Yesterday an Israeli government panel issued its legal finding that East Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria (the biblical names for the West Bank) are not occupied territories. The report comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Deputy Secretary William Burns are getting ready to visit Israel to prod the alleged peace process. At the State Department briefing yesterday, spokesperson Patrick Ventrell was asked if the U.S. has any position on the Israeli government report. Note Ventrell’s tapdancing on the question. The White House seems to want no daylight between itself and Israel:
QUESTION: Palestinian-Israeli peace accord. Palestinian sources suggest that there is a meeting being organized between the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Is this brokered by the United States or is it a result of the meeting between the Secretary of State and President Abbas?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I don’t have any specific update for you on our role in this. Obviously, you know that we want to get them back together around the table negotiating, but I just don’t have anything further for you.
I will say that the Deputy Secretary Burns will travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah, and he will meet with Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, and he will lead the U.S. delegation to the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue where U.S. and Israeli officials will consult on a range of important regional issues of mutual interest. So Deputy Burns will make a stop there while he’s in the region.
QUESTION: Do you have dates for that?
QUESTION: Yeah. What’s the date of –
MR. VENTRELL: I actually don’t have dates on that. It looks like he’s going there directly after Yemen.
QUESTION: So it’s this week?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: It would make sense that it would be this week.
MR. VENTRELL: It’s this week.
QUESTION:Just also on this topic, there’s an Israeli Government appointed committee which was looking into – was asked to look into the legality of the settlements and has come forth with a ruling saying that they believe that essentially these settlements should be authorized, which is the Prime Minister’s position. The Israeli Government hasn’t accepted this ruling yet, but that sort of stands ready to be accepted. Do you guys take any view on this sort of creeping legalization of the settlement process? And is this useful at this point ahead of Deputy Secretary [William] Burns and the Secretary’s trip to Israel? Is this the kind of thing that you like to see happening?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, Andy, you know where we are on – the U.S. position on settlements is clear. Obviously, we’ve seen the reports that an Israeli Government appointed panel has recommended legalizing dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, but we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts.
QUESTION: So you would be – you would urge the Government of Israel not to accept this panel’s recommendation?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, my understanding is this is still – I’m not sure if this is in a draft form, but this is just a panel recommendation at this point.
QUESTION: And the Israeli Government can either accept it or not accept it. What do –
MR. VENTRELL: You know where the U.S. position is, which I just read out. So –
QUESTION: Is that going to be something that Deputy Burns brings up when he’s in Israel?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure. I can’t read out his meetings in advance. But –
QUESTION: Understand. But you don’t think this rises to the level of a senior official discussing it with the Israeli –
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to read out his meetings in advance. Let’s –
QUESTION: Well, is it something that you can say that you’re sufficiently concerned about that –
MR. VENTRELL: We’re concerned about it, obviously. The Deputy Secretary will be en route, and let’s see how his meetings go and see if we can report back to you when they’re over.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: Said.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up on this. When you express your concern, is it just done from this podium, or is it done officially? Does someone pick up the phone and talk to someone in the Israeli Government and say we express displeasure?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if we have raised this directly with the Israeli Government. I just read out our position here from the podium. I can check and see if our Embassy has raised it.