Dept.of State Daily Press Briefing: Hollow Answers to Substansive Questions on Israel
AP's Matt Lee sarcastically asks "So what is the consequence for Israel of your anger?
Jun. 6, 2012: U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing by Deputy Spokesperson Mark Toner in Washington, DC.
QUESTION: Can we go to Israel?
MR. TONER: Sure.
QUESTION: All right. So I assume that you’ve seen this announcement from the prime minister, and I assume that you’re hopping mad about the settlements. So I’m wondering what your reaction is.
MR. TONER: Well, I’m certainly aware of reports that the Israeli – of the Israeli Government’s – I’m sorry. We’re aware of reports both that the Knesset voted against a bill to legalize settler construction but also aware that – of the Israeli Government’s announcement to authorize the construction, as you said, of an additional 300 units in the West Bank.
We’re very clear that continued Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank undermines peace efforts and contradicts Israeli commitments and obligations, including the 2003 Roadmap. Our position on settlements remains unchanged. We do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity. And we want to see these parties – both parties, rather – refrain from these kinds of actions and to get back into negotiations.
QUESTION: So what is the consequence for Israel of your anger?
MR. TONER: Well, again, this is an issue that we continually raise with the Israeli Government. It’s one that – it’s – it is --
QUESTION: How effective would you say that has been over the past --
MR. TONER: Matt, I’m not able to --
QUESTION: -- course of the past couple years?
MR. TONER: I’m not able to give it a grade, as Toria says.
QUESTION: You’re not? I can.
MR. TONER: But --
QUESTION: Can I volunteer to give it a grade? (Laughter.) If you continually tell someone not to do something --
MR. TONER: That’s okay. But Matt, the larger issue is --
QUESTION: -- and they continue to do it over your objections, I think that gives you an F.
MR. TONER: The larger issue here is that it impedes progress on any kind of comprehensive settlement. And that’s ultimately what everyone here, most importantly both sides, both parties, want to see happen, or at least that’s what they claim to want to see happen. So that’s where we want the focus to be --
QUESTION: Have you --
MR. TONER: -- not on additional settlements.
QUESTION: Have you – okay. Well, I mean, but the Israelis are --
MR. TONER: It only sets that – it only sets them further back on that – on progress.
QUESTION: Alright. Has this been explained to them, expressed to them, yet again?
MR. TONER: I believe we have expressed our views, yes.
QUESTION: Do you know where and by who?
MR. TONER: I don’t know. I’ll find out.
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure, Said.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. You mentioned that this is inconsistent with your policy and it is also inconsistent with the Roadmap of 2003. Out of curiosity, are you keeping a tally of the number of parcels of land that have been taken by Israeli settlers since 2003?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have an answer for you on that. But this is a – we’ve seen these kinds of actions in the past. They are not constructive, and they simply are another roadblock, if you will, in getting both sides back to the negotiating table.
QUESTION: Would that give you pause, so to speak, perhaps that you ought to alter the Roadmap that was suggested back in 2003 because it is no longer – it no longer fits that bill?
MR. TONER: What we need to see as soon as possible is, as I said, both sides getting back into direct negotiations. We had this exchange of letters. As we said, we thought – found it encouraging. But ultimately, until they sit down at the table, we’re not going to get a resolution.
QUESTION: And lastly, Mark --
MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.
QUESTION: And I asked you this yesterday. I want to follow up today.
MR. TONER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Now, the Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said that they may take unilateral action and actually declare whatever state or two Palestinian states with temporary borders. I don’t know what that means, provisional borders right along the separation wall. Have – has he discussed these with you? Did you make your opposition to this plan known?
MR. TONER: Right. Not that I’m aware of. I know the Secretary spoke to this the other day. There’s no substitute for direct talks. There’s no substitute for the hard work that that will require from both sides, the concessions that that will require from both sides. We want to see that happen as soon as possible. And frankly, we think that the new coalition and government – government in Israel offers the best opportunity to move this process along.
QUESTION: So you flat-out reject the notion of a provisional state as proposed by the Israeli minister of defense?
MR. TONER: Again, I think I’ve been very clear that none of this will advance ultimately what we want to see here, which is direct negotiations, both sides sitting at the table working out these issues.
QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton protested Lithuania’s totalitarian --
QUESTION: Wait, wait. Can we stay on Israel?
MR. TONER: Yeah. Let’s stay on this, please. Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Is Ambassador Hale still planning to travel to the region?
MR. TONER: He is. I don’t have specific dates, but I believe he is traveling there soon. I’ll try to get more details for you on that.
QUESTION: More on Israel. Yesterday you said you were aware that the Privacy Act waiver had been signed by Ms. Tamari. I’m wondering if you can tell us exactly what the State Department or the Embassy’s version of the conversation was, whether in fact that she was told that they couldn’t help her because she wasn’t Jewish.
MR. TONER: And actually I’m not sure if we’ve released – we should have; I apologize if we haven’t already released the Taken Question on this. But we can confirm that an official from U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv spoke via telephone with this individual to check on her safety and welfare while she was detained at Ben Gurion Airport. We remain in contact with local authorities until a decision was made regarding her entry into Israel. And of course, decisions about entry are the purview of the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Did this person ask her if she was Jewish?
MR. TONER: Well, I don't have an answer for you on that. What is very clear is that we would never deny assistance to any American citizen, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.
QUESTION: According to her account, the conversation, which is pretty much a verbatim transcript, he did ask, “Are you Jewish?” She said, “No.” Then she – then he asked, “Have you been here before?” She said, “Yes. Several times. I’m Palestinian. I have family in the West Bank,” to which he replied – and I won’t use his name, but I have it – “Oh, you have family in the West Bank. Then there’s nothing I can do to help you. If in fact I interceded on your behalf it would hurt your case with the Israelis.”
Is that correct? Is it that U.S. intervention on behalf of one of its citizens would actually hurt the case with Israel, a democratic ally?
MR. TONER: Again, I don’t have a transcript of the conversation. I don’t know where you were able to obtain one from.
QUESTION: From her.
MR. TONER: Again, this is a little bit of a --
QUESTION: I’m not trying to --
MR. TONER: -- he said, she said. All I can say is that we --
QUESTION: Well, it may be. I want to know, regardless of that, is it correct that if you are a – that the position of the Embassy or the consular officers at the Embassy is that if you are a Palestinian with family in the West Bank and not Jewish that there’s nothing that they can do to help you. The actual verbatim words of the conversation I’m not --
MR. TONER: Verbatim words of what? A transcript that she presented or she produced?
QUESTION: Well, but --
MR. TONER: Again --
QUESTION: -- is it correct that there is nothing that you can or nothing that the Embassy can do to help someone --
MR. TONER: That’s not correct.
QUESTION: That is not correct. Okay.
MR. TONER: We certainly stand to – we stand ready to support any American citizen, regardless of their religious or ethnic background.
QUESTION: Okay, okay. And then she says that she told them that they were trying to get into her email account – which goes to a different part of this story – on her laptop. He said that if they have your Gmail address, then they can get into your – they can get into the account anyway. She says, “How can they do that?” He says, “Well, they’re very good at this kind of thing.” And he says that they – that the Embassy is aware that the Israelis go in and check people’s email account – emails on their laptops. She says that she can’t understand why you don’t have a problem. He implies it’s in our Travel Warning.
Okay. Now, it’s not in the Travel Warning. The Travel Warning says that people who are carrying laptops or other audio-visual equipment could – have had these items confiscated. But there’s nothing in the Travel Warning – because I just read it now – that says that people might go into your computer and then demand access to your private email account. So I’m wondering, was I looking at an outdated Travel Warning, or is this just wrong?
MR. TONER: I don’t believe so. I think that’s accurate. But again, I’m not going to speak to a transcript of a conversation that’s unofficial at best.
QUESTION: Okay, well, it’s not so much the actual words that were said. I just want to know whether or not – and you answered the question – it is policy not to help someone --
MR. TONER: That is not our policy.
QUESTION: And also, if you are aware that they’re going into people’s emails, do you plan – would that be something that one – that you would --
MR. TONER: Again, I’d have to speak with our Consular Affairs, but I’m not aware that that’s reflected in our current Travel Warning. It’s not, I don’t think.
QUESTION: No, it isn’t, but I’m wondering if it would be now because this has become an issue quite separate from --
MR. TONER: It’s a hypothetical. I would assume we’d look at it.
QUESTION: And then my last one on Israel, which is completely different, is the meeting that the Secretary’s in Istanbul tomorrow, this counter – do you know why the Israelis weren’t invited to this conference on counterterrorism? The U.S. is the co-chair of it. Israel has in the past expressed an interest. I mean, I realize it’s only a year old, but they wanted to be in it. It seems to be germane to the issues that they face in the world, and they also happen to be a counterterrorism partner of the U.S. Do you have any explanation as to why they – their attempt to get in and participate was rejected?
MR. TONER: I’m not – it’s not clear to me that it was rejected, but certainly, as you mentioned in your question, they are a counterterrorism partner with the United States and with many of the countries in this group. So that’s certainly something we would look upon favorably, but I’m not aware that any formal request has been made.
QUESTION: Well, do you know, since you are a – since the U.S. is a co-chair, if you sought to get them involved?
MR. TONER: I’ll look into it.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.