US Department of State daily press briefing – Suspension of Mideast peace talks/Non-UN document (excerpts)

Marie Harf

Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

May 5, 2014


Suspension of Negotiations

  • Ambassador Indyk's Consultations



1:25 p.m. EDT


QUESTION: I want to go to Israel, please.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: I don’t know if you’d seen – you probably have – the reports in – on Friday in Yedioth Ahronoth, first off, in which anonymous U.S. officials gave a long interview blaming Israel for the failure of peace talks. That was followed up this weekend by a report in Haaretz that Ambassador Indyk is thinking of resigning and going back to his job with the Brookings Institute and announcing a possible trip by Ambassador Rice – Susan Rice – to Israel in the coming days after the Iran talks. Could you talk to any of that? First off, is it the U.S. Administration’s belief that it was the fault of Israel that these talks failed?

MS. HARF: Well, as the Secretary said I think as recently as last week, negotiations were suspended as a result of a combination of unhelpful actions on both sides. On the Palestinian side, the appeal to 15 different treaties while we’re actively working to secure a prisoner release, as well as the announcement of the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation agreement at the moment we were working for a formula to extend the negotiations, really combined to make it possible to extend the negotiations.

And on the Israeli side, large —

QUESTION: You mean impossible.

MS. HARF: Impossible.

On the Israeli side, large-scale settlement announcements, a failure to release the fourth tranche of prisoners on time, and then the announcement of 700 settlement tenders at a very sensitive moment, really combined to undermine the efforts to extend the negotiations. So I would very much take notion with the fact that this was just one side. Both sides did things here that were very unhelpful.

QUESTION: The official also said that the Israeli side did not budge an inch – more than an inch on the talks. Is that – is it a true reflection of what happened behind the scenes?

MS. HARF: Well, look, I’m not going to get into the behind the scenes. I know that won’t surprise you. What we’ve said is at the end of this – right before we went into this pause, both sides did things that were incredibly unhelpful.

On – wait, let me – on Ambassador Indyk quickly. He’s returned to the United States for consultations with the Secretary and the White House. As we assess the next steps in the U.S. efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace – premature, quite frankly, to speculate on what those steps will be or what will happen.

QUESTION: So is it correct to say that you’re dismantling the team on the ground?

MS. HARF: That is incorrect. That what you said, correct or incorrect?

QUESTION: No, it’s incorrect then.

MS. HARF: It’s incorrect. He’s returned for consultations but there’s no dismantling —

QUESTION: No, this article – there’s an article that said that you were dismantling the team on the ground.

MS. HARF: Well, Ambassador Indyk has always gone back and forth between the United States and Israel, as has Frank Lowenstein, as have others. So we’re going to see where this goes from here and figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.

QUESTION: Marie, the picture that you painted just now in describing what both sides did that were unhelpful, I mean, that’s a pretty grim painting.

MS. HARF: Yes, that’s why this — negotiations have been suspended.

QUESTION: Right. So last week, I asked – I mean, how can you make the case that the nine-month – the nine months of negotiations made the situation better? Is it not, in fact, the case that the situation between the atmosphere and the situation on the ground between the two sides is not – isn’t it the case that it’s worse now than it was nine months ago?

MS. HARF: No, and I would actually disagree with that notion that it’s worse. I think – a few things. I think by and large Israeli and Palestinian people want to see a peace process try to make this work, right? They support peace. They support a process even though it’s difficult, right? And so where we were nine months ago when there was no process, when it appeared there was no hope for this to move forward, I don’t think is a better place than we are today, where we’ve seen nine months where, yes, the last few weeks have been very tough. But for nine months we negotiated in good faith. Each side took some steps that, while small and while in the end haven’t led us where we need to be yet, matter. So I would take notion – or take exception with the notion that things are worse now —

QUESTION: Okay, but, well —

MS. HARF: — for trying.

QUESTION: So before they began there was no hope and there was no process. Now there’s no hope and no process, plus you also have the Palestinians going to the UN. You have the unity government with Fatah and Hamas, which all of which you think is bad, you have large-scale – new large-scale Israeli settlement announcements, you have them not releasing the prisoners, and you have the – look, I’m just repeating what you said – and then you have the tenders – the settlement of the seven hundred —

MS. HARF: So we shouldn’t have tried this for the last nine months.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m not – I’m just —

MS. HARF: Right.

QUESTION: — no, I’m not suggesting that it was – that – I’m just asking you how you can say, given the list of what you’ve just put out, how the last nine months didn’t – how the situation is better now than it’s —

MS. HARF: I’m not saying it’s better.

QUESTION: Right. So how can you say —

MS. HARF: I’m saying it’s not worse.

QUESTION: Well, but it —

MS. HARF: I’m saying it’s different.

QUESTION: — seems like in addition to no hope —

MS. HARF: I’m saying it’s different.

QUESTION: But it – but there’s no hope and no process now.

MS. HARF: Actually, I think there are a lot of people – Israelis and Palestinians – who looked at the last nine months and said, “Wow. We can sit down at a table for nine months.” Look, this isn’t the first challenging time —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MS. HARF: This is a challenging time. This is not the first challenging time these two parties have had. This is not the first time we’ve seen negotiations take a pause.

QUESTION: Yeah. Right.

MS. HARF: So what the point of what you’re asking is, look, we will not be happy until they’re, as we have said repeatedly, two states living side by side in peace and security. How we get there will be challenging. There will be ups; there will be downs. And it’s not linear. That’s just not how this works.

QUESTION: Right, but last week I – last week I specifically asked, and I don’t remember —

MS. HARF: It was Jen.

QUESTION: — sorry if it was Jen – right – how you could say what tangible improvements to – on the ground that the nine months have brought us. And now in response to this —

MS. HARF: I don’t think you’re looking at it the right way.


MS. HARF: You don’t look for improvements on the ground on a diplomatic process that’s not over yet.

QUESTION: Well, it’s not – but it is over.

MS. HARF: Well, that hasn’t reached our goal is what I’m saying.

QUESTION: Well, but yeah, but then you – (laughter) – and then you’d – I mean, if you can’t —

MS. HARF: Wait. So the choice you have is doing nothing?

QUESTION: — show any incremental progress – no, no, I’m not making that argument.

MS. HARF: Well, right. But these are our choices though, right? Even if we enter into a – we enter into a negotiation and we say, on balance, even if we get to the end of the nine months and there’s – there’s been some tangible evidence of working together, there have been prisoner releases, there’s been other things, we don’t have an agreement, it was worth it to do it.

QUESTION: Well, but – yeah, but —

MS. HARF: Those are your options, right?

QUESTION: So your argument is that it’s worth it to have tried and – even though the situation now is worse than it was than before —

MS. HARF: I am disagreeing with the notion that it’s worse.

QUESTION: But I – but everything that you —

MS. HARF: I said it’s different. I think the notion 10 months ago, where we weren’t even at the table, where they weren’t talking, is worse than seeing that leaders, even though difficult, can come to the table.

QUESTION: Right. But they’re not at the table now. There’s been —

MS. HARF: Right. They were for nine months, Matt.

QUESTION: And there’s no hope and no – I’ll drop it, but I just – I don’t understand how you can make that argument logically that it got better.

QUESTION: I mean, this goes back —

MS. HARF: I didn’t say it got better.

QUESTION: Well, that it didn’t get worse.

MS. HARF: It got different.

QUESTION: It got – well, different is worse, right? No?

MS. HARF: Uh. No.

QUESTION: But this goes to Matt’s question, really. I mean —

MS. HARF: No, different is different. Get your dictionary out.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary thinking of releasing a document or maybe some parts of the plan that he said he thought was on the table? He said at one point he thought there was a deal on the table. If he releases some of that to the public, that would then go to Matt’s point that we could actually see maybe there was some fruit to the labor and there’s something possibly to build on for the future.

MS. HARF: Yeah. I mean, look, I’m not downplaying your question, Matt. I don’t have any information on whether or not we’ll do that at some point. I know people are asking.

What we’ve said – but you speak to a good point here, which addresses Matt’s point, that even if these negotiations eventually don’t work in the nine months, you have put the issues on the table, you’ve talked about them, maybe you’ve seen something where whenever we start this process again it will help us make progress faster or make better progress or go further. That’s how these negotiations work, right?

So yes, having done it for nine months, we think getting the parties to the table, putting all the issues on the table, working through very specific language about some things, eventually will be helpful to a process where we can get a final agreement.

QUESTION: Wouldn’t it be helpful to the Israeli public, the Palestinian people, who are the most – who are the biggest losers in this failure —

MS. HARF: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — and the American public as well, who’ve been paying the tax dollars for it, to actually release something —

MS. HARF: Again, we’ll talk about where this goes from here. I don’t have any information on whether we’re going to. We’ll try and talk about it going forward.

QUESTION: Okay. And can you just answer whether the information that was in the Haaretz report about Susan Rice traveling to Israel is actually correct?

MS. HARF: I think we have some senior officials that will be going soon. I don’t have any travel announcements to make for you, but watch this space in the coming days and we’ll let you know.


QUESTION: Just back on Team Indyk quickly as a follow-up.

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Does he have to – is he remaining fulltime at the State Department?

MS. HARF: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Or can he join the – okay, so —

MS. HARF: Oh, well, as of right now, yeah, he’s a fulltime State Department employee.

QUESTION: Okay. So he can’t also do the Brookings Institution?

MS. HARF: Again, he remains in his position.


MS. HARF: We’ll see what happens going forward with this process.



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