Remarks (as delivered) by Jason D. Greenblatt, Assistant to the President & Special Representative For International Negotiations, at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee Meeting
January 31, 2018
Good afternoon, friends and colleagues. Thank you very much for being here today. I want to begin by expressing my thanks to the European Union and High Representative Federica Mogherini for hosting us at this extraordinary session of the AHLC. I also extend my thanks to Norwegian Foreign Minister Søreide for chairing this meeting. I very much enjoyed working with former Foreign Minister Borge Brende and look forward to getting to know you and working closely with you on the important issues at hand.
I am also glad to see Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi here with us today. I am particularly pleased to see you Prime Minister Hamdallah – I hope, as a sign of the Palestinian Authority’s continued commitment to the process which we have undertaken together. Despite our differences, we remain committed to continue working together to use our best efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
When we last met in New York, I shared with all of you that our approach to peace negotiations would depart from some of the orthodoxy held by our predecessors. President Trump believes that fresh thinking and bold decisions are needed to advance the cause of peace, and we have acted in accordance with that vision. This has led to a great deal of speculation about the peace process and, indeed, about the role that the United States will play in it moving forward. I want to take this opportunity to cut through the noise and put this speculation to rest.
When President Trump made his historic decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he was not rewriting history – he was recognizing an obvious reality. As the President noted, Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government. It is the home of the Knesset. It is the location of the official residence of the prime minister and the president of Israel. It has been the cultural and spiritual homeland of the Jewish people for thousands of years.
We deeply believe that by recognizing this reality, we took an important step, not just for Israel, but to lay the ground for a comprehensive, enduring—and real peace. That’s why the President took great care to explain what his decision does and does not mean. I’d like once again to make that clear.
Did the President’s decision prejudge any final status issues? No. The President was absolutely clear that the United States has not prejudged any final status issues, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem. We have not taken a position on borders.
Did it change the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites? It did not. President Trump explicitly called for all parties to continue to maintain the status quo at the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif.
Did the decision, then, signal the United States’ abandonment of the peace process, or a bias against one side? Again, I answer, no. The United States is as committed as ever to reaching an agreement that guarantees a peaceful, prosperous future for both Israelis and Palestinians. That’s why this administration continues to work on developing a peace plan that can bring both sides to the negotiating table.
In fact, since the Jerusalem announcement, and despite the reaction of many to the announcement, we have remained hard at work and we have not deviated for a moment on our efforts with respect to the peace plan. Despite the rhetoric that you have heard from various government officials and from the media in response to the President’s Jerusalem announcement, President Trump, the peace team, and so many other members of the US Government remain deeply dedicated to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As we move forward, it is important that we not allow our efforts to be disrupted by false claims about the nature or purpose of our decision. These distractions help no one, least of all the Palestinian people.
Peace will not be achieved by denying Judaism’s thousands of years of ties to Jerusalem and the land of Israel. Likewise we all know that Jerusalem is also holy to Muslims and Christians. Peace will not be achieved by walking away from negotiations. Peace only has a chance of success through respectful, continuous dialogue and through negotiations. It is easy to walk away from the table. But that helps no one, and it reduces or perhaps eliminates the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. And that would be terrible for the Palestinian people.
When we last met in September, we stressed the need to take steps to improve the economic and humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza. We further called on all parties to uphold their commitments to implement measures that improve the lives of the Palestinian people.
I have to be honest. Since that meeting, we have made very little tangible progress. In fact, the people of Gaza probably feel that we have made none. This is now the third time we have met since I joined this group. Something has to change.
There has been marginal progress in a few areas, including an improved “door-to-door” shipping program that will reduce barriers to Palestinian trade that is currently being implemented, with the cooperation of Israel. At long last we saw the launch of 3G service in the West Bank last week by Palestinian telecom companies. 3G is not a new technology but it represents a major step forward for the West Bank. I look forward to a day soon when 3G is launched in Gaza and 4G or even 5G is launched in the West Bank.
But there remain many areas where we must do better – much better. We must complete the negotiations on the Power Purchase Agreement. I hope that the Power Purchase Agreement will be completed before the next AHLC meeting in March. The successful assumption of Palestinian control over the electric network depends on the completion of this PPA and an additional $26 million from donors.
We must make progress on the initiatives announced in past meetings of the AHLC. We must use the next year to take advantage of emerging opportunities. Working to increase Palestinian trade with its neighbors would be an important step toward stabilizing the Palestinian economy.
I urge both parties to discuss updating the A1, A2, and B lists to encourage trade.
We must also continue the work we started at the last AHLC and invest in new water and wastewater treatment infrastructure solutions in the West Bank and Gaza. The international community, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority all agree that the al-Bireh wastewater reuse trunk line to Jericho is an important project, which could create hundreds of new jobs and build mutual trust between the parties. Together, let’s work with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to ensure al-Bireh and other projects agreed to by the parties are fast-tracked through the permitting process. $9 million is needed to complete the al-Bireh project.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to do more to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the central focus of today’s discussion. President Trump truly wants to help. The people of Gaza continue to suffer under the authoritarian rule of Hamas, which has consistently prevented the development of major electricity and water projects in Gaza by refusing to pay the Palestinian Authority for the services it already provides. This dereliction by Hamas only furthers our resolve to see the Palestinian Authority resume full civil administration in Gaza.
Since last fall, we have not made any meaningful progress in changing the situation in Gaza. Hamas continues to exploit the people of Gaza and to rule by force. Hamas continues to abuse the money belonging to the people of Gaza, using these funds for terrorism and other illicit activities to devastating effect, instead of rebuilding Gaza and helping its people.
I am glad the Palestinian Authority has decided to restore previous levels of electricity to Gaza. This will directly improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, while allowing new critical infrastructure, such as the NGEST wastewater treatment plant, to come online for the first time. But this electricity is not enough: NGEST still needs from donors at least $14 million to operate for two years and then possibly more assistance until the project becomes sustainable. We also need a commitment from the PA to use the increased supply of electric power to energize the Khan Younis desalination plant, which has the potential to supply 7 million cubic meters of potable water to the residents of southern Gaza.
Despite the increase in power, water, and water treatment, residents of Gaza still face unacceptably long periods without power or water every day, which negatively impacts their health, economy, and critical services, such as hospitals and schools.
The time has come for us to rededicate ourselves to facilitating investments in new infrastructure that will supply the people of Gaza with more power and water, including the Central Gaza Desalination Plant and a new high voltage power line from Israel. For our part, the United States stands prepared to work with the international community, the Government of Israel, and the Palestinian Authority to move these projects towards completion.
In order to make these projects financially sustainable, the Palestinian Authority must also be allowed to collect revenue for the services it provides. That requires Hamas turning over the institutions in Gaza to the rightful Palestinian government, and a significant infusion of capital and capacity building to enable sustainable basic services independent of donor support.
While we understand that some may disagree with our approach to Jerusalem and our approach to the peace process, no one – no one – can credibly say that we have not honored our financial commitments to the Palestinians. The United States has been the single largest donor to the Palestinians in history; as such, no one should be lecturing us about our financial assistance.
So here’s my proposal. Let’s not use today’s session to just talk about projects that might make marginal changes; rather, let’s sit down and candidly identify the real barriers to progress that we can collectively remove. And then let’s make a plan to remove them so real progress can follow.
Along those lines I want to thank the Palestinian Authority for its willingness to fund the additional 6 megawatts required to operate NGEST.
Likewise, I also welcome the news that the Government of Israel is providing the PA with the plans for how it will supply the 6 megawatts to operate NGEST. Israel should also be commended for committing to several actions that will have a material impact on improving the economy and living standards for Palestinians in Gaza, some of which will stimulate manufacturing and provide alternate energy resources for Gaza. Jobs are one of the most critical needs in Gaza today. Another important issue is to ensure that all crossing points are open more consistently, subject to all of Israel’s and Egypt’s security considerations.
We remain committed to achieving peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians. I stand before you again to ask for your support and cooperation in this great venture, and to remind all parties that our hand remains extended to all who will take it.
Thank you very much.