The Obama admin is selling the peace process, but the press is not buying it.

Matt Lee from the Associated Press and State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly faced off today during State’s daily press briefing over the Obama administration’s lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Lee, and other members of the press corps, seemed especially emboldened by Israel’s announcement to build 900 new housing units in the West Bank settlement of Gilo.

The questioning stated off with a great point from a reporter whose name I don’t know (you can watch the video here):

QUESTION: How long is the U.S. going to continue to tolerate Israel’s violation of international law? I mean, soon it’s not even going to be possible – there’s not going to be any land left for the Palestinians to establish an independent state.

MR. KELLY: Well, again, this is a – we understand the Israeli point of view about Jerusalem. But we think that all sides right now, at this time when we’re expending such intense efforts to try and get the two sides to sit down, that we should refrain from these actions, like this decision to move forward on an approval process for more housing units in East Jerusalem.

QUESTION: But should U.S. inaction, or in response to Israel’s actions, then be interpreted as some sort of about-face in policy – the President turning his back on the promises he’s made to the Palestinians?

MR. KELLY: You’re – okay, you’re using language that I wouldn’t use. I mean, again, our focus is to get these negotiations started. We’re calling on both parties to refrain from actions, from – and from rhetoric that would impede this process. It’s a challenging time, and we just need to focus on what’s important here, and that’s –

It’s telling that that last word got cut off, I can only imagine what it was. And then Lee took over the questioning. Here he is taking the Department to task over its statement that the US is "dismayed" over the Israeli announcement to build in Gilo:

QUESTION: Right. And then, last one on this, you characterized this decision by the planning commission as dismaying.

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: You can’t come up with anything stronger than “dismaying”? I mean, this flies in the face of everything you’ve been talking about for months and months and months.

MR. KELLY: It’s dismaying.

QUESTION: Yeah, you can’t offer a condemnation of it or anything like that? (Laughter.) I mean, who is in charge of the language here.

MR. KELLY: I have said what I have said, Mr. Lee.

And here’s another particularly enlightening portion of the exchange:

QUESTION: Could you give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have – we’ve gotten –

QUESTION: Yeah, maybe if the –

MR. KELLY: — both sides to agree on this goal. We have gotten both sides –

QUESTION: Ian, they agreed on the goal years ago. I mean, that’s not –

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we – this government –

QUESTION: You mean you got the Israel Government to say, yes, we’re willing to accept a Palestinian state? You got Netanyahu to say that, and that’s his big accomplishment?

MR. KELLY: That is an accomplishment.

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration – previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have – we have – we’ve had a intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look –

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense –

MR. KELLY: Obviously –

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not – but it’s – we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I – really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

In summary, "the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero." Great job Mr. Lee. Read the full transcript after the jump:

MR. KELLY: Well, I think, Michel, you’ve heard us say many times that we believe that neither party should engage in any kind of actions that could unilaterally preempt or appear to preempt negotiations. And I think that we find the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval of the – approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem as dismaying.

This is at a time when we’re working to re-launch negotiations, and we believe that these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. So we object to this, and we object to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes.

And – just to repeat what we’ve said all along, our position on Jerusalem is clear. We believe that the – that Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.

QUESTION: Can you tell us, did this come up in Ambassador Mitchell’s meetings in London yesterday? Apparently, we were told that he met an advisor to Netanyahu, asked them to not permit these new buildings, and then that request was flatly turned down.

MR. KELLY: Yeah. Andy, I just don’t want to get into the substance of these negotiations. They’re sensitive. I think you’ve seen the Israeli – some Israeli press reports that did report that this was raised in the meetings. This is – I mean, these kinds of unilateral actions are exactly the kind of actions that we think that both sides should refrain from at a time when we’re trying to start the negotiations again. But I don’t want to get into the substance of the discussions yesterday in London.

QUESTION: Would you steer us away from not believing the Israeli press reports?

MR. KELLY: I just don’t want to get into the substance. I’m not going to steer you one way or the other on it.

QUESTION: Where’s Senator Mitchell today?

QUESTION: How long is the U.S. going to continue to tolerate Israel’s violation of international law? I mean, soon it’s not even going to be possible – there’s not going to be any land left for the Palestinians to establish an independent state.

MR. KELLY: Well, again, this is a – we understand the Israeli point of view about Jerusalem. But we think that all sides right now, at this time when we’re expending such intense efforts to try and get the two sides to sit down, that we should refrain from these actions, like this decision to move forward on an approval process for more housing units in East Jerusalem.

QUESTION: But should U.S. inaction, or in response to Israel’s actions, then be interpreted as some sort of about-face in policy – the President turning his back on the promises he’s made to the Palestinians?

MR. KELLY: You’re – okay, you’re using language that I wouldn’t use. I mean, again, our focus is to get these negotiations started. We’re calling on both parties to refrain from actions, from – and from rhetoric that would impede this process. It’s a challenging time, and we just need to focus on what’s important here, and that’s –

QUESTION: Well, what actions (inaudible) the Palestinians taken recently that would impede progress?

MR. KELLY: Well, as I say, we would discourage all unilateral actions, and I think –

QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Palestinians –

MR. KELLY: We talked yesterday –

QUESTION: — don’t appear to be taking any unilateral actions. It seems to be (inaudible).

MR. KELLY: Well, we did talk yesterday about the – and I want to make sure I get my language right here – about the – discouraging any kind of unilateral appeal for United Nations Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That would fall in that category of unilateral actions.

QUESTION: Okay. So the Palestinian call for this, which was rejected by both the EU and yourself yesterday, you’re putting that on the same level as them building – as the Israelis building –

MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that. You just said that, Matt. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that –

QUESTION: Well, you’re saying you’re calling on both sides to stop doing these things.

MR. KELLY: We are.

QUESTION: Yeah. But the rhetoric from the –

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent.

QUESTION: — Palestinians is not actually constructed in a –

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent. I’m just saying that we – they – we have to treat these things as sensitive issues.

QUESTION: You said a little bit earlier that we understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem. Can you explain what you mean by that?

MR. KELLY: Well, you have to ask – I’m not going to stand up here and characterize the Israeli point of view on –

QUESTION: No. I’m just asking you, if you understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem, why are you saying that this is not a good thing?

MR. KELLY: I’m not saying we support the Israeli point of view. We understand it.

QUESTION: Right. And then, last one on this, you characterized this decision by the planning commission as dismaying.

MR. KELLY: Yes.

QUESTION: You can’t come up with anything stronger than “dismaying”? I mean, this flies in the face of everything you’ve been talking about for months and months and months.

MR. KELLY: It’s dismaying.

QUESTION: Yeah, you can’t offer a condemnation of it or anything like that? (Laughter.) I mean, who is in charge of the language here.

MR. KELLY: I have said what I have said, Mr. Lee.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Would you say, though, that your own envoy has – does he have any leverage at this point, given the fact that the Israelis not only refuse, but blatantly have ignored his wishes on this?

MR. KELLY: Well, let’s take a step back and let’s also recognize that both sides agree on the goal, and that goal is a comprehensive peace. That goal is two states living side by side in peace and security and cooperation. So that is why we continue to be committed to this. That is why Special Envoy Mitchell meets with both sides at every opportunity, and why we are continuing to expend such efforts on this. So let’s remember that, that we do share a common goal.

QUESTION: Well, where’s Senator Mitchell today?

MR. KELLY: I believe Senator Mitchell is on his way back today.

QUESTION: Could you give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in his months on the job?

MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have – we’ve gotten –

QUESTION: Yeah, maybe if the –

MR. KELLY: — both sides to agree on this goal. We have gotten both sides –

QUESTION: Ian, they agreed on the goal years ago. I mean, that’s not –

MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we – this government –

QUESTION: You mean you got the Israel Government to say, yes, we’re willing to accept a Palestinian state? You got Netanyahu to say that, and that’s his big accomplishment?

MR. KELLY: That is an accomplishment.

QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration – previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.

MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has come up with or established since he started, is zero.

MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.

QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?

MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have – we have – we’ve had a intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look –

QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense –

MR. KELLY: Obviously –

QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.

MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not – but it’s – we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.

QUESTION: Well, I – really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.

MR. KELLY: All right.

QUESTION: I’ll drop it.

MR. KELLY: Give us a chance. Thank you, Matt.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: It seems Senator Mitchell is focusing in his meetings on the Israeli side. Is he – does he have any plans to talk with the Palestinians, or there is no need now for that?

MR. KELLY: Well, he, as I say, he had meetings yesterday with the Israelis. He’s coming back to the U.S. now. He always stands ready to talk to both sides. There are no plans at this moment to meet with the Palestinian side.

About Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 21 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. potsherd says:

    Well, they’re holding his feet to the fire, but they could have thrown more coals on it. Where is the question about the unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state?

    When is someone going to ask when they’ll realize “negotiations” will never happen and never work?

  2. Taxi says:

    Do we all live in Alice-in-Wonderland or what?!

    America and Israel are an absurdity!!

    The back-lash to all this hubris and criminal deception will be incalculable.

    We’re heading for WW3.

    Thanks Aipac and Friends of Israel!

    I’m sure you guys won’t be around to help clean up your fucking mess after we Americans fall from grace and lose our super-powerhood, soldiers and dollars!

  3. JGlatzer says:

    it’s never been more clear to me: the united states’s job is to cover for israel while it takes over 100% of palestine and completes the nakba it started in 1948 which has never ended.

  4. radii says:

    how does israel continue to maintain its iron grip around the neck of my beloved country, the United States? Why can’t we peel back those bloody criminal fingers of racist hate and stand up and get control over that monster for once and for all? … how much damage will we let them do to us?

    all settlements must be stopped immediately and “forever” as Madam Sec’y Clinton said and israel should receive zero dollars from the U.S. taxpayers until they comply and we should ban any private money being sent over … further these enablers of the settler terrorists (Adelson, et al) should be brought up on terror charges for their complicity in the crimes the settlers commit …

    if you haven’t seen the Dispatches program on the israeli lobby in the UK, here is a link israeli lobby in UK

  5. Sin Nombre says:

    Actually I think it’s a very interesting question why U.S. administrations have been behind these various “peace processes.” They could, after all, have just let the money continue to flow to Israel and sit back and only occasionally utter some banal words about wanting peace and blah blah.

    The main reason otherwise to me at least has then been because Israel has wanted it: Without the U.S. crowding everyone else out, including the U.N., other third parties who are far less in Israel’s pocket might get involved, or mount some sanctions program against Israel or etc., and thus it’s been necessary to essentially have the U.S. there as the 800 lb. gorilla, endlessly promising progress. Even if that has meant that by doing so its been endlessly spending its own credibility by playing such a sham role, but that’s just been yet another cost to the U.S though, so no big deal.

    Admittedly however the U.S. has had its own interests too; for one to pretend that its support for Israel wasn’t really for Israel gobbling Palestinian land. In the first place there was the need to lie to ourselves that we weren’t doing that. And then in the second to lie to others to try to forestall arab/moslem hatred of us and etc.

    It’s funny then as Israel gobbles so much land that no real two-state solution is even possible anymore, and we’ve already gotten so much arab/moslem hatred that we are effectively in a war with them in at least three countries over there, the necessity of us being involved in any “peace process” can seem to shrink. What’s the need after all? The deed’s been done, nobody left to lie to, we’ve already garnered about as much arab/moslem hostility as is possible … maybe that’s what accounts for Obama’s obvious lack of care. The ideal ending is for things to just be left lying with us quietly walking away as best we can, and just hope that those damned arabs and moslem would forget what we’ve done to ‘em.

    • Cheryl says:

      Congress, Congress, Congress with the lead being taken by Ileana Ros Lehtinen and Howard Berman in the House (although when they are gone there is a long list of other unwavering supporters to fill their position) and Schumer and friends in the Senate.

      Until constituents start to pound them with questions and have someone ready to a
      do a followup question because many of them will try to nonanswer, they can continue to vote with Israel because their constituents do not call them on it.
      If I had one wish it would be that at every public meeting representatives would be asked to explain their funding of Israel while settlements are being built……but one has to get past their we love Israel, Israel is the only democracy, we will always protect Israel rhetoric.
      .

    • potsherd says:

      And then, when the Palestinians propose their own way out of the mire, the US shoves them right back in. At Israel’s behest.

    • “The ideal ending is for things to just be left lying with us quietly walking away as best we can, and just hope that those damned arabs and moslem would forget what we’ve done to ‘em. ”

      SN, I agree with your analysis of what has been happening, but not with the recommendation in your closing sentence, quoted above. There’s nothing ideal about that ending. We owe the Palestinians big-time.

  6. Cheryl says:

    From Laura Rosen at Foreign Policy:

    Netanyahu may have deliberately escalated a fight over Jerusalem, some analysts alternatively suggested, because the idea of keeping Jerusalem the undivided capital of Israel has some support not only in Israel, but among some conservative American Jewish and Christian constituencies. “Our position is clear too,” said Nathan Diament, of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. “Jerusalem is the eternal and indivisible capital of Israel and the Jewish people and, in this context, it is also worth noting that that is the official policy of the United States as articulated in a duly enacted Act of Congress.”

    “No genuine Israeli interest is served by any of these projects,” wrote former State Department Middle East hand Lara Friedman now with Americans for Peace Now and Danny Seidemann. “The only interest served by these projects is the prevention of the two-state solution and the transformation of the Israeli-Arab conflict from a difficult but resolvable conflict over territory into an irresolvable zero-sum religious war.”

    Posted by Laura Rozen 02:20 PM

    “an irresolvable zero-sum religious war.” and who will win that with the way the neocon community has worked to make Islam the enemy of the world? So Israel’s land grab march will end up working…..beautiful strategy.

  7. Cheryl says:

    Thank you, Chu for posting the State Dept. briefing video. Does anyone know who the female reporter is that asks several questions and comments that there is going to be no land left for a Palestinian state?

    I believe that Matthew Lee, an AP reporter is the other reporter with tenacity asking hard-hitting questions. Bradblog.com reports that he had a long discussion with the Bush administration State Dept. spokesman over the Gaza war and was hardhitting then also over a two day period (returning for clarification, etc.) Bradblog notes that Lee’s subsequent article was less strident and suggests that AP editors might be responsible:

    By Brad Jacobson on 1/8/2009 2:49PM
    AP Reporter’s Tough Gaza Questions Disappeared
    Guest blogged by Brad Jacobson of MediaBloodhound

    During Monday’s State Department press briefing, Associated Press State Department Correspondent Matthew Lee posed the most pointed question about the conflict in Gaza and the Bush administration’s position: “What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?”

    and….

    If you watch or read what Lee said during the corresponding press briefings, it’s hard to believe he decided to scrub those exchanges with McCormick. Of course it’s possible. But the only thing that’s certain is somewhere between Lee’s exemplary work in those two prior press briefings and the AP’s editorial process, someone decided to censor the pertinent truth about the reckless stupidity and grisly inhumanity of the administration’s current Gaza stance.

    Cross-posted from MediaBloodhound.

    It appears that Matt Lee asks important strong questions at State….

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  9. Nolan says:

    While a reading of the transcript is enough to establish who’s running things behind the scenes, watching the video brings a whole new dimension to the meaning of the word “pathetic”.

    Kelly, the DoS spokesperson, embodies the very essence of The Lobby’s grip on the US government. There’s a term in Hebrew for such characters, smar-toot, meaning, (dirty) rag – one with which you wipe all kinds of muck and dirt. That’s the essence of the Israel-US relationship. Israel commands, the US abides like a docile dog on a leash.

    Everything the Obama administration has done so far goes in direct opposition to his rhetoric and all his exhilarating speeches.

  10. Sin Nombre says:

    radii wrote:

    “how does israel continue to maintain its iron grip around the neck of my beloved country….”

    You know, thinking about this it is a bit odd. Yes there’s been decades of marination of the U.S. public in pro-Israel sentiment and stories, and of course everyone knows of the Holocaust, but, still, when you think about it the precise nature of the sentiment in the U.S. is interesting.

    It isn’t, after all, “yes, the U.S. should subordinate its interests to Israel,” nobody really buys this.

    Nor really does it seem to me to be any particularly strong form of the idea that “our interests are identical.” Of course in a weak form this is true in terms of “fighting terrorism,” but not in any stronger form vis a vis, say, the settlements. People aren’t stupid, they recognize that interests diverge, and indeed it has always seemed to me the truth of this is what lies behind the continual efforts of Israeli partisans to say that our interest *are* identical: They know how weak is that identification and thus know the need to keep trying to push it.

    So what is it? To me at least when you have such an extreme imbalance like we have now, despite the facts at the very least arguing for balance if not sympathy for the Palestinians, it reflects an imbalance in the rhetoric.

    Not lovely but true, the side that best packages its message in a democracy tends to win, even if that message has grave flaws. One example that I’d use is that of nuclear power. Not really taking sides on the issue, it’s interesting that so many enviros today seem to regret the great routing of the nuke power movement that they achieved after Three Mile Island and with that Jane Fonda movie. At the very least indeed it’s hard to find any enviros today who don’t at least acknowledge that the issue is more complex than it was presented. But it was presented beautifully by their “side” back then: How much easier was it for them to win via a few tremendously emotional phrases and images over the plodding, boring, detail-ridden talk of those on the other side. (Who, after all, seem to have had a point: It’s been decades since Three Mile Island which means hundreds of thousands of hours of nuke power generation in that and other plants—world-wide—and we still only have Chernobyl to point to.)

    At any rate I see a similar tremendous imbalance in the message packaging with the I/P conflict and indeed I fear for the future even if it means my substantive ympathies regarding same might advance. That is, on the one side you’ve got the Israeli partisans who have a few very very effective messages they use against their opponents: “Anti-semite” is of course a biggie, but also “pro-terrorist” or “anti-American” even. And that about sums it up, even if the success these few labels achieve is just tremendous. (With all however seeming to be getting a bit stale even with the public from my perspective at least.)

    My concern then, even though I don’t like the imbalance, is that all too often it’s rectified by people coming to the fore and going too far the other way … because, again unfortunately, that’s the kind of thing that succeeds.

    So wait long enough and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the same kind of tactics used by extreme Israeli partisans used against them, and it won’t be pretty: You might, for instance, get a teeny dent in a Jane Harman at a constituent meeting by trying to politely “debate” her or her like-minded colleagues at a community get-together. I suspect, if it happened even just a couple of times, you may well start getting a much bigger reaction calling her a “traitor”, over and over, and let her have to decide how long she wanted to live with that. Or call her a Fifth-columnist, or an Israeli spy. Or to start calling dual nationality American-Israelis “parasites”, or calling Israel a “parasite” state. Or to start waving placards saying such things in front of cameras when Israeli partisans appear, or using such phrases in letters to the editors in local newspapers.

    Sure, for awhile the media will not see this as newsworthy/worth coverage, but at some point, esp. if used in media-savvy ways, they would have to. And then I suspect the damn would break.

    Not saying for sure this will happen, but imbalances tend not to last forever, action breeds reactions, offenses produce defenses and on and on.

    The whole thing is repugnant to me, but what can you do? It’s like the lowest common denominator always has the ability to determine the course of things, and those Israeli partisans who dabble in this kind of sentiment are just inviting a similar reaction I think, for the same reason they use theirs: it works.

    Might not happen at all of course; the issues behind it might be mooted before it gets to that, but who knows. The U.S. ramps up an attack on Iran, Iran ignites the entire Middle East against us, our boys start to come home in tons of body bags that can’t be ignored and ever more boys are sent…. The theoretical can turn real surprisingly fast.

    • Citizen says:

      I think it’s pretty simple: the plight of the Palestinians and the American enabling of it against American values and international values is simply not given any play to the American audience. Anyone with any credentials who seeks to do so, is largely ignored. If nobody tells you the bodies are burning, and you live far away, you just
      go about your daily business–smoke spiraling up in the distant sky is as nothing, as you trudge along behind your plow to eek out a living for you and your family.

  11. potsherd says:

    “Terrorist supporter”

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  13. Citizen says:

    Why should the Palestinians have to pay for what the European regimes did with the help of their Zionists? Open the black box of the Holocaust to see the universal eye of justice–so explains Ahmadinehad last mid-September:
    link to memritv.org

  14. Pingback: Ethnic cleansing formula: Build Jewish areas, demolish Palestinian ones