US views punitive home demolitions as counterproductive to cause of peace – USDoS press briefing/Non-UN document (excerpts)

Jeff Rathke

Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

November 18, 2014








1:23 p.m. EDT


QUESTION: Great, thanks. I actually wanted to ask you about President Abbas’s condemnation of the attack. He also took the opportunity, as you probably saw, to criticize Israel for some of what he called provocations at the Holy Site in Jerusalem. I’m wondering if the State Department thinks that that was an appropriate time to bring that up.

MR. RATHKE: Well, as I mentioned, you heard the Secretary condemn this act of terror within hours of the attack, and he spoke with President Abbas. And in that conversation, he expressed support for the condemnation of attacks and he urged him to do everything possible to de-escalate tension. President Abbas agreed. The Secretary’s going to stay in touch with both leaders. I would say President Abbas has condemned this attack. Clearly, more needs to be done at all levels, and the – you’ve heard the president’s statement, certainly, and it’s clear that extremists cannot be allowed to prevail. So the United States is going to stand with those who reject violence and seek a path toward peace.


QUESTION: Did the Secretary ask —

QUESTION: May I just ask —


QUESTION: — a couple of more on this? Specifically, regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement as well, he said that Israel would respond in the harshest way possible, including the demolition of some of the homes of people who were involved either in this attack or previous attacks. Does the State Department think that’s appropriate?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to speak to all of the steps that each individual leader has outlined. I think it’s – as I mentioned, Secretary Kerry spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He will speak with him again, possibly today. They’ve spoken a number of times in recent days and remain in frequent contact. So he expressed our condolences and offered our support.

I can confirm, as you have probably heard elsewhere, but three U.S. citizens were killed in this attack. So today, families in the United States are mourning side-by-side with Israel. And so clearly, in those circumstances, we express our condolences to the families, and the Secretary did to Prime Minister Netanyahu as well, and I’d leave it at that.

QUESTION: Last week in Amman —

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: Just on the home demolitions, I thought it was the U.S. Government’s position that you were opposed to home demolitions as a counterproductive activity. Is that not the case?

MR. RATHKE: Well, with respect to that, our position hasn’t changed, so I don’t have anything new to say in that regard.

QUESTION: Well, would you say that that is – I mean, while not justifying in any way the attack or the horrific nature of it, it sounds like if you’re saying that the position on demolition hasn’t changed, then you would think that that is a kind of disproportionate response to what happened.

MR. RATHKE: Well, look, I’m not going to characterize – the reference was to a statement, so I’m not going to jump forward to that, to an action that hasn’t taken place.

QUESTION: I understand, but clearly – I mean, again, not justifying in any way the attack, but is the – was the tone of the Secretary’s conversation with the prime minister, “We understand you need to respond to this, but keep in mind not to do anything and use restraint so as not to further exacerbate tensions in the region”?

MR. RATHKE: Well, the Secretary urged both sides to do everything possible to de-escalate tension, but again, let’s keep in mind the horrific attack which just happened and —

QUESTION: I did keep it in mind in my question.

MR. RATHKE: — we – our view is that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive to the cause of peace, especially in an already tense situation. I would refer you to the Israelis for any more details, but our view on that remains the same.

QUESTION: Did he – just one follow-up on the conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning. Did the Secretary – in that conversation, beyond offering his condolences and his support following the attack, did he privately ask the prime minister to do everything he could to de-escalate or to reduce tensions?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not sure what you mean by privately. I mean, the United States Government and the Secretary have long urged both sides to do everything possible to de-escalate tensions. The Secretary was just in Jordan, and I don’t need to recount all of that. So —

QUESTION: No, the question is whether he said that to the prime minister in private, just as you have just said, and he said it in public. I’m wondering if that was a feature of his private conversation with the prime minister.

MR. RATHKE: Well, we continue to urge all sides to work to lower tensions, but I’m not going to get into more detail from their conversation.

QUESTION: Well, if you’re saying publicly that you believe that punitive home demolitions are against peace, then one would stand to reason that the Secretary also reiterated that.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m just not going to characterize every single thing that the Secretary said and recount the entire conversation. I think I’ve conveyed the essentials of the conversation.


QUESTION: Do you know if that came up in their conversation?

MR. RATHKE: The Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu very soon after the attack to express his condolences. I don’t have further detail on —

QUESTION: And that’s it, just to express condolences and not in the realm of “Let’s make sure that this doesn’t completely further – again, exacerbate further”?

MR. RATHKE: Well, again, the Secretary has spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu numerous times just in the last few days, so he’s made our views on that question quite clear.

QUESTION: One other factual matter: Three of the four people who died, you said, were U.S. citizens. Are they – were they dual U.S. and Israeli citizens?

MR. RATHKE: I don’t have information to confirm about other nationalities. I’d refer you to the Israeli authorities for anything they want to say on that.

QUESTION: Last week in Jordan when the Secretary finished his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah, he was asked specifically on what steps might have been taken in that meeting. And as you know, he didn’t announce what steps they were going to take —

MR. RATHKE: Right.

QUESTION: — to de-escalate tensions, but how this could prevent or how either side could prevent hardliners from coming forward and continuing to raise escalations, not to mention horrific attacks such as this. I’m wondering, if the State Department or the U.S. Government is now willing to say, “Hey, this is what we tried to do, this is what our intent was,” or are doing anything more to try to prevent hardliners – to help both sides from keeping hardliners from lashing out like this.

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think that the Secretary’s – that there’s any change to the Secretary’s posture on this as he expressed it in Jordan. He had conversations with the parties. He made it clear how important it is to take affirmative steps to restore calm and implement practical measures to prevent further escalation of tensions and —

QUESTION: But clearly, it’s not working, right? I mean —

MR. RATHKE: Well, certainly, we’ve witnessed a horrific attack today, and all leaders in their discussions in Jordan agreed on the importance of de-escalating tensions. The Secretary reiterated that in his conversation with President Abbas today, and President Abbas agreed that everything needed to be done to reduce tensions. So – but I’m not going to go back and then read out more details of those conversations from Jordan.

QUESTION: Okay. Aside from agreeing that tensions need to be reduced, is it still fair to assume that whatever deal that was worked out or whatever steps were discussed and agreed upon in Jordan are still enacted today, are still being followed today? I mean, it kinds of seems “no” if President Abbas is out there saying that – or criticizing Israel for provocations.

MR. RATHKE: Well, this is unfortunately not the first tragic loss of innocent life in recent months. There have been too many Israelis and too many Palestinians who have died. So clearly, more needs to be done. That’s —

QUESTION: But I mean since those talks last week in Jordan. I mean, steps were agreed on to de-escalate tensions.


QUESTION: Kerry was asked, how will this keep hardliners from striking out? Clearly, hardliners are continuing to strike out. So is it fair to assume that these steps are no longer being followed by both sides?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I don’t think we would look at it that way, as some sort of a snapshot. The Secretary, in talking to both President Abbas and to Prime Minister Netanyahu, stressed that this is a time for leadership. And as the President said, extremists can’t be allowed to prevail. So we’re committed to remaining in contact with both leaders and continue working with both the Israelis and Palestinians to that end. I don’t have more to say than that.

QUESTION: Let me ask it one more way.

MR. RATHKE: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In his conversations with the Secretary today, or the conversations, did both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas agree to continue implementing and embracing those steps that they agreed to last week?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not – I think we’ve already seen the step undertaken by Israel with respect to access to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, and I don’t have anything further to add on that. In his discussion with President Abbas, President Abbas agreed with the Secretary’s urging to do everything possible to de-escalate tensions. I’m not going to characterize it further.

QUESTION: Can I branch that out just a bit? I mean —


QUESTION: — beyond the steps in the last few weeks and the violence that we’ve seen at the Temple Mount, I mean, you have seen in recent months a kind of increase in tensions for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s settlements or the Temple Mount or – an increase in violence and tensions. Do you in any way see the lack of a ongoing peace process as contributing to a kind of vacuum where this type of extremism on both sides has a kind of climate to flourish? And would you say that this underscores the need to get back to the peace table?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I think that’s – we’ve always said that depends on both parties and their readiness to do so. So I don’t have anything new to report in that respect. Of course, the United States has invested great energy not just in recent months but over decades in support of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: I understand. But do you see the climate of tensions and violence over the last several months a product of the lack of a peace process?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to characterize it in those terms. We condemn violence in the strongest terms. I’m not going to do an analysis here —

QUESTION: I’m not saying you don’t condemn it. That has nothing to do —

MR. RATHKE: I understand. But I’m not going to do an analysis here from the podium about factors that contribute to it.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that all this increase in – like, there was virtually no violence in the period where Secretary Kerry was engaged in a peace process, and now there is no peace process. Again, I understand what you’re saying, that it’s the parties that want it, but since the peace process has broke down, there’s been a steady increase in violence and tension, so you don’t —

MR. RATHKE: Well, but there’s been a number of – there have been a number of things, including the attacks, the rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel. So I’m not going to try to affix —

QUESTION: Also since the breakdown of the peace process.

MR. RATHKE: Right, but Elise, I’m not going to try to affix a specific single cause to it. Further on this topic?

QUESTION: Any plans to change your Travel Warning for Israel given the multiple deaths of U.S. citizens in Jerusalem?

MR. RATHKE: Not that I’m aware of. Not that I’m aware of. If there is a change, then of course, we would notify that broadly as soon as it happens, but not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: I wonder if I could ask you a question. You may have even addressed this. Has anyone contacted Palestinian Authority President Abbas?

MR. RATHKE: Yes, Secretary Kerry spoke with him.

QUESTION: He spoke with him. Now, today, in the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his foreign minister accused Abbas of being behind the incitement that we have seen lately, although the head of the Shin Bet, chief Cohen, came out and said there’s no evidence that Abbas is actually doing the incitement; quite the contrary, he’s also blaming a great deal of the tension on some extremist elements within Israeli society. Are you aware of that report?

MR. RATHKE: Well, I’m not going to – you’re asking me to analyze and discuss views of different Israeli politicians in a cabinet meeting, which I’m not going to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Your view of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as an interlocutor for peace has not changed, has it?

MR. RATHKE: No. No, it hasn’t.



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