The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of April 22, 2010
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I suppose to some extent your second point answers the first point.
QUESTION: I only had one (inaudible).
MR. CROWLEY: All right. Clearly, we have asked both sides to take specific actions and we – that includes the Israelis as well. And this is part of our effort to continue our ongoing discussions on the specific issues and the steps that both sides need to take and to take responsibility for and create that atmosphere to allow the process to move forward.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but --
MR. CROWLEY: Why now?
QUESTION: They haven’t done any – and why now did Mitchell decide to go? Why didn’t he go last week or the week before?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s see, when did Passover end? I mean, look, we pledged that after the holiday period we would travel. We’ve taken our time. We’ve had a variety of contacts with Israeli and Palestinian officials since George was last in the region. That would include meetings yesterday that David Hale and Dan Shapiro had with both sides. So at the end of those discussions last night, we thought it was fruitful for George to travel to the region and he’s there today and will have these meetings tomorrow.
QUESTION: What do you make of Netanyahu’s comments?
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think that they necessarily are new.
MR. CROWLEY: We understand that the Israelis have a longstanding position. But as the Secretary has said repeatedly, including in her speech to AIPAC, the status quo is not sustainable. And we’ve had a variety of conversations on these issues and specific steps that in the case of the Israelis we think that they have to take. And there has been a good give and take and this is why George is there today.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, specifically, have the Israelis – you’ve been waiting for a quote, unquote, answer from the Israeli Government about whether it would answer your request to stop building in East Jerusalem. And it sounds like they’ve put a final point on it and said no. Is that your understanding, that that’s where it lies, that they’re not going to stop building? And what does that mean in terms of your efforts to get the peace process going?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we – I don’t think we’ve been waiting for an answer. I mean, there has been --
QUESTION: Of course, you have.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, wait a second. I mean, the Secretary had conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu. So did the President. So we have received a number of ideas from the Israelis. Some of them addressed the concerns that we laid out in the initial conversation between Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu a few weeks ago. And this is an ongoing process. Have they done everything that we’d like to see them do? No. But this is why we will continue this conversation and we think that it’s important for both sides to continue to take steps that create the environment for us to address the substance behind the conflict.
QUESTION: Just one more time. Specifically, they have said publicly that they’re not going to stop building in East Jerusalem. They’ve said publicly that they told you that. So where do you go from here?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, let’s have the conversations tomorrow with George Mitchell, Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, others that he’ll be meeting with while there. And we’ll see what both sides are prepared to do.
QUESTION: P.J., while the Israelis or Netanyahu said specifically that he’s not going to freeze settlement activities in Jerusalem, there’s indications that they might do other things like releasing prisoners or easing the blockade on Gaza or freezing the activities (inaudible), I think, for two years. Are these measures good enough for you and for the Palestinians to start the peace process?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, clearly, the Palestinians can answer that question themselves. We believe that getting a formal process started addressing the substantive issues at the heart of this process, getting into a direct negotiation that leads to a resolution of all these questions – ultimately, none of this gets solved through public statements. It gets through – it gets solved only through a direct negotiation. That has been our message to the Israelis and Palestinians for the past 15 months. That continues to be our message to them.
We recognize that there are things that happened on the ground that can impede the ability to get to that direct negotiation. That’s where we are now. We’re trying to remove obstacles to a direct negotiation. We’re trying to get the parties engaged at first step indirectly and then as a second step directly so that we can address issues of housing, refugees, borders, security, Jerusalem – all of these issues. They’re not going to be solved through parrying of public statements between the Palestinians, the Israelis, or other interested parties in the region.
So our focus here is on what do we need to do to get the parties into that direct negotiation. That is our focus. That is why George Mitchell is back in the region. We understand that we’re not there right now, but we’ll see where these meetings take us.
QUESTION: If I could just go a little bit back to the timing, you made it sound as though the decision to send – for Ambassador Mitchell to go was actually made last night. Is that true? Was it that short-term?
MR. CROWLEY: Yes.
QUESTION: And was that based purely on the information that came out of those meetings that Shapiro and Hale had?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I mean, to take the – what was behind Matt’s question, it’s a fair question. Why now? We don’t go to meet just to meet. We go there because we have some indication that both sides are willing to engage seriously on the issues that are on the table. And on that basis, based on the meetings that – the conversation that we’ve had over a number of weeks, but specifically what we heard yesterday from both parties to George Mitchell’s deputy David Hale and Dan Shapiro of the NSC, we felt it was fruitful for George to travel.
QUESTION: Is it an open-ended trip or is there – I mean, I’ve heard there are supposed to be meetings over the weekend. Is that – is he going to stay there until when and if something comes of it?
MR. CROWLEY: As normally happens, George may well call audibles at the line of scrimmage once he’s under center. So --
QUESTION: I thought he was a baseball pitcher. (Laughter.)
MR. CROWLEY: Well, he’ll shake off the pitcher and call for a different pitch. Yeah, he’s going to have meetings tomorrow. He could stay longer and have a second set of meetings. We’ll see where we are tomorrow.
QUESTION: One final one. On the Secretary’s phone call with President Abbas, did she have anything specific to convey to him? Was she transferring information about those meetings that Shapiro and Hale had, a message?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I think the purpose of the meeting was just to affirm that he felt comfortable that the meetings should go forward, and he answered that he was ready to meet with George Mitchell.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, Mr. Awlaki has aligned himself with al-Qaida. That has a number of consequences, perhaps including his citizenship.