FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thank you, Mr. President.
Let me begin by thanking Under-Secretary Lynn Pascoe for his briefing and by welcoming the Ambassador of Israel and the Representative of the Palestinian Authority.
The Under-Secretary has given us much to consider. From the outset, I would like to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The United States is deeply committed to relieving the immediate suffering of the people there. We are also determined to aggressively work for a lasting peace that provides a stable and prosperous future for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Our response to the urgent needs in Gaza however, cannot be separated from our broader, long-term efforts to achieve a comprehensive peace.
To date, my government has contributed more than $66 million to provide food, water, medicine, and shelter for the people of Gaza. At the March 2 donors’ conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Secretary Clinton announced our intention to support the Palestinian Authority and Gaza recovery with up to $900 million in assistance. This pledge—designed in coordination with the Palestinian Authority and to be submitted to the United States Congress—will deliver assistance to the people of Gaza and further the development of the West Bank.
The United States is working with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security, and infrastructure-development needs in Gaza. Direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority offers one of the quickest ways to meet these needs. The Palestinian Authority spends more than 50 percent of its recurrent budget in Gaza, for instance, and Palestinian Authority employees in Gaza’s hospitals and schools continue to provide essential services to the people of Gaza under often extreme conditions. Through our assistance and support for the Palestinian Authority, we aim to foster the conditions in which a Palestinian state can be created—a state at peace with Israel and its neighbors, and accountable to its people, a state that Palestinians everywhere can be proud. This is the Palestinian state we all envision and which we all have an obligation to help create.
We are engaging with the Government of Israel on a daily basis about the volume and range of humanitarian items and humanitarian workers entering Gaza. We encourage Israel to make it easier to bring humanitarian goods into Gaza and to ease restrictions on urgently needed items, including critical building supplies. As part of a lasting cease-fire, Gaza's border crossings should be opened to permit the robust flow of aid and commerce, with an appropriate monitoring regime joined by both the international community and the Palestinian Authority. We also share Israel’s concern with the fate of Corporal Gilad Shalit and urge his immediate release.
I also wish to express our deep appreciation to President Mubarak and the Government of Egypt for their persistence in promoting a durable ceasefire in Gaza and southern Israel and in hosting Palestinian reconciliation talks. The United States values Egypt's leadership in the region and its support for peace. We support its efforts to forge a Palestinian unity government that can be a genuine party to peace and can realize the Palestinian people’s legitimate aspirations for an independent and viable state by recognizing Israel, renouncing violence, and accepting previous agreements and obligations including the Roadmap.
The smuggling of weapons into Gaza and continued rocket attacks by Hamas constitute a serious and immediate threat to regional peace and security, putting innocent lives at risk and threatening to set off another deadly round of violence.
Working with our partners in the region and beyond, the United States is committed to moving forward quickly with new mechanisms to block this arms trafficking. We welcome the Program of Action agreed in London on March 13 by nine nations—Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Consistent with existing UN Security Council resolutions, as well as counterterrorism and nonproliferation conventions and regimes, this initiative will strengthen the international community’s ability to support a durable cease-fire. It provides a comprehensive platform for enhanced cooperation in information-sharing and intelligence-sharing; diplomatic engagement; and military and law enforcement activities. Participating countries will meet on a regular basis, and they have agreed that the initiative will be open to others who wish to join.
It is the policy of the United States to move quickly and actively to seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. With Special Envoy Mitchell leading our efforts, we are engaged in determined and vigorous diplomacy. Lasting peace requires more than a cease-fire, however. We urge all parties to respect their obligations under the Roadmap and refrain from any activities that do not help the cause of peace in the Middle East.
We have made clear to Israel that settlement activity is unhelpful, and we call on Israel to dismantle outposts created since March 2001. We also call on the Arab states, building on the Arab Peace Initiative, to reach out to Israel to demonstrate—in both word and deed—that Israel has a permanent and secure place in the region. The United States will engage to help support the parties as they make progress toward a comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbors that respects Israel’s rightful place in the community of nations and includes two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Ambassador Rice have stated their desire for principled, sustained engagement in the Middle East. As President Obama has noted, the United States intends to pursue engagement with all countries in the region, including Syria. On March 7, U.S. officials traveled to Damascus to build on previous discussions in Washington. We are hopeful that Syria will choose to play a constructive role in the region by supporting, for example, a Palestinian reconciliation based on PLO commitments, a secure, stable Iraq, and free and fair parliamentary elections in Lebanon.
Before closing, Mr. President, let me add several essential points about the situation in Lebanon. Sadly, these are also related to the unremitting threat of violence.
The United States condemns the attack on Monday that killed Kamal Medhat, adviser to the PLO’s representative in Lebanon, and his bodyguards. We call on all parties to respect the rule of law and renounce the use of violence. My government supports the Lebanese government in its efforts to provide security and ensure that the perpetrators of this attack are brought to justice.
We also remain particularly concerned about Hizballah’s continuing efforts to rearm. In Lebanon as in Gaza, arms smuggling is a continuing threat to peace and security in the region. Lebanese civilians will have real security only when Hizballah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command, Fatah el-Intifada, and other militias disarm. The government of Lebanon must be the sole military authority in Lebanon.
The United States continues to press all parties to support the conduct of free, fair, and transparent parliamentary elections in Lebanon, unmarred by political violence. The shape and composition of Lebanon’s next government should be decided by the Lebanese themselves, for Lebanon, free from outside interference.
Finally, we are encouraged by the March 1 opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague, and we are confident that the Tribunal will bring to justice those who financed, planned, and perpetrated the assassinations of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and others. The rise of the Tribunal illustrates Lebanon’s and the international community’s shared determination to end an era of impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. The United States will continue to support the Tribunal. We encourage all those committed to promoting justice in Lebanon to do so as well.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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