Hours after an American delegation tasked with solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict headed by Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner met with the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Thursday, back in Washington NBC’s Andrea Mitchell revealed the U.S. Embassy had blocked press access to the traveling officials.
Speaking during a briefing for the State Department yesterday, Mitchell questioned spokesperson Heather Nauert as to why journalists were not invited to cover Kushner’s meeting with Netanyahu.
“What is the policy now? To only have so-called ‘fake news’ by the government cameras cover that rather than journalists?” Mitchell said, using the phrase popularized by Trump to accuse members of the press of falsifying stories.
Instead of journalists giving questions to Kushner, Mitchell noted that she had heard government employees were tasked with “shooting statements that made it look like they were press statements.”
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Mitchell also asked: “In the meetings with Netanyahu, was it the decision of the embassy to defer to Israel’s decision to have only government cameras there? An embassy camera shot their statements as well as state – Israeli – as far as I know, there were no reporters there.”
Nauert responded she was “not aware of this report,” and offered, “I can certainly look into that for you.”
The state-produced recording of Kushner and Netanyahu was released by the Israeli government yesterday morning. It was then posted to social media by President Trump. In the video, Kushner gave a generic remark on Trump’s commitment “to achieving a solution here that will be able to bring prosperity and peace to all people in this area.”
This is Kushner’s third trip to the region, yet his only legitimate moment with the media came in Ramallah yesterday evening when the senior advisor met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. A press pool was allowed entry to photograph and record, including a journalist with APA Images, a Palestinian wire agency that provides Mondoweiss with content.
In what was Kushner’s second statement on Thursday, he remarked the purpose of his trip was to enrich “peaceful relations” in the region:
“[Trump] dispatched us from Washington to talk today about a topic that is very important to him, which is peaceful relations between the countries in the whole region, and he’s very optimistic and hopeful for a better future for all Palestinian people and all Israeli people. Hopefully, they will be able to work together and live together for many years and have much better lives. And so President Trump is very hopeful and very appreciative of all of the efforts that you have made to date and appreciative of the discussions and the relationship.”
This was not the first time media coverage was denied during a Kushner visit to Israel. Back in June a photographer working for the Associated Press was prohibited from taking pictures of Kushner, and another journalist reportedly said he was told to delete images from his camera that he shot of Kushner. At that time, it was unknown if the media ban was issued by Israel or the U.S.
Preventing media from photographing and questioning high-ranking American officials on trips to broker peace in the Middle East is highly unusual. A search of emails I received addressed to media from Israel’s Government Press Office, which is tasked with coordinating press entry, shows multiple invitations were sent to journalists to cover former Secretary of State John Kerry during his trips to kick-start peace talks under President Obama.
Earlier this year in May during Trump’s visit to Israel, members of the press were also invited.
In February when Trump spoke alongside Netanyahu in Washington DC, he wavered on his support for a two-state solution and gave an impromptu request to Netanyahu to slow settlement construction in the West Bank. Since that time Trump has not clarified if he has abandoned American support for the establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel—which has guided State Department policy for the last 25 years.
It is unlikely Trump will make further comments on the progress of what he called an “ultimate deal,” for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians during that February briefing. He delegated solving the conflict to Kushner. As a result of the handover, journalists are looking past the president and to his son-in-law for signals if an impasse has broken that began when Kerry-back negotiations failed in 2014.
Therefore Kushner’s brief encounters with media are regarded as valuable moments where daylight can shine on a rather closed process of high-stakes deal making.
Before Kushner traveled to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, the State Department refused to confirm if his delegation would pursue a two-state solution with Palestinians, citing such a reveal would be “bias” towards one of the parties.
During his trip, Palestinians in Ramallah protested Kushner as a “bias” negotiator and chanted slogans denouncing Trump.
❌PA residents welcome Trump delegation in Ramallah, w/traditional burn-the-Israeli-flag ceremony, chant:’Trump is a murderer&support terror’ pic.twitter.com/QhdKZFzeyP
— Behind The News (@Behind__News) August 25, 2017