"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
MIDDLE EAST PEACE/REGION
12:44 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Thanks. Let’s start in the Middle East. The situation in and around Jerusalem is tense, to say the least, and getting intenser or more tense. I’m wondering if you have anything to say about that, as well as about the shooting of an American citizen last --
MS. PSAKI: I do, and I – you can all expect we’ll send out a written statement from the Secretary about the situation on the ground as well. That should be out later this afternoon.
But let me say we condemn yesterday’s shooting of a U.S. citizen in Jerusalem. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family. We’re in touch with authorities as we seek more information.
We’re extremely concerned by escalating tensions across Jerusalem and particularly surrounding the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the status quo in – on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in word and in practice. It must be reopened to Muslim worshippers. The continued commitment by Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians to preserve the historic status quo at this holy site is critical. Any decisions or actions to change it would be both provocative and dangerous.
And finally, we’ve been in close touch, as I’ve mentioned or alluded to, with senior Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian officials to try to de-escalate the situation. I expect the Secretary will be speaking with Prime Minister Netanyahu over the next 24 hours as well.
QUESTION: But – so since this shooting happened last night, there hasn’t been any --
MS. PSAKI: No. They’ve been working to schedule a call.
QUESTION: All right. And then you said – any change to which situation would be provocative and dangerous? I’m sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as you know, we support the longstanding practices regarding non-Muslim visitors to the site, to Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount. And consistent with our respect for the status quo, we would like to see it returned to that.
QUESTION: You would like to see a return to what it was yesterday, before the shooting happened?
MS. PSAKI: Yes. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay. And you said it would be – it must be reopened to non-Muslim worshippers – or must be reopened to Muslim worshippers.
MS. PSAKI: Right.
QUESTION: Should – what is --
MS. PSAKI: The status --
QUESTION: -- the U.S. position on non-Muslim worshippers who might want to go to --
MS. PSAKI: Well, it’s consistently been the case that we believe that Muslim worshippers should be able to worship, that there’s been a consistent --
MS. PSAKI: -- position of the United States.
QUESTION: Right. But you condemn the shooting of an American citizen who had advocated for non-Muslim worshippers to be able to go. But you don’t support that --
MS. PSAKI: Our position has not changed. It doesn’t mean we don’t condemn, of course, the shooting --
QUESTION: No, I understand that.
MS. PSAKI: -- and the death of an American citizen.
QUESTION: I get that. But he advocated something that you don’t necessarily support. That’s – or he advocated --
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed on this issue. That’s true.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s it for me.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) can I bring up what – so the Secretary has not spoken to Netanyahu since the slur, the U.S. slur – and I won’t repeat it.
QUESTION: Come on. Let’s have some fun.
MS. PSAKI: Matt called it chicken salad yesterday, I think.
QUESTION: Chicken salad?
QUESTION: Yes. We can say chicken scratch. How’s that? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: So there’s not been a discussion over the last few hours?
MS. PSAKI: They’ve been working to schedule a call. We’ve reiterated that that is not the position of the United States. You’ve heard Secretary Kerry say that himself this morning. So --
QUESTION: One of the things that he also said this morning was that on the idea of getting the Israelis and the Palestinians back to the table and getting an agreement – he said we still think it’s doable. How on Earth can he think that it’s still doable, given the situation as it is today, and given the – whether or not chicken scratch is appropriate or whether or not it was said or whether or not – whatever, with the tensions that have built up between Washington and the prime minister?
MS. PSAKI: How is it possible?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think what the Secretary was referring to in response to a question was the fact that, of course, we’re always going to keep the door open to a peace process and one that would achieve a two-state solution. We feel that’s the only way to have final, lasting peace in the region.
QUESTION: Right. I mean, you can’t – your business is to not close off an option. But I just don’t understand how he can say that he thinks that it’s still doable in the current --
MS. PSAKI: Well, he didn’t indicate it was starting tomorrow. Obviously --
QUESTION: He was kind of forward -- I mean, he was kind of optimistic, in a climate where – I mean, the name-calling and the back and forth notwithstanding, there is some – I mean, wouldn’t you acknowledge there’s some serious tensions in the relationship right now, not only because of this thing that happened the other day, but over comments that the defense minister have made about Secretary Kerry --
MS. PSAKI: Which were months and months ago.
QUESTION: Which were months and months ago, but did result in a little bit of snubbing last week, no matter – I mean, I think it’s been pretty acknowledged.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise --
QUESTION: Let me finish.
MS. PSAKI: Go ahead.
QUESTION: And then the settlement construction and all of that stuff – I mean, obviously the security relationship is going to remain sacrosanct, but you provide a lot of political support to Israel right now that I don’t think necessarily they should take for granted, maybe.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Elise, where we have deep concerns about highly contentious planning and construction, we make our views heard, as you’ve heard us talk about over the last couple of days. We’ve certainly also expressed publicly but also privately that taking steps like that are counterproductive to what their stated goal is, which is peace in the region.
QUESTION: Exactly, so how does the Secretary come out and say that restarting peace talks and getting back to the table right now is feasible when you have this – Israelis taking those type of actions, the Palestinians are looking to go to the United Nations – I mean, don’t you think it’s a little bit rosy assessment of where things are right now?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think that was his intention. He was making clear that – and reiterating what we’ve said many times and what he believes, which is that this is the only way to resolve this cycle of tensions that we’ve seen in the region. And that’s why he will keep the door open and remain available as long as he is in this position.
QUESTION: So he was saying that it’s possible, as opposed to saying that it looks like they could do it at any – I mean, imminently.
MS. PSAKI: Well, he also said and has said many times that, of course, it’s up to the parties to make those choices, and certainly, we can’t do that for them, and that’s his belief as well.
QUESTION: Jen --
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry – is this still on Israel?
QUESTION: In your opening when you talked about – you said it must be reopened to Muslim worshippers, you’ve seen the Palestinian spokesman or – spokesman for the Palestinian president say that the closure of it was a declaration of war. What do you make of that?
MS. PSAKI: We wouldn’t characterize it in that way or echo that.
QUESTION: Well, is that the kind of language that you’re looking for?
MS. PSAKI: We didn’t characterize it that way, so I don’t think it’s --
QUESTION: Well, okay, fair enough. The Israelis have been accusing President Abbas of inciting this kind of behavior. Do you believe that that is the case?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly have been encouraging the leaders of all parties to exercise not only decisive leadership, but to work cooperatively together and lower tensions, and obviously, lowering tensions means lowering rhetoric and also taking actions that reflect that.
QUESTION: Jen, you said you’re extremely concerned with the situation in Jerusalem. In terms of the security operation that you’ve seen so far, are you concerned with that or are you so far satisfied; you just don’t want an escalation?
MS. PSAKI: Do you mean by the Israeli authorities?
MS. PSAKI: I wasn’t speaking to that. I was speaking to the tensions that obviously we’re all aware are happening on the ground right now.
QUESTION: Right, but so far, you haven’t seen anything that you’ve found to be disturbing --
MS. PSAKI: I don't know if there’s – if you want to be more specific, what – might be more helpful.
QUESTION: I’m going to move on, actually --
MS. PSAKI: Okay.
QUESTION: -- just to the slur. There seems to be a sense in Jerusalem that there are folks in the Administration that are holding back open, public, coordinated and – criticism of Netanyahu and his government until the midterms. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that because that’s something that’s come up frequently in this room.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I can assure anybody who thinks that that the President and the Secretary of State don’t feel – feel that those comments were inappropriate and counterproductive, and they’ll feel that way next Wednesday as well.
QUESTION: Sorry, they “do” feel it was --
MS. PSAKI: They do feel, yes --
MS. PSAKI: -- and they will feel that way next Wednesday as well.
QUESTION: One point of language that was authorized that I saw from one of your colleagues at NSC was that the U.S. Government is deeply concerned about Israel’s future, and that was a criticism that I thought was – that I hadn’t seen before and that it was particularly broad and piercing. Has that been the case for some time? Why --
MS. PSAKI: Do you have more context of what was said? I’m not sure what else was said around that specific comment.
QUESTION: It was from one of the spokespeople at the National Security Council, and they said – were saying that we’re deeply concerned about Israel’s future and we’re going to continue expressing our concerns, we’re not going to paper over our differences. But there’s a difference between, like, individual policy differences and being deeply concerned about Israel’s general future.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I mean, obviously, we’ve been speaking about tensions in the region. I would point you to them to ask more specifics on that question.
QUESTION: Well, can I ask about Sweden?
QUESTION: Wait – oh, okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. Israel recalled the ambassador in Sweden in protest of the recognition of a Palestinian state. Now, I mean, are you concerned that this is not a one-off? There’s a lot of talk in Europe about other countries accepting a de facto Palestinian state. And so I’m just wondering when you talk about – kind of concerned about the future, it doesn’t seem like Israel will just continue to be able to call ambassadors around the world. I mean, do you think this is the right way to be dealing with this instead of addressing the issue?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly believe that the status quo is not sustainable and have long believed that. And obviously, no one wants to see a situation where there’s a cycle after cycle of violence and tensions and that the Israeli people are concerned about their safety and security, the Palestinian people have concerns. That’s why we support a peace process and a resolution.
As it relates to Sweden – and let me just reiterate this just so we can get it out there – as you know, we support Palestinian statehood, but it is – it can only come through direct negotiations between the parties that resolve final status issues and end the conflict. Certainly, it doesn’t require our view. It requires the facts out there of what we’ve seen from some countries responding to the lack of a resolution of a peace process out there, and I think that speaks for itself.
QUESTION: Jen, sorry for being late. On this very point, it can only come about through direct negotiations. Direct negotiations have been going on for a very long time, for the better part of these last 23 years, and we really have not seen a state for the Palestinians let alone sort of the end of settlement activities and so on. In the absence of a – at least on the horizon, in the absence of any kind of breakthrough in the near future, what would you advise the Palestinians to do in order to sustain a place where they can build a state and at the same time not cross you, so to speak?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think, Said, it’s a fair point you’ve raised, in the sense that it’s not just negotiations. It’s obviously a direct – a final status agreement between the parties that will resolve the tensions over the long term. So that certainly is what our goal and our objective is. As I mentioned a few minutes ago, certainly both sides can take steps to reduce the tensions, and that relates to rhetoric and actions, and that’s what we would encourage them to do.
QUESTION: Does the idea of, let’s say, the United States that has been really this sort of husbander or the shepherder of this whole peace process all throughout – doesn’t it become more palatable, the idea that the U.S. should sort of propose its own, knowing that we know where the state is going to be? It’s not going to be on the moon. It’s going to be on the West Bank and Gaza, right? Roughly ’67 borders. Knowing that, wouldn’t it be prudent for the U.S. to actually take a step and it would not – it would be in conformity with the international law and what you guys agree on, correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, it remains the case that it will – would require the parties to agree on every issue --
MS. PSAKI: -- whether that’s security issues or borders, as you referenced. So that may feel satisfying for one day of a news story, but we obviously have to factor in a range of factors as we determine what the next steps should be.
QUESTION: But let me just, if you’ll allow me a follow – to follow up – this is like the Hatfields and the McCoys. I mean, both parties are not going to agree or see eye-to-eye on every issue on every detail, and so on. So they’re --
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why they need to compromise.
QUESTION: They need to compromise. But don’t --
MS. PSAKI: That’s part of a negotiation.
QUESTION: I mean, don’t you feel that the United States ought to be coaxing them into compromising?
MS. PSAKI: The United States remains ready, willing, available to play a facilitating role and contribute in any way we can. But the parties need to make the choices necessary.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally --
MS. PSAKI: I think we have to move on here, Said, because there are other issues.
QUESTION: Just very quickly, I know you probably addressed the tensions --
QUESTION: -- and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and I’m sure you probably --
MS. PSAKI: I gave a – I spoke about it at the top, yes.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Can I --
MS. PSAKI: Oh, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just want to know if there’s any update on the investigations into the two cases of American citizens being killed.
MS. PSAKI: No, there are no updates that I have.
QUESTION: All right. And have you – it’s been some time now. It’s been a week --
MS. PSAKI: It’s been a couple of days, yes.
QUESTION: It’s been about a week.
QUESTION: It’s been --
MS. PSAKI: It’s been about a week.
QUESTION: -- almost a week or more than a – what’s today? Thursday. So one was Wednesday and one was Friday.
MS. PSAKI: Okay, it’s been a week.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you not at all concerned that the investigations are --
MS. PSAKI: We continue to press for a speedy resolution of the investigations.
QUESTION: But would you call this speedy, though?
MS. PSAKI: Elise, it’s been a week. We discuss this in every – almost every conversation we have, but there hasn’t been a resolution yet.
QUESTION: Right, but – right, but there was a resolution to the – a very speedy resolution, apparently, to the – what happened last night.
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: That investigation appears to be closed now with the death of the alleged assailant. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on the status of the investigation. So –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) were you able (inaudible) independent sources that he was, in fact, the alleged assassin or would-be assassin? The Palestinians (inaudible) themselves?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any more details on it than I shared at the top.
QUESTION: Jen, sorry to return to this --
MS. PSAKI: It’s okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- but I got the context that you were asking for, and I assume, naturally, that this position is the same as your colleagues at the NSA: “We raise our concerns as a partner who is deeply concerned about Israel’s future and want to see it living side by side in peace and security with its neighbors.” Again, maybe I’m harping on it too much, but the language seems to be such that it’s broader – it’s a broader critique. Is that --
MS. PSAKI: I think that statement is pretty clear and consistent with what we’ve said, which is that when you look at recent announcements of settlement activity that clearly are going to raise some tensions in the region, that those type of steps are counterproductive to the stated goal of having a two-state solution. And that’s what it’s referring to.
QUESTION: Jen, I have one more on Sweden’s overture today.
MS. PSAKI: On Sweden? Sure.
QUESTION: Yes. Do these recognitions – and we’ve had several others, several other countries do the same – ultimately, do they weaken the hands of negotiators in that they give the Palestinians a sense that perhaps there are other options, other ways to get the recognition that they are seeking? Will these types of overtures ultimately work against the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I haven’t had that specific concern expressed by our team who does negotiations. I think, obviously, finding a – coming to a conclusion of negotiations – which we’re certainly not at that point – is – there are a great number of motivations for that, including the fact that the international community would like to see two states living side-by-side, and certainly Israel wants to have not just – Palestinians not just want to have a Palestinian state, but the Israelis want to continue to have productive and constructive relationships with countries around the world. I’d have to talk to them and see if that’s a specific concern they have, not one that I’ve heard them express.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
MS. PSAKI: Sure.