’s up to the Israelis to call themselves what they want and I said they can call themselves the empire of the Jewish and Zionist people around the world, it’s up to them to name themselves, it’s none of my business to accept or refuse.
Robert Wexler:(President, S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace)
If I may just close the evening. I hope that everyone here would agree that very few world leaders would open themselves up to uncensored, unscripted questions in the manner in which President Abbas did this evening. I think one simple task of character – just before President Abbas came out this evening I asked, President Abbas, I assume the comments that you will make tonight are off the record. He looked at me a bit bewildered and said, why, why should they be off the record. They are on the record. For that, I hope everyone agrees that we have had a candid, frank discussion and President Abbas, we are deeply grateful for the dignified manner in which you have treated our evening. Thank you.