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‘You seem to be on both sides of this legitimate/illegitimate kind of a thing’: State Dept. spox says neither Israeli settlements, nor settlement boycotts, are legitimate

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There was an amusing exchange today at the State Departments’ Daily Press Briefing the sums up the confused and contradictory U.S. policy towards Israeli settlements.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki dodged questions about Israel’s settlements, the boycott of Israeli goods, and the ‘framework agreement’, claiming both Israeli settlements and the boycotting of good produced in settlements are illegitimate. And, just in case you were wondering, Psaki has no opinion on SodaStream’s Superbowl commercial starring Scarlett Johansson. According to Psaki it’s all “incredibly complex” (except for one reporter’s comparison of Johansson and Dennis Rodman, that’s also apparently illegitimate). 

Here’s one highlight in the exchange between Psaki and the AP’s Matt Lee:

QUESTION: Okay. So if the settlements are illegitimate, in your view, why is it – also, you’re – let me start this again. You regard the settlements as illegitimate, but you also regard boycotts of products produced in settlements as delegitimizing of Israel. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Boycotts of products produced by Israel, yes.

QUESTION: On – within settlements?

MS. PSAKI: Well, produced by Israel. They’re produced in a range of places. Obviously, Matt —

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s a lot of illegitimacy here, right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, obviously —

And another reporter picks it up (with little success):

QUESTION: — how is it that the – how does the Administration square those two positions, the – one, that the settlements are illegitimate, but that the products made there on – as a result of this illegitimacy – that boycotts of those products are, in themselves, delegitimizing of Israel? I just – I’m having a hard time understanding how that works. It would seem to me that if you regard settlements as illegitimate, you would not be opposed to efforts or to campaigns that would – that agree with that position.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we will see if there’s more to provide.

QUESTION: But you know there are – from this end, that we’re a bit confused on this issue that Matt is raising, because you seem to be on both sides of legitimate/illegitimate kind of a thing. Can you clarify that?

MS. PSAKI: It’s two separate issues.

QUESTION: They’re two separate issues?

MS. PSAKI: That’s why I gave you our policy positions.

QUESTION: So if a settlement is illegal, and that land on the settlement produces peaches or olives and so on and gets imported, that is legitimate?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical —

QUESTION: No, it’s not hypothetical. These are real things. I mean, that’s why —

MS. PSAKI: — road race with you here, Said.

QUESTION: — there is a boycott.

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered our question.

Here’s whole episode (starts around 36:00 in the video above):

QUESTION: Can we go to another topic?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes, Palestinian-Israeli talks.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So now that the talks between the Palestinian negotiator and Mr. Indyk and Secretary Kerry have ended, what is next? What is on the horizon? Are there any scheduled talks, let’s say, in the West Bank and in Israel? Is Ambassador Indyk planning to go back? What is next?

MS. PSAKI: Ambassador Indyk is in Washington. I don’t have anything to report on his scheduled travel. As you asked yesterday, Saeb Erekat was here for meetings with Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Indyk both Tuesday and Wednesday. There are no additional meetings planned in Washington at this time.

We continue to work intensively with both sides. And as we have said throughout the negotiations, that can happen on several levels, whether it’s phone conversations or meetings in person. All of those are proceeding, and beyond that we’re not going to provide updates on a daily basis.

QUESTION: So you are conduct – can you confirm that you are conducting really bilateral talks, that you meet with the Palestinians, then you meet with the Israelis, but there are no trilateral talks?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm what kinds of talks are happening now or not. But you are aware of the bilateral talks that have happened that we – as I said yesterday, we feel this is an appropriate time in the process given that we’re working towards a framework for negotiations, we’re working to narrow the gaps between the parties. And that’s what our focus is on at this time.

QUESTION: Has there been any, let’s say, Palestinian-Israeli face-to-face talks, let’s say, since December or November? Can you tell us?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to confirm for you the timing or dates of talks.

QUESTION: Okay, and one last question on this.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There were reports that Secretary Kerry is planning to make a trip or go to Jerusalem and Ramallah. Could you – but you said no yesterday —

MS. PSAKI: I think I answered this question yesterday, right?

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MS. PSAKI: When you asked it?

QUESTION: Right. But today there was a story that says —

MS. PSAKI: Nothing has changed since yesterday.

QUESTION: Nothing has changed, so he’s not planning?

QUESTION: Jen, on – yesterday, I brought up this issue with the SodaStream and Scarlett Johansson.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I’m assuming that you don’t have any opinion one way or the other on Ms. Johansson’s – who she works for? Is that – I just want to make sure before we go on to —

MS. PSAKI: Right. I’m not going to speak to the Super Bowl commercial, and certainly —

QUESTION: Okay.

MS. PSAKI: — she’s a private citizen.

QUESTION: Okay. So on the broader issue, which is really what I’m more interested in —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — can you restate – is it – am I correct that your policy on settlements and things that are produced within settlements has – is essentially – or is the same, it has not changed, and that that policy is – although you regard settlement activity as illegitimate, you do not think that there’s anything illegitimate about goods or products that are produced on that territory for – to sell – to import into the United States or to anywhere else. Is that correct?

MS. PSAKI: That is – our policy is that we believe that settlements are illegitimate, as we’ve said; that we reject efforts to boycott or delegitimize Israel; that any notion or reports or rumors that the Secretary or anyone in this building is encouraging anyone to do that are inaccurate.

QUESTION: Encouraging anyone to do what, to boycott?

MS. PSAKI: To boycott or delegitimize.

QUESTION: Okay. So if the settlements are illegitimate, in your view, why is it – also, you’re – let me start this again. You regard the settlements as illegitimate, but you also regard boycotts of products produced in settlements as delegitimizing of Israel. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Boycotts of products produced by Israel, yes.

QUESTION: On – within settlements?

MS. PSAKI: Well, produced by Israel. They’re produced in a range of places. Obviously, Matt —

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s a lot of illegitimacy here, right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, obviously —

QUESTION: Efforts to boycott, you think, are attempts really not to go after the companies or to – but they’re to delegitimize Israel, not to express a dissatisfaction with their policies on settlements. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Matt, obviously, this is incredibly complex, as you’ve outlined here today.

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MS. PSAKI: One of the reasons we’re talking about all of these issues is because we want to resolve them, we want to put an end to disputes over borders and settlements and all of these issues. That is our position. Obviously, this is a company based in Israel. Beyond that, I don’t have any further analysis for you.

QUESTION: Okay. But you do believe that efforts by groups or countries or groups of countries, like the European Union, which has talked about boycotts and that kind of thing, those in themselves are delegitimizing of Israel, which is engaged in illegitimate settlement activity on land that the Palestinians claim. Is that right?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve not been supportive, Matt, of boycotts or efforts to delegitimize Israel.

QUESTION: Can you take the question – and I don’t know if it’s possible because I’m not sure that anyone can answer it —

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: — how is it that the – how does the Administration square those two positions, the – one, that the settlements are illegitimate, but that the products made there on – as a result of this illegitimacy – that boycotts of those products are, in themselves, delegitimizing of Israel? I just – I’m having a hard time understanding how that works. It would seem to me that if you regard settlements as illegitimate, you would not be opposed to efforts or to campaigns that would – that agree with that position.

MS. PSAKI: Matt, we will see if there’s more to provide.

QUESTION: But you know there are – from this end, that we’re a bit confused on this issue that Matt is raising, because you seem to be on both sides of legitimate/illegitimate kind of a thing. Can you clarify that?

MS. PSAKI: It’s two separate issues.

QUESTION: They’re two separate issues?

MS. PSAKI: That’s why I gave you our policy positions.

QUESTION: So if a settlement is illegal, and that land on the settlement produces peaches or olives and so on and gets imported, that is legitimate?

MS. PSAKI: I’m not going to get into a hypothetical —

QUESTION: No, it’s not hypothetical. These are real things. I mean, that’s why —

MS. PSAKI: — road race with you here, Said.

QUESTION: — there is a boycott.

MS. PSAKI: I think I’ve answered our question. Go ahead – or Ali.

QUESTION: Yeah, it’s on – if we can digress?

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: Different point of that same topic.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Not speaking directly to Scarlett Johansson or whoever the celebrity happens to be, but the fact is that these famous people, when they get kind of embroiled in these international issues, they are very prominent public faces of America. So is there any – broadly speaking, I mean, we have Dennis Rodman, I could go on with different examples, but is there a concern that whenever these celebrities get entangled in these issues that it complicates the United States official relationship with these countries, or diplomatic efforts and the like?

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, every circumstance is different. I’m sure Scarlett Johansson would not appreciate being in the same category as Dennis Rodman, but beyond that, we look at every situation differently. I think we’ve been clear on Dennis Rodman. He’s a private citizen. He’s not representing the United States. And we do need to convey that publicly and to governments as needed. So – but beyond that, I don’t know that I have much of an analysis for you.

Do we have any —

QUESTION: Can I just ask one more question on —

MS. PSAKI: Oh. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask, also on Israel, today the Israelis’ intelligence minister has called Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the world’s most anti-Semitic leader after the departure from office by Iranian President Ahmadinejad last year. Do comments like this – I mean, you expect people to trade insults —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — and we’re in a situation which is obviously very tense. But do comments like this help or hinder the United States in its bid to try and bring the two sides together?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think provocative rhetoric has no place in the region, but also there’s no question that comments from either side that seek to provoke tensions are unhelpful. At the same time, as you mentioned, this has happened a bit and we take it as it comes, and both sides remain committed to the negotiations moving forward. We’re in touch with both sides, as is evidenced by the fact that they’ve both been here in the last couple of weeks about a framework for negotiations. And so that’s where our focus remains.

QUESTION: And I wonder if there’s a sense perhaps that with – we’re now six months into the process of that Secretary Kerry started.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: There’s obviously plans to try and put forward at some point his framework agreement that is perhaps creating some of these tensions that we’re seeing flaring into the media. Is there a feeling that perhaps the push from the United States is putting an undue pressure on Prime Minister Netanyahu and this could actually threaten his coalition?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I don’t think anyone believes that Prime Minister Netanyahu or President Abbas are participating in these talks as a favor to the United States. There are reasons for both sides to participate, whether it is the importance of security in Israel and securing the future of the Israeli people in the next generations, or fears of a de-legitimization campaign that we’ve seen unfortunately in some parts of the world, or the desire by the Palestinian people to have their own state and concerns about the impact of the expansion of settlements and how that’s impacting that.

So Secretary Kerry is certainly committed to this effort because he has a long history on these issues, he has a long history with these leaders. And he firmly believes, as do many people in the international community, that if you can achieve peace between these parties, that will have a positive impact on the region, it will increase security, it will help economic prosperity. And that’s the reason he’s committed, but also why it comes up in virtually every meeting he does with any world leader.

QUESTION: But if you push too hard and if the Israeli coalition government, which is very fragile, collapses, then that leaves you perhaps almost starting from the beginning.

MS. PSAKI: Well, obviously, we’re not going to get into reports of political issues that are happening on the ground, and at this point that’s a hypothetical. But clearly, the reason why we are playing a role in facilitating this is, as I just outlined, because of the positive future that it could have for people in Israel and the Palestinian people as well.

QUESTION: Do you know – or perhaps, does the Secretary believe that it is possible to get a comprehensive peace deal if both sides insist on claiming the mantle of victim?

MS. PSAKI: I think the Secretary, given his history on these issues, is not surprised that at this time when everybody knows the core issues are being discussed, that there is more rhetoric and more language that is out there, but that is not a surprise to him.

QUESTION: But both sides insist that they have been victimized here, and I’m just wondering if you think that it is possible for them to overcome that to get to a point where they can really sit down and talk about these core issues. Because it doesn’t seem – it just seems that as long as they continue to do this, and both talk about being oppressed and put upon, that you can’t get into the discussion of what really – of these hard choices that the Secretary and everyone else have been talking about for decades. So I’m wondering: Does he have any plan to try to calm them down or bring them down from these claims, the victimhood claims?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the Secretary knows, as we all know, that there are decades and more – longer than decades of history here, that these are sensitive issues, and he’s not surprised that it’s tough and challenging and the politics are difficult on all of these issues. The parties are talking about the core issues, so that is happening now, but I don’t know that he can prevent them from feeling the challenge of facing the prospect of making decisions.

QUESTION: Jen, could I just quickly follow up —

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: — on a question that I asked you yesterday? On the framework agreement, I mean that is not the same —

MS. PSAKI: A framework for negotiations.

QUESTION: A framework for negotiations —

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: — but everybody talks about these ideas that are being thrown around and so on. That is not an interim agreement. The Secretary is not wanting to push for any kind of an interim agreement, correct?

MS. PSAKI: No, it would be the basis for negotiations moving forward.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, if and when this framework is to be announced, in what form would it be announced? Is it going to be like in a press conference, in a meeting between the two? What do you —

MS. PSAKI: I do not have any update on the communications rollout plan from yesterday.

QUESTION: And I promise this is my last question on this issue.

MS. PSAKI: Okay.

QUESTION: Now, if this fails, I mean, do you have like a plan B? Will there come a time, with both sides feeling the essence of victimhood and so on that was raised just a minute ago, that you would actually propose your own plan – the way the United States of America sees what should happen on the ground? Is that ever likely to happen?

MS. PSAKI: I think we’re all familiar with the issues —

QUESTION: Right.

MS. PSAKI: — what the core issues are. Obviously, the parties and the ideas of the parties is what we’re focused on, and I’m not going to get ahead of where we are in the process.

QUESTION: Sochi?

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For some reason, this made me feel like I was reading a script for the BBC show “In the Thick of It.” Disgracefully comedic.

Doublespeak on steroids……… How in the heck do these goofs do it? Is there a program somewhere that trains these creatures? “There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld Rummy’s Graduate School of Ridiculous Ruminations and Rot… Read more »

thanks for the coverage, Annie & Adam.
if Oxfam can get $20K for a date with an ambassador for apartheid who has a raspy voice that Hollywood thinks sounds like a pretty little model… I think Matt Lee is worth far more!!!!! I’m turned on!!!!

FYI, our Treasury Department directives, which legally prohibit labeling products from the West Bank and Gaza as “Made in Israel”, were the result of a policy letter from – wait for it – the US State Department. (LOL!) [Federal Register Volume 62, Number 50 (Friday, March 14, 1997)] [Notices] [Pages 12269-12270] From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [http://www.gpo.gov] [FR Doc No: 97-6434] ======================================================================= ———————————————————————– DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY Customs Service [T.D.… Read more »

QUESTION: The “Jewish State” has declared that one plus one equals three. What is our government’s position on this?

MS. PSAKI: That is correct.

QUESTION: What is correct? That one plus one equals three?

MS. PSAKI: Yes.

QUESTION: But it equals two.

MS. PSAKI: I won’t get into hypotheticals about what one plus one may or may not equal but I think we all want to avoid potentially anti-Semitic sums.