Daily Press Briefing
October 29, 2014
MIDDLE EAST PEACE/REGION
MIDDLE EAST PEACE
12:11 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: So let’s start – well, I wanted to start by just saying the state of relations between the U.S. and Israel – discuss. But since that will leave you with far too much room to maneuver, how about this, and I’ll try and keep this family-friendly by using the phrase “chicken salad” rather than the other word: What is going on here? Why are there senior Administration officials running around trashing the prime minister of Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say on your first question, even though it wasn’t a real question, the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong, our security bonds have never been greater, and the ties between our nations are unshakeable. We remain fully and firmly committed to Israel’s security. On the comments, we think such comments are inappropriate and counterproductive. I spoke with Secretary – the Secretary about this this morning, and he certainly feels strongly that a war of words is not productive from either side. Obviously, we believe that moving forward, it’s in the best interests of both sides to address any issues that may arise appropriately and respectfully and not through personal attacks.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, just because they’re counterproductive and unhelpful, or whatever it was that you said, doesn’t necessarily mean that whoever said them doesn’t think that, doesn’t agree with the sentiment – with the “chicken salad” sentiment itself. So are there those in the Administration who believe that this is an accurate depiction of or an accurate description of Prime Minister Netanyahu?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously, as you know, the article was sourced to anonymous sources in the Administration. So does that individual, whomever they are, think that? Perhaps. But the Secretary of State, the President of the United States, people who are leading our relationship don’t view that language and those words as appropriate or accurate.
QUESTION: All right. And you said that this – you – when you spoke to the Secretary about it this morning, he said – or you said as a result of your conversation with him that you don’t think name-calling or whatever, a war of words, between either side – by either side is appropriate.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: So that suggests that you think that some on the Israeli side have been doing similar if not the same. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think we’re all familiar with not just public record but media reports over the last several months. Certainly, we don’t think that is productive or constructive in our relationship at any point in time.
QUESTION: Do you think it says anything about the fact that when the Israeli – when Israeli Government officials have criticized the Secretary or the President or whoever, they have actually done so by name or their names have been attached to it, and this Administration, when it seems to want to vent frustration or irritation with the Israelis, does it under cover of anonymity. Do you see —
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think also these comments, as you know, were from an anonymous source. I don’t know who that individual was and what level they were at. So I’d also certainly take them with a grain of salt.
QUESTION: Do you have suspicions?
MS. PSAKI: I do not.
QUESTION: Are you trying to figure out – is the Administration trying to figure out who made these inappropriate and counterproductive comments?
MS. PSAKI: No.
QUESTION: Why not?
MS. PSAKI: There are anonymous sources in all of your stories every single day. If we spent all of our time focused on that effort, we wouldn’t be working on diplomacy.
QUESTION: Well, that’s true, but a lot of anonymous sources are speaking on background and they are authorized to speak on background, correct?
MS. PSAKI: And many are not —
QUESTION: This one – are you —
MS. PSAKI: — as I don’t have to tell all of you, who are reporters.
QUESTION: Well, that – yes, true. But so you’re saying that – you’re not disputing that an official in the Administration said this, but you’re saying that they were not – that if they did say this, they were speaking only for their – on their personal view. Is that what you’re saying?
MS. PSAKI: I think it’s more accurate to convey that it’s – I’m not disputing the accuracy of the reporting of the reporter. I don’t have any other information beyond that.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re saying that if someone in the Administration said this, it’s a personal view rather than a —
MS. PSAKI: I just said it’s not representative of the Secretary of State.
QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the comments attributed to the anonymous U.S. official were authorized?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t. No.
QUESTION: Okay. And did you see Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response, and in particular his reference to the security of – I think he said the Israeli people and Jerusalem, although he may have said Israel and Jerusalem. But implicit in his comment was that Jerusalem is theirs, which, of course, is not a position that the United States – belongs to Israel – which is not a position that the United States —
MS. PSAKI: Are you referring to his comments from yesterday or —
QUESTION: I saw them today.
MS. PSAKI: I think – I didn’t – I know he made comments like that yesterday, I believe. I don’t think they were in response to this article, but —
QUESTION: I think – let me see if I can find it during the course of the briefing.
QUESTION: He made other statements today too.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Well, we’ll take a look at those. I spoke to the comments from yesterday, but you can continue if there’s another question on that, or if you want to find them we can go back to this.
QUESTION: Well, given your disavowal of this official or these officials’ comments made anonymously, is the Administration giving any thought to granting Israel an apology, as one official suggested today to Haaretz?
MS. PSAKI: I think we’ll be clear, as the Secretary speaks with Prime Minister Netanyahu pretty frequently, as all of you know. And if this issue comes up, he would make clear this isn’t the position of the Administration.
QUESTION: Let’s talk about something that —
QUESTION: Have they – hold on. Just – sorry. Just very brief.
QUESTION: Have they spoken since yesterday afternoon?
MS. PSAKI: No. They have not since yesterday afternoon.
QUESTION: Well, let’s talk about something that was brought up in Jeffrey Goldberg’s article near the end – the suggestion that because of the Administration’s deep frustration with the Netanyahu government, that next year at the United Nations it would remove its cover, it would not run interference for Israel on contentious issues – everything from the Palestinians’ status to questions of human rights. Is that accurate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, one, Roz, our position hasn’t changed. We’re not going to get ahead of, obviously, actions that have not yet been taken, but we strongly believe that the preferred course of action is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly. We’ve long made clear that negotiations are the means to do that. I don’t think that has changed for quite some time.
QUESTION: But no – but his point was —
QUESTION: Can I go back to my question? Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah. But his point was not so much on a specific policy issue but just on the fact of whenever Israel comes up for criticism at the United Nations, the U.S. has been pretty much lockstep in voting to protect it, to issue – yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Right. I just – I think I just addressed it by conveying our position hasn’t changed. I’m not going to get ahead of actions that have not been taken or laid out.
QUESTION: Can I just ask on the basic premise of Roz’s question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Is there frustration within the U.S. Administration about what the positions that Israeli prime minister or Israel as a country has been taking in recent months?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as in any diplomatic relationship, if there are points of frustration, we’ll raise those through appropriate channels. I think the point is that doing that publicly is not constructive or productive.
QUESTION: But do – is there a feeling that, perhaps within the Administration, that you’ve run your course, that there’s nothing much more you – you tried to start – restart talks and those collapsed for the reasons we know. The settlement building is still going on; something that you condemn as incompatible with any pursuit of peace. So is there a feeling within this Administration that, basically, you have run your course of what you feel you can do with Israel?
MS. PSAKI: No, that’s not how we view it. The Secretary and his team continue to look at various options to push forward objectives and, obviously, the objective of reaching a two-state solution. But as we’ve made clear, it’s ultimately up to the parties. And if they’re willing to go down that track, then we’ll be there to support them. But obviously, it’s not currently on that path.
QUESTION: Have you any reason to believe that Israel is willing to go down that track?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think they’ve stated that they’d like to see a two-state solution. Obviously, actions, as I’ve said – as I said yesterday, like the announcement of new settlements are counterproductive to that.
QUESTION: So the —
MS. PSAKI: Or contradictory, I should say.
MS. PSAKI: Sure, go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: Just – can I follow up on Jo’s question?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you – is there a feeling that while the Secretary of State wants to keep pushing the two-state solution that this – that Netanyahu is not the leader who will do it? I mean, it was very strongly stated in the article – it called him a coward, couldn’t take the political decisions necessary, only looking after his political future, whatever. But is there a sense in the State Department, a sort of unease, about Netanyahu not being the one to deliver on this?
MS. PSAKI: No. The – Prime Minister Netanyahu is the leader of Israel. The Secretary speaks to him on a regular basis. That doesn’t change the fact that neither have sides – neither side has made the choices necessary in order to move towards a two-state solution. Obviously, you know what happened this spring. So that remains the facts.
Go ahead, Arshad.
QUESTION: So the exact quote from today from Prime Minister Netanyahu is, “Our supreme interests, chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem, are not the main concern of those anonymous officials who attack us and me personally, as the assault on me comes only because I defend the state of Israel.” It’s that phrase that the prime minister of Israel says, that Israel’s “supreme interests” are the security – are “chiefly the security and unity of Jerusalem.” Does it dismay you to hear that formulation, particularly the one on the unity of Jerusalem, given your position stated not two minutes ago that these are all matters, including Jerusalem, that should be subject to negotiation?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Arshad, I don’t know that that’s a new view by Israel or the prime minister, and you’re certainly well aware that, obviously, the status of Jerusalem is a final status issue that would need to be discussed and addressed. I think our issue with the recent construction building is that it’s prejudging an outcome, and it’s not one that certainly the other side has agreed to. So I think that’s why we expressed such a strong concern about that issue and those announcements, I should say.
QUESTION: Jen, just back to one of Roz’s questions. You do not – the Administration does not intend to apologize to the prime minister for those comments of the —
MS. PSAKI: I think I conveyed —
QUESTION: But is that —
MS. PSAKI: — we intend to make clear that it’s not representative of —
QUESTION: But do you feel – you don’t feel the need for an apology because this was said by an anonymous official rather than, let’s say, the Vice President saying something about Turkey, in which – or Saudi Arabia – in which he makes a phone call to apologize for?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously every circumstance is different. I think I’ve been clear and the Secretary will be clear when he speaks with Prime Minister Netanyahu next that it doesn’t —
QUESTION: Do you know —
MS. PSAKI: — represent our views.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you know when that might be? They have the call planned?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t, though they speak every couple of days, so —
QUESTION: Okay. And then I think my last one on this is: It is being widely opined that this whole kerfuffle marks a low point in U.S.-Israel relations and that the relationship is in crisis. Do you feel – does the Administration think that the relationship with Israel is in crisis?
MS. PSAKI: We do not. We do think that there are moments where we disagree. We obviously disagree with the settlements that they announced earlier this week.
QUESTION: Well, is this —
MS. PSAKI: We expressed that.
QUESTION: Is this one of those moments? Because I mean, I think people in this town are probably the only ones who think it isn’t in crisis.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, I’m – what I’m conveying is that there are issues where we express concern and there’s disagreement. But that doesn’t change the fact that we have an unshakable bond with Israel – the United States does – and that will continue.
QUESTION: And that doesn’t – I mean, and you think that those – it’s the position of the Administration that when there are differences they should not be aired in a rude, insulting, or otherwise impolite way. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: That’s correct. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So why isn’t – there are certain people – Senator Cruz, your favorite senator, one of them – saying that the President and the Secretary of State should find out who said this and fire them. Why not make an effort if this is – you think that this is unhelpful and destructive to the relationship, these kinds of comments? Why not make the effort to find out?
MS. PSAKI: Matt, our focus is on continuing to work closely with Israel on their security, continuing to work through any areas of disagreement.
MS. PSAKI: And that’s where it will remain.
QUESTION: But this Administration also has a history of trying to force reporters into revealing their sources, does it not?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, I think you’re talking about some specific incidents that are different than this one.
QUESTION: All right.
MS. PSAKI: Should we move on to a new topic?
QUESTION: Can we go back to Israel for a moment?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: And I apologize; I wasn’t here yesterday, but at least from a quick glance at the index of yesterday’s briefing it’s not clear to me whether these topics came up. On Monday, you were asked if you had any sense of where the – you had called for a speedy and transparent investigation into the death —
MS. PSAKI: Oh, I did talk about this yesterday —
QUESTION: Did you?
MS. PSAKI: — or the day before. Yeah.
QUESTION: It was the day before, but I think we had asked for a follow-up, because the day before, on Monday, you did not know kind of where that investigation stood.
MS. PSAKI: I did talk about it yesterday a little bit. I mean, I talked about how the Israeli national police is handling the investigation on the death of the three-month-old, talked about the 14-year-old. We continue to press for —
QUESTION: Okay, I’ll go back and look at it. Apologies.
MS. PSAKI: And we can talk, of course, more.
QUESTION: And then there’s nothing new on —
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything new today.
QUESTION: So you’re still waiting for the Israelis to complete the investigation. Is that —
MS. PSAKI: Yes. And we continue to press them for a speedy resolution in every conversation.
QUESTION: And there was —
QUESTION: And finally, is there any involvement of the Palestinians in the investigation or Palestinian authorities?
MS. PSAKI: I would refer you to the Israelis on that question. They’re leading.
QUESTION: But – yeah, but you guys asked for – I’m asking you because you asked for a speedy and transparent investigation. Surely one aspect of transparency would be that you would actually know who’s doing the investigating. And I guess I’m interested in —
MS. PSAKI: The Israeli authorities are leading it, so that’s why I would refer you to them for who’s participating in it.
QUESTION: But in terms of the other comments that were made that raised eyebrows, caused a little bit of kerfuffle, it’s still the opinion of the Administration that this – that the Palestinian American teenager should not be identified as a terrorist? Is that – I wasn’t here yesterday either.
MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed. We’re talking about a 14-year-old’s death, which is tragic under any circumstances. Obviously, there’s an investigation that’s ongoing. We don’t condone violence, but we’ll let that play itself out.
QUESTION: And do you yet – since I presume you’re in touch with the Israeli authorities about their investigation, do you yet have clarity on the question of whether the 14-year-old Palestinian American was indeed throwing a Molotov cocktail before his death?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more information on that. We’ll let the process see itself through.
QUESTION: Can we go to Iran?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: But I’m more than happy to see —
MS. PSAKI: Are there any more on Israel? Okay.