"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Daily Press Briefing
January 8, 2014
MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
QUESTION: Yes, late this afternoon, that the Secretary has asked the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia to amend or alter the Arab peace proposal to include a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in the hopes that that will give President Abbas some flexibility, some political room to do the same thing. Are these reports correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, let me first say, as you all know, the Secretary was in Jordan and Saudi Arabia this weekend to brief King Abdullah of Jordan and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia on the status of the negotiations as well as efforts to agree on a framework for moving forward. As a part of that, they discussed all of the core issues, including the asks from all sides, but it would not be accurate to say that there was an attempt to change the Arab Peace Initiative.
QUESTION: Does that mean – and then the Secretary – does – well, the Secretary was relatively upbeat when he --
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- about those two meetings. Did the Abdullahs express a support for what the Secretary was talking about?
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, both King Abdullahs have supported and historically been not only supporters but leaders in the effort to come to an agreement in the Middle East on final status negotiations. They are pivotal players on this process. You saw Foreign Minister Saud come out and make his own comments about their discussions, but I’m not going to further read out their views or thoughts beyond that.
QUESTION: Well, quite apart from whether he asked them to change the peace plan, is that something the United States would like to see?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of, Matt.
QUESTION: You don’t want the Arab countries to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: You’re talking about – obviously, there are a range of issues, as you know, that are a part of the negotiations directly between the parties that we’re very involved in. In terms of whether there’s an effort underway to change the Arab Peace Initiative agreement --
QUESTION: There is not?
MS. PSAKI: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, quite apart from that then, would the United States like or not like to see the Arab world recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to – you know what our position is – the United States. Obviously, this is a discussion that’s a part of the negotiations. I’m not going to parse it further.
QUESTION: So it’s no longer the policy of the Administration that the endgame here is a solution where there are two states for two peoples?
MS. PSAKI: It is our position, Matt. But in terms of what would be in a framework, how it would be – what the language would be specifically, those are discussions we’re having with both parties --
QUESTION: Okay, but I’m not --
MS. PSAKI: -- we’re briefing the Arab world on. Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no. I don't want to – I don’t mean to interrupt. I’m not asking about the framework.
QUESTION: In the broad scheme of things, does the United States want the Arab world to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to – what I’m trying not to do here, Matt, is – obviously, you know what our position is. You know what the Israelis would like to see. This is part of the discussions in the negotiations. Beyond that, I’m not going to further outline here what is being discussed with all of the parties.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, maybe I’m not making myself – I’m not talking about the negotiations.
QUESTION: In general, does the United States want to see the Arab world – the Arab League, the members of the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, whatever – recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: We want to see them support, which they’ve indicated they would, a final status agreement between the parties. What is included in there is not yet determined.
QUESTION: Jen, if I may follow up.
QUESTION: Does the United States of America recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: I think you know what our position is, Said.
QUESTION: I’m not asking your position.
MS. PSAKI: We’ve talked about their --
QUESTION: A legal point of view. How do you recognize Israel?
MS. PSAKI: Said, I don't have anything more for you on this.
QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you --
MS. PSAKI: Do you have another question?
QUESTION: Let me just take Matt’s line of questioning just a bit further.
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: Did you request from the Palestinians or are you pressuring the Palestinians to recognize in the negotiations – not outside of the negotiations, in the negotiations – to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to discuss the private negotiations that are happening with the parties. Obviously, there are a range of reports out there. When I say all core issues are being discussed, that remains the case. You’ve seen both parties raise what are most – what are the most important issues to them, and you can assume they’re being discussed on both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. And now let me ask you this, seeing that Israel does not have a constitution and it has minorities who are not Jewish: How would the United States go about reconciling these two elements? If the Palestinians do recognize Israel as a Jewish state, what is to happen to the Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship?
MS. PSAKI: Well, given we’re not there yet, it’s a hypothetical at this point. As a general matter, as with any democracy around the world, we believe, of course, that minority rights need to be protected. But you’re getting ahead of where we are in the process, so I’m not going to entertain the specific hypothetical.
QUESTION: But we are almost in the third trimester in the process. I mean, (inaudible) two months?
MS. PSAKI: That is a new way of defining it. We will – (laughter).
QUESTION: So I mean, we’re getting very close. Where – how do we discuss these issues?
MS. PSAKI: We’ll keep talking about it, but I’m not going to lay out for you the private discussions.
QUESTION: And is that intended from your point of view, seeing that this issue came into being only in 2003 and 2002 as a negotiating tool by the Israelis, how is that – is that intended to sort of nix whatever chance or possibility for the Palestinian refugees to return or for the Palestinians to have – to give up the right to return? Is that what the intention is --
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, as you know, right of return is part of the discussion that’s being had now. I’m not going to lay out for you further the status of those discussions.
QUESTION: And I really appreciate your indulging me just a little bit further. Is it true that the Secretary sort of warned both the Israelis and the Palestinians unless there’s something at the end of this process, U.S. engagement will be lowered or the level of U.S. engagement with the process would be sort of lowered or sort of downsized?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of in the region or – I’m not sure what that would be referring to.
QUESTION: No, no. In terms of the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, unless they both come to some sort of terms, they give or they make the hard and difficult and painful decisions, as you call them, if they don’t arrive at something at the end of this process, the U.S. will not be as engaged?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would not put it in that way. You’ve heard the Secretary say that this is how he says it privately as well, that it’s – now is the time where tough decisions need to be made. That is the case as we discuss a framework for negotiations moving forward. There’s decades of history here. There are sensitivities. There are tough issues that are being discussed. So that’s a message he’s conveyed publicly and privately, but I would put it in that – in those terms and not the way that you described it.
QUESTION: Okay. In the event that these negotiations bear no fruit at the end of the process and the Palestinians go ahead with their threat or warning that they will go the UN, what are you telling them that you will do in the event that they actually resort to the UN?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, you’re way down in the process. We remain confident that both parties will remain committed to the process at the table. They have expressed a willingness and openness to make tough choices, so we’ll keep our focus on that.
Do we have any more on the Middle East peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Gestational references aside, there are also reports that in some Israeli media that the Secretary is behind the European Union’s plans or potential – I don’t know what to call them – sanctions on Israel over the settlement – over settlement issues; in other words, that the Secretary is encouraging the Europeans to put this pressure on the Israelis. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: It’s hard to see how that would make sense given the Secretary expressed just a few months ago publicly his desire to see a delay in EU taking – European Union – sorry – taking action that would be unhelpful to the process.
QUESTION: Right. And I guess the report suggests that the Secretary would stop urging the Europeans to not do this and, in fact, tell them that it’s okay to go ahead if, in fact, the third trimester ends with no live birth.
MS. PSAKI: Wow. (Laughter.) We’re not at that point yet. I’m not going to outline private discussions. But I would just state that our efforts are in working with the two parties. Obviously, these are sensitive issues. We’re not encouraging anyone to take steps that would be unhelpful to the process.
QUESTION: Is it still the position of the Administration that the EU should hold off on doing anything like this, at least until the end of the nine-month period?
MS. PSAKI: That has been our position. I’m not aware of a change --
QUESTION: And it hasn’t changed --
MS. PSAKI: -- to the position.
QUESTION: So just for clarification, if the Secretary decides to go to the West Bank and to Israel --
QUESTION: -- will this happen as part of this coming trip?
MS. PSAKI: It’s not currently on the trip as I announced it. Obviously, we continue to review the best time to return to the region. And if anything changes, we’ll let you all know.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to circle back around on Middle East peace --
QUESTION: -- because I missed the first few minutes. You and Marie have both said that an interim agreement is not what the Secretary seeks --
QUESTION: -- nor will he tolerate. He’s looking for all final status issues to be addressed. Could you just describe the difference between a framework agreement and an interim agreement, other than the fact that a framework has no enforcement mechanism whatsoever?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there are many assumptions about both of those terms, especially interim. Interim implies, in our view, that you are stopping there, that is a legally binding update and outline for the next couple of weeks or confidence building measures. That’s typically how interim has been understood and why it’s important and why we keep repeating that it is not an interim agreement.
A framework for negotiations is outlining the contours of the issues for moving forward. So it is a – it is laying out the difficult choices and the difficult outline of what will be agreed to at a final outcome. And it reiterates the fact that we’re all working towards a final status agreement, and we’re not working towards a temporary interim set of confidence building measures.
QUESTION: Right, but – I understand that. But at the beginning of the process, all parties agreed that the nine-month timeframe was not for a framework to agree upon tenets of a final status agreement; it was the final status agreement itself.
MS. PSAKI: Well, we weren’t talking about a framework at the beginning, and obviously --
MS. PSAKI: -- as you proceed through any negotiating process, you determine what the appropriate steps are that you need to take along the way. Clearly, moving from a framework agreement to a full-blown treaty would take some time. We’re not at that point yet, so we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. But by that point, the parties will know, or would know, where they’re heading. They’ll have a clear idea of the core final status issues that need to be dealt with, and we’ll deal with that when we come to that point.
QUESTION: One more thing on this.
QUESTION: The argument that’s been made for private discussions and for folks not to speak to us and to other journalists and to outline all of these different details that have been brought up in the discussions, the justification has been that privacy is required because it’s so sensitive. Surely, the day after a framework is announced, that argument doesn’t apply, right? So that time between a framework where all of these policies are laid out for everyone to see, that will be dominated by debate over the tenets of the details --
MS. PSAKI: I would disagree with the point you’re making. We have provided updates throughout the course of these negotiations. The Secretary – the agreement was the Secretary will be the one providing substantive updates. He’s provided updates on the number of meetings they’ve had, he’s given a number of speeches at the UN and at the Saban Forum, on where things stand and what the status is. That hasn’t changed.
If – our view is that an agreement on a framework for final status negotiations would be a significant breakthrough. We can’t see a scenario where that wouldn’t be public. Obviously, we would discuss that with the parties. But that doesn’t change the fact that as you’re discussing tough issues, we feel it’s in the best interests of the final outcome not to lay out the day-to-day ups and downs. And so that’s – that, I believe, will remain the case even after.
QUESTION: The prime minister has said that a minimal requirement for peace is the recognition of Israel as a Jewish homeland by the Palestinians. The framework is supposed to address all final status issues, so it’s to be assumed, then, that that will be addressed by the Palestinian side.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it is – the framework will address the core issues, which is what is being discussed.
QUESTION: All core issues?
MS. PSAKI: That is the goal of the framework.
MS. PSAKI: But I can’t tell you what the final outcome or the final language would be in a framework yet, as that’s still being discussed and negotiated.
QUESTION: Jen, one of your early answers to this line of questioning – you talked about the Secretary giving updates.
QUESTION: Are you trying to suggest that the Secretary has offered any bit of substance in these updates?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, when we began in August we didn’t have a discussion over a framework, we hadn’t had nearly two dozen runs of negotiations, both sides were not discussing the core issues. So while that may feel unsatisfying --
QUESTION: Well, I’m not saying it’s --
MS. PSAKI: -- that does represent making progress, in our view.
QUESTION: I’m just asking if you’re saying that the Secretary or others in their updates have been substantive.
MS. PSAKI: I believe they have been.
QUESTION: They have? Okay, okay. Then clearly we have a difference of opinion over what substantive means. Can I just ask --
MS. PSAKI: Agree to disagree.
MS. PSAKI: Diplomacy in action.
QUESTION: Uh-huh. And then in another answer you said that at that point – the framework point --
QUESTION: -- that both parties will have a clear idea where they’re headed. Don’t they have a clear idea where they’re headed right now?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that would be a significant step forward in laying out where we’re headed moving forward.
QUESTION: Really? Well --
MS. PSAKI: Of course, discussing the core issues, which we’re doing now, is progress from where we were a couple of months ago.
QUESTION: I don’t understand, because you say where they’re headed now, what they agreed to do, was to enter into negotiations that would result, eventually, in a two-state solution. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: That’s where they’re headed?
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: You don’t think that they know where they’re headed?
MS. PSAKI: What I’m conveying is a more detailed explanation of the path forward, which is progress from where we were months ago and progress from even where we are now.
QUESTION: Right, but you have – you and others have repeatedly made the point that both sides pretty much know what the two-state solution --
MS. PSAKI: What the core issues are? Sure.
QUESTION: No, what the two-state solution is going to be. And so I don’t understand why you think that getting it on paper now, if that’s what this framework is supposed to be, is – actually amounts to anything other than just putting it down on a piece of paper.
MS. PSAKI: Well, our view, Matt, is it would give a clear outline for how we conclude the negotiations, and that is an important step, would be an important step.
QUESTION: Okay. So you don’t believe that there is a clear outline of how to conclude the negotiations?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it’s not – does not conflict with the fact that we know what the core issues are. That’s been the case for decades, right?
MS. PSAKI: But talking about laying out a detailed – the detailed contours of moving forward would be the breakthrough I’m talking about.