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Sunday, July 21, 2024

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani At a Joint Press Availability

Secretary Antony J. Blinken And Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani At a Joint Press Availability


PRIME MINISTER AL-THANI:  (Via interpreter) In the name of Allah, peace and blessing be upon you.  And beginning, I would like to welcome my friend Secretary Blinken.  And after our meeting today, which is a continuation for a series of discussion, an important dialogue that took place over the previous month after the war started in Gaza, and pathways to end that war and to prevent this war from expand in the region.  And as you all know, we have also discussed the response that we have received from Hamas and the Palestinian fractions on the last proposal on the – to stop the war and release the hostages – and of course, in coordination with other partner.

And would like to confirm that the state of Qatar and Egypt and the United State of America are committed in their partnership in order to find an ending to this war, and a deal to exchange the hostages.  And in this also regard, we highly evaluate the effort – efforts that President Biden have exerted in order to reach this proposal in a text in a way to bring together the parties.  And as we have mentioned in many previous stops, that in such deal, both the parties need to make some concession in order to reach a suitable arrangement, reach a deal.

We in the state of Qatar, with our partners, committed to bridge the gap to find a way to end the war as soon as possible, and we would like to send a message to everyone that every day is a loss of lives and of innocent people.  Every day that pass in the previous eight months, unfortunately we have seen the catastrophe increasing day after day, and we see more casualties, especially of the civilians with their children, women in the Gaza Strip.  And with no doubt we need to take a clear position and demand to put an end to this war.  Thirty-seven thousand martyrs have passed so far, died so far, and thousands wounded in addition to this collective punishment policy and starvation that has been used against our brothers in Gaza.  We are witnessing also a change in this conflict in the previous time, and there is a clear and firm call to put an end to this war.

And in this also regard we have received the Security Council resolution which was presented by the United States of America for an immediate ceasefire and a deal to exchange the hostages and go back to the political negotiation to find a sustainable solution.  And we in the state of Qatar welcome that resolution.  In the previous time, there were so many meetings and regional conferences and international ones.  We have participated them in the state of Qatar in order to find a sustainable solution to the Palestinian case, and also there was – there were visits in light of the ministerial committee that have been established, and also the meetings with the European foreign ministers.

And yesterday we have participated in a conference for an immediate humanitarian response by the call of King Abdullah II, and the President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and the secretary-general of the United Nations, who call for an immediate actions to end this war, and the respect of the international law.  And also in this regard we welcome also the continuation of the air support or air drop by the Americans.  And also we would like also to praise your additional package of support to Gaza.  The state of Qatar is continue with its efforts in order to send all humanitarian aid continuously to our brothers.

Your excellency, you know that we are living in very critical times.  And we believe that reaching a deal, an agreement is very important.  And this deal will save the lives of the innocents and also will save the whole region, which is on the verge of collapse and explosion.  And we depend, rely on the American role, and our also partners in Egypt and the rest of the countries in order to pressure all the parties to reach an agreement that end the war.

And your excellency, you know that I believe that we have received – it’s time that we need to reach a sustainable solution, and today we have discussed how to reach those sustainable solutions that bring the stability to Gaza, and to our also brothers in the West Bank, and to everyone that lives in this region.  We believe that the sustainable solution, and is a just one, which is create a Palestinian state with Jerusalem its capital, based on the international law on the borders of 1967, to live in peace alongside with Israel.  And as you’re aware, your excellency, that the region is open to have a clear peace agreement based on the Arab Peace Initiative, and there is a movement in the general assembly to receive Palestine or accept Palestine as a full member.  And this step will also contribute to the two-state solution.

Thank you, your excellency, for your presence in the Doha, and for your continuous cooperation and on our strategic partnership with the U.S. in this conflict, on any other – on other files and issues.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, first let me just say it’s very good to be back here in Doha, and especially to be with my colleague and my friend the prime minister.  As you heard him say, we were together just yesterday in Jordan at a conference to work to rally more international support to address the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Qatar has already shown remarkable generosity in helping people in such urgent need, providing 4,700 tons of food, medicine, and other life-saving aid.  At yesterday’s conference, I announced $400 million more in additional support from the United States to the Palestinians.  That brings the total amount that we’ve provided to $670 million in additional U.S. assistance to the Palestinians in the eight months that this war has been going on.  We’ve long been the leading provider of support to Palestinians, and we will continue to do everything we can to support them, particularly in this time of need.

We’re also continuing to work every single day on increasing the flow of assistance into Gaza and making sure that it gets to people who need it within Gaza – working to improve civilian protection, working to secure the release of hostages.

Now, the single most effective and most immediate way to end the suffering of people in Gaza, to end the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike, to tackle the humanitarian assistance crisis, to prevent the conflict from further escalating and spreading to other places, is to get a ceasefire that allows us to get to work toward a more durable end to the conflict.

Here again, Qatar has been a tireless partner – and the prime minister personally, a tireless partner – in working to mediate a ceasefire and a hostage release.  It’s something that the prime minister and I first discussed here on October 13th, and many times since.

Twelve days ago, President Biden set out a ceasefire proposal rooted in core principles of releasing all the hostages, surging assistance into Gaza, guaranteeing Israel’s security, providing a path to an enduring end to war, and starting the massive reconstruction for Gaza.

The entire world – almost without fail – has been behind this proposal.  And we’ve heard it again and again and again – individual countries pronouncing themselves in support, in this region and beyond; important groups like the G7, the Arab League, Palestinian Authority, Israel, and of course just two days ago the United Nations Security Council.  The leaders in the region that I’ve met with over the last couple of days, they have reaffirmed that again and again and again.

So we were waiting on one response, and that was the response from Hamas.  And as the prime minister said, last night we received a response.  Hamas has proposed numerous changes to the proposal that was on the table.  We discussed those changes last night with Egyptian colleagues and today with the prime minister.  Some of the changes are workable; some are not.

Here, in a nutshell, is where we stand:

A deal was on the table that was virtually identical to the proposal that Hamas put forward on May the 6th, a deal that the entire world was behind, a deal Israel has accepted, and Hamas could have answered with a single word: yes.  Instead, Hamas waited nearly two weeks and then proposed more changes, a number of which go beyond positions it had previously taken and accepted.  As a result – and you heard the prime minister say this – the war that Hamas started on October 7th, with its barbaric attack on Israel and on Israeli civilians, will go on.  More people will suffer.  More Palestinians will suffer; more Israelis will suffer.

But in the days ahead, we are going to continue to push on an urgent basis – with our partners, with Qatar, with Egypt – to try to close this deal, because we know it’s in the interests of Israelis, Palestinians, the region, indeed the entire world.  And we all agree that the deal has to be grounded in the principles of the ceasefire proposal that the entire international community supports.

There’s something else that’s critical, and the prime minister alluded to it.  It’s also crucial that we get from the immediate ceasefire that we’re working urgently to achieve to an enduring end.  And in order to do that and to do that effectively, we have to have plans for the day after the conflict ends in Gaza, and we need to have them as soon as possible.  For months we’ve been working with partners throughout the region on such a plan, and that was also a key focus of conversations I’ve had over the last couple of days.  In the coming weeks, we will put forward proposals for key elements of a day-after plan, including concrete ideas for how to manage governance, security, reconstruction.  That plan is key to turning a ceasefire into an enduring end to the conflict, but also turning an end of war into a just and durable peace, and using that peace – using that peace as a foundation for building a more integrated, a more stable, a more prosperous region.

Over the course of what’s now my eighth visit to the region since October 7th, everyone that I’ve engaged with has made clear that this is the path they want to pursue.  Now, I can’t speak for Hamas or answer for Hamas, and ultimately, it may not be the path that Hamas wants to pursue, but Hamas cannot and will not be allowed to decide the future for this region and its people.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) Adnan Borini, Al Jazeera.

QUESTION:  (Via interpreter) To Your Excellency Prime Minister, regarding the response of Hamas on the proposal, are we talking about a take and give with the officials of Hamas with the mediator, or the comment on the amendments will be for the Israeli to respond?  And the other question for Secretary Blinken, which is about your eighth visit, sir, to the region – we’re talking about eight visits so far – during those visits, you and other American officials, you have met with the families of the Israeli hostages.  Were there any attempts to meet with the families of the wounded or those who died of the Palestinians, or those who even – who were wounded on the hands of the settlers or even in Gaza?  For example, in Doha here, there are two thousands of the Palestinian patients or wounded who came here for treatment.  Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  (Via interpreter) Concerning your question, yesterday we have received the response, and as we have said in the statement, now we are studying the response, and of course there will be give and take with the Hamas or negotiation with them in order – or with the Israelis in order to bridge the gap between the both decisions.  Of course, those are not new efforts or not a new dynamic for the negotiation.  Usually there is space for negotiation, because after all, it’s negotiation to reach an agreement, a deal.  There is no absolute response, yes or no.  So we wish that this time of negotiation will be the shortest.  We wanted to have more momentum and movement.  However, unfortunately, we have faced so many challenges in the – as we have said, we are committed.  We want to present a proposal so that we bring both parties closer.  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  (Inaudible) Gaza.  When I was in Jordan – I believe it was on my last trip to the region; it may have been the one before that – I met with a remarkable group of women who had managed to leave Gaza, to get out, are now in Jordan, but have left family members behind, have lost family members.  And I heard directly from them everything that they’d experienced and everything that their family members who remain in Gaza continue to experience.

In the United States I’ve met with Palestinian Americans who have family in Gaza, including family members who have been killed or terribly injured over the course of these eight months.  I carry with me a little pamphlet that one of – one of these individuals gave me with pictures of his family members, including a little one year-old boy who was killed in Gaza.  And I have to tell you that their stories, their suffering, that motivates me, just as the suffering of the hostages and the suffering of those who were slaughtered on October 7th motivates me, to do everything possible to bring this conflict to an end and to put us on a path to durable peace and security.  Because at the end of the day, this is exactly about what you’ve suggested.  It’s about the men, the women, the children – whether they’re in Gaza, whether they’re in Israel – and we have to – we have to be looking out for them.

And I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: the biggest poison in our common well that we all have to drink from is dehumanization, the inability to see the humanity in someone else.  And when that happens, when hearts get hardened, it’s very hard to do anything; it’s very easy to justify anything.  So we have to push beyond that, and the most important way to do that is to always have in mind what little girls, little boys, women, men are going through as we speak.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)  Iain Marlowe.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) for you.  Despite your intense efforts to pressure Hamas, they obviously don’t seem to be accepting the deal as President Biden laid out, and the Israelis are characterizing this as a flat-out rejection.  Does Hamas’s response count as a rejection of the deal in your view?  Do you think the deal is essentially dead?  And if not, what exactly is the US diplomatic strategy now to try and keep these talks alive and bring the parties closer together?  And secondly, the U.S. has put all the emphasis on pressuring Hamas, at least publicly.  But do you think it might be time for the U.S. to put more pressure on Israel to move them closer towards accepting the permanent ceasefire that Hamas has asked for, even if that allows the group to survive in some form?

And Prime Minister, even with the elaborate three-phase deal that’s being created to try and bridge the divide between Israel and Hamas, we still seem to be stuck on the fundamental question of a temporary versus a permanent truce, which is effectively will Israel allow Hamas to survive this.  Do you think these negotiations can really be salvaged, and what is the risk to the region if these talks continue to fail?  Thanks.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thanks, Iain.  Look, as I said, based on what we saw last night, the response from Hamas, numerous changes proposed to the deal that was on the table and that the entire world has gotten behind, but some of those are workable changes.  Some, as I said, are not.  I don’t want to characterize it further, but at some point in a negotiation – and this has gone back and forth for a long time – you get to a point where if one side continues to change its demands, including making demands and insisting on changes for things that it already accepted, you have to question whether they’re proceeding in good faith or not.

But based on what we’ve seen and what I’ve discussed with the prime minister and what we discussed with our Egyptian colleagues, we’re determined to try to bridge the gaps.  And I believe those gaps are bridgeable – it doesn’t mean they will be bridged, because again, it ultimately depends on people saying yes.  But here’s the thing – and we’ve both said it – the longer this goes on – and remember, Hamas had this for 12 days and it’s not as if the world stood still in those 12 days – people were suffering throughout those 12 days.  The longer this goes on, the more people will suffer.  And it’s time for the haggling to stop and a ceasefire to start.  It’s as simple as that.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Look, Israel accepted the proposal as it was and as it is; Hamas didn’t.  So I think it’s pretty clear what needs to happen.  And we’re determined in the coming days to, again, try to work this – we will work this with urgency and see if the gaps that are workable, we can actually work and bring it to conclusion.  And then it may be that Hamas continues to say no.  Well, I think it will be clear to everyone around the world that it’s on them and that they will have made a choice to continue a war that they started.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Regarding, I think, your question about how can we have this proposal to become a permanent ceasefire, this is an issue that we’ve been struggling with for a very long time, is how to ensure that we bridge the gap between those two fundamental differences, between what Hamas wants as a permanent ceasefire and what Israel wants as the hostages released – maybe a plan to continue the war.  I think what we have achieved in this structure is the best way to bridge those gaps and to merge both tracks.  And I believe that having three countries – United States, Qatar, and Egypt – as guarantor for this process to ensure that these negotiations keeps going until we reach the permanent ceasefire is something significant that we are putting ourself at stake.

Of course, this is, as we mentioned many times, it’s not an easy process.  It’s a very complex negotiations.  We are negotiating, yes, to end the conflict that started on October 7th.  I think that it has a lot of baggage that came with as well.  And basically what we are trying to focus on is to achieve the result that’s being created after October 7th.  Right now I’m thinking about the rest of the issue for once we have this deal in place.  But as of all of us, we reiterate, this is – having a deal and a ceasefire right now is a cornerstone for our way forward in the future.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Osama bin Javaid with Al Jazeera English.  My question for Secretary Blinken.  I just want to go back to the words that you used.  You said the deal was on the table and yet there are workable parts that you were will be working towards.  Which one is it?  Was there a deal or is there still a deal on the table?  And as the UN Security Council and the United Nations at large remains the cornerstone for your policy towards finding a solution, today, the latest UN investigation says Israel committed “crimes against humanity,” including “extermination,” is the words used.  And Israel is already facing a genocide case at the ICJ, warrants were request at the ICC.  And last month, you said there are no red lines for Israel.  Is that still the case?  And if there is, what will this mean for yourself and the U.S. administration?

My question for the prime minister.  This isn’t the first time that we are actually very – came very close to a deal, and then we seem to be moving away from it.  You have said that there are two parties to this conflict: one that wants a negotiated solution, and there is another one which wants to continue the war.  Do you believe that is still the case?  And if you still have hope that there can be a deal that can be salvaged, what gives you that hope?  Thank you.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Look, as I said, we have a proposal that President Biden put forward 12 days ago.  Israel accepted the proposal.  The entire world got behind the proposal.  Hamas came back and has now asked for changes to that proposal.  And I’ll repeat what I said:  Some of the changes I think we believe are workable, but some are not.  And so we’ll have to see over the coming days whether the gaps that are there as a result of Hamas not accepting with a clear and simple yes the proposal, whether they can be bridged or not.  And as I said, I believe that they are bridgeable, but that doesn’t mean they will be bridged, because ultimately Hamas has to decide.

But I’ll repeat again what I – what I said before:  The time for decision is now.  The longer this goes on, the more people will suffer.  And when it took 12 days just to get the response to the proposal that President Biden put forward, suffering – more suffering took place during those 12 days.  The longer this continues, the greater the suffering will be.  And I fully agree with the prime minister.  The fastest, most effective way to get to not just an immediate ceasefire but a durable one is through this proposal.  So let’s see if we can bridge the remaining gaps, but fundamentally Hamas has to decide what it wants.  And I can’t – I can’t speak for it.

When it comes to the war and the conduct of the war in response to the attacks of October 7th, we look and continue to look very carefully at international humanitarian law, at laws of armed conflict, human rights, and we have a number of our own processes within the U.S. administration, including within my own department, to assess whether Israel or any other combatant in any other conflict is adhering to those.  And as you know, we put out a report a few weeks ago that went through in some detail a number of incidents that had been raised both in terms of the loss of life and killing of people as well as the provision of humanitarian assistance.  It’s a very well documented report, and we continue to do the work to make our own assessments.  I haven’t seen the most recent – the most recent – I think you said UN report that you referred to, but of course we’ll look at that.

Again, the – as I just said, we are determined and insist that Israel or any other country adhere to international humanitarian law, the laws of armed conflict, uphold human rights, not – does not commit gross violations of those rights, and that remains and will always remain a policy and the focus that we bring to it every day, including doing our own investigations of incidents that come up in the course of this war.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Well, I think that I have answered partially your question regarding trying to build – to reach a deal.  Of course, this is – it has been a very long process.  It’s frustrating a lot of times, and we have seen, I mean, the behavior from both parties different – in different occasions being counterproductive to the efforts.  Right now, we are respecting our role as mediator.  We are trying our best not to consider ourselves as a party of that conflict.  What we are aiming for is – one specific goal is to end the war and to end the suffering of the people in Gaza, to get the hostages back, and then we think about the day after.  That will remain our main focus.  We are not going to give up on that mission as long as we see a role that we can play and we can contribute to save more lives.

MODERATOR:  (In Arabic.)  Daphne Psaledakis, Reuters.

QUESTION:  Hi, thank you.  Secretary Blinken, do you agree with Israel’s assessment that Hamas rejected the deal?  And what specific changes were proposed by Hamas?  What specifically do you find workable and not workable?  Can you confirm that Hamas wants written guarantees from the United States for a permanent ceasefire and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip in order to sign off on the proposal, and can you provide those guarantees?

And then if I may, on Hizballah, you’ve repeatedly said that achieving a ceasefire deal could help end the fighting between Hizballah and Israel.  Hizballah today vowed to increase the intensity of its operations against Israel after the killing of a senior commander.  How concerned are you now, after Hamas’s response to the ceasefire proposal, that this conflict will spread?

And Prime Minister, given this response, is there more pressure the Arab world can put on Hamas to reach a deal?  And are you considering the Hamas office in Qatar?

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  So what we received last night, all of us, in terms of the response from Hamas, were changes that they sought and they seek in the proposal that President Biden put forward that Israel and the entire world has accepted.  So the question is whether any of those changes that they have sought, they seek, are workable, bridgeable, or not, and I’m not going to, obviously, characterize or describe what they’re looking for.  All I can tell you, having gone over this with our colleagues, is that we believe that some of the requested changes are workable and some are not.

And so we have to see, on an urgent basis over the course of the coming days, whether those gaps are bridgeable, again, in a way that upholds the agreement, the proposal that President Biden puts on the table, because, again, we’re not – this is not about changing fundamentals.  It’s about seeing if we can bridge the gaps that have been exposed by Hamas’s response, and I can’t tell you right now whether we’ll succeed.  I believe it’s doable, I believe it’s absolutely necessary to try our hardest to do it, but there’s no guarantee.

With regard to Lebanon and Hizballah, look, we’ve said from day one that one of our primary objectives is to prevent this conflict, the conflict in Gaza, the war in Gaza, from spreading, seeing escalation in the region, and we’ve been on that from day one.  We don’t want to see that escalation.  And I think it’s also safe to say that actually no one is looking to start a war, to have escalation, and I think it’s also true that most involved believe that there can and should be, ideally, a diplomatic resolution to the differences that could spark conflict, and in particular, a resolution that leads to the necessary conditions for people to be able to return to their homes and believe that they can live safely and securely in their own homes.

There are about 60,000 Israelis who have had to leave their homes in northern Israel because of the rocket attacks and the threat from Hizballah.  They have to be able to go home.  There are people in southern Lebanon who have also had to leave their homes.  They should be able to go home.  So what I’ve heard from everyone concerned and others who are working on this for (inaudible) is there’s a strong preference for a diplomatic solution.

Now, there’s no doubt in my mind that the best way to empower a diplomatic solution to the north, Lebanon, is a resolution of the conflict in Gaza and getting the ceasefire.  That will take a tremendous amount of pressure out of the system.  It will take away a justification that Hizballah has claimed for the attacks it’s engaged in, and, I think, open a pathway to actually resolve this diplomatically.  That’s what we’re determined to do.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  The proposal speaks for itself.  What’s in the proposal – backed by the United States, by Qatar, by Egypt – speaks for itself.

PRIME MINISTER AL THANI:  Just briefly on your question, I think that, look, if we are talking about pressure, pressure need to be on both parties.  And we have seen that basically, whether it’s on Hamas or on Israel, but – like for another example, was 6th of May – after that, Rafah invasion happened.  And then also we have seen a lot of contradicting statements from different Israeli officials. That also requires a lot of pressure on them as well as the other party.

We believe, as a mediator, we try our best to respect our role, to bridge the gaps, and not to make judgments for – on one party over another.  And our biggest concern is that it’s taking too long to bridge these gaps.  We need to get this to an end as soon as possible.  That’s – will remain our focus.  Our focus is to put an end for this war, which took – I think it’s the longest war that happened in Palestine, and this is something that no one can tolerate, and the region cannot tolerate more instability.

Regarding your question about Hamas office, we’ve been repeatedly mentioning this.  Hamas office establishment in Doha being for a reason – this reason is for keeping the communication channel, and until now, this reason is valid and we are using this as a communication channel.  Our interest as a country is to see peace and stability in the region.  It doesn’t mean that we are endorsing one party over another.  Our policy is very clear: supporting the Palestinian people and their rights.  But at the end of the day, we are a state; we are not a political party.  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  (Via interpreter) State Secretary, and by this, we conclude this press conference for today.

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-and-qatari-prime-minister-and-minister-of-foreign-affairs-mohammed-bin-abdulrahman-al-thani-at-a-joint-press-availability-3/

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