What’s the US saying about Palestine, today? Violence, settlements
At the U.S. State Department press briefing on Friday, spokesperson John Kirby was asked to discuss more on the killing of an American citizen in the West Bank yesterday. Kirby condemned the attack and said the killing of Ezra Schwartz, an American citizen from Massachusetts studying in Israel, was a terrorist attack. Five other American citizens were injured in the same attack.
Kirby was addressed the 450 approved housing units to be added to illegal Israeli settlements. He reiterated the U.S.’ disapproval.
Approximately 87 Palestinians were injured on Friday by live ammunition in the West Bank, but Kirby didn’t have much to offer about that, except the same old rhetoric about ending all violence.
MR KIRBY: I do not have any travel to announce at this time.
QUESTION: Well, as you will probably know, it’s been reported elsewhere that the Secretary is leaving. And one of the places —
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: — where it’s been reported that he’s going to be is Israel. And I wanted to ask you about something that came up at yesterday’s briefing but – which had, I think, literally just happened a little while ago, and that was the killing, the murder of this college student from Massachusetts. Do you have any more – American citizen college student. Do you have any more – anything to say – more to say about that than you did yesterday?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything additional to say. Obviously, the Secretary was deeply saddened to hear of the death and we’re, obviously, concerned by it. And we’re going to continue to monitor the situation and the circumstances as best we can. And our hearts and prayers obviously go out to the family.
QUESTION: You do – and I know you don’t like to play the – or get into kind of name calling, but you do think that he was killed in what was a terrorist attack, right?
MR KIRBY: I don’t think that I’m in a position to characterize the circumstances right now. But again, we’re mindful of what happened. The Secretary sends his deepest thoughts and condolences to the family. I don’t have —
QUESTION: Right, but you don’t think it might have happened in some kind of a robbery gone bad or something, do you? You believe that it wasn’t just a – was it just a run of the – I don’t want to say run of the mill – a criminal act? Because it’s certainly not being looked at that way.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, thanks. This is what I was looking for. Yeah, thank you for prompting. We do believe the – about the death of Ezra Schwartz, an American citizen from Massachusetts, who was murdered in a terrorist attack on Thursday while in Israel to pursue his studies. Again, we extend our deepest condolences to the victim’s family, friends, and community as well as the family and friends of the four other people killed in yesterday’s tragic events. The Secretary is also concerned about the five other American citizens who are victims of the attacks and wishes each of them a full and complete recovery.
We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms these outrageous terrorist attacks. These tragic incidents underscore the importance of taking affirmative steps to restore calm.
QUESTION: Do you – these other five Americans that you mentioned were all wounded yesterday, or is this over the course of —
MR KIRBY: No, it’s the same – same attack.
QUESTION: This seems like an awful lot of Americans to be killed or injured, no?
MR KIRBY: Well, it’s obviously disconcerting. I – we don’t want to see that. I – I – if you’re asking me if I could draw a line of causation here or intent or motive, I can’t.
QUESTION: All right. Well, the student from Massachusetts was killed in the West Bank. And I’m just wondering if there was any – if – have you been in touch with the Palestinians about this?
MR KIRBY: I’m not aware of any direct communication with the Palestinians over this particular —
QUESTION: How about with the Israelis?
MR KIRBY: We have – there has – we’ve had communications with the Israelis about it, yes.
QUESTION: To – can you say what kind of communications?
MR KIRBY: At various levels I would just say.
QUESTION: No, no, but I mean for what? To, I mean, just – details or have you – what happened?
MR KIRBY: To discuss the incident with them and to get their views and perspectives.
MR KIRBY: Yeah, Said.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that. Do you know, were they dual citizens? I mean these five Americans that were attacked.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Don’t know.
MR KIRBY: I don’t know.
QUESTION: And the person who was murdered, was he – do you know what he was doing where he was killed?
MR KIRBY: I don’t.
QUESTION: Or was that where he was working maybe with Israeli army soldiers and so —
MR KIRBY: I don’t have that level of information.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any comment? Today 87 Palestinians were injured today, many of them by live ammunition. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those reports, Said.
MR KIRBY: Obviously, look, you guys have access sometimes to information here that I don’t. I haven’t seen those reports but —
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: — nothing changes about what we said before about wanting to have calm restored and violence to end.
QUESTION: But I mean, this has been – this happened like many hours ago and so on, and so reports have been all over the place that in these confrontations with the Israeli army – whether in demonstrations —
MR KIRBY: We’ve condemned – we continue to condemn the violence, Said, and want it to stop.
QUESTION: And my last question. A couple of days ago, 450 new housing units were announced in Ramat Shlomo. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: Our longstanding position on such actions in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank is clear. We view this kind of activity as illegitimate and counterproductive to the cause of peace. We remain deeply concerned about Israel’s current policy on settlements, including construction, planning, and retroactive legalizations. We remain unequivocally opposed to these kinds of unilateral steps that seek to pre-judge the outcome of negotiations. The President has made clear that the parties must demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution.
Contentious actions, such as the announcement – this announcement, demonstrate just the opposite. They’re going to have detrimental effects on the ground, increase already heightened tensions with the Palestinians, and further isolate Israel internationally. At this sensitive time, we call on all parties to redouble their efforts to restore trust and confidence, promote calm, and return to a path of peace. Okay?
QUESTION: Staying on Israel, Jonathan Pollard was just released from prison. He’s expressed an interest in traveling to Israel, though, of course, the terms of his parole wouldn’t allow him to leave the country. I know the White House has weighed in a little bit on this, but can you say whether there are any discussions with Israeli officials about whether a loosening of these parole conditions might be in order?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not aware of any such conversations, and as you rightly said, the White House has already expressed their view that the Justice Department’s going to handle his release on parole according to standard procedures and that he will be subject to the general travel restrictions which apply to all parolees. DOJ will have more details on that.
QUESTION: Sorry. I just want to go back on the – your answer to Said on the questions. You said that the latest – this latest announcement will further isolate Israel. And I’m just – it may very well, but I’m wondering, is that your message today simply because you were asked the question about those settlements? Because I – there’s no question – you haven’t said anything about the Palestinians being isolated because of massive – or a large spate of attacks, including on five or six American citizens, one of whom died just yesterday. And I —
MR KIRBY: I think we’ve been exceedingly clear about the degree to which this violence is doing nothing to help us get to peace and to eventually a two-state solution. So yes, I stand by what I said in terms of the – there’s a difference here between settlement activity, which we continue to consider illegitimate, and we’ve said before that it’s not doing anything to get us to a two-state solution and that it could continue to isolate Israel internationally. That’s not a new statement. It’s – and while we don’t want to see settlements, it’s not the same thing as wanton violence like we’ve seen in this case. And we have been —
QUESTION: Well, clearly not, but —
MR KIRBY: We have been, I think, very strident about the danger of increasing violence, continued violence, to not just peace and stability there but to the ability to achieve a workable, sustainable two-state solution.
QUESTION: Do – is there any thought about what you can actually do to try and reduce the tensions beyond – and reduce the violence beyond what the Secretary did when he was in Jordan last time trying to get these – and the – trying – the steps that he got the Israelis and the Jordanians to agree to as regards to the Temple Mount? That doesn’t seem to have – they don’t seem to have worked any magic, they don’t seem to have decreased the tensions, and I’m just wondering, is there any thought to trying to do more to get them down?
MR KIRBY: They were never intended to work magic.
QUESTION: Well —
MR KIRBY: I don’t think anybody who —
QUESTION: Well, I mean, that’s not what I meant. I mean, I wasn’t – that was a bad —
MR KIRBY: Well, your words. I’m just repeating them.
QUESTION: Well, I know. I mean —
MR KIRBY: They were not intended to work magic —
QUESTION: They haven’t – the tension hasn’t gone down.
MR KIRBY: — and – you’re right, the tension hasn’t gone down, and the Secretary continues to be concerned about that and continues to urge all sides to take appropriate steps to do that. I mean, nobody understands how complicated and how challenging this is more than Secretary Kerry —
MR KIRBY: — and I think you can expect that he’s going to continue to work at this very, very hard. But though we have not seen a decrease in the violence from our last trip to the region and from the agreements he got from both Israel and Jordan, I don’t think the Secretary would even intend to tell you that he expected immediate results as a result of this. It’s going to take work on all sides, not just us.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: And he’s going to stay at it and he’s going to continue to press his concerns with leaders in Israel and Palestine.
QUESTION: All right. This will be my last one. And I’m just wondering, does the Administration believe that settlement construction and building in East Jerusalem contributes to the violence that we have seen – that that might be a factor in motivating Palestinians?
MR KIRBY: I don’t – you’ve heard the Secretary talk about this – that you have to look at a range of activities that aren’t contributing to getting us back to a two-state solution. And I don’t – and I think the Secretary has been clear he’s not drawing a line of causation between settlements and the violence.
MR KIRBY: So he’s been very clear about that.
QUESTION: Has the plan to put cameras on the Temple Mount been dropped, or is it just slow to implement?
MR KIRBY: It’s not been dropped as far as we’re concerned. The authorities and technicians in Israel and Jordan are supposed to be working this out. I don’t know the status of that. You’d have to talk to them. But as far as we know, there’s been no intent, no effort, no decision to not move forward with that.
QUESTION: Is the aim of trying to reduce tensions not only to stop the violence, but to maybe create an atmosphere where you can restart a conversation about some kind of a peace process? Or is Mr. Kerry’s plate full with trying to solve the Syria conflict?
MR KIRBY: Secretary Kerry’s plate is very full on a lot of fronts, but he doesn’t believe that it’s so full that he can’t continue to work at this issue specifically. And obviously, it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation about a potential two-state solution when there’s still such violence going on. And so our immediate focus is right now trying to get the violence stopped, get calm restored, so that adequate space can be – political space can be created for discussions – meaningful discussions going forward on a two-state solution can occur. But it’s difficult to get there to have a discussion about that when people are still being killed.