"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
Before we get into that, which there’ll be a lot of, I’m sure, today, I just want to very briefly – you all just put out this TQ talking about a threat, an al-Qaida threat in North Africa?
QUESTION: Mark, could I follow on Mr. Lee’s initial question? Why couldn’t the Palestinians have a seat at the United Nations, similar to what we have seen happen in Libya and many other places?
MR. TONER: Said, you know our position on this. I can restate it again if you would all like, but again, there’s been no resolution, in fact, put on the table in the UN Security Council. What we are focused on is direct negotiations, getting them back to the table so that they can address the many final status issues and reach a comprehensive peace agreement that results in two states living side by side.
QUESTION: But in principle, you are not adverse to the Palestinians having full membership as a state in the United Nations, much as the President of the United States stated last September 24th, do you?
MR. TONER: Again, we’ve said that we believe that any gesture, any movement in New York to that end, would be counterproductive to what the real focus should be on, which is direct negotiations between the parties. And that remains our goal and our priority.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed in the speech that Mr. Abbas just made saying that he will go to the Security Council, that the Palestinians indeed are the only people without a state, that it is the time for doing that? Would you consider that the efforts by Mr. Hale and Mr. Ross to have failed completely?
MR. TONER: Well, let me just say that, for those of you who may not have been following this day to day, that Special Envoy for Middle East Peace David Hale as well as Special Assistant to the President Dennis Ross have been in the region this week, consulting with the parties on how best to overcome the current impasse and get them back to direct negotiations as envisioned by the President’s remarks last May. They did meet while we were there with, as you know, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Peres, and President Abbas, which you asked about.
In the meeting with President Abbas, both sides affirmed the mutual commitment to negotiations as the only way to resolve the differences between the parties and to achieve peace. And beyond that, it was an open and very candid discussion of how best to do that, and all agreed to consult closely moving forward on how to resume talks. I’m well aware of – we’re well aware of the Palestinians’ position on this. As I said, our efforts right now remain on getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: To look at it from the other side, there are now several reports coming out of the region suggesting that there may be some movement toward persuading the Palestinians to not introduce anything at the end of next week, as Mr. Abbas said an hour ago. Is that true?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about the substance of our discussions or other countries’ discussions with the Palestinians. We continue to believe that the best interests of the parties is to resume direct negotiations. That’s the only way they’re going to get true – the true result of – rather – excuse me – that’s the only way they’re going to get to a result that is two states living side by side in peace and security. Everything in New York is counterproductive to that.
QUESTION: What about suggestions that the U.S. may be putting a lot of pressure, particularly on European allies, to not vote in favor of a Palestinian bid?
MR. TONER: Rosalind, we’ve been very clear and transparent about our opinion that this is a counterproductive gesture, if indeed it happens, and that we believe the focus should remain on direct negotiations.
QUESTION: And I know that you went over this several times yesterday, but there does seem to be this disconnect. The U.S. is supporting popular movements in other countries in the region. But when it comes to the Palestinians, it doesn’t seem as if they’re getting the same support.
MR. TONER: There’s no disconnect.
QUESTION: But what then – but there is this perception that’s growing. Can you explain that?
MR. TONER: Well, this Administration has been dedicated from day one to finding a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. And we’ve worked diligently to that end. What we’ve said many times is it’s ultimately up to the parties to decide that they can overcome the challenges that remain, overcome this impasse and get back to the negotiating table. And our position all along has been that’s the – that’s where the focus needs to be. They need to make some tough decisions, but ultimately that’s how we’ll end up with the best result for both sides.
QUESTION: One more. Now the Israeli spokesman Mark Regev is suggesting that there will be consequences if the Palestinians go ahead and introduce this bid for statehood. Has Washington said anything to the Netanyahu government about making any sort of threats in order to try to keep the process from completely falling apart?
MR. TONER: Again, I’m not going to talk about the substance of our conversations with the Israeli Government. You’ll have to ask them to explain their comments. I would just say that we’ve said that such a move in the UN could raise tensions in the region. That’s why we called it counterproductive, because it doesn’t help at the end of the day. It will not help in getting them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: But you can’t even say whether you’ve cautioned the Israelis to not do anything to cause (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m just not going to characterize our discussions.
QUESTION: Mark, just a quick follow-up. Mr. Abbas often characterizes himself as a friend and ally of the United States, and the Palestinians are indeed recipients of large sums of American taxpayers’ money. Are you disappointed in the fact that he’s sticking to his guns and wants to go to the UN and the Security Council? And would you consider him, past the submission, as a friend and ally of the United States?
MR. TONER: The last part? Past the – would you consider – I didn’t hear the last part of your question.
QUESTION: I said – the last part of the question – will you continue to consider him as a friend of ally past the submission at the United Nations, if it happens?
MR. TONER: Look, again, as I’ve said, we’re well aware of the Palestinians’ viewpoints – viewpoint on this issue. We have remained engaged to explain why we believe it’s a bad idea, why we believe it’s counterproductive, why we believe it doesn’t, in the end, result in an end state that we want to see achieved, that they want to see achieved, two states living side by side in peace and security. We’ve made that clear, we’re going to continue to make that clear, and we’re going to continue to work today, tomorrow, through New York, to get them back to the negotiating table, but with a full awareness that any actions in New York will hurt that process.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a quick follow-up on the issue of the money, the aid.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida said that continuing aid only aided in keeping the Palestinians’ bad behavior. Do you believe that the continuing aid aids in keeping the Palestinians’ bad behavior?
MR. TONER: Well, we certainly appreciate the congresswoman’s insight and remarks and clearly are consulting closely with Congress as we move forward. But our belief, our position, has been that this money, this assistance, has helped build the kinds of institutions that will help in an eventual Palestinian state. So we believe it’s been very worthwhile and should continue.
Go ahead, Lach.
QUESTION: Do any of your Arab – traditional Arab allies consider this counterproductive, as you do?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask them. I’m not going to attempt to characterize --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to know whether they share that view.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m not going to characterize any other nation’s position on this. I’m just telling you what our position is.
QUESTION: But you’re talking with them. You --
MR. TONER: We’re – yeah. Obviously, we’re consulting with them. As we’ve talked about, Deputy Secretary Burns was in the region, and while talking about a lot of the issues across the board in the Middle East, he certainly talked about this.
QUESTION: Mark, I’m a bit confused by – how is it that you’re able to come up and say that in a meeting with Hale and Ross, President Abbas or both sides affirmed that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace and to resolve differences when the Palestinians are pursuing a path that you think is going to ruin – it precludes negotiations, in fact?
MR. TONER: We said it’s counterproductive and it hurts what our goal is here, which is to get them back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Israelis have said that the threat – and I put that in quotes, because I don’t know if it’s a threat or if it’s just an advice – piece of advice as to the consequences – that if this does happen, that they could start annexing settlement blocs in the West Bank, that they could withhold millions and millions of dollars in tax money that they – tax revenue that they collect for the Palestinians. Is that counterproductive as well?
MR. TONER: Again, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ve been clear on our position on settlements.
QUESTION: What’s more counterproductive, a symbolic gesture at the UN or actually choking off (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: I’m not going to grade what’s counterproductive --
QUESTION: -- maybe so much (inaudible) --
MR. TONER: -- what may be more counterproductive.
QUESTION: -- actually makes a difference on the ground --
MR. TONER: And Matt – and Matt --
QUESTION: -- and not about whether the Israelis’ feelings --
MR. TONER: Matt, our efforts remain focused on getting the sides back to the negotiating table. We’ve said all along neither side, or both sides, rather, should refrain from any action that impedes that progress. And that remains our position.
QUESTION: Can you answer the question why this Administration is so intent on squandering what little goodwill it might have in the Arab world?
MR. TONER: I disagree with the premise, so that’s my answer.
QUESTION: Mark, in the first place, do you have any idea of where this issue and how it started, who is advising the Palestines on this issue, that their issue will be best resolved at the United Nations General Assembly?
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the Palestinians. I’m not going to speak for them.
QUESTION: Mark, are you saying that you disagree with the fact that this position that you’ve taken is unpopular among Arab countries?
MR. TONER: Again, you’ll have to go out and produce your own polling data and ask these Arab countries themselves.
QUESTION: I’m asking you. You said you disagreed with the premise of my question. I’m asking you are you aware of the –
MR. TONER: You ask an extremely leading question. What I’m saying is –
QUESTION: -- are you aware the Turkish Government, the (inaudible) Government, Jordanian Government, the Government of Saudi Arabia, for example?
MR. TONER: Matt –
QUESTION: Are you aware of their feelings about – their statements –
MR. TONER: We can go around and around on this. All I can say is that our position remains that we want to see the parties back into direct negotiations. We’re going to remain focused on that goal. We believe it’s the right path to pursue, regardless of public opinion or opinion elsewhere. We believe it’s the right path to pursue because it’s going to result in two states living side by side in peace and security. Actions in New York aren’t going to result in that. I don’t know how I can be clearer.
QUESTION: But you just said that President Abbas affirmed that negotiations are the only way to achieve peace.
MR. TONER: Yes.
QUESTION: He did? So he’s not against negotiations.
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: He’s not saying that there – that this is – that the UN move is gonna stop negotiations, or is a substitute for negotiations.
QUESTION: He repeated that in his speech.
MR. TONER: And he – thank you. He repeated that in his speech. He’s never said that negotiations are shut down.
QUESTION: Right. So – I mean, this –
MR. TONER: The problem is that –
QUESTION: -- isn’t that embarrassing to this administration
MR. TONER: The problem is that --
QUESTION: -- to have this position and to refuse to any kind of concession on it when everybody – virtually every other country in the world, including your closest allies, other Arab allies in the Middle East, are begging you to –
MR. TONER: Matt, is there a question here or is there –
MR. TONER: -- is it basically just you riffing on this? I mean --
MR. TONER: -- we’ve been very clear about our position. I can restate it, but I’m not going to back away from it.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Are you aware of any plans for President Obama to meet with Mr. Netanyahu in the next 48 hours?
MR. TONER: I’m sorry with --
QUESTION: Over the next few days, with Mr. Netanyahu.
MR. TONER: The President or his Secretary?
QUESTION: No. The President Barack Obama.
MR. TONER: You’ll have to ask the White House.
QUESTION: You have not heard?
MR. TONER: No. You’ll have to ask the White House.
QUESTION: Excuse me. Well since the negotiations are bogged down for a long time, do you think it’s about time to come up with something like a timetable, a map, a plan, put it on the table so the both sides can come up to, and the United States help, and with United States help and Russia could come up with some form of –
MR. TONER: Well, look, we – sure.
QUESTION: -- would the negotiations be meaningful without such a –
MR. TONER: Well, I think that our envoys who are in the region, as well as the other Quartet envoys, are looking at a variety of ways that we can get them back to the table.
Yeah. In the back. Are we done with – go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary (inaudible) the last (inaudible)?
MR. TONER: She spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov, and I believe that was in – and I believe one of the topics of conversation was, of course, Middle East peace.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. TONER: And the Quartet – was it today? Yeah, today.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:48 p.m.)
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