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Middle East Digest - December 10, 2010

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Washington, DC
December 10, 2010


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 December 10, 2010

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MR. CROWLEY: Continuing on, the Secretary today has already had meetings with Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erakat and Israeli Kadima leader Tzipi Livni. He’ll be meeting later on this afternoon with UN Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, and also Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad taking advantage of the presence of many of these key leaders here to participate in the Saban Forum this weekend.

Obviously, the Secretary will be speaking this evening at the Saban Center. It will be a broad-ranging review of all dimensions of the challenge of Middle East peace. She will discuss the way forward in particular what we need the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and negotiation teams to do in the coming weeks and months. She will remind everyone what is at stake and what the costs of the status quo are today.

She’ll call on both sides, with the continuing support of others in the region, to begin to grapple with the core issues of the conflict: borders, security, refugees, settlements, water, and Jerusalem. And she will make clear that the United States remains committed to this process, but that responsibility to end the conflict ultimately rests with the parties themselves.

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second.

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Let’s start with the Middle East here. Your highlights of the Secretary’s speech tonight seem to – it seems like those – they could have been written and she could have said them almost two years ago. Is this speech going to admit that your efforts to date have not been successful?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, Matt, I would – well, let’s --

QUESTION: I just want to – if I can go back through my notes, you want to tell everyone how important it is – what’s at stake and that the status quo is unacceptable. You want to call on people in the region, including the parties but the neighbors as well, tell them how important it is to do something, and then tell the two sides that it’s important to begin to grapple with the core issues. I mean, this seems like you’re starting – you’re literally back at square one.

MR. CROWLEY: No, I would say we’re definitely not back at square one. We think through the many, many conversations and work that we’ve done overt the course of the almost two years, we think we’ve built a foundation for what lies ahead. Admittedly, we’ve had the – dealing with the challenge most recently of the moratorium. As we’ve outlined, we believe at this point it’s necessary for the parties to begin to tackle the core issues in detail.

That said, over the past months, we have had, as we’ve been working through this process and trying to build momentum within direct negotiations, we have had substantive dialogue with both sides. We have a good understanding of both what their expectations are and what their needs are. We have had conversations on specific details of tackling the core issues, and so we think that this will help us in terms of outlining what needs to be done now and how we will move forward. These have been the focus of the conversations that we’ve had both with the Secretary and the Middle East teams, with Mr. Molho and Mr. Erekat. In the case of Mr. Erekat, he met yesterday and this morning with members of our Middle East team, in addition to this meeting for a little more than an hour with Secretary Clinton.

So we believe that we have advanced the process, but clearly more intensive work likes before us.

QUESTION: Well, you say that you have advanced the process and that you have a good understanding of the needs and wants and the hopes and aspirations of both sides. And they seem to be diametrically opposed. I mean, they won’t even sit down in the same room together. So how is it possible that you’ve advanced – that this is an advance, that this is a step forward?

MR. CROWLEY: Well --

QUESTION: I mean, you can’t get them to agree on something until they actually sit down and agree on something, and right now they won’t even --

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, we’ve – as we have indicated, it is still our intent to achieve a framework agreement on the core issues within a year. We believe that is achievable. We believe that rapid progress is still possible. And George Mitchell will obviously be here this weekend participating in the Saban Center event. He will leave Sunday night, be in the region on Monday, and will have a series of meetings as we begin this more intensified focus on the core issues.

QUESTION: Who’s he meeting with?

MR. CROWLEY: He’ll be meeting with the – I expect him to meet with the prime minister, with the president. The sequence of those meetings, I think, is still being worked on.

QUESTION: Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas?

MR. CROWLEY: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Well, when we spoke with Saeb Erakat outside, he said Israel chose settlements, not peace, and he sounded very pessimistic and angry. So what happened at the meeting today with the Secretary? Was there any type of progress whatsoever in that conversation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, as I said, we’ve got work to do going forward. We expect to have a more intensified focus on the core issues. As the Secretary will outline in her speech tonight, it’s time for the parties to grapple with the core issues. We believe that progress can be made. We understand that we have to build confidence, that each side continues to question whether it has a partner with which it can make progress and ultimately achieve agreement. That is the challenge that we face. We believe that by working on the core issues at this point, we can build momentum, we can build that confidence. And we recognize, as we’ve said, at some point, to get to an agreement there has to be a direct negotiation. That remains our goal. But we understand that at this point we’re shifting to a more intensified focus on the substance itself.

QUESTION: Are you – Erekat also told reporters that the Secretary gave him letters to bring back to Abbas. Can you confirm that? And also, what are you asking Abbas to do? Are you encouraging him to go back to direct talks, or are you saying we’re willing to shuttle back between you two for the time being?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the purpose of these meetings was to help assess where the parties are, gain an understanding of what their expectations are, given our decision not to continue to pursue a moratorium. We have outlined for them our ideas on how to proceed going forward, and George Mitchell will be following up in the meetings next week.

QUESTION: So that’s what was in those letters, the outline of how you see going forward?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m going to be very judicious in what I say. The Secretary offered her thoughts to both Mr. Molho and Mr. Erekat on what needs to be done now, and we will follow up with George Mitchell next week.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: No. Hold on. Do you have anything to say about the case of this Palestinian activist, nonviolent leader, Abdullah Abu Rahmah*, who was – has been imprisoned by the Israelis?

MR. CROWLEY: I’ll take the question and see what we know about that case.

QUESTION: Apparently, the EU, former President Carter, and others have all expressed concern about his treatment. He is a non – a leader in a nonviolent movement, Palestinian movement, in Israel, and there’s been concern expressed that the Israelis are throwing in jail someone who they might actually be able to --

MR. CROWLEY: As I said, let me found out what we know.

QUESTION: Staying on Israeli-Palestinian matters, from what you initially said it seems as if what she’s trying to do tonight is twofold, one, somehow trying to get them to talk more about the actual key, substantive issues. Do you plan to do that indirectly? Can you say, yes, we’re going to try to do this indirectly since they’re not talking directly now?

Secondly, it seems as if she’s putting much more of the onus sort of more explicitly on Israel and the Palestinians. In other words, we can’t want this more than you do; if you want to solve this, solve it. Is that – are those – is that a fair reading?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, again, ultimately, as we’ve said many times, it is up to both sides. It is for the leaders to make the difficult decisions to reach an agreement. We are prepared to do everything we can to help and support them. And as we go forward, if there’s an impasse as we address the core issues, the United States will be prepared to offer bridging proposals to try to overcome those obstacles.

But it is ultimately for the parties themselves to reach an agreement. We do believe that at some point they’ve got to return to direct negotiations to achieve that. But in the meantime, dealing with both sides on the substance we believe offers the best opportunity now to create some forward momentum, create some confidence in the process, help overcome the trust deficit that does exist. And we still think that progress is very possible.

QUESTION: Okay, so indirect talks on the main issues is your plan going forward in the near term. Is that fair to say?

MR. CROWLEY: Arshad, we’re not going to put a label on it, that we’re –

QUESTION: I’m not asking for a label. I’m trying to understand.

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. You’ve produced – I mean, for example, right now the parties are not in direct negotiations. Our goal is to get them back into direct negotiations, and we’re going to lead a more intense fight effort, focused on the substance and see if we ultimately can get to agreement, recognizing that at some point in time, to get to an agreement, a return to direct negotiations will be necessary.

QUESTION: So that sounds like really stepped-up U.S. effort and time expended now because you’re the middle man. Is that correct?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we think we’ve had a great deal – we’ve expended a great deal of effort to get to where we are. We are committed to this. We believe the parties themselves remain committed to this. And we’ll have George Mitchell in the region next week, following up on the meetings that the Secretary has had this week.

QUESTION: What’s – why are you allergic to saying, yeah, it’s going to be indirect talks. I mean, it’s obvious from what you’ve described that that’s what it is. They’re not talking to each other, you’d like them to talk to each other sometime, but now, like a tired, weary, and sad marriage counselor, you’re going to shuttle back and forth between them. (Laughter.)

MR. CROWLEY: All right, Arshad, tell us what you really think. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: What’s the problem with – I mean, what’s the problem with saying indirect talks? Why is that – why are you allergic to that phrase?

QUESTION: Well, it’s not just that phrase. It’s any label. I mean, my God, the Bush Administration came into office and Colin Powell banned the use of the word peace process. Look where that got us. So it’s any label. Then Condi Rice talked about the political horizon for the Palestinians. And you can’t even – and then you guys called them indirect talks at first, and that was a big success when you started indirect talks. (Laughter.) And then you called it direct talks and it was a big success. And now, you don’t have direct talks anymore, but you won’t call them indirect talks.

MR. CROWLEY: Anybody else want to pile on? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I mean, why not? Why won’t you call them indirect talks?

MR. CROWLEY: I’m not going to put a label on them.

QUESTION: But why have you done before?

MR. CROWLEY: All right.

QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?


QUESTION: Can you call them parallel talks?

MR. CROWLEY: Samir, I’m not playing a – do we have Middle East labels for $200?

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what’s the purpose of the Secretary’s meeting today with Mr. Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN envoy?

MR. CROWLEY: It’s to continue to focus on the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions and continue to show our support for the tribunal.

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