12:52 p.m. EST
QUESTION: The visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to town today, the lead Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat gave a ringing endorsement, of course, and lauded all the efforts by the Secretary of State and so on. But in the same instant, he basically was suggesting that there is no progress. Could you update us on this? I mean, what is the source of the confusion here?
MS. PSAKI: Look, I think it’s natural that at this point in the discussions and the negotiations, when they’re talking about tough issues with a long history of emotions behind them, that we’d be at a time where there are a lot of things said. But they had meetings yesterday. We put out a readout of that meeting – those meetings. Those discussions have been ongoing today with our negotiating team, with Secretary Kerry as well. And I don’t think there’s a point of confusion. It’s just that these are difficult issues.
QUESTION: Okay. Because yesterday in a press encounter with reporters, Erekat suggested that – I mean, the same positions that you would consider to be hard positions or hardened positions and so on, on the issue of refugees, on the issue of Jerusalem, on the issue of – on all of the issues, basically – on the issue of the Jewish state, he said this was not ever part of the final status points and so on. But yet he keeps saying, and he kept repeating today as well, that you could conceivably arrive at a resolution or a framework resolution by the 29th of April, suggesting that they, the Palestinians, would not go one day more in these negotiations.
MS. PSAKI: Well, it always becomes more difficult as we get closer to the deadline and the timeline.
MS. PSAKI: It’s not a deadline.
MS. PSAKI: As we get closer to when tough decisions need to be made. We’re all familiar with the fact that the next tranche of prisoner releases is at the end of March. There obviously is pressure around that timeline. But again, we’re working day by day on this. The President had a meeting yesterday which the Secretary participated in with President Abbas. It was an opportunity to take stock of where things stand, discuss what the difficult issues are, and we’ll keep proceeding day to day.
QUESTION: I’m glad you brought up the issue of the 29th of March that – the prisoner release – because Erekat keeps saying that this is a separate agreement altogether brokered by Secretary Kerry. So that is really independent of whatever negotiation that’s taking place. Do you agree?
MS. PSAKI: Again, Said, there have been a range of discussions about – throughout this process about tough choices and brave choices made by each side. That’s a part of that. But I’m not going to relitigate what’s been discussed in the past.
QUESTION: So one of the things that President Abbas said at the White House was that, “we are hopeful” that the prisoners will be released and that will allow us to going. Does the United States have any reason to believe or any reason to be concerned that the prisoners will not be released as envisaged by the initial agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I would ask President Abbas what his exact meaning is. Obviously, this is important to the Palestinians.
QUESTION: No, I know what his exact meaning is. I want to know what – if you think that there is some reason that this is not a – if there’s a concern that what was agreed to back in whenever it was, June, whatever – that this part of it might not happen.
MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s obviously for the Israelis to implement, I should say.
QUESTION: But is there a concern – does the United States have concerns that the Israelis might not implement it and that if they do not that there will be some kind of drastic consequence to the whole process?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get ahead to two weeks from now, when the timeline is planned for. Obviously, everybody’s familiar with the date of when the next tranche of prisoners is scheduled to be released.
QUESTION: Right. But – okay, would you say that you share President Abbas’ sentiment that he is hopeful that the prisoners will be released?
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly because it’s part of what was agreed to between the parties, we would support the prisoner release, of course.
QUESTION: Jen, the thing is that today, the Israelis said that they might not carry out a final stage of their prisoner release unless President Abbas commits to prolonging the peace talks. Is that the condition here?
MS. PSAKI: Again, I think you’re referring to the comments of Justice Minister Livni, I believe, right?
QUESTION: Correct. Yeah.
MS. PSAKI: Look, this is a tough, tough period, a pivotal period of the negotiations, and certainly both sides are looking at what issues are of greatest importance to them. And that’s why you’re hearing a lot of public talking from both sides. But I’m not going to discuss what’s going on behind the scenes. You are all familiar with the range of issues being discussed. You’re all familiar with the timeline of the end of April, the timeline of the next prisoner release, and beyond that it’s safe to say we’re working on this several hours a day.
QUESTION: Is there any reason why extending the period for this negotiation shouldn’t go ahead? Why wouldn’t that be an easy thing to encourage the Palestinians to agree to?
MS. PSAKI: In what capacity?
QUESTION: If it’s a show of continued good faith that they’re going to continue to be at the table, not just have their people come home and then there’s nothing else to induce them to come to the table.
MS. PSAKI: Well, both sides have committed to remain at the table through the end of April. That hasn’t changed. We’ll decide day by day, week by week, what the next steps are, but I’m not going to predict six weeks from now where we will be or what we’ll be discussing.
QUESTION: Jen, both the Israelis and the Palestinians in these talks seem to be tough customers. But let me ask you, because Erekat also said that since the beginning of the talks, the Israelis have added 10,589 housing units in settlement, and he said that it’s four time the growth of New York City in the same period. So they seem to be harping on this issue of settlement, settlement, settlement. He also suggested that – or said that Secretary Kerry met with President Abbas something like 46 times – I mean, an incredible number and so on. And they raised these issues with maps and so on.
So what is your position? How has your position – as you watch this process of expanding settlements so closely, how did your position evolve or morph towards the settlements?
MS. PSAKI: Our position hasn’t changed, Said. We don’t recognize the legitimacy of settlements. We’ve encouraged both sides to take steps that are conducive to a path to peace.
QUESTION: So does that mean, when you say we don’t recognize the legitimacy, that in any final peace deal, that all these settlements must be dismantled or turned over to the Palestinians?
MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to predict for you or outline what will be in a final peace deal that would be agreed to between the two parties.
QUESTION: I have one more on that.
MS. PSAKI: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to return to the region very soon to push the two parties or to submit the framework agreement?
MS. PSAKI: I don’t have any travel to announce for all of you today. As you know, there was a meeting with President Abbas, and the Secretary met with him on Sunday and then again after. It is safe to say that they are talking on the phone quite regularly with both parties and that we have had our negotiators on the ground. But I don’t have any travel for the Secretary to the region to announce for you at this point.
QUESTION: On meetings today, is that with Ambassador Indyk and Lowenstein? You said meetings are ongoing today with the negotiating team?
MS. PSAKI: Well, meetings internally. There are discussions over the phone, so that’s what I was referring to.
QUESTION: But the entire team is actually in Washington, the entire negotiating team currently?
MS. PSAKI: In terms of --
QUESTION: In terms of Ambassador Indyk and his team. They’re all here, all in --
MS. PSAKI: They are in Washington.
QUESTION: Some – they’re conducting --
MS. PSAKI: They were in Washington for the meeting yesterday --
QUESTION: Okay. All right. Okay.
MS. PSAKI: -- and they’re still here today.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. Scott