Military

 

01 August 2003

Powell Explains U.S. Concerns Over Fence to Israeli Newspaper

Tells Ma'ariv that Palestinian land rights and future borders are at issue

Secretary of State Colin Powell told the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv that the United States views with concern an Israeli security fence between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories because the fence restricts Palestinian access to their land and risks affecting the borders of a future Palestinian state.

Speaking to Ma'ariv reporter Hemi Shalev July 30 in Washington, Powell said Israeli offers to compensate Palestinian land owners was "not the issue." He added that the United States accepts that Israel has a right to erect a security fence.

President Bush described the issue as "a problem," said Powell, because the fence is not built just on Israeli land, but starts to infringe on Palestinian land.

"It takes some very interesting loops and it cuts through some very interesting territory. And so there is a nice little Palestinian village and it's got farmland around it and it's got access, and suddenly it's there, it's got nothing. This is what is causing the president concern and me concern, all of us concern, particularly if the fence is producing faits accomplis with respect to what a state might look like," said Powell.

Powell said the United States had built fences along its southern border with Mexico in order to end illegal immigration into the country. "And guess what's going on?" he asked. "They're still coming. So determined people can get under, around, over or through a fence."

The secretary also addressed the possibility of peace talks resuming between Syria and Israel. "[W]e're interested in a comprehensive settlement. It begins with the Palestinians and the Israelis, but the president's vision includes a comprehensive settlement that deals with the issues of interest to Syria and to Lebanon," he said.

However, he said, he received the impression from both sides that neither Syria nor Israel is ready for negotiations at this time.

Powell repeated the Bush administration's view that Syria has not done enough to rein in terrorist organizations operating out of Damascus.

"[T]here are opportunity costs in this for Syria if they don't change their policies," Powell said. Despite potential areas of mutually beneficial cooperation between the United States and Syria, he said, "we are not going to do anything that would improve the relationship right now."

"They need, frankly, a better relationship with us to, in turn, have a better relationship with Iraq, which is one of Syria's largest trading partners, concessional oil and commerce. It's not happening. And I have a hunch that the current Iraqi Provisional Authority and future Iraqi Government would view with certain negative attitude a Syria that does not cooperate in building a better Iraq and also does not cooperate in assisting with the Middle East peace process," said Powell.

Regarding the efforts of Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and his cabinet to crack down on terrorism, Powell said over the past six weeks the situation has become "a lot quieter."

However, he said the United States would put "maximum pressure" on the Palestinians to increase security.

"[W]e have to make sure that there is no doubt in the Palestinian mind, in the mind of Prime Minister Abbas or Mohamed Dahlan or Nabil Shaath and the rest of my friends, that we will not be satisfied until terror has been eliminated ... for good."

He said the Palestinian leadership was concerned that taking violent action against extremist groups such as Hamas at the present time would result in a Palestinian civil war and urged an understanding of their dilemma.

"[W]e need to show a little bit of patience and flexibility to make sure that it happens in a way that does not result in a situation that undercuts or brings down Mahmoud Abbas, because then where are we?" said Powell.

Powell told the Israeli newspaper that while there is an "element of risk" to Israelis in easing restrictions upon Palestinian freedom of movement, he hoped that if the cease-fire lasts longer, they will be "willing to accept a little more risk as a political matter."

"The fact of the matter is that people are moving around," said Powell. "The Palestinians are moving around. The Israelis are moving around. More than any other time in the past couple of years. I hope that this starts to build a level of confidence, leading to trust, so that we can build on it and get more done."

Following is the transcript of Powell's interview with Ma'ariv:

(begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
August 1, 2003


INTERVIEW

SECRETARY OF STATE COLIN L. POWELL
BY HEMI SHALEV OF MA'ARIV NEWSPAPER
JULY 30, 2003
WASHINGTON, D.C.
(2:30 p.m. EDT)

QUESTION: If we could start, before we get to the Palestinian issue, if we could start on Syria. You were in Syria twice asking them to remove the terrorist headquarters from Damascus and other steps, and it doesn't seem as if they have been fulfilling the demands. Could you tell me what the United States plans to do about this?

SECRETARY POWELL: It's also what we plan not to do, and it's really the leverage we have in what we plan not to do that will, perhaps, determine what Syria actually does do. And I'll explain it.

We've put a number of issues on their plate. We told them it wasn't going to be good enough just to shut down these headquarters or to have them stop making press announcements, but we wanted those individuals to leave, we wanted them expelled. As long as they were there, they were doing something.

And we placed a number of other issues on the table, to include encouraging the Lebanese to move their army in the southern part of the country, weapons of mass destruction, end to the terrorist support, end to transshipment of material for Hezbollah and all the other things they were -- except they have taken some steps. They did close those headquarters. They did knock these guys off the air publicly for a while. They are suggesting they are taking some steps now with respect to financial accounts in Syrian banks.

And we have taken note of all of this, but we made it clear to them that this isn't enough. And what is it we're not going to do? What we're not going to do is we are not going to do anything that would improve the relationship right now. There are things we would like to do with Syria and there are other areas of cooperation that might be open to them.

They need, frankly, a better relationship with us to, in turn, have a better relationship with Iraq, which is one of Syria's largest trading partners, concessional oil and commerce. It's not happening. And I have a hunch that the current Iraqi Provisional Authority and future Iraqi Government would view with certain negative attitude a Syria that does not cooperate in building a better Iraq and also does not cooperate in assisting with the Middle East peace process.

The Middle East peace process is moving forward. It moved forward last Friday when Prime Minister Abbas was here. It moved forward when Ariel Sharon was here. And it's going to keep moving forward.

And Syria can either be a positive force or it can be a negative force. If it continues to support terrorist activity, if it continues to give haven to Hamas and PIJ and others, and Revolutionary -- Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and if it continues to facilitate the transshipment of material to Hezbollah, it will be held to account and they will be increasingly isolated as the peace process moves forward without them, and as Iraq becomes a democratic state that does not wish to work with states that continue to sponsor terrorist activity. So I think there are opportunity costs in this for Syria if they don't change their policies.

Since my second visit -- second or third, Richard? Second, I guess. Or third.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't -- I forget.

SECRETARY POWELL: When you're having fun in Damascus -- (laughter) --

QUESTION: You always have fun in Damascus.

SECRETARY POWELL: The President is in an interesting position. He is a relatively new President with a relatively old cabinet of his father's choosing. And he needs to make a strategic choice. He doesn't have forever to make that choice and things will not get better for him, and I hope they start to decide that history is on the side of the Iraqi people and history is on the side of the Israelis and the Palestinians who are now moving forward on the roadmap. And he will become increasingly detached from the history that is being made.

I have also said to him, and I've tried to repeat it publicly on many occasions, that we're interested in a comprehensive settlement. It begins with the Palestinians and the Israelis, but the President's vision includes a comprehensive settlement that deals with the issues of interest to Syria and to Lebanon.

QUESTION: Well, you are supposedly asking for a resumption of negotiations.

SECRETARY POWELL: You've seen what they've said and what they haven't said. I said to them two years ago, "Okay, are you ready to resume?" And they said -- I said, "Can we do it in parallel?" And the answer was, "We can't do it -- if we did in parallel, the Palestinian track has to be ahead." And, you know, I don't sense that they have changed their position, that they are ready to start something now until there is movement on the Palestinian track.

Well, guess what? There is movement on the Palestinian track. Not as fast as we all would like to see. As you know from your coverage of the Sharon visit and the Abbas visit, there are lots of tough issues ahead. But we're moving. Things are happening. And, well, we didn't have a breakthrough this week or last week. Well, you don't get a breakthrough every week. This is a ground game and you get it a couple of yards at a time. And we have made -- we have made ground in the last six weeks and we're not sliding backwards yet. And the President is determined to keep moving forward.

Syria knows what is expected of it, and we'll have to wait and see what -- how it chooses to respond. It has made some responses.

(Phone rings.)

SECRETARY POWELL: Hang on. I can't tell if it's a crisis or not.

There are some steps that they've taken, but they're not enough.

QUESTION: But you're not promoting right now the idea of Israeli-Syrian negotiations?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, that's a matter for Syria and Israel. I don't sense that either side is ready.

What was it?

MR. BOUCHER: Three times in Damascus.

SECRETARY POWELL: Three times. See, I've got to keep checking him.

MR. BOUCHER: I don't have a brain, but I've got a Palm.

QUESTION: To go to the Palestinians, you said we are making ground, there is progress. In the past week or two, I've been hearing, and I'm sure you've been hearing as well, in Israel among certain -- Sharon said it as well, but also the Army Chief of Staff -- that there is a growing danger that because Abu Mazen is not taking strong steps against terrorism that this whole thing will fall apart very soon with some terrorist attack or something.

SECRETARY POWELL: Then where are you? We've got to keep moving forward. We have made progress. The number of incidents are down significantly. Even the Prime Minister said yesterday on more than one occasion, and when I had my meeting with him yesterday evening, it's quieter. It's a lot quieter.

And let's not just say, "Well, so what?" It's a lot quieter. Now, is that because of the hudna or is it because of the strength of the Israeli security forces, or what? I don't know. All I know, the last six weeks it's quieter. And this is a source of relief for the people of Israel and it is an indication that there is a change.

Now, nobody is going to be satisfied, neither the Israeli side nor the United States, and for that matter, nor will the Palestinian Authority in the presence of the person, Mr. Abbas, be satisfied, if found ourselves a year or two from now, or one month or two months or six months from now, and we still find organizations such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad that are fully capable of undertaking terrorist operations again at a time and place of their choosing.

As Prime Minister Abbas has said, there can only be one source of military power, police power, in a state, and it's the government, and that's the Palestinian Authority. What we are arguing is how best to go about that. Some of my Israeli friends would say, "Easy. Go to war. Take them on now. Be done with it." Mr. Abbas and Mohamed Dahlan have a slightly different view of how best to do this. And they are concerned, and have said so, that if we try this right now, we'll create a civil war that we can't afford to have right now. So you may not like it and it may not be neat, and it doesn't satisfy what Ruby might want this afternoon, but we're going to get started.

And one strike against Hamas, they will say to you, is the fact we've got Gaza open. Did Hamas get Gaza open for you? Did Hamas get it back for you? Did Arafat get it back for you? No. Abbas got it back for you. And the United States helped. The United States is supporting Abbas.

Now, is that a blow against Hamas? I think so. And so we have to make sure that there is no doubt in the Palestinian mind, in the mind of Prime Minister Abbas or Mohamed Dahlan or Nabil Shaath and the rest of my friends, that we will not be satisfied until terror has been eliminated, not just for the moment, not just for a hudna, but for good.

I remember being asked, "Can Hamas ever transform itself?" We have said, and I have been in the forefront of this, Hamas is Hamas is Hamas. We can no longer make this distinction between their good works and their bad works. The only thing we're interested in now is good works. And any organization that is tainted by terrorist elements in it or a philosophy of terrorism, we can't work with. And that has to be eliminated. We won't be satisfied otherwise. In that light, we are completely in line with all Israelis and with Palestinians.

How do you get that -- how do you get to that point? And the President, when Abbas was in there last week on Friday and they talked about settlements and they talked about prisoners -- all the issues that you know more better than me -- the President kept saying over and over, kept interrupting the conversation to say, "I understand. But it begins with security."

"Well, we need more on settlements."

"I understand. But it begins with security."

He understood and he knows what Palestinians want. He knows what they think they need, what they say they need. He knows what is -- it is important for us to try to do in order to support Abbas and to increasingly isolate Arafat and show the people of the Palestinian territories, the occupied territories, that Arafat takes you nowhere, this guy takes you somewhere.

And so we know what they expect and need and say that they have to have. But he, at every opportunity, when he listened to them and heard them and said he understood, he says, "It starts with security." So this President, and he said it again yesterday in his press conference, nothing comes before the security of the State of Israel. And he means that.

And so we're going to put maximum pressure on the Palestinian side on the issue of security. And Dahlan -- I don't know how many conversations we've had with Mohamed, and, you know, I've sat there, I sat there at Aqaba when the three of them were outside having a nice chat, like a picnic. Mofaz, myself and Dahlan were in there arguing. They were arguing in Yiddish or Jewish or Hebrew -- I couldn't understand what was going on.

QUESTION: They go back a long way.

SECRETARY POWELL: They go back a long way. They've known each other. They know each other like -- they should be brothers. They've known each other and they've been in each other's homes. And as he said, "I've been in your office." And Dahlan was like, "Well, then why did you blow it up?" So, I mean, there's a history there.

So they also know what they're saying to each other and what they're not saying to each other. But we know that Dahlan must eliminate this capability, and we will expect them and demand that it happen. But we need to show a little bit of patience and flexibility to make sure that it happens in a way that does not result in a situation that undercuts or brings down Mahmoud Abbas, because then where are we?

QUESTION: If we go to the Israeli side, you said you will apply maximum pressure on the Palestinians to start cracking down on the security issue. It seemed yesterday that the United States had made a strong case against the fence and that Prime Minister Sharon --

SECRETARY POWELL: The President accepts that the party has a right to put a fence up.

QUESTION: I thought he said that he doesn't like fences. Even when he was in Texas, he didn't.

SECRETARY POWELL: He didn't like -- he was very clear about it. He said he doesn't like fences and he wished it wasn't there. We've got fences all over the southern border. When I was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I built more. I had the National Guard out there, mile after mile of fence, all over the Rio Grande River, Texas, Arizona. And guess what's going on? They're still coming. So determined people can get under, around, over or through a fence.

Nevertheless, Israel has a right to put a fence up. You can't say you can't put a fence up. The fence worked in Gaza, as the Prime Minister always responds. The question is, and this is where the President has a problem, and he said so when Abbas was here and he made it clear yesterday as a problem, when the fence is no longer just on your land, but the fence essentially, because of the way it's being designed or built, and designed or built, it starts to infringe and take over Palestinian land, even if, as Ruby said to me, we pay them for it. Not the issue. No longer available to them.

And you see it going in ways that will make it very difficult to get to the next phases of the roadmap. That's the problem the President is talking about.

QUESTION: The delineation of the fence.

SECRETARY POWELL: Delineation of the fence.

QUESTION: Not the very existence of a fence?

SECRETARY POWELL: The very -- well, we'd rather there be no fences. The President said yesterday -- I can't remember if it was his press conference or in the meeting -- he said, "No, what I want to see is the day to come when the fence is irrelevant." I think he said it --

QUESTION: At the press conference.

SECRETARY POWELL: He feels that way. But what he's saying is the fence is making it harder to get to that day the way you're doing it. And when you -- you know the fence as well as I do. It takes some very interesting loops and it cuts through some very interesting territory. And so there is a nice little Palestinian village and it's got farmland around it and it's got access, and suddenly it's there, it's got nothing. This is what is causing the President concern and me concern, all of us concern, particularly if the fence is producing faits accomplis with respect to what a state might look like.

And the next phases of the fence as it goes around Jerusalem and further south could make things more complicated. So what the President was saying to the Prime Minister is that this is a problem and we have to continue discussing this. This issue --

QUESTION: The Prime Minister seemed to be saying that it may be a problem, but we're going to continue building the fence.

SECRETARY POWELL: We didn't tell him -- the President didn't tell him to stop building the fence. He made it clear, though, the issues that I just mentioned to you there were problems with the fence. So the President said that a week ago with Abbas. The President didn't change his mind yesterday.

QUESTION: No, he called it a sensitive issue and to consider it a great victory in Israel that he went down from "problem" to "sensitive issue."

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, what word would you like tomorrow to make it less of a victory? It's -- "serious" is what he used yesterday? Sensitive?

QUESTION: Sensitive issue.

SECRETARY POWELL: It is sensitive. Problems can be sensitive. Sensitive issues can be problems.

QUESTION: So it's an outside --

SECRETARY POWELL: I wouldn't get too Old Testament on the difference between problems. It is an area that will require continuing discussion with the Israeli side.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied with what Israel has done so far, or do you -- have you been urging Israelis to do more on the issue of (inaudible) prisoner release?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes, we have been encouraging the Israeli side to meet the commitments that it's made and to meet them as high up in the ladder as they can. There has been a movement on release of prisoners. The Palestinians would like to see thousands out. The Israelis can't do that at this point, they say.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah, I heard that. But the Israelis are doing some things. And there are some Jordanian prisoners, I know, that would also facilitate some other efforts if they do (inaudible) to release them.

QUESTION: What do you mean?

SECRETARY POWELL: There are some Jordanian prisoners --

QUESTION: In Israel?

SECRETARY POWELL: I think so.

QUESTION: Uh-huh.

SECRETARY POWELL: At least the Jordanians think so. We'd like to see more movement on the outposts, and the understanding is that all of the outposts would be dealt with in some phase and time, and we're waiting to see what the phasing looks like.

One thing that I think can be done, and we discussed this quite candidly with the Prime Minister yesterday, both the President and then in my meeting with him, is all the roadblocks -- we understand that some of them have a important security component to them, but a lot of them, no matter how things look at, where there isn't as much a security component to them as there is an inconvenience element to them. Some were removed in recent days. The one in Surda was a particularly difficult one.

The reason I think this is important is that it shows the Palestinian people things are changing, that they can start to get to their hospitals and their schools and from town to town and city to city. There is an element of risk associated with it, and I know that the Israelis, the IDF and others, will be looking at this carefully to make sure that as you remove these that are not directly related to security, you're not increasing the level of risk.

But hopefully, over time, with fewer incidents, and if this ceasefire can ultimately be converted into a longer period, and a period during which the capability of terror is being removed, then they'll be more comfortable with the level of risk and are prepared to take a higher level of risk, and therefore more help for more of these roadblocks will come. Because that's what -- that's what allows the Palestinian people to look around and say, "Things are changing. Things are changing. And why do we want to go back to what Hamas was giving us or PIJ? What did that do for us?"

And if you get going like that, then the people of Israel can start to feel more comfortable and willing to accept a little more risk as a political matter. The Prime Minister said yesterday -- I think it was -- sometimes all of them, they blend. Long days. At one point -- I think it was when were together in the hotel -- he said, "Sure, people are out in the street. They're going to restaurants. They're more comfortable. They're a little more confident. There hasn't been that. So, Powell, why don't you get rid of the travel advisory?"

QUESTION: Good question.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, it's a great question. And but we have an answer for it, but I won't give you the answer because you'll get mad at me. (Laughter.) He says it's -- it's what you led with. Because people are saying it's going to happen all over again. So then, if it hits -- if it hits the press, and how can I -- where is my travel advisory?

The fact of the matter is that people are moving around. The Palestinians are moving around. The Israelis are moving around. More than any other time in the past couple of years. I hope that this starts to build a level of confidence, leading to trust, so that we can build on it and get more done.

QUESTION: Do you think Israel should allow Yasser Arafat freedom of movement?

SECRETARY POWELL: To where?

QUESTION: Wherever. I mean, should he be continue to be confined to the Muqatta?

SECRETARY POWELL: I'm just going to dodge that right now. We will continue to isolate him.

QUESTION: Diplomatically, you mean?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, yeah. We haven't talked to him since I last saw him in April and warned him that would happen. He heard it from me. Things have to change or this is probably our last meeting. Oh, well.

QUESTION: When are you coming to --

SECRETARY POWELL: Don't know. I'm going to be back for sure. I just don't know when yet. But we -- between my ambassadors -- you guys are taking all my ambassadors again. I've got Kurtzer, I've got Wolf, I got Jack Feltman, Bill Burns going there regularly. I'll be going. Condi will be going. We're going to flood the place.

QUESTION: It's to try to bring back tourism.

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, this is it. I mean, the Prime Minister made reference to that. We're filling your hotels. But we want to show constant engagement. But the most important thing is for both sides to keep moving forward toward their commitments.

QUESTION: If I may, just one more question. At Aqaba, if I'm not mistaken, the President sort of gave out tasks to each side, and he said it was the American task to persuade Arab states to improve relations. But, I mean, what seems to have happened with that? Jordanian ambassador is still in Jordan, the Egyptian ambassador is still in Egypt. Egyptians are not -- have not invited Sharon yet, or at least he hasn't gone yet.

SECRETARY POWELL: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Which?

SECRETARY POWELL: All the above.

QUESTION: When?

SECRETARY POWELL: That I can't answer.

QUESTION: You have an answer and you can't answer, or you don't know?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, I -- I shouldn't speak for other governments. I've been on the phone with both of them this morning. Conditions are coming -- conditions are changing in a way that, if we keep moving in a positive direction, both the issues you talk about and don't talk about.

QUESTION: Soon?

SECRETARY POWELL: All three.

QUESTION: No, I mean, soon.

SECRETARY POWELL: Who?

QUESTION: Soon.

SECRETARY POWELL: Yeah. I said (inaudible).

QUESTION: Okay.

SECRETARY POWELL: Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

(end transcript)

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