What’s the US saying about Palestine, today? Boycotting Israel, two-state solution
At the U.S. State Department press briefing on Tuesday, a reporter asked Deputy Spokesperson Mark C. Toner a few questions in regards to the U.S.’ position on the likelihood of a two-state solution. Toner reiterates that a two-state solution is “absolutely vital and it’s achievable.”
A reporter also asked about Israel having the “right to defend itself” and who exactly is threatening Israel’s security. Toner claims that there are attacks by “Hamas rockets.” Toner doesn’t say the same for Palestinians, rather says that there needs to be balance and for both sides to ease the tension.
The Israeli Government has recently authorized the building of 2,200 additional housing units, and planning on expanding settlements. According to Toner, the U.S.’ stance on settlements has not changed. The U.S.’ stance: “the longstanding bipartisan position on – of the United States on Israeli settlements has also not changed. We believe settlements are illegitimate and are harmful to prospects to peace for peace and to Israel’s long-term security,” said Toner.
Toner went on to talk about boycotts. He says that the U.S. is against boycotts, yet states that if Israel continues to expand settlements, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the international community pursues steps to limit commercial relations with said settlements.
QUESTION: I want to change topics. I want to go to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: Is it your assessment now that the door has been closed completely on any possibility of, first, resumption – resuming the talks between Palestinians and Israelis, and second, reaching any kind of agreement before President Obama’s current term is over?
MR TONER: No. We spoke to this because this obviously came out of this briefing that was done last week, and we spoke to it.
MR TONER: We – no, by no means are we closing the door. We continue to believe that a two-state solution is absolutely vital and it’s achievable. And we’re going to keep pursuing it, especially I know the Secretary of State intends to do so. What we want to look at or to talk about with the Israelis is: Without peace talks, how do we move forward to prevent a one-state solution? And how do we stabilize the situation on the ground? And also, how do we get towards a process or a commitment to a two-state solution? I think those are all kind of the elements that we’re discussing.
QUESTION: I understand that you’re saying that you continue to believe in the two-state solution and it is achievable, but it is not achievable between now and the 20th of January, 2017. Isn’t that correct?
MR TONER: Again, I’m not going to close the window on any effort to achieve a two-state solution.
QUESTION: But isn’t that an effort, in essence, what came out of the White House? I mean, to my memory I’ve never heard statements attributed to the White House saying that that’s it; we’re not going to do anything until the end of the term of the current president. I mean, and I’ve been around for a very long time.
MR TONER: You’re right, and President Obama did give an assessment last spring, and we talked about this last week, that talked about – that the circumstances for achieving a two-state solution were not optimal. But that said, we continue to believe it’s absolutely vital for the future of the region, and that’s what we’re going to continue to push towards.
QUESTION: To be clear, the White House didn’t say they’re not going to do anything —
MR TONER: No.
QUESTION: — on Israeli-Palestinian peace, right?
MR TONER: Correct, yes.
QUESTION: What Rob Malley said, and what I —
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: — think the President said was that it was unlikely that there would be a two-state solution peace agreement achieved before the end of the President’s term.
MR TONER: Correct.
QUESTION: You don’t disagree with that assessment?
MR TONER: We don’t. And again, what he also said was the main thing the President would – obviously, this is in the future tense – would want to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu is that without peace – and I just mention this – without peace talks, how do we move forward to prevent a one-state solution, stabilize the situation on the ground, and signal that we’re – that he is committed to a two-state solution.
QUESTION: Let me just follow up with that.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: I have more questions on the issue. Now, the President and every president and every American official keeps saying that Israel has the right to defend itself and so on.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: As I checked last, who is threatening Israel’s security presently? I mean, the last I looked, it had relations with Egypt, with Jordan; Syria is engulfed in a war, an internecine war; and the Palestinians are under occupation. Who really threatens Israel?
MR TONER: Well, again —
QUESTION: That it requires —
MR TONER: — I mean, we’re seeing attacks by Hamas rockets.
MR TONER: We’ve seen violence perpetrated against Israeli citizens by attackers, knife-wielding attackers. I think that’s largely the context that we’re talking about recently, although obviously the state of Israel has faced threats from a variety of different sources over its history.
QUESTION: Okay. Now, do you believe that the Palestinians under occupation have a right to defend themselves?
MR TONER: Do I believe that —
QUESTION: Do you believe that the Palestinians under occupation, that we see every day footage of young children being hauled to prison, killed, and so on – do they have a right to defend themselves against a military occupation?
MR TONER: Said, I think, looking at the situation – and I know what you’re getting at.
MR TONER: The other thing that – I know we go to that line, saying we believe in Israel’s right to defend itself.
MR TONER: And that certainly is a core tenet of our beliefs about our relationship with Israel. But speaking more globally, I guess, about the situation there, what we also are very clear about is that both sides need to take the steps necessary to reduce tensions, take affirmative actions.
MR TONER: And so I would say this similarly for the Palestinians carrying out violent attacks but also the Palestinians who feel under threat from Israeli security forces. The whole —
MR TONER: The whole situation needs to be de-escalated.
QUESTION: I understand this in areas under the control of the authority of the Palestinian authorities, but in areas like Jerusalem, where these people are actually Israeli subjects, how do you figure that out? I mean, how do you determine who is who and who needs to be protected in this case?
MR TONER: Well, again, it speaks to – sorry. It speaks to some of the tensions that we see on display every day and the need to de-escalate the situation. And certainly in the same breath that we say that we defend Israel’s right to defend itself, we also call for restraint in its actions against Palestinians or whoever. So I think it’s important just that there’s balance here and that there’s an effort on both sides to de-escalate the current tensions.
QUESTION: And my last question.
MR TONER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The Israeli Government authorized the building of 2,200 housing units, expanding settlements and so on. Do you have any comment on that?
MR TONER: Our position on settlements has not changed.
MR TONER: So – okay. First thing is our position on boycotts targeting the state of Israel has not changed. We oppose efforts to isolate to delegitimize the state of Israel. That said, the longstanding bipartisan position on – of the United States on Israeli settlements has also not changed. We believe settlements are illegitimate and are harmful to prospects to peace for peace and to Israel’s long-term security. That said, if Israel continues to expand settlement activity, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to – if some in the international community pursue steps to limit commercial relations with the settlements, and this underscores the urgent need for Israel to change its policies with regard to settlements.
QUESTION: Would you —
QUESTION: So hold on a second. Wait, wait. I’m still struggling to find a coherent position on whether —
MR TONER: Okay.
QUESTION: — the labeling is a good thing or a bad thing, according to you guys.
MR TONER: So I’m – we’re not going to speak to something that has not taken place yet. A decision has not been made, and that’s what was my point about this is still a matter under discussion in the European Commission.
On boycotts, we’re against boycotts. On settlements, we’re against settlements.
MR TONER: But – and my last point is the “but” – that Israel should – that it shouldn’t be a surprise to Israel that some in the international community pursue steps to limit commercial relations with the settlements.
QUESTION: In other words, you think it’s a bad thing, but it’s Israel’s fault?
MR TONER: I think it’s a reality. I mean, I think —
QUESTION: It is a bad thing, but it’s Israel’s fault for this to – I’m trying to find out —
MR TONER: We – yeah, yeah, sure – we disagree with —
QUESTION: Do you think —
MR TONER: — we disagree with the policy of settlements —
QUESTION: Yes, I understand that.
MR TONER: — which – you understand that. All I’m saying is, I’m making the observation that it should not come as a surprise that there are others in the international community who pursue steps to limit commercial relations. I’m just laying that out there.
QUESTION: Is it that you regard this —
QUESTION: I know, but —
QUESTION: — do you regard this as a step to limit commercial relations, the simple labeling?
MR TONER: Well, it’s labeling to differentiate Israeli – Israel products from those from the settlements.
QUESTION: So you think that that’s inevitably going to lead to —
MR TONER: Not inevitably, but it could.
QUESTION: But does that mean that you – that – so you’re not saying that the labeling is a boycott which you would oppose; you’re saying to Israel, don’t be surprised if countries do this? I just – I’m trying to find out if the Administration has a position on the labeling.
MR TONER: Yeah, yeah, that’s okay, that’s okay, that’s okay. That’s okay. That’s okay.
QUESTION: Do you think that it is the same thing as a boycott, which you would oppose?
MR TONER: So current consumer guidelines on product origin labeling is what we’re talking about the EU doing. Issue’s still under discussion. But as I just said to Arshad, it’s not a boycott per se, but could be taken as a boycott since it identifies products from —
QUESTION: So you oppose it?
MR TONER: We oppose boycotts. We —
QUESTION: No, but I’m asking about the labeling.
MR TONER: We oppose any – I would say any action that could be taken – again, this is – action has not been taken yet but we oppose any boycott against Israel. I just said that very clearly.
QUESTION: I know you said that, but you won’t say whether you regard the labeling as a boycott.
MR TONER: Well, we don’t have – it is not a done deal yet. So it’s still under discussion.
QUESTION: Well, it’s also not a done deal that – you don’t want China to nuke Mongolia either, but you’ll say that. I mean —
MR TONER: No, we don’t.
QUESTION: No, exactly, but that’s a hypothetical as well. It’s something that hasn’t —
QUESTION: If you want to influence the EU’s debate, you should tell them what your opinion is before they make their decision —
QUESTION: I mean, have you been in touch with —
MR TONER: Of course we’ve been discussing this with the EU.
QUESTION: So – and you’ve told them that you think it’s a bad idea, or you’ve told them, well, we don’t really care, but we would prefer that you not take it to a boycott?
MR TONER: We’ve been clear about our position —
QUESTION: Well, you haven’t been clear with me. Has that —
MR TONER: — which is that —
QUESTION: Does anyone else in this room understand what the position is on the labeling?
MR TONER: We have been clear about our position, which is that we consider boycotts to be —
QUESTION: I know. That’s boycotts.
MR TONER: Yes, yes.
QUESTION: Do you consider the labeling to be a boycott?
MR TONER: I would say that – and I —
QUESTION: Or if it’s a step on the way to a boycott, would you – would you —
MR TONER: It’s a – it could be – it could be perceived as a step on the way.
QUESTION: So would you – so do you oppose it?
QUESTION: So it could be perceived as a step on the way —
MR TONER: To a boycott.
QUESTION: So would you – so do you oppose it? And are you willing to tell the Europeans that you think this is a bad idea and that you are opposed to it?
MR TONER: And I’ll just leave it at we’re still discussing it with them; they’re aware of our views. And then my final observation was that it shouldn’t be a surprise to Israel or to anyone that countries are looking at steps that could lead to boycotts or other efforts given their policy on settlements.
QUESTION: So just to summarize, you oppose boycotts but you will not say whether or not you oppose steps that could lead to boycotts?
MR TONER: Correct, correct. We just let this process play itself out.
QUESTION: So you said that the Europeans are aware of your position.
MR TONER: Yes.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: I hope it was made clear to them because it’s not clear to me at all still whether – what your position is on this. And I doubt that it’s —
QUESTION: — I doubt that it’s clear to anyone in this room or anyone watching what your position is.
MR TONER: I just —
QUESTION: What harm is there in saying, “Look, we oppose this?”
MR TONER: There’s no harm, but it’s not – look, I mean, this is still a matter under discussion within the European Commission.
MR TONER: Let’s let that discussion take place. They’re aware of our views, generally speaking, about boycotts. They’re also aware of our views about settlements. All of that said, let’s let them conduct their own process here and then we’ll give our opinion on it.
QUESTION: But are they aware of your views on labeling?
QUESTION: Yeah, but by then, it’s too late. If they go ahead and do this and you have opposed it, then they’ve done something that you don’t like, and you haven’t weighed in or made your position clear publicly. So what good does it do to complain about it after the fact when you had the opportunity, and you’re being given the opportunity right now, to say whether you think, yeah, this is a good thing, or no, this is a horrible thing and will lead to boycott and de-legitimization?
MR TONER: I’m not – we’re not going to intervene into – in their process.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: I just want – just a quick follow-up on this.
MR TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: Now, you say the settlements are legitimate, but products from the settlements are not illegitimate, are basically legitimate, right? I mean, as far as you’re concerned —
MR TONER: Wait, I’m sorry. One more time? We said —
QUESTION: You’re saying the settlements are legitimate. Isn’t that what you just said?
MR TONER: Illegitimate, yeah.
QUESTION: Illegitimate, right?
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: But products that come out of there are legitimate. Is that what you’re saying? By opposing the labeling and so on, you’re saying the products that come out of —
QUESTION: I missed the bit where he said they oppose the labeling, Said, I’m sorry.
MR TONER: No, we —
QUESTION: When did he say —
QUESTION: Yeah, I know. He didn’t say they oppose or oppose. But you’re saying that you have no position on products that come out of the settlements? Are they legitimate? They should be commercially available in any market?
MR TONER: I’m saying that – first of all, I’m saying we oppose boycotts. And frankly, anything that could be perceived as a boycott – which I think I said to Arshad – could be taken as a de facto by labeling them as such. But again, let’s let this process play itself out, although that clearly upsets Matt, and —
QUESTION: It doesn’t upset me. I’m just trying to find out what the position is. And if you are correct – in fact, what you said to Arshad, that you oppose steps that could lead to boycotts, that would mean then, according to your logic, that you would oppose the labeling. So why don’t you just come out and say that you oppose the labeling? Why pussyfoot around it? Why try to make it as vague as you possibly can? Let the world know what your position is if you think that it’s right, if you think that it’s correct.
MR TONER: I’m not going to speak on behalf of the European Union (inaudible) —
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speak on behalf of the European Union. I’m asking you to speak on behalf of the United States.
MR TONER: And I – and we oppose boycotts, and we oppose settlements.
QUESTION: All right.
MR TONER: Please.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, Mark, but the day the trade bill passed, there was very strong language in the bill —
MR TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — included against boycotts and so on. And then the Administration issued a statement that we’re saying we don’t – we don’t – this does not cover the settlements. Do you remember that?
MR TONER: Yes, I do.
QUESTION: They said it did not cover the settlements. So you would think that actually is a prelude to basically okaying the labeling of products coming out of the settlements. Wouldn’t it be that way? Wouldn’t it be interpreted that way?
MR TONER: Again, I’m going to stay right where I was. Thank you.
QUESTION: Mark —
QUESTION: On Bangladesh?
QUESTION: Can I stay on Israel?
MR TONER: Oh, sure. And then we’ll go to Bangladesh.
QUESTION: This is circling back to something from last week, but we discussed the appointment by Prime Minister Netanyahu of Baratz as spokesperson.
MR TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: But since then, it seems like he’s sort of been walking back what was conveyed that he had said to Kerry in a conversation over the phone, saying he didn’t say he would reconsider the appointment.
MR TONER: Who’s this, Prime Minister Netanyahu?
QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is there any response to that or any concern upon his —
MR TONER: No, I think we’ve said our piece on that.