Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials
The Briefing Room
4:50 P.M. EST
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't think -- this is one of the few times I don't need to add context. Let's just go with the questions.
Q: You talk about a recommitment to the process. Recommitment in and of itself means there's not really much new in what came out of today; they have recommitted themselves, which is important on its own. But you've involved the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, the Secretary of State personally in this. What do you the next time they reach an impasse?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, let's look at this from a variety of perspectives. Number one, one of the things that has been most important in terms of the American role throughout this process has been to find ways to insulate it against threats and to write it when it is under challenge, and to get it back on track when it needs to be gotten back on track. The fact is, if you start with the Cairo summit and then you have the follow-up of today, you have not only a clear -- a very clear demonstration on the part of those who have already reached agreements to move ahead, but also a very clear demonstration that they're not going to be stopped by those who oppose peace.
What they have from us is an unmistakable demonstration of support. And obviously what they have from us is very close consultations on how best to move ahead. And I would say in addition to that, one of the things that's important here is not just the notion of recommitment. I think one of the things that emerged from the discussions, frankly, last night and this morning, at least between the Israelis and the Palestinians -- and they had bilaterals and trilaterals with us both last night and this morning -- was a very clear explanation to the other of the direction they want to go in. They know where they want to go. They know the kinds of challenges they have to overcome. They're not simply mouthing words and saying we're committed to the process. They understand that they have to find a way to reconcile what are the very difficult problems that they're wrestling with, but they know the direction they want to move in. And they also know that they have to find a way to create a climate that makes it possible for them to deal with -- you know, with not just the difficult challenges, but with the fact that they have to create an atmosphere and a greater climate of public support in a way that makes what they're doing not only sustainable but more likely to be moved more quickly.
Q: Are those ways parallel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that what you clearly have is a recognition. If you look closely at the statements that they've agreed to, you have a recognition that they each are going to have to take steps and that there is an interrelationship between what has to happen between each if you're going to make progress for both.
Q: With apologies to the drafters of the communique, we're having a little trouble understanding exactly what happened here on the verifiable Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction. Would you explain -- explain what that means, please?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You mean it doesn't speak for itself? (Laughter.) All right, let me -- (laughter) --let me say the following. It is very clear that one of the objectives that is shared by all those who took part in this meeting is that if you're going to achieve a genuine peace in the Middle East, a genuine peace ought to be accompanied by the Middle East becoming an area that is free of weapons of mass destruction. And that is really an effort to embody or at least state that objective.
Q: But no commitment.
Q: A little bit more.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, this is -- you're not --
Q: case about the NPT.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Let me put it this way. You have a stated objective, but you also have another reality. The reality is the ability to move ahead and achieve those kinds of dramatic changes in terms of the military realities in the region is going to be very heavily influenced by whether or not you are able to conclude peace agreements that create a very different context and a very different circumstance. So you can't treat the issues of the weapons of mass destruction in isolation from the progress that can be made on the question of a comprehensive peace.
Q: done on that until there's comprehensive peace? Is that what you mean?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: What I mean to say is that there's a clear objective that they know they have to work towards and that they're committed to working towards. But they also realize how important it is to move ahead and make headway on peace, because that will create the circumstances in the environment where you'll also build the kind of trust that makes it easier to proceed.
Now, I would say this: You do have multilateral negotiations in the arms control area that are not only building a conceptual basis on how to pursue these -- how to pursue arms control through confidence-building measures, but also the greater development of how you can create what would be the kinds of transparency measures that would also make it possible to begin to move forward in this area.
Q: Would it be fair to assume that besides the statements of recommitting to peace and going over what lies ahead that the most tangible thing to come out of this summit was the industrial zones?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say there are a couple of tangible things to come out it in terms of the five. I'd call your attention to the fact that in the introduction to the four areas of the -- the political, the security, the economic and the human dimension -- there's a specific reference to having experts get together in all these areas. And I think that's significant because if we're going to create tangible forms of cooperation in each of these areas, one of the things that has to happen is that you have to begin to get down, as it were, to cases and not speak in generalities, but to begin to find out, all right, where are the areas that you might be able to move ahead in.
And what you have -- what you had from this meeting today was clear, forward movement on the political, in terms, as I said, of the direction -- not just the commitments, but the direction, the desire that they want to go in.
Q: Are these new committees, in effect?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we will -- I think that we will look to get experts together in each of these areas as we think it makes sense. In the security area, obviously this creates an opportunity to think about how you share information, to think about what forms of technical assistance might be helpful, to think about what kinds of advice might be helpful.
What the Secretary didn't mention is that we have also, in the context of today's meeting, we have made certain decisions, which -- let me come to in a moment, because I want to just finish this thought on the economics. It's the same thing. The industrial zones is an area where we're looking to foster economic development and promote it -- the idea that the President outlined in terms of treating these as areas that would get favorable treatment with regard to duties and tariffs, is important not only to give the private sector an incentive to invest in these, but it also helps to create a market for the products that would emerge from the industrial zones. So that's another way to give it a spur.
And in the human dimension, where we talk about overcoming barriers and building bridges between peoples. And there's a sentence in there, you'll note, that says specifically that we will cooperate in creative ways to find new forums to try to overcome or try to build some of these bridges. The fact is here I think that there are a variety of things that can be explored, including things like interfaith dialogue, educational exchanges and the like. So when you start to get experts together, you can explore these things in greater detail. And I think that's quite significant.
Now, let me make one other comment on what I said in terms of some of the decisions we've made. We will be consulting with the Congress also in terms of providing another 200 vehicles to the Palestinian police to help in their joint patrols. We are also going to be providing some additional excess medical equipment to them --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, to the Palestinian, to the Palestinian Authority. And that's in addition to the decisions on the industrial zones and the -- treating them as free trade areas.
Q: Do you have a pricetag on those?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know. The vehicles are, again, much like we did the first 200 vehicles, which were -- they are excess defense equipment --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's $4 million.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All right, it's -- my colleague says it's $4 million. My colleague has a pricetag -- it's $4 million.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Trucks, for the --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: That's something that we'll be working through. We're still -- I mean, some of these trucks have to be refurbished, and then they'll have to be transported. But, you know, the --
Q: What about the medical --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Some of the medical stuff, I think, is en route already. But I'd have to check to see exactly. I'm not --
Q: Do you have a pricetag on that --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know what that is.
Q: doesn't have to be approved by Congress?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No. But we obviously want to consult with Congress in terms of letting them know what we're doing. We actually began to let them know about this towards the end of last week.
Q: Israel welcomes the Palestinians' commitment to fighting terror, but doesn't open the borders. What happens next?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that -- you know, the -- you might note what the Israeli Cabinet said today, that they were keeping the closure on until at least the end of the week. That's a different formulation than you've seen previously about it. So I think this is obviously something that is being looked at. There is unmistakably a concern about terror and security and wanting to feel that in fact everything is being done that can be done to try to ensure that. That obviously influences the Israeli approach to the closure.
But if you take a look also in the statement, there's a -- in the joint statement between the Israelis an the Palestinians -- there is a sentence here that talks about the application of these measures would significantly enhance the conditions for security, stability and to normalize economic life and cooperation based on the free movements of peoples, materials and goods in accordance with the agreements. So there's obviously a recognition that if you're going to enhance economic cooperation you have to deal with this.
Q: There are 5,000 Palestinian prisoners, which the Palestinian Authority asked Israel to release from Israeli jails. And as you know, over 60 percent in Gaza -- there is unemployment over 60 percent. And the 50,000 workers, I am asking about the immediate concern that these 50,000 Palestinians who are not going to work inside Israel, possibly until the end of next week or this week, or possibly, I don't know exactly --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We don't know when it's going to be. I'm simply referring to what they said.
Q: end of the week possibly, they -- release this -- (inaudible) -- and I hope they will. The idea is, this is the month of Ramadan, and we're all familiar with what the Palestinian families spend -- (inaudible) -- is there an emergency plan? I know you were talking about all of these things that you want to do, which is, I think, it's a long distance, not just a short distance. Any project which will immediately, through the United Nations relief and (inaudible) -- agency or others will do to help the Palestinians getting out of that situation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We are -- the truth is, we're working on this on a daily basis. We know what the U.N. is doing on the ground right now in terms of trying to alleviate this situation, number one. Number two, we literally are in contact each day with the people who are responsible for organizing the donor effort on the ground. And what we're trying to do -- this is what the Secretary was making a reference to, and I can't tell you that is produces an emergency response beyond what I've just described; but the fact is what we are trying to do in terms of the overall assistance effort, is to look at how the assistance can be reprogrammed, how it can be concentrated in a smaller number of sectors on larger projects that will have a visible impact, and how it can assist in job creation.
So there are, in a sense, what you might refer to as what needs to be done in the near-term, what needs to be done in the intermediate-term, and this is where I think reprogramming or looking at different ways to effect the assistance, and using that as a model with other donors, comes into play. And then what you do in the longer term, which is related to things like the -- it's really seven industrial zones that the Israelis and the Palestinians have agreed to create. And our effort to make that less than a longer-term approach, it was embodied in the President's decision to treat these zones in a way that will allow their exports to not have duties.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the zones, when they might start, when --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are -- even the -- the Israelis and Palestinians have, a, have agreed on the zones; they have agreed on the locations for the zones. Israeli industrialists are already beginning to commit to this. The Israelis will provide, as I understand it, investment guarantees. They have both expressed an interest in having American firms take a part in this.
We have actually begun some general discussions with American firms that might be interested in doing so. Beyond that, I can't really give you a time frame, other than the fact that we're trying to treat it with a sense of urgency. But this -- I mean, I think you put it correctly. This is not something that you can turn around overnight, but it's very important to move as rapidly as we can on it.
Q: The Israeli Prime Minister spoke about the possible separation of the two peoples permanently. Did that enter into the discussions at all? Are you thinking of these industrial zones as providing a substitute for the 60,000 jobs in Israel, to make jobs for them so they don't have to cross into Israel?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I certainly think that one of the reasons that the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to this is to try to build up the economy within Gaza and the West Bank. Because that's -- these -- I said seven; there are six that are agreed to, and there may be a seventh. There are two, possibly three, to be in Gaza, and four that would be in the West Bank. And these are designed to, as I said, develop the economies there and to be able to employ people there. Obviously that would have an impact on the numbers of people that would need to be going into Israel for employment.
Q: Just one follow-up on that. The timing is kind of important. The Israelis have lost a lot of people in the last few months. How soon would it be before people are going to be bringing paychecks from these zones? Are we talking about three months, six months, two years?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: It's very hard to put a figure on it because in -- frequently these kinds of things take some real time to create. On the other hand, we know that there's a very high level of interest on both sides to try to move as rapidly as possible. But I can't give you a figure at this time.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: -- one thing that -- to this discussion about the industrial zones. The President also decided that if Egypt, Jordan and Israel should decide to establish a free trade zone in the area of the triborder area of border of Taba, Eilat, Aqaba, that the United States in consultation with Congress would also be prepared to extend free trade status to that zone.
Q: On the question of settlements, the Israelis, according to this communique, restated their policy of no new settlements, and particularly no settlements that are funded by government money. Does this effect, in your view, the recent decision by the Israelis to -- expand settlements around -- (inaudible)?
And how does the U.S. feel about this idea of permitting settlements to take place but with private money? A lot of private money is coming in, and quite a few settlements are going up.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, look, I mean, we're not going to try to interpret what the Israelis have said in the discussions with the Palestinians on this. I mean, those are the points that they made. And, you know, our attitude on settlements has been consistent, and it hasn't changed. This is clearly an issue that the two of them are trying to wrestle with. It's obviously an issue that's difficult. It is one that we view as complicating to the negotiating process. But they're trying to wrestle with it. The declaration of principles treats settlements as an issue to be covered during the final status negotiations.
Q: The funding of the industrialized zones, who is -- where does it come from, the capital? Does it come from Israel, or does it come from where?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that the -- there clearly is going to be a fair amount of capital that does come out of Israel for these zones. The Palestinians are looking to raise capital on their own to invest in these zones. And I think it's also one of the reasons they would like to see American firms come into it, so that they will invest in it and bring the capital in to help ensure that these zones materialize.
Q: On these two issues that are hampering these longer-term issues of troop pullouts and elections, and that sort of stuff, the opening up of the border crossing and the fears about terrorism, was there any tangible progress made in these two areas, or was that kind of left for discussions again between Rabin and Arafat next week?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, again, I think what I would focus on is not just what they're saying here, but as I said, this kind of understanding on a set of commitments on the direction of where things should go. They know how they want to -- they know what the direction ought to be. They know how they want to try to proceed. They know what they have to overcome. And I think that all provides a very useful backdrop and a basis for the meeting that will take place later in the week between the Chairman and the Prime Minister.
Q: So there were no tentative agreements or plans or anything like that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Not beyond what I've -- we've described.
Q: Just to delineate if you can, what's different on the question of settlements in the statement today than what has been going on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as I've said, I think what you've got is you've got a clear expression of Palestinian concerns on the one hand, and you had an Israeli effort again to spell out what their position is -- that it is a position that they -- the decisions they make will reflect Israeli policy judgments. But I think there was an effort to spell out, perhaps provide a greater explanation of what their position is and what it is not.
Q: You said several times that regarding the border closures and terrorism, each side knows what it has to do. What do you mean by that -- Israel should open the borders and the PLO should do more --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, clearly, the Israelis have not imposed a closure because they simply want to have a closure. They have imposed a closure because there is a set of security concerns. And what they're looking for are a combination of commitments and actions that will satisfy them that the Palestinians are, in fact, doing all they can to try to prevent terror from being carried out -- planned, carried out from the areas that the Palestinian Authority controls.
I think that the -- I think it's significant that you have in this statement a very clear commitment on the Palestinian side to ensure that the territories that are the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority will not be safe havens, because that's clearly a concern that has been raised and it reflects, I think, very strong statements that we heard about the determination to deal with those who would try to threaten Israelis, threaten Palestinians, or threaten this process. And it is -- the fact is we have seen actions over the course of the last week or so that do give greater effect to these commitments and give them greater weight on the part of the Palestinian Authority.
And so I think what is important here is that the thinking and the commitment seems quite clear. I think the Israelis are clearly looking for a kind of systematic approach that will endure over time and will give them a higher level of confidence that, in fact, everything that can be done is being done. And as we've heard again, there isn't an expectation that the Palestinians can be 100 percent successful; there is an expectation that there will a 100 percent effort to try to deal with those who might pose a threat.
Q: Will any American officials be taking part in these meetings of experts that you were talking about in these four areas?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would expect that as we look to organize such meetings that there would be American involvement in them.
Q: The security, actually, there's also the question of redeployment of Israeli troops. Has there been any action in that respect, any concrete discussion about this?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think that if you look at their statement you will see the commitment on moving promptly on the negotiation of the next phase, and it does sort of list some of the key issues that are involved with that.
Q: Can we headline that we are out of the crisis in the peace process? Really.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think what your headline ought to be is that there is a very clear determination to work very hard to move ahead, find the ways to overcome the difficulties, and that with our backing and with the determination of the parties and with the others who took part in this, that the effort is being made to ensure that we move ahead and we overcome the difficulties.
This is still -- on Friday I talked about this is one of those things where you -- where we're in a period that is obviously difficult, and you've just got to keep hammering away, you've just got to keep trying, and you do the most you can to cement progress, build on it and find ways to go forward. But it's still going to be difficult.
Q: Are you going to the region soon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'll probably decide soon.
Q: Is Christopher going to the region soon?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No plans at this time.
END5:15 P.M. EST
William J. Clinton, Background Briefing by Senior Administration Officials Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/269860