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Remarks at the United Nations Security Council

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
UN Headquarters
New York City
December 16, 2008

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Date: 12/16/2008 Description: Secretary Rice addresses the UN Security Council on situation in the Middle East. © UN PhotoSECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much, Mr. President, and thank you, Secretary General. Colleagues, the situation today in the Middle East is very different than when President Bush came to office in 2001. At that time, the Camp David effort had collapsed; Israelis and Palestinians were in a vicious cycle of violence; suicide bombers were murdering innocent Israelis in cafes and restaurants and at Passover Seders, leaving the rest of the population living in constant fear; Israeli military incursions left scores of Palestinians dead and wounded, neighborhoods destroyed, and the economy in shambles. No image better captures that desperate time than the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.

And yet, in spite of those tragedies, the cycle of violence continued. Each time a ray of hope penetrated the darkness, it was snuffed out by intolerance. Reforms within the Palestinian Authority in 2003 inspired hope that the Palestinians would finally have the leadership they deserved, and yet these reforms proved to be superficial.

Yet this hope -- and the hope proved to be deceptive. Yet Palestinian elections in January 2005 and Israel’s disengagement from Gaza later that year offered yet another opportunity for progress. But the victory of Hamas, a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel, in the 2006 elections in that summer, and then the war in Lebanon, ended that hope.

Finally, in 2007, after Hamas had usurped power in Gaza, it was clear to all that there was no alternative to President Bush’s vision of a state of Palestine and a state of Israel living side by side in peace and security. Building on this new dynamic, President Bush convened the Annapolis conference in November of last year, the first major Middle East peace conference in 16 years, and the only one of its kind to be held on U.S. soil. Representatives of over 50 countries, including 14 Arab states, sat with the Israeli Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Defense Minister to pursue a different future for the region.

Since that day, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have bravely demonstrated their commitment to peace through continuous bilateral and substantial negotiations on all the core issues. They made the strategic choice to, as President Bush has said, defeat an ideology of hatred with an ideology of hope. The support of the United States and the international community for the parties’ efforts has not been sustained by false hope or ignorance of the challenges, but by a genuine belief in the sincerity of the parties’ commitment, in the progress they have made and continue to make, and in the prospects for success if they continue down this path.

The United States has a national interest in the conclusion of a final treaty. And it is in the long-term interest of Israel to provide a more hopeful society for Palestinians. The establishment of the state of Palestine is long overdue, and there should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967.

Above all, as our Egyptian friends reminded the Quartet yesterday, this is a bilateral process and the two parties will have to conclude a final agreement. But it is incumbent upon the international community to provide support to their efforts and to create the political context with which – within which their negotiations can prosper.

It is for that reason that we are gathered here today to consider a resolution sponsored by the United States and the Russian Federation to chart the way forward. It builds upon the work of the international community through the Quartet, and I commend my colleagues from the UN, EU, and Russia for their service in the pursuit of peace. This resolution describes the contours of the negotiations and defines the role of the international community, which will prevent a return to violence and the hopelessness of the second intifada, when peace was a distant dream.

It has several elements. First, it confirms the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations and endorses the parties’ brave efforts. Brinksmanship and dramatic, last-minute attempts to forge a lasting peace have not succeeded in the past. There is no substitute for the Annapolis process, and stagnation is not an option. In their historic briefing for the Quartet on November 9th, President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livni described their shared vision of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel, and pledged to continue their negotiations even in times of political transition.

They also described the understandings that govern their negotiation and confirmed the comprehensive nature of their effort, which is to build peace both from the top down and from the bottom up. The Annapolis process has advanced under the leadership of President Abbas, Prime Minister Olmert, and Foreign Minister Livni. And these advances must be preserved and built upon. The commitment to negotiations is not a matter of lip service; it is about genuine commitment to the two-state solution and the necessary foundations of trust between the parties to turn that solution into reality.

As the Quartet affirmed yesterday, a lasting peace will result from mutually reinforcing efforts on the political track, on building the institutions of a Palestinian state, and of improving conditions on the ground. None of these tracks can succeed in isolation. As negotiations proceed, Israel and the Palestinians must ensure that life improves for millions of Palestinians. The international conferences in Paris and Bethlehem and Berlin were critical in supporting these efforts. And the U.S. has become the largest bilateral donor to the Palestinians, and we continue to support the PA with direct budget assistance, funding for high-impact projects, and promotion of efforts to link security, governance, and economic development.

Second, the resolution reiterates the importance of fulfilling obligations under the Roadmap. Neither party should undertake any activity that contravenes Roadmap obligations or prejudices the final status negotiations. The views of the United States have been made very clear in this regard, especially regarding settlement activity. At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has an absolute obligation to dismantle the infrastructure of terror in its territories, reform its security services, and end incitement. Progress is being made, but it is incomplete, and sustained political will, as well as international support, is required.

The peace and economic growth that resulted from Israeli and Palestinian security cooperation in Jenin and international support is in stark contrast to the suffering that blighted that city in 2003. And in recent weeks, the Palestinian security forces have deployed to Hebron and performed well in a volatile environment.

Third, the resolution underscores that peace will be built upon mutual recognition, freedom from violence and terror, the two-state solution, and previous agreements and obligations. It highlights the enduring importance of the Quartet principles and codifies the Security Council’s backing of these fundamental principles. The threat of extremism and terrorism posed by Hamas is a threat to the Annapolis process and to the fulfillment of legitimate Palestinian aspirations. This is important to note.

Fourth, the resolution underlines that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be aligned with efforts toward broader regional peace. The Arab Peace Initiative is an historic proposal in this regard. And as Arab states should reach out to Israel, so should Israel reach out to Arab states.

The negotiations born at Annapolis and described in this resolution give me confidence that the goal of two independent and democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security, is not just a vision, but it is a commitment of the parties and of the international community. There can be no turning back the clock. We should only go forward from here. We have to continue on the chosen path. That chosen path will finally bring for the Israelis the peace and security that can only come from living side by side in reconciliation with a democratic neighbor of Palestine. And that path forward will finally give to the dignified people of Palestine the dignity and the humanity that can only come from living in their independent and sovereign state.

Thank you.

Released on December 16, 2008

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