SETTLEMENTS/DIRECT ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATIONS
Q. – The settlements issue is a major obstacle to the peace process.
Like many world leaders, President Sarkozy declared at his meeting with President Abbas that the moratorium on settlement building had to be extended, but the Israeli government continues to refuse to do this, despite the substantial guarantees promised by the United States. Do you see a future for this process while settlements continue to be built and expanded, and what do you think the international community can do to safeguard the peace process?
THE MINISTER – As I said in New York at the United Nations General Assembly and President of the Republic Nicolas Sarkozy very clearly stated during his meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Paris on 27 September, the building and expansion of settlements must stop. I deplore the fact that the unanimous appeals for extending the Israeli moratorium on settlement building, including from the United States, have not been heeded. France is continuing to ask for a gesture in this direction. Restarting settlement building and expansion would jeopardize the political process set in train at the beginning of September. It is fragile. I think the Israeli leaders are aware of this and I am keen to see a solution found in the next few days, thanks to everyone’s efforts. In this respect, I am pleased that, following a meeting with your president, the Arab League’s monitoring committee has left the door open to continuing the direct negotiations. The international community must do the utmost, and fast, to guarantee continuation of this process in order to achieve the two-State solution.
Q. – You expressed sharp irritation after the United States excluded the European Union from the meeting launching the direct negotiations in Washington and there is now talk of three French initiatives: firstly, a meeting in Paris at the end of the month attended by President Abbas, Prime Minister Netanyahu, King Abdullah and President Mubarak;
secondly, an increase in the number of countries sponsoring the peace process so it is not just the United States; thirdly, a “Paris 2” donors’ conference for the Palestinian State. Can you give us some details on these initiatives and what chances have they got of succeeding?
THE MINISTER – Backed by the Quartet, the United States relaunched the process of direct talks in Washington in early September and is continuing to play an irreplaceable role in support of the negotiations. I know President Obama is personally following this issue. For our part, we consider that the European Union, which is a major political partner of both parties and financing the bulk of the aid to Palestine, also has an essential role to play in support of the political process. The aim of the French initiatives you mention is to provide, when the time comes, greater support for the commitment of the main international players alongside the United States and the parties. We must also, as co-presidents of the Union for the Mediterranean, ensure the preparation of the forthcoming Barcelona summit, which does indeed require upstream work, particularly on a number of major political issues for the region including the peace process. As regards the PRDP [Palestine Reform and Development Plan], we are coming to the end of the three-year period initiated by the December 2008 Paris Conference. As we said to President Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in July this year, together with the three co-presidents (European Union, Norway and Quartet representative), France is ready to host a new donor conference in Paris, which, like the first, will have the aim of consolidating the foundations of the future Palestinian State. But this conference will need to be part of a political dynamic. We are working to this end. It will also have to be based on a new Palestinian reform and development plan we know is under preparation.
Q. – A few months ago, you and the Spanish Foreign Minister took the initiative of putting forward an idea on the subject of the Palestinian State. Today Palestinians are saying that, given the current deadlock in the process, it’s necessary to think about going to the Security Council to get recognition of the Palestinian State with the June 1967 borders. Do you think this is possible and Europe is ready to do this or that it will join the probable American veto on any initiative of this type?
THE MINISTER – We hope soon to be able to welcome the Palestinian State into the United Nations. This is what the international community hopes and wants. The sooner the better. The creation of a Palestinian State will secure a future of peace. It has to be the result of bilateral negotiations. But the international community can’t be satisfied with an extended deadlock. I think one can’t on principle rule out the Security Council option. However, our, the European Union’s priority today is the pursuit of the negotiations with a view to resolving all the final status issues.
EU FOREIGN MINISTERS’ DELEGATION
Q. – There was a plan for a delegation of European foreign ministers to go to Gaza, but the developments in the negotiations probably led to the visit being postponed and then Israel refused the visit of a European ministers’ delegation for fear of them talking about the settlement issue. Is this idea of a Gaza visit still on the cards? France is calling for further easing of the Gaza blockade and for exports, not just imports, to be authorized: does this mean you aren’t completely satisfied with the Israeli measures in Gaza?
THE MINISTER – Yes, we were planning to do this with several European colleagues, but in the end the visit couldn’t take place, first of all because of the different participants’ diary constraints and, secondly, because of the timetable of the direct negotiations which had just resumed. This is one of the reasons why my friend Miguel Angel Moratinos, the Spanish Foreign Minister, and I decided to make this joint visit today. I deeply regret the fact that we haven’t been able to go to Gaza during this short visit, since we’re going to have a meeting with President Abbas and King Abdullah II in Amman on Monday. Gaza, an integral part of Palestine, remains at the heart of our concerns. As you know, France has a permanent presence in Gaza through the French cultural centre and we are funding many projects there, such as the rebuilding of the Al Quds hospital, construction of the new Beit Lahya sewage treatment plant and the initiatives we have taken in support of the production sector – fisheries, agriculture and information and communication technologies. Gaza is one of the priorities for our cooperation. The current Israeli measures to ease the Gaza blockade are a first step in the right direction. But we think that more ambitious measures have to be taken as soon as possible to give a real boost to the Gazan economy, which have to include lifting export restrictions, authorizing imports for the private sector, facilitating the movement of people and lifting the banking restrictions. Inasmuch as the measures to ease the blockade have not created a security threat and where they benefit the economy, we are keen to see new measures moving in the right direction.
PARIS CONFERENCE/PALESTINIAN STATE
Q. – You personally supervised the organization of the Paris Conference for the Palestinian State and for two years the financial support for the Palestinian Authority was exceptional, thanks to the donor support group you chair. The third year saw exceptional support from the Western countries, but defaulting by the Arab countries, which led to a financial crisis for the Palestinian Authority for the first time since the Paris Conference. Do you see any justification for this defaulting by the Arabs and what is your message to the Arab countries on this?
THE MINISTER – The Paris Conference for the Palestinian State was a real success, I think everyone agrees on this. The Palestinian Authority has implemented all the expected reforms on security, governance and managing public expenditure, and has gone even further than what was scheduled – so much so that last month in New York the World Bank stressed that if the Palestinian Authority kept up its current performance, it was on the right track for establishing a State at any time in the near future. On the Israeli side, the authorities have taken positive measures for the movement of people on the West Bank and easing of the Gaza blockade, even though there is still a lot to do. Finally, the international donors have made an unprecedented effort (at the end of 2009, $5.6 billion had already been disbursed out of the 7.7 billion promised in Paris) which has enabled a return of growth, of 8% this year. We are, however, worried – as you are right to stress – about the defaulting by some donors. We have got messages about our concern through at a high level. What is important is to contribute in order to help support progress on the ground now, not when all the problems are resolved and the Palestinian State has become a reality, since at that point Palestine will no longer need any, or at any rate will need less, financial support from the international community./.