Yesterday at the State Department briefing, assertive reporters showed that while the U.S. has repeatedly criticized Israel’s settlement activities– this week expressing anger over them– it hasn’t done to stop them and Israel just keeps expanding. It announced more settlements right after the US criticism!
I’ve dug out some of the State Department record of the last two years, below, and you can see that this is the pattern. The State Department repeatedly describes settlements as “nonconstructive” but Israel pays no price for unending expansion. And when an actual resolution appears at the Security Council to condemn settlements, the U.S. backs away.
Here’s some of that sorry record. Yesterday’s briefing, with Victoria Nuland:
QUESTION: Despite your expressed anger at the beginning of this week at the settlement activities, today the Israelis have announced also more settlement activities in East Jerusalem and Atarot and Giv’ot and Kfar Etzion. It’s about 2,400 housing in all. So beyond another expressed anger, what are you doing to stop them from this activity that is not helping the peace process?
MS. NULAND: Well, I would certainly agree with you that this is not constructive, that we talk about it, as we do in all of these cases whenever they come up, and that we remain engaged.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that if you sort of espouse a different narrative and expressing that anger, that the Israelis may take pause and stop?
MS. NULAND: Said, I’m not quite sure what the question was there.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, let me rephrase the question. Perhaps if you change your narrative – you keep saying that our position is well known on the settlements. Perhaps you need to remind them of that – what that position is and what are the consequences if they continue to sort of just flaunt their sort of noncompliance with your anger on the settlement issue.
MS. NULAND: Said, this speaks to the larger objective here, which is to get these parties into a direct dialogue about security, about borders. Because when borders are set together peacefully, all of these issues go away. So that’s why our fundamental approach is to try to get them to the table.
QUESTION: But this week marks the 45th anniversary of the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. And the occupation seems to be going on and on and on. Why can’t you take the initiative, so to speak, a fresh initiative perhaps, to get the peace talks going, and you have as far as that initiative an end or a freeze to settlement?
MS. NULAND: Again, we are continuing to work hard with both parties. You’ve seen the exchange of letters between the prime minister and the President. You’ve seen subsequent public reaffirmations of their commitment to work. This is – nobody needs to tell you, Said, that this is hard, difficult work. We are doing what we can to support getting them back to the table.
QUESTION: So what are you doing as far as – in the aftermath of these exchange of letters?
MS. NULAND: I think I’ve said what I have for today. We do anticipate that David Hale will be out in the region again. I don’t know if it’s next week or – I think it may be next week.
STAFF: No dates yet.
MS. NULAND: Yeah. No dates yet.
This is from January 31 this year, Mark Toner at the mike.
QUESTION: The Israeli Government has announced plans to actually encourage settlers to move into the West Bank and to begin – and also to begin a process that would – that could end up in legalizing what are now illegal outposts. I’m assuming that your position on both of these things hasn’t changed, so I’m wondering –
MR. TONER: You assume correctly.
MR. TONER: You know we’ve said multiple times –
QUESTION: What is it – can you maybe make it a little bit more clear, because it seems to be apparent that the Israelis, or at least Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, don’t understand exactly what it is that you, as their prime benefactor and large – huge ally, want from them.
MR. TONER: Well, Matt, we’ve said this many times from this podium and from elsewhere that we view any move that would jeopardize getting these two parties back to the negotiating table, and indeed, we’ve obviously seen them back – face-to-face negotiations over the past couple of weeks – that we find those unconstructive and unhelpful.
QUESTION: And that would include what they have announced today?
MR. TONER: Yes, that would include that.
QUESTION: All right. So what is the consequence, then, for Israel for them continuing to defy – not only defy but really to do – not just to say no, we don’t agree with that, but then to actually actively –
MR. TONER: Well, again –
QUESTION: — oppose or actively take active steps that fly in the face of what you say is helpful?
MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re seeking clarity on what is actually being proposed here.
Last September when the Palestinians pushed for statehood at the UN, State’s Mark Toner said the U.S. would block the initiative, and the US was against settlements, too. Emphases mine:
MR. TONER: Well, what – the Secretary said there’s going to be a day after New York [and the failed Palestinian statehood initiative] where we’re all going to have pick ourselves up and move forward. We just think it makes it harder.
QUESTION: And is it your position also that continued settlement construction makes it harder as well?
MR. TONER: You know our position on settlement construction.
QUESTION: Yeah. On –
MR. TONER: It’s counterproductive.
QUESTION: It’s counterproductive –
MR. TONER: It’s not helpful.
QUESTION: — just as the same way as this is here, right?
MR. TONER: Again –
QUESTION: And yet, the Israelis continue to do that, and you don’t do anything.
MR. TONER: We’re very – publicly and privately we convey our position on settlements.
QUESTION: Well, then why – you’re publicly and privately telling the Palestinians not to go to the UN. They say they’re going to do it anyway. And you’re going to knock it down. You’ve promised that you’re going to veto it at the Security Council. I don’t see – there seems to be a lack of consistency here.
MR. TONER: Again –
QUESTION: If both things are counterproductive, and yet you allow one side to do something that’s counterproductive without doing anything in response, why are you going to – why do you risk isolating yourself and the Israelis by vetoing it?
MR. TONER: Again, we are for action that will move the peace process forward.
Now I’m going way back to March 23, 2010, Philip Crowley at the helm. At that time the U.S. was telling the Israelis to stop the settlements, and nothing happened.
MR. CROWLEY: Let’s – suffice it to say that over the last two weeks in our multiple conversations with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Government, we have made clear to both sides and they have made clear through us to each other that there are responsibilities that the Israelis have, that the Palestinians have, to create the – a constructive atmosphere. I don’t think there’s any shortage of dialogue in terms of what one thinks the other should do. Our choice here is to make sure that both sides are sufficiently invested in the process, that both sides are taking affirmative actions that create this atmosphere of trust and both sides are refraining from actions that impede progress.
And as we’ve said here, we have addressed the Israelis and expressed concerns about what they have done recently, including the announcement regarding the 1,600 housing units. And likewise, we have addressed publicly concerns that we have about Palestinian actions on the ground and concerns that we have about incitement towards violence. We are going to continue in our unique role in this process to both – thank both parties when they do constructive things and challenge both parties when we think they’re taking actions that are unconstructive.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) seen progress. Israel has responded. What specific concessions have they made?
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to talk about the specific substance.
QUESTION: What message do you think this sends to the Arab world now that, twice, you’ve said stop the settlements; twice, Israel has said no, but yet you’re asking both sides to go back to the bargaining table?
And then there was this exchange at the State Department in January 2011 when the Security Council actually tried to do something against settlements, and the U.S. vetoed the resolution. You can see Crowley saying then that the settlements must be stopped by negotiations between the parties. Like Godzilla and a mouse negotiating over a banana.
MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear that we do not think that this matter should be brought before the Security Council.
QUESTION: And when you do that, what do you tell them if it – what does that mean, exactly?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, what that means is that we believe that –
QUESTION: Are you going to veto it if it comes up?
MR. CROWLEY: – these issues should be resolved through the ongoing process and through direct negotiations. That is our position. We’ve made that position clear to those who have an interest in this issue. But again, I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the coming days.
QUESTION: All right. Well, as I understand it, the resolution merely restates what has been U.S. policy for some time, that – basically, it criticizes settlement activity.
MR. CROWLEY: And again –
QUESTION: Why is it not – why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t – that supports existing U.S. policy?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.
QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.
MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.
QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?
MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.
QUESTION: Plus, it undermines your own efforts. I mean, isn’t that the real reason, that it undermines your own peacemaking efforts?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not believe that this is a – would be a productive step.
QUESTION: But the peace process is not working, and your efforts didn’t achieve anything until now.
MR. CROWLEY: Michel, you’re right; as of this moment today, we do not have a framework agreement. That does not necessarily say that one is – that is not a – that’s an achievable task, in our view. And that remains something that we’re actively engaged in.
QUESTION: Are you contemplating any other – do you have any other levers at your disposal to persuade the Palestinians not to move ahead of these two tracks that you’re – you’re saying constantly that you don’t want them to do it, but they’re forging ahead anyway. What can the U.S. do in this situation?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to engage the relevant actors. We do not think this would be a productive step.
QUESTION: Can you say exactly what will you think would be a productive step?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe the parties ultimately need to – in order to reach a framework agreement, they need to get back into direct negotiations, and we’re working to create the conditions that allows that to happen.
QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.
MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.
QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps –
MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if – (laughter).
QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean –
QUESTION: Why not –
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Matt, you’re –
QUESTION: I guess the fundamental question is –
MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter.) It’s not half full or half empty. It’s completely empty. And I don’t really understand why it is that you would be opposed to a resolution that simply restates what U.S. policy has been for a long time. I mean –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate. We’ve made our position clear. We continue to make our position clear. I’m not going to speculate on what happens going forward.
QUESTION: Well, you’ve stated the policy, but the position’s not clear, because – do you think that settlements are illegal or not? And if they’re illegal when you say them from the podium, then why shouldn’t they be illegal according to UN resolutions, which you’ve acknowledged all along? Like why can’t you just restate what you’ve been –
MR. CROWLEY: No, no. Our position on settlements is well known.
QUESTION: Is that they’re illegal.
MR. CROWLEY: It hasn’t changed. You’re talking about is this a prospective step that moves the process forward? In our view, it would not be.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that the building of settlements is a productive step that moves the process forward?
MR. CROWLEY: We believe that unilateral actions on all sides are not productive.