"As is" reference - not a United Nations document
MIDDLE EAST PEACE/REGION
12:55 p.m. EDT
QUESTION: Yesterday, the ICC made its decision that there was no case to prosecute for war crimes in Gaza. But also yesterday – and you spoke about that very briefly here. But also yesterday, General Dempsey, who is no slouch when it comes to military things, told an audience in New York that the Israelis went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage during the Gaza war.
And I’m puzzled, because I thought it was the position of the Administration – or maybe it was just the position of the State Department and the White House – that Israel was not doing enough to live up to its – what you called its own high standards. Back on August 3rd, there was the statement you put out after the UNRWA school incident, saying that the U.S. “is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling.” And that was some pretty fierce criticism.
How do you reconcile these two apparent divergent points of view? When this statement came out, the United States was appalled? Did that just mean the State Department was appalled?
MS. PSAKI: No, that is the position of the Administration; it remains the position of the Administration. As we made clear throughout the summer’s conflict, we supported Israel’s right to self-defense and strongly condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks that deliberately targeted civilians, and the use of tunnels, of course, of attacks into Israel. However, we also expressed deep concern and heartbreak for the civilian death toll in Gaza and made clear, as you noted in the statement you pointed to, that we believed that Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties, and it was important that they held their selves to a high standard. So that remains our view and position about this summer’s events.
QUESTION: Okay. But I’m still confused as to how you can reconcile the fact that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – who knows a bit about how military operations work, I would venture to guess; I don’t know him, but I assume that he wouldn’t be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff if he was – if he didn’t --
MS. PSAKI: Correct.
QUESTION: -- says that the Israelis essentially did the best that they could and lived up to – by extension lived up to their high standards by taking – by going to, quote, “extraordinary lengths” to limit the collateral damage.
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would point you to the chairman’s team for his – more specifics on his comments. But it remains the broad view of the entire Administration that they could have done more and they should have taken more – all feasible precautions to prevent civilian casualties.
QUESTION: All right. Now – same issue. Well, same area. Do you have any update, anything new to say about the situation in Jerusalem today?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we obviously continue to urge calm and condemn any resurgence of violence. Obviously, we’re watching this closely. The Secretary remains in close touch, as do senior officials, I should say, at our embassies and here in Washington, with officials in Israel, and as well as Palestinian leaders and Jordanian leaders as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on --
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: -- General Dempsey? I mean, to his credit, he also said that the number of casualties was large. But you do – just to re-emphasize, you do acknowledge that the situation in Gaza did not allow for those who are in authority in Gaza, in this case Hamas, to really provide viable protection for the population, correct?
MS. PSAKI: I think --
QUESTION: Because of the density --
MS. PSAKI: I just --
QUESTION: Because of --
MS. PSAKI: I just reiterated the statement we made this summer and indicated we stand by that statement that we made.
QUESTION: Okay. Because this flare-up may likely to happen again. And you have one of the highest concentrations of populations in the world, so it could conceivably happen one more time. What would you do in terms of – in the absence of any kind of threat to take someone to the ICC or accuse them of war crimes, wouldn’t that be – they would feel that there is no deterrence to continue to do something like this again?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not sure what your question is, Said.
QUESTION: My question is that, obviously, you oppose any efforts with the ICC. But barring that effort or barring that threat or that someone may be taken before an international court and accused of war crimes, if that is absent wouldn’t that be a disincentive for them to take any kind of, like, guidelines or --
MS. PSAKI: We think the incentive is that Israel is a country just like the United States and many other countries around the world that should do everything within their power to hold themselves to the standard that a modern-day democracy should hold itself to.
QUESTION: Okay. Is it possible that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is basically also trying to cover military action by the United States by saying that?
MS. PSAKI: No. I don’t think I have anything more to add.
QUESTION: Yes. Can we go back to Israel and Palestine?
QUESTION: So there are reports about Prime Minister Netanyahu, like, ordered to demolish the houses of any person, like, conducting an attack in Jerusalem. And I was wondering if you consider that, like, part of self-defense that Israel can use, because it sounds like a collective punishment, because they’re punishing --
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any confirmation of those reports nor can I validate them. I’d direct you to the Government of Israel on that question.
QUESTION: Okay. How about Israel, like, preventing people who’s below 35 years old, like from – pray inside the al --
QUESTION: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: -- al-Aqsa Mosque?
MS. PSAKI: Well, there’s a status quo that I think everybody supports the policy going back to, including the Israelis.