May 4, 2017, Brussels
I want to begin by expressing my thanks to EU High Representative Federica Mogherini for hosting us here today. I am grateful, as well, to Norwegian Foreign Minister Brende for chairing this meeting. And I’m glad to see Palestinian Authority Minister of Finance Shukry Bishara and Israel’s Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzahi Hanegbi here with us today as well. I say this to each of the four of you, and to Nikolay Mladenov, as we have just started to get to know each other and I look forward to working closely with you. For those of you I’ve already had the pleasure of meeting, I’m pleased to see you again. I look forward to working with all of you moving forward.
Since the beginning of his campaign, President Trump has made it very clear that he is personally committed to achieving peace throughout the Middle East, including a comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
President Trump has made it clear that neither United States nor the international community can – nor should try to – impose a solution on the parties. This is not our choice to make – it is theirs to make together through direct negotiations.
I have now made two trips to the region in my new role. The first was to speak to a wide array of Israelis and Palestinians about their hopes for peace. The second took me to the Arab League Summit in Jordan to discuss peace with the foreign ministers from many of the Arab states. These initial discussions have made me very hopeful that peace is possible. President Trump recently hosted Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington, and just yesterday met with Palestinian President Abbas at the White House. To my friend Abu Asad, while I head your pessimistic message, I want you to know that both meetings were serious and constructive; both leaders expressed a sincere commitment to finding a way to move ahead. I also think we’ve seen a very positive reaction more broadly; many leaders in the region and well beyond the region have shared with me their readiness to help us in any way we deem appropriate to continue to strive towards this shared goal.
The question, then, is not how we can impose peace, but how can we help the parties move forward in the direction of their choosing? It is a question I ask myself regularly and one I believe you all share.
It also means the leaders of both sides must have a vision of what peace means on the ground and then show leadership to bring their respective sides to that objective. As President Trump did previously with Prime Minister Netanyahu, yesterday, President Trump called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to be ready to make the compromises, we all know are necessary, if we are to obtain a peace that the peoples of both sides can believe in and take ownership of. President Trump also asked both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders to take steps to create a climate in which peace can take root.
One area where we would like to see meaningful progress is with the Palestinian economy, and so this AHLC meeting today comes at a propitious moment. The United States, the international community, and the parties should work to together to finalize measures which improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians, in both the West Bank and Gaza. And the international donor community must step forward to help make that happen. By creating new opportunities for Palestinians and improving the quality of life in the West Bank and Gaza, we create an environment more conducive to peace.
That means coming together to support, and rapidly implementing, deals which increase electricity and water delivery to the West Bank and Gaza, with the two parties making compromises where needed to conclude agreements that the donor community can support. The electricity agreement is one example. It was agreed before the last AHLC but needs to be implemented more quickly and that starts with both Israel and the Palestinians redoubling their efforts to implement. Private business must do its part as well. As a follow up to my trips to the region, I recently met with a group of Palestinian and Israeli business leaders. Businesses need to find opportunities for new economic prosperity and we need to do all we can to ensure there are no artificial roadblocks to business moving forward. By focusing on concrete steps to translate commitments and ideas into action, we can build trust between the parties and demonstrate that, through cooperation, a better future is possible.
The deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza is deplorable. In the first instance, Hamas holds responsibility for the current electricity crisis and must stop spending the money it collects from electricity bills paid by Gaza consumers on its own illegitimate governing institutions and new military capabilities. Instead, Hamas must hand over the money Palestinians in Gaza pay for electricity to help finance a solution to the electricity crisis there. To solve the larger underlying problems causing the humanitarian situation, Hamas must also allow the legal authority of the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza.
In the end, all of us need to come together and move in the same direction. We share the same goal, and we will only get there by aligning our approach and addressing the issues together.
The United States has an extraordinary leader in President Trump, and with him in the lead, and with all of us working together, I believe the time has arrived for things to change between Israelis and Palestinians. On Saturdays, the Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, it is customary in synagogues in the United States to say a prayer for the United States and for the State of Israel. In the prayer for the State of Israel, we beseech God to spread the tabernacle of peace over Israel. So my friends, let us work together to spread the tabernacle of peace over Israelis and Palestinians and, God willing, over the troubled region around them.