‘No consequences… ad finitum’ — Reporters reject State Dep’t explanation of US policy on settlements

Israel/Palestine
on 21 Comments

This is funny/encouraging. During last Thursday’s briefing by Jen Psaki at the State Department– video above– there was a lot of pushback from reporters about the renewal of the alleged peace process in the light of the latest Israeli settlement plans. “No consequences… ad finitum,” the reporters said.

Notice the reporters’ continual questions about settlement activity and settlers’ attacks on Palestinians. Notice a reporter hinting that the U.S. give less aid to Israel:

isn’t part of the problem here that despite the U.S. condemnation of settlement building, the Israelis have absolutely no incentive to stop it? I mean, they know that they’re going to have the U.S. support ad infinitum. And is it – shouldn’t there be consequences?

The reporter continues: 

Working with the two sides isn’t actually getting you anywhere. We’re still stuck now where we were sort of 60 years ago. Despite the Secretary’s efforts, the Israelis are still moving forward with plans which you yourself concede are unhelpful.

Notice Matt Lee of the Associated Press at the end saying there are never consequences for Israelis:

so it is then correct that U.S. policy is to – for there to be consequences for the Palestinians if they do things that are unhelpful to the resumption of the peace process, but it is not the U.S. policy to have consequences for the Israelis when they do similar things?

Psaki stammers and brushes her hair back from her forehead a lot.

Above is the video. Here’s the transcript:

QUESTION: So as part of whenever it is that you make this announcement – well, we do expect the Secretary to visit Israel soon – I don’t think that that’s any secret since you had basically announced that he had postponed his trip there – trip to the Middle East there. So I’m wondering, in light of that – in light of his upcoming travel, if you have particular concerns about the latest settlement announcement in the West Bank today from the Israeli military.

MS. PSAKI: Well, we, of course, have seen those media reports that the Government of Israel has advanced plans to approve the construction of additional settlement housing in the West Bank settlements, and our position is the same. The Secretary has expressed his concern in the past both publicly and in private conversations. We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We remain hopeful that both sides will look at the important opportunity we have here to build trust and confidence and move back to the negotiating table, and that’s what our focus is on.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything so far to give you hope? You say you remain hopeful. Has there been anything to give you hope?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, as you know, to the frustration of all of you I’m certain, these conversations and the meetings have been very private, and we’ve kept them private for a reason.

QUESTION: No, let’s talk about public, just things that have appeared in public, things that are public knowledge. Has there been anything that would give you hope? I mean, there comes a point at which remaining hopeful is – becomes just naive and unworkable.

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary himself made very clear the last couple of times he’s spoken about this that both sides need to make tough choices, and it’s on them to make the decision about whether they’re willing to move back to the table.

QUESTION: Okay. So have you seen either side make a tough choice?

MS. PSAKI: Again, I’m not going to lay out –

QUESTION: Well, I mean, I just –

MS. PSAKI: — what conversations that happen privately.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, have you seen –

MS. PSAKI: I’ll leave you to analyze what they’ve said publicly.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you – then I will do that. And what they have said publicly, or, at least in this case, what the Israelis have said publicly, is not conducive to any resumption in negotiations. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: There have been –

QUESTION: You say that continued settlement activity is bad and is not helpful to the process.

MS. PSAKI: That is true.

QUESTION: Okay. So have you seen anything public, that they have done publicly, that would be conducive to resumption, on either side – not just the Israelis, either side? Has either side done anything since the – since you have been in this job, or since the Secretary has been in – the current Secretary has been in his job, that would give you any reason to be hopeful that a resumption in negotiations is possible?

MS. PSAKI: Well, Matt, the Secretary –

QUESTION: Anything? Anything?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary would not have returned as many times as he had if he didn’t think that there was an opportunity here. And given the stakes and how important this would be and how impactful it would be to the region and our interests around the world, that’s why he’s so focused on it. Obviously, there are a lot of conversations that happened privately. There have been a range of comments made, of course. We know that – we knew going into it, the Secretary knew there would be cynics, and we’ve seen that in the media, as he himself has said. But there have been meetings, a number of positive meetings they’ve had. There have been positive comments from both sides about the openness to continuing the discussions, and we’ll see if we get to the point where both sides make the tough decisions to move back to the table.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you suggesting that it is cynical to say – to see an Israeli – another Israeli announcement of continued settlement activity, something that you yourself say is bad – it’s cynical to see that as something that is not –

MS. PSAKI: No, I –

QUESTION: — conducive to –

MS. PSAKI: — I wasn’t –

QUESTION: — negotiation?

MS. PSAKI: — I wasn’t attributing that to that specific question. I was attributing it to the fact that there have been comments, as we’ve all seen and as the Secretary himself has talked about, about how difficult this is, how he understands people are skeptical, things along those lines.

QUESTION: But here’s the thing: How – I don’t see how you can it’s cynical or – he understands why people are skeptical? I mean, it’s precisely because of things like this that people are skeptical. I would –

MS. PSAKI: And because –

QUESTION: — argue that it’s not cynical. It’s realistic.

MS. PSAKI: This is because there have been efforts to move back to the table countless times, as you well know, because you’ve followed this closely –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MS. PSAKI: — for a number of years. And it’s difficult. So – but he still remains focused on it, and if him going back to the region will help move it –

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — the ball forward one step, he’ll do that.

QUESTION: Just on – this should be easier. Do you know, has this latest announcement been raised by U.S. officials with Israeli officials?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not aware of a – because this was just this morning, so I don’t have any update on kind of a recent –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) an update since we talked the last time about this.

MS. PSAKI: All right. Said’s going to read out conversations.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. There was – if I may. There was an increase of 670 units yesterday.

MS. PSAKI: Yes, that’s what I was referring to.

QUESTION: And today there was an announcement for Gush Etzion, another addition of 1,000. So in the last –

QUESTION: I’m sorry, but he update –

MS. PSAKI: I think Matt was –

QUESTION: — I was looking for was whether –

MS. PSAKI: Matt was asking about conversations between people at our Embassy or consulate, or presumably in the State Department.

QUESTION: Do you plan to raise it at a high level in the coming days?

MS. PSAKI: The Secretary has raised it at a high level before. I don’t have any planned calls, but I’m sure he will not hesitate to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me just follow up, if I may, on this. Was this issue, the issue of expansion of settlement, discussed between Secretary Kerry and Secretary Hague yesterday?

MS. PSAKI: No, it was not.

QUESTION: Okay. Are you aware that Mr. Netanyahu in Warsaw refused to sign on a statement that calls for a two-state solution, he insisted that the two-state solution would be taken out?

MS. PSAKI: I would send you to the Government of Israel and Mr. Netanyahu.

QUESTION: Okay. And lastly, the Palestinians – the Palestinian Authority says that these settlement expansions is actually a way to sort of disrupt Secretary Kerry’s effort towards some sort of a peace settlement. Do you agree with them, or do you –

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I may –

QUESTION: Perhaps you find that to be cynical?

MS. PSAKI: I made pretty clear that we don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, and we encourage both sides to act in a way that will provide for a path to peace. So –

QUESTION: Yeah. But, I mean, you always say the same thing, that you are unhappy, you find it unhelpful and so on. But the process is really accelerating at a breathless kind of speed. Are you not concerned that there may not be any land left for the Palestinians to build their state on?

MS. PSAKI: Well, that’s why I expressed a concern today.

QUESTION: What I don’t understand is – the Secretary said it several times, you’ve repeated it – that there’s reasons for skepticism, for cynicism, you understand.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: But you don’t provide any counter evidence why people shouldn’t be skeptical or cynical in this case. You’re not providing any –

QUESTION: Is it secret?

QUESTION: — evidence or anything to suggest that people should get rid of this skepticism and believe in the process.

MS. PSAKI: The strategy here is to keep these negotiations private, because his belief – and the belief of a number of these officials – is that that’s the best way to create an environment to bring both sides back to a negotiating table.

QUESTION: But you understand that on that notion, then, if you were skeptical, you should stay skeptical, correct?

MS. PSAKI: If the current path we’re on leads to a peace agreement, Brad, we will accept –

QUESTION: You will inform us of the decision.

MS. PSAKI: — every ounce of skepticism there’s been.

QUESTION: Is it possible –

QUESTION: (Laughter.) What if it doesn’t?

MS. PSAKI: It’s worth the effort to try to bring both sides back to the table.

QUESTION: I mean, isn’t part of the problem here that despite the U.S. condemnation of settlement building, the Israelis have absolutely no incentive to stop it? I mean, they know that they’re going to have the U.S. support ad infinitum. And is it – shouldn’t there be consequences? Shouldn’t the U.S. be sort of saying, okay, we hold a lot of aid – we send a lot of aid to Israel; shouldn’t there be some kind of consequences for the Israelis going ahead and deliberately tarnishing the waters that the Secretary’s trying to build here?

MS. PSAKI: Well, our focus right now is not on consequences as much as working with both sides to try to move them back to the table. So I don’t have anything new or any new policy on that front. Certainly we find this unhelpful, as I just said. And he’s continuing to talk to both sides.

QUESTION: But diplomacy has always been about a carrot and stick thing. And I mean, working with the two sides isn’t actually getting you anywhere. We’re still stuck now where we were sort of 60 years ago. Despite the Secretary’s efforts, the Israelis are still moving forward with plans which you yourself concede are unhelpful.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Shouldn’t there be some kind of modification of the U.S. policy in that case to sort of say, “If you guys do this, we’re going to do that”? And maybe that would actually unblock this process somewhere.

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – that’s not the current plan. But we are – he is continuing to work with both sides, to have discussions, express concerns where needed with both sides, and remains focused on moving them back to the table.

QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the increased attack by settlers against Palestinian farmers and villagers?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I’m not sure which report you’re referring to.

QUESTION: I mean, they are constant. They happen almost every day within – they double every month. Talk about doubling. I mean, it doubles every month. Are you concerned, or do you raise this issue with the Israelis? Do you demand that they bring these attackers to justice?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t – I’m not sure what report you’re referring to. We’re always concerned about attacks on innocent civilians, but beyond that I’m not sure I have much more to add.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you expect both sides to hold the aggressors from their side accountable to justice? Do you call on both sides that they do that, including the Israelis?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’ve probably done what we can here on this topic, Said.

QUESTION: I just want to check one thing that you said to Jo. You said, “That’s not the current plan,” when I think her question was why – is there any thought being given to making there –

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: — be consequences for unhelpful actions as it related to the settlements? And you said that’s not the current plan. Is it still the policy, though, that if the Palestinians try to get recognition at U.S. – at UN agencies or affiliates, that there will be consequences in terms of aid?

MS. PSAKI: You’re familiar with our policy. That hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: So in other words, that there are consequences for the Palestinians if they do things that are unhelpful, but there are not consequences – and there are no plans to have consequences – for the Israelis if they do things that are unhelpful to the process. Is that correct? Is that correct? That’s –

MS. PSAKI: Well, again –

QUESTION: I want to make sure that I understand that that’s the –

MS. PSAKI: There’s no change in our policy on either front.

QUESTION: Okay. All right.

MS. PSAKI: That was what I was conferring to Jo, perhaps not clearly enough.

QUESTION: Okay. So if I could just make – so it is then correct that U.S. policy is to – for there to be consequences for the Palestinians if they do things that are unhelpful to the resumption of the peace process, but it is not the U.S. policy to have consequences for the Israelis when they do similar things?

MS. PSAKI: Well, again, I think Jo was referring to funding that we provide for security purposes, which have a broad range of reasons, as you know.

QUESTION: I don’t think – she just said consequences.

QUESTION: No, no. Matt’s question is the right question, actually, yeah.

MS. PSAKI: There’s no change in our policy, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. So there are no consequences for the Israelis but plenty of consequences for the Palestinians?

MS. PSAKI: Again, we consider aid to all sides – as you know, because you know how the Congressional process works – on a very regular basis.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure that I understand it.

MS. PSAKI: We make points to both sides about actions they would take that would be unhelpful. And we – that is why moving both sides back to the table for a peace process is so important.

21 Responses

  1. frankier
    June 17, 2013, 12:51 pm

    Ms. Psaki prevalent thought during the session must have been: “Please, somebody make it stop.”

    • W.Jones
      June 17, 2013, 9:37 pm

      She can stop it whenever she wants, eg. “That’s all the question on this topic, etc.”

      Admittedly, with Bush things eventually got so hard to answer that they had to get a new press secretary.

  2. David Doppler
    June 17, 2013, 1:35 pm

    “tarnishing the waters that the Secretary’s trying to build here.” An apt triple mixed metaphor for the situation we have. Certainly, no foundation for peace, nor good reporting.

    And the problem is misdirection, taboos, a disconnect between the story for external consumption, the omnipotent true policy, which – like Y-h W-h – must never be named, and the use of the time so gained to alter facts on the ground.

    “If the current path we’re on leads to a peace agreement, Brad, we will accept — every ounce of skepticism there’s been.”

    And if there is no peace agreement, what? You won’t accept the skepticism? You will have borne the skepticism in vain? I think this is rationalizing futility: We’re going to try, therefore we are heroic, or at least not evil, or not party to evil because we tried. We acted in good faith. We gave it the old college try. But it doesn’t work in the face of acknowledging the grounds for skepticism. And by continuing to defer to the taboos, the prohibition of any consequences for Israeli “unhelpful actions” (or “war crimes,” take your pick) that are designed to take advantage of time bought in order to change facts on the ground.

    “Again, we consider aid to all sides – as you know, because you know how the Congressional process works – on a very regular basis.” A hat tip to the Israel Lobby and its tight control on Congress with respect to the Middle East. But so long as the taboos remain in effect, no direct focus on those controls and their true impact by government or media allowed, then why would we expect any change?

    We’ve reached the stage after the little boy says the Emperor has no clothes on, and the crowd laughs, but the procession continues with forced dignity, and people are now thinking up jokes to extend the humor, but still are not telling them to the Emperor.

  3. ckg
    June 17, 2013, 1:49 pm

    Matt Lee speaks like an intelligent, principled journalist. But he writes like every other media lackey of the pro-Israel establishment.

  4. Tuyzentfloot
    June 17, 2013, 2:00 pm

    The reference to Mondo Weiss top right of the screen seems a bit improvised. But it’s nice of them.

  5. seafoid
    June 17, 2013, 2:39 pm

    ” There is no change in our policy. ” Sah wa nuss.

  6. john h
    June 17, 2013, 4:06 pm

    “We don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We remain hopeful that both sides will look at the important opportunity we have here to build trust and confidence and move back to the negotiating table”.

    That says it all. Hypocrisy and contradiction – doublespeak.

    Talking softly to the one out of line and a big stick shown to the affected other.

    Shared values, joined at the hip.

  7. just
    June 17, 2013, 4:39 pm

    It’s a script that doesn’t even have the time to gather dust. A planned tragedy with no accountability by Israel and the US– the 2 biggest warmongers in my lifetime.

    It’s monstrous and nauseating. Reading what Netanyahu says, what Peres says and what Bennett says, reveals a carefully crafted and rehearsed danse macabre.

    • W.Jones
      June 17, 2013, 8:48 pm

      OK, so Kerry goes to the Holy Land to restart the “peace process”, gets the Palestinians to put off getting ICC membership to protect their rights, and…?

  8. Ecru
    June 17, 2013, 5:21 pm

    “There’s no change in our policy because it’s been bought and paid for by the Jewish lobby.”

  9. R2mi
    June 17, 2013, 6:00 pm

    I love it ! The fighting journalists concerned about double standard, the pokerface spokesperson paid to struggle with all this hypocrisy and immorality fulfilled US state policies, and the hope that all this brings.
    As skeptical and cynical as we are, US Foreign Affairs Minister has officially nothing to answer which means ‘Of course, you are right’. Great. Great.

  10. Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 6:37 pm

    Lewis Carrol couldn’t dream up this scenario. The press corps should get really specific, saying this all carrots-no sticks US policy exception for Israel has been going on for decades, and they shoud throw the pizza pie gobbler analogy at the WH spokeman.

  11. Citizen
    June 17, 2013, 6:56 pm

    Why is the press corps so inarticulate on this subject? They mostly sound like they are college freshman struggling for words even to ask about the all-carrots-no-sticks US policy regarding the “unhelpful” and ever-expanding and illegal Israeli settlements, so in-your-face?

    • ritzl
      June 17, 2013, 9:43 pm

      Well that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it… link to youtu.be

    • Shingo
      June 17, 2013, 11:01 pm

      They mostly sound like they are college freshman struggling for words even to ask about the all-carrots-no-sticks US policy regarding the “unhelpful” and ever-expanding and illegal Israeli settlements, so in-your-face?

      In their defense, they hate to tread carefully. If they cay it like it is, they might find their access to the press room revoked the next day.

  12. W.Jones
    June 17, 2013, 9:32 pm

    This reminds me of talking to supporters of the State system..

    “There’s no consequences, right?”
    —> “Right now we are focusing on getting the two sides together”.
    But there’s no incentive, right?
    —————> “We believe that the best thing is to have the two sides working together…”

    ie. We answer whatever we want because we are in total control.
    (And if for some reason we got it in our heads to stop toeing the line, our party would lose control. So who is really in control after all?)

  13. Nevada Ned
    June 17, 2013, 11:34 pm

    The State Dept press secretary keeps repeating that “there is no change in our policy”.
    And that’s true. The reporters are figuring out that the chance of achieving a peace settlement can be judged by simply asking how well has the same old policy worked. And of course if you think that the goal was peace (and justice) then the result has been total failure. Continuing the same unchanged policy is a guarantee of failure.

    On the other hand, if you think the real goal is for the US to help the Israelis reduce the Palestinians to the status of the Native Americans, then the US/Israeli policy has been a success so far: the US stalls, pretending to support “the peace process”, while Israel grabs enough Palestinian land to make a Palestinian state impossible.

    By the way, I was pleasantly surprised that the reporters were so aggressive in their questioning. Nobody lobbed a softball question at the Press Secretary (flack catcher). The stories written by the reporters, on the other hand, are VERY different. Attacks by West Bank settlers on Palestinians occur just about every day. But are they reported in the US mainstream media every day? Of course not.

  14. seafoid
    June 18, 2013, 3:09 am

    At one point she says “we are not focused on consequences at the moment”.

    The system works until the day it collapses.

  15. seafoid
    June 18, 2013, 4:32 am

    WTF

    link to haaretz.com

    “Netanyahu also said that even if calling price tag activists part of a terror organization was correct from a domestic standpoint, it would be a diplomatic mistake that would damage Israel’s international standing, increase its delegitimization and encourage international groups to compare price tag attacks to rocket fire or Hamas suicide attacks. “

  16. keleperkins
    June 20, 2013, 3:12 pm

    Why does the title here say “ad finitum”? I’m pretty sure the questioner said “ad INFINITUM,” which is sort of the opposite of the title.

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