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‘You don’t oppose settlements… once they’re built’ — AP says to State Dep’t

on 17 Comments

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.

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17 Responses

  1. seafoid
    August 15, 2013, 4:17 pm

    It hardly matters how many settlers there are now. There is no difference between their settlements and Tel Aviv.
    It’s all going to be up for grabs.

  2. Denis
    August 15, 2013, 5:09 pm

    The Aug13 statement by JK is 100% clear: the USG views the settlements as illegitimate. Period. Past, present, future.

    At 49:30 of yesterday’s vid, the bald gentleman ran the discussion back to 1978 and Carter’s characterization of the settlements as illegal. Who cares what Carter said 35 years ago? We only have to go back 2 days to JK’s “illegitimate” characterization. Illegal, illegitimate. No difference.

    So I don’t get this dance between Psaki and Lee. I don’t see Lee’s point or problem and I don’t get Psaki refusing to repeat what her boss said 2 days ago. Lee seems to miss the point that the issue is not what Psaki thinks or believes, it is what the Secretary says, and that is crystal clear. Who cares what Kerry’s minions think? These reporters do the same thing with Carney. It’s like they think that whoever is at the podium is the person running the country and so they want to get him/her to commit to what his/her personal beliefs are.

    The point Lee should have pressed is: Given that it is the USG’s position that all settlements are illegitimate, what has USG done on the ground to penalize GoI for building past illegitimate settlements and what has it done to prevent future ones? If nothing, why? That is the only question, not USG’s characterization of the settlements.

    I don’t know who is the more annoying, Lee or Psaki. Neither one is serving the public in a competent manner. They both need a good bitch-slapping, IMO.

    As for Obama/Kerry – I am hoping that their position that the announcement of new settlements should not affect the talks means that when the 1948 border is once again enforced, all those Southern California aliyah Jews are going to be forced out of their new West Bank homes or will start paying rent to Palestinian land-lords.

    So let them keep building. After all, they’re paying Palestinians to build settlements that will someday be owned by Palestinians. If you build a garage on my property knowing it is my property, it becomes my garage, thank you very much.

    • Sibiriak
      August 15, 2013, 9:39 pm

      Illegal, illegitimate. No difference.

      Of course, there is a difference. If there were no difference, Kerry would have said “illegal”. “Illegitimate” is ambiguous. “Illegal” is not.

      • Hostage
        August 16, 2013, 4:18 am

        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.

        Well she’s just going to come back and tell him “continued settlement activity violates Israel’s commitments”. Then he’ll be right back at square one asking “which commitments” and does “continuing activity” apply to existing settlements?

        In the past, those “violated commitments” included Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under the Geneva Conventions for all those illegal settlements. They just dropped-off the radar and became an issue for final status negotiations when the US adopted the legal fiction that the settlements were only temporary, that Israel had not altered the status of the annexed territory in East Jerusalem or the Golan, because 1) it lacked the power to do so; and 2) it was still willing to provide a letter that said it would negotiate their status as part of a final agreement in order to avoid UN sanctions. That situation was actually codified in the Oslo DOP. But a General Assembly Emergency Session subsequently called for the Diplomatic Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to be Reconvened in order to address the situation. Neither the US nor Israel had a veto and could not prevent the assembled members from declaring the settlements illegal. The ICJ subsequently scraped the entire illicit arrangement, when it ruled the settlements were very much illegal, with or without Oslo.

        Today the US only means that “continued settlement activity” violates Israel’s commitments in connection with the Middle East Quartet Road Map. It requires a settlement freeze, including natural growth, and removal of the outposts. But the status of the existing (illegal) settlements supposedly remains an issue for final status negotiations. There is a Catch-22 situation in that Israel has lodged 14 reservations that completely rule out the possibility of any such thing as final status negotiations. The text of the reservations already dictates the final terms:

        Neither the US nor Israel have ever acknowledged the Declaration of the Diplomatic Conference of the Parties to the Geneva Conventions or the ICJ Advisory Opinion regarding the applicable law.

        So Matt Lee is getting the standard Kafkaesque bureaucratic run around.

    • Donald
      August 16, 2013, 12:54 am

      “So I don’t get this dance between Psaki and Lee. ”

      Read it again. Lee is making the point that once settlements are built, the US talks as though their ultimate fate (who owns them) is a matter for negotiations, which contradicts the claim that they are “illegitimate”.

      • Sibiriak
        August 16, 2013, 1:06 am


        …once settlements are built, the US talks as though their ultimate fate (who owns them) is a matter for negotiations, which contradicts the claim that they are “illegitimate”.

        Not quite. According to the U.S., they are “illegitimate” now, but there status is subject to negotiation: they could become “legitimate” through agreement with the Palestinians.

        In other words, the designation “illegitimate” is just rhetoric; the real U.S. position is that the bulk of the settlements will become part of Israel in any final agreement.

      • tree
        August 16, 2013, 1:28 am

        Not necessarily. It could just be that the US thinks its acceptable for Israel to gain territory through illegitimate means. Kind of like expecting the thief and his victim to come to an agreement on how much pilfered loot the thief gets to keep -while the thief is still holding the gun and busy going through the victim’s wallet.

      • James Canning
        James Canning
        August 19, 2013, 2:03 pm

        Most of the Israel lobby wants Israel to be able to annex all of the larger illegal colonies of Jews in the West Bank. And they pressure US officials in hopes of accomplishing this. (Many US officials are themselves members of the Lobby.)

  3. Justpassingby
    August 15, 2013, 5:09 pm

    This is humilating, why arent these people better prepared, they know they are wrong and have to come up with twisted replies to all these questions.

  4. pabelmont
    August 15, 2013, 9:14 pm

    “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?”

    Lee expresses one of the principal USA/Israel party-lines, namely, that the ONLY SUBJECT worth talking about is the arriving at a “peace treaty” — that’s what it means when he asks, all unthinking, “are they illegitimate, meaning that they should not be part of Israel once there is a peace agreement?””

    What the USA/Israel wish us all to forget is that international humanitarian law makes them illegal IRRESPECTIVE OF PEACE DEVELOPMENTS, DURING THE LIFETIME OF THE OCCUPATION (just as the ICJ said the WALL was illegal) and part of the legal consequence of that illegality is, in my view, to echo the ICJ on the WALL and demand (with UNSC 465) that the settlers be expelled from OPT (and Golan) and the settlement buildings be destroyed/removed. What happens in a peace treaty is fully independent of the legal consequences of the illegality of the settlements and the wall.

    Lee should ask, next time:

    If, as SoS Kerry says, all settlements are illegitimate, why does not the USA demand the removal of the settlers and the removal/destruction of the buildings built specifically to accommodate settlement — just as the International Court of Justice in 2004 advised that Israel’s wall in OPTs should be pulled down?

  5. gingershot
    August 15, 2013, 11:37 pm

    ‘Netanyahu adviser: Evacuating settlements is a fantasy’

    Zvi Hauser tells Haaretz that the time has come to understand that there will not be mass evacuation of settlers.

    Zvi Hauser, one of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu closest and most trusted advisers, has told Haaretz that forcing 150,000 settlers to leave their homes in the West Bank is “a fantasy” and has warned that any government that agrees to do so risks polarizing Israeli society.

    Yet another cat escapes the bag…

  6. piotr
    August 16, 2013, 12:20 am

    “Beyond that, I’m not going to peel the curtain back on any specific discussions.”

    We are not in Kansas anymore. Do not look behind the curtain!

    • ziusudra
      August 16, 2013, 3:25 am

      Greetings Piotr,
      O’Bloomers & John had diddered too long in the poppy field before crawling back on the yellow brick road to the White House.
      Kudos Frank Baum, its author, who saw thro’ the imperialists long before George Orwell.

  7. talknic
    August 16, 2013, 3:41 am

    The US is only one state …

    The UNSC majority – UNSC resolution 446

    “1. Determines that the policy and practices of Israel in establishing settlements in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967 have no legal validity and constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East;”

    … alas Israel only needs one veto vote.

  8. mcohen
    August 16, 2013, 7:54 am

    today I spun the dice ,choose a random page from the chumash (bible) and it was one that I had never come across before-it is called Balak and it features a talking donkey -not sure if he belongs to the democrat party-some black magic-wayward girls-even an angel-here is some background

    for me the best sentence was this – “Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his donkey,” –somehow I imagined Kerry rising up and saddling his donkey and then I got this weird rush of anxiety -what would happen if his legs were to long and his feet touched the ground-would he just drag them along or would he just walk the donkey
    I wonder who could play the part of balak.

  9. seafoid
    August 16, 2013, 9:53 am

    It’s a funny old world, part 9845

    Israeli official warned over offensive Facebook postings

    “A senior government official responsible for promoting positive images of Israel on social media networks has been ordered to stop posting offensive statements on his Facebook page.
    The gagging order followed a series of trenchant comments made by Daniel Seaman, who recently took up the post of head of Israeli public diplomacy on the internet, over the past few months.

    They included a response to a demand by the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, for an end to new settlement expansion that read: “Is there a diplomatic way of saying ‘Go F*** yourself’?”

    At the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, Seaman posted: “Does the commencement of the fast of the Ramadan means that Muslims will stop eating each other during the daytime?”
    In response to a Church of Scotland report that argued that Jews do not have a divine right to the land, he wrote: “Why do they think we give a flying F*** what you have to say?”
    Japanese diplomats complained about comments Seaman made on commemorations for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombs. “I am sick of the Japanese, ‘Human Rights’ and ‘Peace’ groups the world over holding their annual self-righteous commemorations for the Hiroshima and Nagasaki victims,” he wrote. “Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the consequence of Japanese aggression. You reap what you sow…”

    Seaman was known for his abrasive approach to the foreign media when he was director of the government press office. Among his initiatives in his new role is a programme to pay university students to post pro-Israel comments on Facebook, Twitter and other internet sites and forums.

  10. James Canning
    James Canning
    August 16, 2013, 7:10 pm

    Was Jen Psaki told not to call illegal colonies of Jews in West Bank (incl. E. Jerusalem) “illegal”? Told to mouth some mush, then more mush?

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