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 November 8, 2010
MR. CROWLEY : She will do a number of things this week focused on Middle East peace. On Wednesday, she will hold a video conference with Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad. She will also meet with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. And on Thursday, in New York, she will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. The timing on the meeting Thursday is still a little bit up in the air, but we’ll have more to say about that tomorrow, I expect.
QUESTION: What location?
MR. CROWLEY: New York. Again, more details to follow. But that’s what I can tell you there.
Since we’re on the subject, I will mention with regard to the announcement of plans for 1,300 units in East Jerusalem, that we were – let me start again. We were deeply disappointed by the announcement of advanced planning for new housing units in sensitive areas of East Jerusalem. It is counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties. We have long urged both parties to avoid actions which could undermine trust, including in Jerusalem, and we will continue to work to resume direct negotiations to address this and other final status issues. And I would expect this will be a topic of discussion when the Secretary meets the prime minister.
QUESTION: Mr. Crowley, do you notice that there is a pattern here concerning the truth, Yosef’s announcement on building the – on the new buildings and so on coincided with the Vice Presidential speech in New Orleans? It seems that every time there is visitor, a high caliber visitor, be it an American visitor to Israel or an Israeli visitor to the United States, there seems to be an announcement of building settlements.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, I don’t think the Vice President’s taking this personally. Look – and obviously, this is a process. We’ve seen these kinds of announcements before. Actually, some of this might date back to last month. And it could very well be that somebody in Israel has made this known in order to embarrass the prime minister and to undermine the process. This is expressly why we have been encouraging the parties to remain in direct negotiations, to return to direct negotiations, and to work through these issues face to face. This is the only way that they’re going to be resolved, and this just demonstrates again why it is vitally important for us to find a way for the Palestinians and the Israelis to be able to resolve the core issues in a negotiation and not through this jockeying, which brings out those who may well be opposed to peace in the Middle East.
QUESTION: Okay. Is there a – just a follow-on – is there a concern that the premiership in Israel seems to be working independently of the foreign ministry, on the one hand, and the authority that issue permits to build and so on, on the other? There seems to be confusion. Is there a concern in that area?
MR. CROWLEY: Right. As I said, I expect the Secretary will talk to the prime minister about this. As you said, this is not the first time we have experienced a situation where one element of the government or a government may not know what is happening in a different bureau, a different agency, or a different level of government. But all we know is this kind of announcement is counterproductive to what we are trying to accomplish.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. Just to follow up on that, I mean, does this realization that you have now that one arm of the government may not know what the other arm is doing, does that reduce Prime Minister Netanyahu’s usefulness as an interlocutor? I mean, what’s the point of talking to him if he can’t control the people in his own government?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, first of all, he’s the prime minister. And ultimately, he is the one that has to sign on the dotted line if there is an agreement that ends the conflict. So Prime Minister Netanyahu is central to the process. In fact, on the key decisions that have to be made only an Israeli prime minister can make those decisions on behalf of the Israeli people.
QUESTION: P.J., just to follow, you’re not dismissing the notion that the prime minister may know and have the decisions made anyway, are you?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we look forward to the discussions later this week, and I’m sure the Secretary will be clarifying exactly what happened in this case.
QUESTION: Why that meeting will be held in New York, not in Washington?
MR. CROWLEY: I think the prime minister will be in New York and the Secretary will be up there to meet him.
QUESTION: P.J., is it your feeling that Prime Minister Netanyahu, after his meeting with Secretary Hillary Clinton, could reverse this decision?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, on the one hand, there’s a process that these kinds of advance plans go through. All we’re reflecting is the fact that these kinds of announcements undermine trust. They make it more difficult for the leaders to move forward. That’s why, rather than trying to resolve these things outside of negotiation, we once again continue to encourage the parties to get back into negotiations. This is the only way that you resolve issues like borders. And if and when you’re able to resolve issues like borders, then some of these issues become academic.
QUESTION: Is the Administration ready to discuss the release of Jonathan Pollard from the American prison --
MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to get into any particular areas of discussion.
QUESTION: A Libyan newspaper has reported yesterday that an American diplomat has been ordered to leave Libya within 24 hours, following an alleged breach of diplomatic rules. Do you have anything on this?
MR. CROWLEY: This is an issue that we are discussing with the Government of Libya, and I will refrain from comment at this point.
QUESTION: But is this accurate or not?
MR. CROWLEY: Okay. I just said we – what you just characterized is not necessarily entirely accurate. I will confirm that we are having a conversation on this sensitive issue with the Government of Libya, and I will refrain from comment at the present time.
QUESTION: Is there any diplomat who left Tripoli to U.S. or not?
MR. CROWLEY: No. I’ll – Michel, I’ll just repeat what I just said.
MR. CROWLEY: Well, actually Iran may have made those preferences known to the media. They have not yet made them known to Catherine Ashton, so we look forward to having an official response from Iran as to a date and location of our proposed meeting.
QUESTION: And a follow-up. If it will be held in Turkey, what will be the role of Turkey, apart from being host country?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, let – we look forward to a response from Iran, and when we get that response we’ll consult with our partners within the P-5 +1.
QUESTION: A follow-up on Iran. President Obama asked India to change its policy and not in a very direct terms. Is the State Department happy with the Indian policy, or are you looking –
MR. CROWLEY: Change its policy on?
QUESTION: With Iran.
MR. CROWLEY: I don’t –
QUESTION: They’re being too friendly.
QUESTION: They’re being too friendly for – and because they have the – India has a UNSC –
MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’ll – those kinds of questions about the nature of the conversation with the President and the prime minister I’ll leave to my colleagues at the White House.
QUESTION: Iraq. P.J., the French Government just announced that it will be receiving something like 140 Christian Iraqis. Has there been any request by a number of Christian Iraqis to come to the United States as a result of the violence?
MR. CROWLEY: Well, we have a very significant resettlement program here in the United States, but I’ll take that question as to --
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the targeting of Christian Arabs in a number of countries, whether it’s Iraq or --
MR. CROWLEY: I mean, let’s be careful about taking one tragedy and then making too broad a statement about it. Are we concerned about religious freedom in the world, including in the region? Absolutely. This is a significant area of focus for us. We are concerned when anyone of any religion is attacked based on their beliefs. Everyone should have the right to freedom of religion, to practice as they see fit. And we think this is enshrined in universal rights that are – should be available to all citizens of the world.
So – but we spoke out very significantly last week at – when – during – in the aftermath of this tragedy and we continue to do whatever we can to help promote religious tolerance in Iraq and elsewhere.