2:29 p.m. EDT
MIDDLE EAST PEACE/MIDDLE EAST REGION
QUESTION: To the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I’d like to come back to, return to the remarks Secretary Kerry made yesterday. He said that it’s imperative to re-launch the peace process, something he did in Cairo two, three days ago. But I think, for the first time, he made the connection, a link between the conflict and the rise of extremism and the rise of ISIL. And this morning the Israeli officials are pretty upset and angered against the Secretary.
So I would like to know if the Secretary --
MS. HARF: Well, yeah.
QUESTION: -- went a little bit too far.
MS. HARF: A couple comments. First, he did not make any linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period. And we can go back over what he actually said, which I have in front of me. He did not make that linkage. What he was saying is in the course of his work, do leaders in Europe and in the Middle East tell him that they like that the U.S. wants to try to achieve peace? Of course they do. Do the leaders think peace would help create a more stable region? Of course they do. That is in no way a news flash. It’s something that presidents of both parties for decades have said, that if we could make progress on Middle East peace, that would help create a more stable region, and the Secretary was agreeing with what has been said publicly.
And I would take issue with the part of your question that Israeli leaders, plural, have disagreed with what they thought the Secretary said. I saw one in particular. And we would say to that that we know passions run high, politics are intense, but either this specific minister did not actually read what the Secretary said, or someone is engaging in the politics of distortion here. By any means it is an inaccurate reading of what the Secretary said. He did not make a linkage between Israel and the growth of ISIL, period.
QUESTION: But you do see where there is actually the lack of resolving this issue, and it drags on and it goes on almost indefinitely, does, in fact, create a great deal of frustration that may lead to extremism. Don’t you agree with that notion?
MS. HARF: Well, I mean, Said, has the Israeli-Palestinian issue been exploited over the decades by extremists who hate Israel and the United States, who hate both of us? Of course it has. Various presidents, including the previous President, George W. Bush, spoke out about this, saying that if we could achieve peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, that would create a more stable region writ large, in general.
QUESTION: So you think that those leaders that told the Secretary of State there is a linkage, in fact, they’re expressing a sentiment of hate toward --
MS. HARF: Well, that’s not what he was saying. He was saying that as he travels around the world --
QUESTION: I understand.
MS. HARF: Well, can I finish my sentence, Said?
QUESTION: He was saying that that’s what – oh, sure.
MS. HARF: And then you can follow up. Thank you.
MS. HARF: That as he travels around the world building a global coalition to defeat ISIL, which is an avowed enemy of Israel – the Secretary, helping to put together this coalition to defeat an enemy that has said they’re an avowed enemy of Israel, that he hears from people in conversations, as we have for many years, that if we could resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that would help create a more stable region. In no way was he directly linking Israel and the growth of ISIL, at all.
QUESTION: But you know, this is a story that goes way back. And I remember in the ‘70s, let’s say, with your close allies, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its foreign minister, or the king at the time, King Faisal, was always saying that not resolving this issue may lead to extremism or people will exploit it, as you said.
MS. HARF: Absolutely, and American presidents --
QUESTION: So there is a connection.
MS. HARF: Well, American presidents and secretaries of state of both parties have said that if we can achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it would be a blow to the region’s extremists. Yes, they’ve said that. But in terms of this specific Israeli minister’s comments, I think, and I think the Secretary thinks, and everyone thinks that what you say actually matters and not just how someone tries to distort it for their own political purposes.
QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to propose a new peace plan this – at this time?
MS. HARF: I think you heard the Secretary speak about the state of this issue in his press availability in Cairo, that we cannot want it more than the parties want it. We obviously believe there needs to be a path forward in the best interests of both people, but nothing else new to share at this point.
QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. Has the Secretary talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu since these comments and the flap?
MS. HARF: I can double check.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. HARF: They talk frequently. I will check.
QUESTION: I just – because yesterday I asked about the Israeli ordnance disallowing Palestinians under 50 to pray at the mosque. And as a result, tensions and violence has occurred. And in fact, today Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, called on the Palestinian to protect or guard the Haram Sharif, which is Al-Aqsa Mosque. Do you have any comments on that?
MS. HARF: Well, we are – Said, we are very concerned about recent tensions there and have urged all sides to exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and respect the status quo. So we’re following what’s happening and that remains our position.
QUESTION: Okay. Also, the Israelis – I’m sorry, also the Israelis killed a 13-year-old boy yesterday. I wonder if you have any comment on that.
MS. HARF: We have seen those reports – of course, deeply regret the loss of life here, extend our condolences to his family. We understand and have urged the Government of Israel to conduct an investigation – we are understanding that they are doing that – to determine the facts surrounding the incident.
QUESTION: And finally, this weekend there is a conference or convention for the Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation. It’s a Palestinian Christian organization, and Palestinian Christians say that you guys are not reaching out to them, or in fact they try to reach out to you, but they get nowhere. And in fact, the Palestinian patriarch --
MS. HARF: Do you mean the State Department?
QUESTION: Huh? Because --
MS. HARF: Are you talking about the U.S. Government or the State Department?
QUESTION: I think the State Department.
MS. HARF: Okay.
QUESTION: I think they tried to reach out to the State Department. They are not finding ways, because Palestinian Christians are really shrinking, and they – in fact, the repression is multilayered. It’s not only one layer. And there is – the head of the Roman Orthodox Christians – Palestinian Christians is in town, Father Atallah, and I’m sure he would probably welcome an opportunity to meet with the State Department. Would you --
MS. HARF: Let me check, Said. I wasn’t aware of those specifics, in terms of the visit or what’s happening. Let me check and see.