US Spokesperson Psaki says Israel’s settlement plans in Givat Hamatos are contrary to agreement with Palestinians – USDoS press briefing/Non-UN document (excerpts);

Jen Psaki
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

October 1, 2014




2:52 p.m. EDT


QUESTION: Right. Well, he does that every day, so that’s not very – the – yeah, the Netanyahu meeting. I’ll leave it to the White House to read out the meeting, but I wanted to know if you got answers to some questions that have been raised over the past couple days about Israeli activity or plans in East Jerusalem, also on the Palestinian draft resolution that’s been floating around at the – in New York today.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. We are deeply concerned by reports that the Israeli Government has moved forward the planning process in the sensitive area of Givat Hamatos in East Jerusalem. This step is contrary to Israel’s stated goal of negotiating a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians, and it would send a very troubling message if they proceed with tenders or construction. This development will only draw condemnation from the international community, distance Israel from even its closest allies; poison the atmosphere not only with the Palestinians, but also with the very Arab governments with which Prime Minister Netanyahu said he wanted to build relations; and call into question Israel’s ultimate commitment to a peaceful negotiated settlement with the Palestinians.

Let me just do the other answer and then we can get to questions. We are certainly aware of the reports of the Palestinian request. We’ve seen the text and have not had an opportunity to study it yet, so I can’t comment on the specifics. As a rule, we don’t typically predict how we’ll vote on any given issue in advance – don’t typically. I know sometimes we do.

QUESTION: But you’re going to now?

MS. PSAKI: I can say, however, that we strongly believe that the preferred course of action is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly. And that’s something we’ve certainly communicated directly to the Palestinians as well.

QUESTION: Do you know – and I’ll leave it to the White House to say if the President raised this. But has – do you know if – has the message that you just gave to us publicly been given to the Israelis privately, which “poison the atmosphere,” “will only draw condemnation,” is pretty strong, “calls into question Israel’s commitment.” Do you know – have you told them that privately?

MS. PSAKI: I would – let’s wait for the readout of the meeting. The Secretary was in that. As you noted, I would – I think it’s safe to assume it has been, but at what level I want to see the readout of the meeting.

QUESTION: Is it only them moving ahead on these – on this specific project that would only draw condemnation from the world, poison the atmosphere, and call into question their commitment to what they say is their goal? Or is – or have they – or has that already happened?

MS. PSAKI: Well, it —

QUESTION: In other words, are you prepared – I realize your language was harsh, but are you prepared to condemn this now, or is it only that you’re going – that you would condemn it if they go forward?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that what we’re referring to is their announcement about moving forward. Obviously, if they reverse their decision, that sends a message. But clearly, our position is the same and what it has been. But continuing to move forward with this is why we have the strong language.

QUESTION: But how we are now, where we are now in the process, are you saying that the Israeli – are you condemning this? Are you saying that this has poisoned the atmosphere and does call into question Israel’s commitment?

MS. PSAKI: Well, they —

QUESTION: Or only – are you saying only if they go ahead with it from this point?

MS. PSAKI: They have moved forward and they’ve indicated they’re moving forward.


MS. PSAKI: So – but in some of the – some of what you’re asking is a bit subjective, right? I understand you’re still allowed to ask the question about what will warrant a response from the international community. I mean, I think we’ve seen —

QUESTION: You’re the one that said it would draw – would only draw condemnation from the international community.

MS. PSAKI: I understand.

QUESTION: Are you condemning it?

MS. PSAKI: Yes. I – as I stated.

QUESTION: Yes, okay.

MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.


QUESTION: I mean, I just wanted to follow up on this very quickly. The President also said – I know this is also a White House issue – but the President urged the prime minister to change the status quo on the ground, to reach out to the Palestinians. How do you understand this to mean, changing the status quo? He urged them to do that.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the status quo now is something that you’re all aware of, as there’s back and forth, there’s threats about going to the UN, there’s building of settlements. In order to change the status quo and have peace in the region, you need a two-state solution, you need to engage in the hard decision making.

QUESTION: So would that include a show of goodwill on the part of the Israelis to freeze settlement activity and go back sort of unconditionally to the peace talks?

MS. PSAKI: Said, I understand your desire to get into specifics, but I think everybody knows what the issues are here at play. And the status quo is obviously the current situation that isn’t sustainable.

QUESTION: In the absence of peace talks that are, whatever, shepherded by the U.S., the Palestinians are moving on the other track. What are you doing to dissuade them from that? But not only dissuade them, say don’t do this or else, but also show that there is something else, an alternative to that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’ve made our concerns known to the Palestinians about their desire or their threats or their efforts to go forward unilaterally. Those are conversations that we’ve had directly. And this is about what is in the interests of the Palestinian people and the interests of the Israeli people. It’s not about what is in the interest of the United States. It’s not —

QUESTION: Israel is preventing the Palestinian Authority from sending the salaries to Gaza. It’s preventing them from even going there to meet in Gaza and so on. Are those issues that you also raise privately with the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: There are a range of issues the Palestinians raise themselves. And obviously, we’re there to have a discussion with them.

QUESTION: Can I just ask on the – are you – is the American Administration warning the Palestinians that if they go ahead with the UN Security Council resolution, this could put at risk some $700 million of annual aid? The Palestinian president is saying that they’re coming under a lot of pressure not to go ahead and that one of the things that’s being held over their heads is the annual aid.

MS. PSAKI: Well, there certainly are requirements in the law, Jo. But obviously, not knowing exactly what it is, we’d have to look at what it was to determine what the impact would be.

QUESTION: So those conversations haven’t taken place yet because you haven’t seen the —

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we have to see exactly what they’re proposing to determine if they’re – what the impact would be.

Do we have any more on the peace process? Or – go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I do.

MS. PSAKI: Or not —

QUESTION: But based on your – this is contrary to Israel’s stated goal, you’re condemning it, you say it poisons the atmosphere and calls into question their commitment, what’s the consequence of that? Is there one? Is there any?

MS. PSAKI: Look, I think, Matt, that it’s not just the United States, it’s the international community who will respond strongly to this kind of continued activity.

QUESTION: Well, I won’t ask you to speak for other countries, but how does the United States – how is the United States going to respond? Is that what you —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything to lay out for you today, Matt. I think —

QUESTION: Is your response limited to what you just said?


QUESTION: Which is still pretty interesting, considering the president – considering the prime minister of Israel, your closest ally in the Middle East, was just at the White House today and you’re condemning him – his government for doing all this stuff. But is there more – can – is there more to it than that?

MS. PSAKI: That is what I have to offer today, Matt.

QUESTION: Can you show us an example or could you point to an example of in the past where actually there were some consequences to these – to similar statements that you made from this podium?

MS. PSAKI: I will lead you – I’ll leave that to you, Said, to write an excellent story that everybody can read.

QUESTION: I’m asking you a real question. I’m saying, could you tell the Israelis that if you do this, we will cut off this amount of aid, for instance?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not —

QUESTION: Like you do with the Palestinians.

MS. PSAKI: I appreciate the opportunity. I’m not going to go – go ahead. More on this issue? Let’s —

QUESTION: On a separate issue.

QUESTION: No, still on Israel. There has been some – I don’t know about outrage, but indignation in Israel about the issue of civilians – civilian deaths in military conflict, military operations. This building – you and Marie were particularly harsh on civilian casualties in Gaza during the conflict and repeatedly told the Israelis that they had to do more to live up to their own high standards. At one point there was the incident at the school that was – you called disgraceful. And now it emerges that in your own campaign against ISIL, the standard to which the Administration had held it before seems to have been blunted a bit or weakened, watered down.

MS. PSAKI: Based on what?

QUESTION: Based on reports that seem to emanate from an on-the-record statement from the White House. One – I guess you could say if you deny those reports, then that’s fine, but go ahead if you’re – was that what you were going to do?

MS. PSAKI: No. I think, one, the point that we were – we – that I made, that Marie made, that others made is that Israel needs to hold itself to a high standard about preventing civilian casualties and that we’ve had this experience historically. The United States certainly has in other conflicts that we’ve had, but we take all allegations seriously. We’re sharing information with appropriate agencies, and before any mission, every – any precaution is taken. So it is about taking every precaution possible to prevent civilian casualties, and we think – at the time, we felt that there was more that could have been done.

QUESTION: Okay. But – so are you saying that you’re still holding yourselves to the highest possible standard in the anti-ISIL campaign, and you haven’t watered down your – the policy on doing everything you can to prevent civilian casualties?

MS. PSAKI: Correct.

QUESTION: And you think that you’re still living up to that in – and that the Israelis did not live up to theirs?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we take every allegation seriously, Matt. Obviously, we look into any allegation. I know there have been some that have been out there that we’re continuing to look into. But I think at the time the issue was that there was more that could’ve been done, as we were seeing every day photos and video of schoolchildren and innocent civilians in Gaza. And that was the point we were making, that Israel could hold itself to a higher standard.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, Israel, as you know, had ground troops in Gaza and were actually in a position to have their own people look into allegations of whether or not they were keeping to their high standard. The President and you and the Pentagon have made a big point of the fact that you’re not – you don’t have and are not going to have any boots on the ground in these areas of Iraq and Syria where these attacks are going on. So can I just ask how it is, exactly, that you’re looking into allegations that you may have unintentionally caused civilian casualties?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the U.S. military looks into these allegations. I don’t have anything more to outline for you in terms of how that’s done.

QUESTION: Well – but would you not agree that having boots on the ground, as the Israelis did in Gaza, would be a good way to investigate and find out?

MS. PSAKI: Obviously, Matt, there’s a range of ways that they can be looked into. There are organizations out there that are reporting these events as well.

QUESTION: This is the last one on this.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: You say you would deny or not deny charges that you – that you’re holding – that there’s a double standard here, that you expect Israel to do more than you do to prevent civilian casualties?

MS. PSAKI: We expect any country – Israel included, a close friend and ally – to hold themselves to the same standard we do.

Do we have a new topic, or —

QUESTION: Anything on the Patriots deal with the Saudi Arabia?

MS. PSAKI: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Patriots. Patriots deal with the Saudi Arabia.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that. I can check and see if we have more to say.

QUESTION: News reports said that there is a deal that the State Department agreed on for $1.9 billion.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have it in front of me. We will get you something after the briefing.

QUESTION: Very quickly again.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: I think Abbas said that he needs three weeks at the UN. During this time in the upcoming three weeks to do the – to sort of get support for the proposal, the Palestinian proposal, are there any plans to meet with any Palestinian officials or with him, perhaps by the Secretary or perhaps a deputy secretary?

MS. PSAKI: I think we just met – Secretary Kerry just met with President Abbas last week.

QUESTION: I mean since he gave a timed element —

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any meetings to preview for you at this point in time.

QUESTION: Okay. So then dissuading the Palestinians will sort of remain the domain of what you’re saying now, right? From this podium.

MS. PSAKI: No. We —

QUESTION: I’m saying there are no —

MS. PSAKI: Said, we engage with the Palestinians through our CG, through a range of contacts. The Secretary engages in phone calls. There are a range of ways we communicate.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m not sure if you addressed this before —

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: — but do you agree with Netanyahu’s statement that Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas?

MS. PSAKI: I addressed it two days ago, so I’d point you to that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to go back to what you said about the Khorasan Group yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: It wasn’t what we had heard at the Pentagon from Spokesperson John Kirby. Can you kind of describe us – or tell us what’s happening so we can better understand the —

MS. PSAKI: What’s happening – I think I discussed it pretty in-depth yesterday, but what —

QUESTION: Well, he actually said yesterday that he considered al-Qaida – core al-Qaida and the Khorasan Group to be “one and the same,” and that is not what you said yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: I would stand by what I said yesterday.


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