John Kerry’s statement that settlements are illegitimate–
Let me make it clear: The policy of the United States of America with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate, and we oppose settlements taking place at any time, not just the time of the peace process.
–has opened up new lines of questioning about US foreign policy. From the State Department briefing yesterday, with spokesperson Jen Psaki. Starting at minute 50, once again note that several reporters press Psaki on settlements, though Matt Lee of AP leads the questioning.
Matt Lee, Associated Press: Is it correct that – is that correct, that all settlement activity is illegitimate?… Does the United States believe that all Israeli settlement activity along – and we can include in that East Jerusalem construction – is all of it illegitimate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, our position on Jerusalem has been clear and has been consistent for some time, which is that we believe it is a final status issue in terms of the discussion of that – of Jerusalem, right? That is part of the discussion. We have, of course, expressed concerns about construction in East Jerusalem….
QUESTION: Okay. So you do not regard the construction in East Jerusalem as illegitimate. Is that correct?
MS. PSAKI: Well, I think I just stated what we – what our longstanding position has been on construction…
Lee: Okay. So in terms of illegitimacy then, this legitimacy issue, are existing settlements illegitimate in the eyes of the Administration in the West Bank? Settlements in the West Bank that currently exist now, are they illegitimate, meaning that they should not be part of Israel once there is a peace agreement?
MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, the question of borders will be worked through and is part of the discussion that will take place and will be ongoing in the weeks and months ahead.
QUESTION: So are existing settlements illegitimate?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we have concerns about ongoing continued settlement activity.
Lee: Okay. Do you understand that there’s a serious problem here? Because if you talk about – if all you’re prepared to say is that you don’t accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity, you are only calling illegitimate settlements that have not been announced, settlements that are, say, a twinkle in the Housing Minister or whoever’s eye. Once they are actually announced or built, you stop calling them illegitimate, and they – and you start saying that that’s a – that’s something to be decided between the parties. Okay?
MS. PSAKI: Well, this has been our position for a number of years.
Lee: That’s – well, right. But, and I’m surprised that no one, and especially me, has picked up on this before, because you have essentially – you don’t oppose settlements at all, because once they’re built or once they’re announced, once plans for them – plans to build them are announced, you’re not opposed to them anymore, because it’s something for the parties to decide whether they’re legitimate or not.
MS. PSAKI: Well, certainly it will be – a big part of the discussion will be that process moving forward.
Lee: Right. Do you understand the problem? Do you understand the —
MS. PSAKI: I understand what you’re conveying, Matt. I’m happy to talk back with our team and see if there’s any more clarification we can provide.
Lee: Okay. So tell me, am I wrong in thinking that the United States has no position at all except that it is to be decided by the parties on the legitimacy or illegitimacy of settlements that exist in the West Bank today?
MS. PSAKI: I believe you are wrong, Matt. We’ll get you some more clarification.
QUESTION: — in fact, your longstanding position, going back all the way to 1967, and through George Herbert Walker Bush when he was representative at the United Nations, and on to Andrew Young, and on and on and on, that the settlement, that Jerusalem – East Jerusalem, the West Bank, all territory occupied is contrary to the Fourth Geneva Convention, and any alteration stands contrary to that, that you will not support. That is your position, not to reconcile yourself to the facts on the ground, as has been suggested.
MS. PSAKI: Duly noted.
QUESTION: Given the fact that those new settlements were announced just in the last, what, 24 hours or so and the peace talks went forward, what is it that you pledged, promised to the Palestinians to keep them from walking out?
MS. PSAKI: Well, again, it was a decision made by both sides to return to the negotiating table. Obviously we’re playing a facilitating role, but there was a belief by both sides that this was an important time to move forward and to work through to have these direct negotiations. Beyond that, I’m not going to peel the curtain back on any specific discussions.