"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
2:07 p.m. EDT
MS. PSAKI: Palestinian, okay, and then we’ll go to Scott. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Very quickly, I know the Administration expressed its sort of dismay at being called – criticizing the settlements as not – as un-American, which, of course, the Israelis criticized. But today, also the Israelis announced new settlements. Are you aware of that?
MS. PSAKI: I haven’t seen that, Said.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that every time you make such a strong statement, the Israelis react by announcing more settlements?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe that, Said. But I think you are familiar with our position. I’m happy to take a look at that and happy to reiterate that.
QUESTION: I am fully familiar with your position. Did you follow up on your expression of the other day with the Israelis saying that we do stand by what we say and we urge you to stop the settlement activity, or you just left it at your statement?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, we make that point through private diplomatic conversations all the time, absolutely.
QUESTION: On the Gaza conference --
MS. PSAKI: Yes.
QUESTION: -- how much are the expectations of the United States that this will also talk about implementing the terms of the ceasefire as well, since it’s somewhat fruitless to spend a bunch of money reconstructing Gaza if it’s just going to be knocked down again?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we expect this conference will certainly focus on Gaza’s reconstruction, and that’s the objective of it and the hosts – the Egyptian and Norwegian co-hosts are certainly focused on that and a discussion of humanitarian assistance and reconstruction efforts.
To your point, of course, ideally, we’d like to see an agreement on a way forward for a sustainable ceasefire that addresses the long-term issues so we don’t have the recurring conflict. Will there be opportunities to discuss that at this conference? Certainly, there could be, and I expect the Secretary will have some sidebar conversations, but it’s not the primary focus. They’ll have to reconvene the parties to have that discussion separately from this conference.
QUESTION: I understand that it would be up to the hosts, but is the – does the United States believe that Iran might be involved in this conversation as well, given its support for Hamas both in the reconstruction and in implementing the terms of the ceasefire?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware, Scott, of plans to involve them or invite them. I can certainly check and see if anything has changed, but not that I have heard of.
QUESTION: Jen, whether or not the ceasefire implementation is part of – a main part or a side issue at this conference, is there any thought to making at least a U.S. contribution to this contingent on a ceasefire holding? It seems like just throwing money away if you’re – if what you’re going to contribute to is, as Scott said, just going to get knocked down again.
MS. PSAKI: Well, as I mentioned in the opening, I think we’ve contributed --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t remember the exact number. I don’t have any new contributions or new announcements that I’m aware of that are planned for this from the United States.
QUESTION: Well, I understand. But I mean, the whole point is to get more money, right?
MS. PSAKI: Certainly.
QUESTION: Do you know if there’s an estimate of the amount of aid, assistance that the U.S. has poured into Gaza over the last several years that have gone into projects that have been destroyed?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure there is an estimate. We can see if there is, Matt. Obviously, there’s a great deal of devastation and a great deal of reconstruction that’s needed, and obviously, the United States is the biggest donor to the Palestinians.
MS. PSAKI: So --
QUESTION: But --
QUESTION: And could – if and when you could find that out, I’d be curious to know who the blame – who you apportion the blame for that to – to Hamas, who were firing rockets into Israel, or to the Israelis and their response – or is it both?
MS. PSAKI: Elise, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you going to answer his question, or no?
QUESTION: No, no, at the same time as you come back with an answer on whether you have --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t think I’m going to be playing the blame game. I think we have talked about concerns we’ve had about Hamas and their indiscriminate rockets --
QUESTION: And you’ve also --
MS. PSAKI: We have – we have also raised concerns about the fact that at times there was more Israel could do to avoid civilian casualties.
QUESTION: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said during the whole conflict that this was the last time that the international community was going to rebuild Gaza only to have it torn down again. I mean, how do you make sure that those are not empty words? Because I mean, this is like the sixth or seventh time. And I know particularly the Europeans have been very upset that they’re one of the largest – or if not the largest contributor to Gaza reconstruction and the Palestinians, and this money is just basically thrown down the drain.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think that just gives you a sense of the frustration we’ve seen in the international community about the failure to reach a lasting ceasefire agreement that addresses the core issues. Obviously, that needs to be between the parties. In terms of guarantees, obviously, what we’re trying to achieve here is that lasting agreement between the parties that will bringing an end to this cycle of violence that continues to devastate communities and lead to civilian casualties and also leads to these reconstruction efforts.
QUESTION: Well, I understand. But I mean, while recognizing that the Palestinians are in desperate need in Gaza, are in desperate need of aid and reconstruction, to Matt’s point, how do you give them the humanitarian and reconstruction aid that they need and not – make sure that this doesn’t happen again? I mean, you really don’t have any assurance that this is not money that’s going to be --
MS. PSAKI: Well, countries have to decide if they’re willing to give more, how much they’re willing – more they’re willing to give, what they want to see happen. And obviously, there’s a great deal of interest from the international community – the UN, the United States, and others – to see a lasting agreement here. And we’re going to continue to work toward that.
QUESTION: Do you think that Israel should take a greater role in the reconstruction of Gaza?
MS. PSAKI: We do think that Israel will need to play a role in Gaza reconstruction. We were pleased to see that the UN, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority agreed on procedures aimed at expediting the passage of relief materials into Gaza while taking into account Israel’s security needs. We encourage the organizers to include all governments who can play a role, and certainly in the past there have been contributions, and we’re hopeful there will be more.
QUESTION: Do you think that Israel’s role should be one more of facilitating the logistical hurdles of this, or should they also take a part in the actual reconstruction, financial in-kind services --
MS. PSAKI: Well, they have contributed materials in the past, and we certainly hope they’ll do the same again.
QUESTION: Well, without a ceasefire, why would you tell the Israelis that you want them to give material and/or money to Gaza reconstruction without a ceasefire when it – very possible that it could then be used against them?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a ceasefire now, Matt.
QUESTION: I understand that, but --
MS. PSAKI: But we’re working towards a lasting ceasefire --
MS. PSAKI: -- and we certainly think there will be a reconvening of that effort to move that forward. So – but we – at the same time, we believe that there needs to be a reconstruction of Gaza.
QUESTION: So – but even without a long-term security assurance, you think that the Israelis should be – should assist and --
MS. PSAKI: There are a range of countries who are contributing, and we certainly hope Israel does the same.
QUESTION: What steps have been taken --
QUESTION: Jen, I asked – midway through the conflict, I recall very clearly – I asked you midway through the conflict: Why not make the parties to the conflict pay for the damage that they have incurred on the other?
MS. PSAKI: I think there are --
QUESTION: Why not – I mean, wouldn’t that be some sort of a guarantee --
MS. PSAKI: I appreciate your suggestion, Said, but there --
QUESTION: I’m being – I’m not being facetious.
MS. PSAKI: Let me finish. There are a range of countries in the international community who are going to be contributing. That’s what our focus is on at this point in time.
QUESTION: No, I’m saying why not hold the parties to the conflict accountable?
MS. PSAKI: We will take your proposal and note it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to the ceasefire. What steps have been taken in the weeks since it was reached to actually deepen it? I know that Mr. Rubenstein’s been on the road and meeting with people, but what level --
MS. PSAKI: The ceasefire in Gaza, or --
QUESTION: In Gaza, right.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. So you mean Lowenstein?
QUESTION: Lowenstein. Sorry.
MS. PSAKI: Sorry. I was thinking, which ceasefire are we talking about?
QUESTION: Right. Right.
MS. PSAKI: Okay. Lowenstein.
QUESTION: Right. But what more has been done in the interim? And why wouldn’t this conference be an opportunity for the U.S. to use its potential contributions as leverage to get the people of Gaza and the Israelis to actually firm up this ceasefire so that we don’t have another short-term war?
MS. PSAKI: Well, Roz, we expect other countries will come to the conference with donations. I’m not aware of a new donation the United States will be making. We’ll see. But as far as I’m aware, there is not one coming this weekend. Otherwise, certainly there’s been a discussion and the Egyptians are – have been the – are going to be the hosts and will be the hosts of hosting the parties to have a discussion about the ceasefire.
My point is that the focus of this conference, which is cohosted by the Norwegians, is on reconstruction efforts. Certainly there will be conversations on the side. The Secretary has, as you know, been engaged in conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas, and with others pretty consistently, as has our envoy, Frank Lowenstein. So that will continue. We have been engaged in this, as have the Egyptians, as have a number of other countries. I was just making the point about what the purpose of this conference, as outlined by the host, is.
QUESTION: But to go back to Matt’s point, isn’t this an opportunity for the U.S. to try to move the ball down the field, as it were, and not just have this very tenuous status quo?
MS. PSAKI: And so what would you – be your suggestion and how that would be done?
QUESTION: Well, the question is: Shouldn’t the U.S. make contingent whatever contributions it’s going to make on a good-faith effort between Hamas dealing through intermediaries with the Israeli Government?
MS. PSAKI: Well, the United States is and continues to be the largest donor to the Palestinians. As I just noted a few minutes ago, we’re not – there’s not new contributions that are planned that I’m aware of for this weekend. We believe that Gaza should be reconstructed. Obviously, we’re very supportive of this effort. We also have been very focused and spent most of our time talking with these parties about reconvening the ceasefire talks. Obviously, Egypt will be the host of that, but the focus of this conference is a noble and good purpose, and that’s why the Secretary is attending.