US “quite comfortable” with Quartet Report’s recommendations – USDoS press briefing (excerpts)

John Kirby

Daily Press Briefing

Washington, DC

July 1, 2016








1:19 p.m. EST


MR KIRBY:…On to the West Bank. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the latest terrorist attack that took place today near Hebron, which resulted in the death of one Israeli and left three other Israelis wounded. We call on others to also condemn such attacks. There is absolutely no justification, as we have said many times, for terrorism or the taking of innocent lives.

QUESTION: Right. I was going to start with Bangladesh, but since we know what you know already, then I’ll move to the Quartet report. I just have two brief things. One, in terms of the recommendations, they seem to be not new, shall we put it that way. I mean, it doesn’t seem like there’s any proposal to do anything other than what the Quartet has – and others have long called for. And I’m just wondering, one, why – why they are not – they say that they’re specific recommendations, but in fact, they’re pretty general. So why isn’t there more specificity?

MR KIRBY: I would disagree that they are not specific, Matt, and I can’t – remember, it’s not just a U.S. report, so I’m not going to speak for the entire motivation of the Quartet. I can just tell you that we’re comfortable – for our role in it, we’re comfortable that these are legitimate recommendations, recommendations that we believe – and many of them, as you rightly said, we’ve believed for quite some time – but we still believe are valid and still believe can help – if enacted, if adopted, if pursued – can help us get closer to a two-state solution.

So the question – well, I don’t want to say that; that’s not fair. The – what matters, at least from our perspective, is that the report does lay down some specific and solid recommendations about going forward. It wasn’t – the exercise wasn’t about necessarily trying to come up with something new. It was about coming up with an appropriate set of – an assessment of the situation of the on the ground and an appropriate set of recommendations going forward. That many of those recommendations – most of them – are ones that we have made in the past or we have talked about before – not just us, but other members of the Quartet – I think should come as no surprise to anyone.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu said today that they – that Israel is going to deduct from the tax payments that it sends or that it holds for and then distributes to the Palestinian Authority, that they’re going to deduct the amount that the PA pays the families of attackers. One, is – what do you think of that? And secondly, why isn’t there a recommendation in here for the Palestinian Authority to specifically stop such payments if you think that they’re a bad idea? Or is that included in number three, which says the PA should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence?

MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think it does fit into that one.


MR KIRBY: And as for – and we’ve seen the prime minister’s comments. I think he can speak for his reasoning behind that. I’m not going to respond to each and every thing that he has had to say about the report. Look, I would just say that there was no expectation as we worked on the report here – at least from the United States perspective – that everybody would like everything in there. But I’m going to leave it there.

QUESTION: But – well, in the past, this – the U.S. has been critical of Israel withholding the money, the tax – that tax money. So you have no opinion about this?

MR KIRBY: I didn’t say we have no opinion. I’m not going to respond to everything everybody is saying – react to that. Our views on this —

QUESTION: This doesn’t – this doesn’t have anything to do with the report —

MR KIRBY: Our views hasn’t – haven’t changed.

QUESTION: All right. Last one on this is this morning an official who’s quite —

MR KIRBY: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: An official this morning said – an unnamed official this morning, but who is quite familiar with this report – said that in terms of UN – the UN, that the Security Council would not formally endorse this, but would rather just welcome it. Can I ask, one, is that – are you able to say that on the record? And two, why or why not?

MR KIRBY: I would say we would be open to having the Security Council welcome the report.

QUESTION: But you don’t —

MR KIRBY: We’d be open to them – we would be open to them welcoming it.

QUESTION: But you’re not looking for them, the council, to do anything more in terms of enshrining it, say, as with – they do with other things, like with the Iran deal or something?

MR KIRBY: I think I’d just leave it where I put it, that we would – open to them welcoming it. That’s obviously a discussion the Security Council would have to take up.

QUESTION: One other question on that, on this specific language: The official this morning said that, quote, “At this time we are not looking for the Security Council to take any more substantive action” —


QUESTION: — beyond welcoming. Does that mean that you are open to the possibility of the Security Council taking more substantive action on the report at some time in the future? It’s just right now you’re not looking for them to do anything but welcome it?

MR KIRBY: Right now, we would be open to them looking at this and welcoming it. I wouldn’t be in a position right now to speculate or hypothesize about future actions they might or might not take going forward. Right now we’d be open to them welcoming it.

QUESTION: John, this – the Palestinian negotiator, Mr. Erekat, has denounced it already. He said that it doesn’t take into account that – it puts the two parties on parity, and obviously the Palestinian party see themselves as under military occupation. Whereas the – Netanyahu has said that he rejects the idea that settlements are any bar to peace. He says he’s frozen them before; he didn’t get anywhere then. Obviously, you’re expecting pushback from both sides. Is this within the parameters of what you expected, or is this disappointing, that there’s such an immediate —

MR KIRBY: I would say – I don’t think we’re surprised by the fact that not everything in the report was welcomed by either side. Number two, I would tell you that – and remind you that we took input from both sides as this report was being drafted. And the third thing I’d say is that we stand solidly behind the recommendations that were made. And we still believe that a two-state solution is possible, but we still believe that in order for that to be realized it’s going to take some leadership and some compromise and some tough decisions and choices by both sides.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up on that and (Inaudible.)?

MR KIRBY: Sure, Said.

QUESTION: On this, first of all, I asked the senior official on the difference between illegitimate and illegal as far as the settlements are concerned. Could you explain the difference, from your point of view? What is the difference between calling it illegitimate settlement activity or calling it illegal?

MR KIRBY: Well, look, we’re not going to make any determinations here or – about legality or legal definitions. Our position on settlements is the same as has been for past administrations as well. We view them as illegitimate and we don’t believe that they are constructive to trying to get us to a two-state solution. So I think I’m just going to leave it there. Our policy is the same, has been the same for quite some time, and we continue to make that case to the Israelis.

QUESTION: The official also said that these are just recommendations. In other words, you don’t have, like, a next step kind of a thing as far as these recommendations are concerned.

MR KIRBY: Well, and the – obviously, the next step —

QUESTION: Which you cannot make the Israelis do it, do this, or the —

MR KIRBY: The next step, we would hope, would be that the sides would look at these recommendations and seriously consider adopting them. Because we believe, as we have believed on many of them, that they’re sound and they’re prudent, and that they could help get us closer to a two-state solution. That’s the next step that we hope results from this report. But it’s obviously up to the leadership there in the region to determine and decide for themselves whether they’re really serious about a two-state solution or whether they’re not.

QUESTION: Now, let me – on the issue of the Gaza or point eight in the report, which is calling on Israel to accelerate the process for relieving – the restrictions —

MR KIRBY: Yeah, the access issues, yeah.

QUESTION: — the movement and so on, the access to and from Gaza and so on, and taking into consideration the security of Israeli citizens and so on, what steps must be taken sort of in a short order to relieve a really awful situation?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s laid out in the report, and I don’t want to rehash every —

QUESTION: But this has been – these recommendations, Kirby, were talked about before, and many times before, in many other reports. So I mean, what are you prepared to do or to pressure your ally, let’s say, both Israel and Egypt that also close the border with Gaza, to basically take actual steps, tangible steps, to relieve the pressure on Gaza?

MR KIRBY: Well, I think it’s, again, laid out in the report. And I would encourage people to read the report for themselves, but it says – and I know you have, Said; I’m not talking about you – but I mean, the – I mean, it makes it clear that we want to see Israel ease some of these restrictions.

So back to your question – what can they do – they can start by easing these restrictions. And we understand in Gaza – we understand Israeli concerns about security. Those are legitimate concerns, and that’s spelled out in the report as well. But we think that they – a good first step here is for them to take a serious, sober look at easing some of these access restrictions.

QUESTION: On Matt’s question on the withhold —

MR KIRBY: On the what?

QUESTION: On withholding some of the tax money – the Palestinians’ tax money that the Israeli prime minister announced today, he’s also accusing the Palestinian Authority of money laundering, that they sort of revert to money laundering schemes to get this money to the families and so on. Are you aware of any money laundering schemes? The PA – because you are – you’re – you are its main financier or funder, let’s say – the Palestinian Authority —

MR KIRBY: I don’t have any specific knowledge of that activity.

QUESTION: And lastly, when you began by condemning the attack today —


QUESTION: — you said that we call on others to condemn it. Are you – are you directing this to the Palestinian Authority or Palestinian Authority president?


QUESTION: Who are the others?

MR KIRBY: Well, everybody, and that’s nothing new, Said.

QUESTION: Including – including Mahmoud Abbas —

MR KIRBY: Absolutely.

QUESTION: — the president of the Palestinian —

MR KIRBY: Absolutely, it includes President Abbas, but it’s everybody. And I have said that many, many times up here that incitement and inflammatory rhetoric by all sides is inappropriate and not leading us any closer to a two-state solution. But if you’re asking me does it include President Abbas, absolutely, it does. Absolutely.


QUESTION: Just two questions. The first is, as you’ve said and we’ve been discussing here, these recommendations have been made before in different ways. And you’ve also been saying for two years it’s up to the parties to take the steps necessary and they haven’t. So what exactly is the purpose of this especially if there’s no weight – enforcement weight behind it? You’re not even ready to make a UN resolution out of it. Is it to set the groundwork for a possible UN resolution at some time?

MR KIRBY: I mean, it builds – it builds on Quartet discussions back to September of 2015 —

QUESTION: Which have all come up with nothing.

MR KIRBY: No. Barbara, I would disagree. It’s not nothing.

QUESTION: On the ground they haven’t.

MR KIRBY: We’re – none of us are happy about the situation on the ground, Barbara.

QUESTION: But then what’s the point of a whole report like this if it’s not setting like the groundwork for some kind of further international action?

MR KIRBY: But you’re missing the point. You’re missing the point entirely. The report lays out tangible, prudent recommendations that the Quartet believes, if adopted by both sides, could help us get closer to a two-state solution. And so back to Said’s question – what’s the next step – well, the next step here is, we would hope, that both sides would adopt these recommendations —

QUESTION: And if they don’t adopt the recommendations, then what’s the next step after that?

MR KIRBY: — and take the kind of – and make the tough choices and exhibit the kind of leadership that can help us get to a two-state solution. That was the purpose of the report. It was to assess the situation and to offer some recommendations going forward. It’s not an enforcement tool and never was intended to an enforcement tool.

QUESTION: So if they don’t adopt the recommendations, is there another step after that?

MR KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to hypothesize or speculate about decisions that haven’t been made yet. Look, it just got released. We know – obviously, both sides have reacted to it. We hope that they’ll try to absorb it in the coming days and try to see the practicality in these recommendations and hopefully make the right decisions going forward. That’s our – that’s our hope.


QUESTION: Can I just – one – sorry, one other question, specific one about recommendation number nine: “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunified under a single, legitimate and democratic Palestinian authority on the basis of the PLO platform and Quartet principles and the rule of law.” This is being presented as a recommendation, which means that you assume it can be done in some way. But the senior official who was speaking this morning said elections, for example – we weren’t advocating elections. How is this supposed to happen as a recommendation —

MR KIRBY: I think what we’d be looking for is for the sides, if they were to adopt that recommendation, which we – which the Quartet believes is valid, that the sides would work their way through how that’s to be done. The – it wasn’t intended to be proscriptive or prescriptive in every single sense of the way. It was supposed to be a set of recommendations that we would look for them to exhibit the leadership on to try to adopt. And we would look for them to, as leaders, to work together to figure out the best way forward here.

QUESTION: Please —

QUESTION: What role to the Israelis have in deciding how or when the Palestinians might hold an election?

MR KIRBY: Again, this is for something we – we’re not – the report’s not getting into that level of detail.

QUESTION: But you said “the sides,” but presumably, it’s up to the Palestinians when they have an election, right, which they haven’t done for a long time now?


QUESTION: So it’s just the Palestinians that need to figure that out?

MR KIRBY: Well, obviously, if there were – I mean, again, we didn’t – there was no discussion about elections in there, so I’m not going to hypothesize about elections.

QUESTION: No, it called for – it called for a democratic – the establishment of a democratic and unified Palestinian leadership —

MR KIRBY: In broad terms, Arshad.

QUESTION: — in both places.

MR KIRBY: On all the recommendations —


MR KIRBY: — we want both sides to work together. I’m not saying that each and every recommendation has to be some sort of bilateral negotiation, but in general, we want both sides to work together to try to adopt as many of these recommendations as possible.

QUESTION: And you said – you said in response to one of Barbara’s questions, you said she was missing the point entirely. I’m not clear what the point of the Quartet is, actually. It’s been around for 14 years and aside from producing the roadmap – which the both sides ignored – and now this, has it accomplished anything?

MR KIRBY: Well, look at the report. It is certainly —

QUESTION: No, what has the Quartet done since it’s – since it was born 14 years ago? I mean, I don’t —

MR KIRBY: Matt, I’m not a historian on the Quartet.


MR KIRBY: I mean – but look, I mean —


MR KIRBY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, no. I mean, go —

MR KIRBY: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Finish. Tell me why this – tell me why do you think that this is going to help.

QUESTION: Or what’s the point of it, just simply stated?

MR KIRBY: It builds on the last session of the Quartet back to September, it’s a report that the Quartet had been planning to issue for quite some time and had worked very hard on, it was designed to come up with a series of recommendations that we would hope the leadership on both sides would adopt to get us closer to a two-state solution. That was the intent of the report. That is what the work of the Quartet has been at least since September – actually back to March before. And so now there’s a report and we – the Quartet desires that both sides take a look, a serious, sober look at it, and adopt the recommendations. That’s the point.

QUESTION: All right. So Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the settlement – stopping, halting of the settlement activity hasn’t worked before in terms of dealing with the violence. Is that something that you agree with?

Let me put it this way: Does the Administration, as part of the Quartet, think or believe that an end to West Bank and East Jerusalem construction will result in no more attacks?

MR KIRBY: We do not believe that construction or sole-use designation is constructive to getting us closer to a two-state solution. But Matt, you got to look at all the recommendations cumulatively. We’re not saying that any one of them is going to – if just that one is solved, that it’s going to solve all the problems and solve Middle East peace forever.

The reason there’s so many recommendations is because we believe that all of them are important and they should all be adopted, and that if they’re all adopted, we certainly would be able to create the climate and the conditions that would be more conducive to a two-state solution. But there’s no intent here to say that, well, number nine or number eight and then that solves it all.

QUESTION: Can you cite any period during this time where actually settlement activity was frozen and how it impacted —

MR KIRBY: Said, you’re going to – I’ll have to get you somebody who has a sharper history on the —

QUESTION: Well, because I think the only time was – the only time that I can think of was back in 2010 when they froze settlement activity for a while, or they said they froze it while expanding it.

MR KIRBY: You have a better sense of the history than I do, but look, we continue to believe settlement activity is illegitimate. We do not believe that it is leading us any closer to a two-state solution and we want to see it stop.

QUESTION: And one last thing: The official also said that we need some actual steps – not only steps for confidence-building measures to restart the talks, one-to-one talk. What does that mean? Not just steps for confidence-building measures.

MR KIRBY: It means we want to see tangible, affirmative action taken and leadership demonstrated on both sides to take down the violence, to reduce the tensions, and to move us forward to a two-state solution. That’s what we’re talking about and that’s what the report designates.

QUESTION: John, but there’s a very small technical point. You said you want them to consider it in the coming days. It has been around – the Quartet has been around 14 years or so. Now, what is the deadline? How long the Quartet is going to wait – 14 days, 14 months, 14 years – before they go get together again and bring out another —

MR KIRBY: Yeah, Tejinder, there’s not a – there’s no deadline on this that I’m aware of nor was there intended to be. It was intended to be two things: an assessment of the situation and recommendations for leadership going forward. And there’s not a deadline on it and it’s not an enforcement tool.

QUESTION: Yeah, but —

MR KIRBY: It is a set of recommendations represented by the Quartet to encourage the kind and– to provide options for the leadership there in the region to take to move forward, to create the conditions that are more conducive to a two-state solution.

QUESTION: No, but when will the Quartet look at it again to assess that this is what we —

MR KIRBY: I don’t know. I don’t have an agenda item for the Quartet going forward on this. Again, this just got released today.


MR KIRBY: And I can appreciate why we would all want to see everything enacted today, right? But there was no expectation that it would be. And as Matt pointed out, not all these recommendations are necessarily new. They are things that we have been espousing before, and therefore, should be of surprise to no one that they —

QUESTION: I don’t think any of them are new, actually.

MR KIRBY: In any event, we want – again, it is intended to provide a comprehensive set of recommendations that the leadership on both sides can take a sober look at and hopefully make the right decisions to move us closer to a two-state solution.



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