Mark C. Toner
Deputy Department Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
January 28, 2016
INDEX FOR TODAY'S BRIEFING
2:15 p.m. EST
QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?
MR TONER: Let’s do Israel and then I’ll get to you, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Last week, Customs and Border Protection issued a reminder notice that products coming from the West Bank should be labeled as such. This has been reported widely in the Israeli media this evening as a new policy and as some kind of rebuke to Israeli settlement policy, and they specifically said that in some of the reports that it came from the State Department, though I understand the order itself came from Customs and Borders Protection. Obviously, I’ve asked them —
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: — but I’d like to give you an opportunity to respond to these reports.
MR TONER: Thanks. Thanks, David. Yeah. No, we – absolutely right that it was U.S. Customs and Border Protection who reissued guidance on their marking requirements. So this guidance was simply a restatement of previous requirements that the Customs and Border Protection has made clear that it in no way supersedes prior rulings or regulations, nor does it impose additional requirements with respect to merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Israel. So there’s nothing new. This is simply a reissuance of guidance.
So why did they do this? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: That was my follow-up question. Thank you.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure. I’m guessing.
MR TONER: Our understanding is that this is simply because of – there were allegations of mislabeling, but I’d have to refer you to the CPB for more information on that.
QUESTION: So let me just —
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this specifically?
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: This law has generally been enforced very poorly or not at all for the last 20-odd years. Does this mean you’re going to actually enforce it, or are you continuing by restating it to restate your intention that this law exists but you’re not going to enforce it?
MR TONER: Again, I’d have to refer you to the CBP to talk about enforcement issues of the law.
QUESTION: So – and you said this was because of – who – I didn’t see these – who made these allegations? What did they – what did – what was the mislabeling? That Palestinians were mislabeling things, was Israeli – Israeli mislabeling things, is Palestinians? Explain it to me.
MR TONER: Sure. So I believe it was issued in response. I think there were a number of complaints – by a number, I mean around 9 or 10 complaints. I don’t know who the complainant – complainants were alleging mislabeling of products originating in the West Bank. As you know, U.S. guidelines don’t differentiate between products produced in settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank.
QUESTION: So —
QUESTION: Go on.
MR TONER: Yeah, go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to follow up because I still don’t understand. What is your position on, let’s say, what the Europeans have done last week and so on, that they – they’re saying that products made in West Bank settlements cannot be labeled as made in Israel. You are fine with that, because I think at the time, you spoke to it, correct?
MR TONER: Yeah, we did, yeah.
QUESTION: That position still remains?
MR TONER: And our position has not changed.
MR TONER: All this simply is, is a restatement of existing requirements regarding labeling from the West Bank. And again, we don’t differentiate between settlements and the West Bank. We do differentiate between the West Bank – or, rather, settlements or anywhere else in the West Bank. We do differentiate. And again, this is something we talked about with respect to the EU labeling as well. This is – many countries around the world do this kind of labeling. It in no way represents a boycott or anything like that.
MR TONER: And we’ve said as much about the EU labeling as well.
QUESTION: I just don’t —
MR TONER: Yeah, I’m sorry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So these allegations – it’s unclear who did them —
MR TONER: I don’t – I can get more detail. That’s – my understanding is that there were allegations that it was mislabeling. I can —
QUESTION: Is this general – so if I say today, “I think Transnistrian products are going to the U.S. as made in Russia,” you’ll put out a notice from CBP on this now?
MR TONER: No, I don’t think it’s saying that at all.
QUESTION: Who – I mean —
MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details on the complaints, so it’s hard for me and I don't know how much, frankly, I can share with you. I’d go to Customs and Border Protection to – for a little bit more granularity on what these complaints were, but obviously, they felt there was enough confusion that they needed to reissue the – rather, the requirements.
QUESTION: Okay. I just wanted to —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I have a couple more questions on the Palestinian issue —
MR TONER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — if I may. Today, there is a Palestinian journalist in prison held under administrative detention by the Israelis. No charge has been leveled against him in any way. He’s on a hunger strike. He’s about to die, basically. And I wonder if you have – if you are concerned, if you would caution the Israelis to either bring charges against him or release him, and that they cannot continue to hold him. Do you have a position on that?
MR TONER: You’re talking about —
QUESTION: His name is Mohammed Qiq.
MR TONER: He’s a Palestinian journalist?
QUESTION: A Palestinian journalist, yeah. In fact, he was working for a Saudi outfit, I think —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — a Saudi media outfit and has been held – he was in prison many times before but they keep putting him back in prison.
MR TONER: Sure. Said, I don’t have the details of his case in front of me, I apologize. I mean, certainly, we call for the humane treatment of any prisoner, and for due process in any kind of criminal case or charges brought against anyone. And we believe that the Israeli justice system is more than capable of doing so, but I don’t have the details in front of me. Sorry.
QUESTION: But in the name of freedom of press, you would urge the Israelis to release this reporter?
MR TONER: Again, I don’t have the details. I don’t know what the specific charges are, so I’m hesitant to respond to whatever his situation is. I just don’t know. I mean, more – other than broadly saying that he should be treated humanely, and that obviously, anyone has the right to due process.
QUESTION: And finally, I wonder if you have a comment on this exchange between the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon and the Israeli prime minister over the – Ban’s statement on this continued occupation creates feelings of oppression and hopelessness and so on.
MR TONER: Well, I’m not going to wade into that exchange, as you can guess. We’ve stated many times there is no justification for terrorist attacks, and we strongly condemn any and all attacks on civilians. And – I’ll stop there.
QUESTION: Well, let me ask you about what he said.
MR TONER: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I mean, do you agree with the secretary-general when he says that this occupation that has gone on for almost 50 years creates feelings of frustrations and hopelessness that maybe – may push some people to commit acts of violence and so forth?
MR TONER: Well, again, I said there’s – we believe there’s no justification for violence against civilians. What we’ve said before and what I’ll say again is that the status quo is not sustainable.