Posted by Kristin McCarthy on March 16, 2016 in Blog
Reports are coming out after Vice President Joe Biden's short visit to Israel last week that the Israeli military seized 580 acres of Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank land while the Vice President was in-country. This is not the first time that Israel has made controversial announcements at the expense of Vice President Biden, during the VP's first official visit to Israel in 2010, Netanyahu unveiled plans for 1,600 new settlement units in the occupied territory.
The illegal land seizure was brought up at the daily State Department briefing on March 15th, 2016, with disappointing comments made by State Department Spokesman John Kirby. Read the exchange below:
QUESTION: Can we go to the Palestinian-Israeli issue?
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today the Israeli Army Radio announced the expropriation of 2,342 dunams, which is roughly about 580 acres, in Jericho or a bit south of Jericho. And apparently that decision was taken on the 10th of this month, which puts it right when the Vice President was there, evoking images of, let’s say, 2009, when they did exactly the same thing when the Vice President visited. First, I want you – do you have any reaction to the – this latest land confiscation?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. I can tell you quite frankly we’ve seen these reports. We’re concerned about this reported expropriation of about, I think you said, 580 – it’s 580, I think – acres in the West Bank as state land, which is a significant increase over the prior announcement. This decision is, in our view, the latest step in what appears to be an ongoing process of land expropriations, settlement expansions, and legalizations of outposts that is fundamentally undermining the prospects for a two-state solution. As we have said before, we strongly oppose any steps that accelerate settlement expansion, which raise serious questions about Israel’s long-term intentions. And as we’ve repeatedly made clear, we continue to look to both sides to demonstrate with actions and policies a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. Actions such as these do just the opposite.
QUESTION: Do you consider the timing to be sort of intended to sort of slight the Vice President of the United States?
MR KIRBY: I would let the Israeli authorities speak to the timing. I know that this was announced last week, but they should have to speak to the timing of it.
QUESTION: Now, the – Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said that they are going to the UN Security Council with this, and they hope to have the support of the international community. If this comes up – in the face of Israel not being deterred on these land confiscations, will you support the Palestinian effort at the United Nations if this comes up at the UN?
MR KIRBY: I don’t have anything – I’m not going to speculate on potential actions inside the UN, Said. As we’ve said before, what we want – what we’ve said is we want – we want both sides, both parties to work these – to work out these issues together, to both take affirmative steps to move a two-state solution forward.
QUESTION: Now – but you keep saying the same thing, and I know you express strong positions and so on, but the Israelis are not persuaded by your anger or your being upset and so on at the continued settlement activities and so on. So what should be done? I mean, what should happen to sort of force the Israelis or to make the Israelis halt these settlement activities? In your view, what ought to be done? Obviously, Israel is flouting what you say and what the international community is saying and doing, so to face this, what ought to be done?
MR KIRBY: What ought to be done is what we’ve said so many times before: that both sides take affirmative steps – proactive, assertive steps --
QUESTION: But the Palestinians are not taking any land.
MR KIRBY: Pardon?
QUESTION: Are they taking any land? I mean, they’re not building settlements; they’re not doing things like this. I mean, how should they cease doing something that they have not done?
MR KIRBY: We still want to see a two-state solution be a reality, and we don’t want to see negotiations just for the sake of negotiations, but we do believe that a two-state solution is still possible. But in order to get there, you’ve got to have both sides willing to take the steps necessary to ratchet down the violence, to tone down the rhetoric, and through policy and decisions and actual actions move that process forward. It has to start there. It has to start organically. And thus far, we haven’t seen that. We haven’t seen decisions get made to propel that process forward, and that’s what we continue to want to see.
And we were just in the region. The Secretary was just there, and that was his message in the meetings that he had with leaders. And I think it’s going to continue to be our message going forward.
QUESTION: One more question on this, if you’ll allow me. Yesterday the minister of defense of the state of Israel was speaking at one Washington think tank and basically dismissed the two-state solution, and he said there is not likely to be a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in his time. I don’t know whether he meant in his lifetime or in his time as a minister of defense, but he basically is saying – shirking responsibility for the occupation. They’re not doing anything; they’re not likely to do anything. He said there are other, bigger issues and bigger problems in the region. Do you have any comment on that?
MR KIRBY: I haven’t seen those comments, and all I would say is if that’s a view held, whether it’s in his time in office or his time on Earth, we don’t see it that way. We still think that a two-state solution is possible. We still believe in the viability of it. But as the Secretary has said over and over and over again, in order to get there, you’ve got to have leadership on both sides of this be real leaders and make tough decisions and be willing to compromise. And again, we haven’t seen affirmative steps – the kinds of affirmative steps we believe are necessary to actually see that as a reality.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. willing --
QUESTION: John, over the course of the last seven years – in other words, the lifetime of this Administration so far – I think I’ve lost count of the number of times that spokespeople from this podium and the White House have said that the latest Israeli action fundamentally undermines the prospects for a two-state solution and also raises serious questions about Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution. Does the Administration still believe that the Israeli Government is committed to a two-state solution? And if you do, can you tell me why you think that if they are constantly doing things that you say undermine the prospects for it and raise serious questions about their commitment
MR KIRBY: Well, I think you’ve answered – quite frankly, you’ve answered your question in the question itself. We --
QUESTION: So you don’t think they’re actually committed to a two-state solution?
MR KIRBY: Number one, we still believe in the viability of a two --
QUESTION: I’m not asking --
MR KIRBY: No, I --
QUESTION: You can still believe in unicorns if you want to, but that doesn’t mean that they exist, and it doesn’t mean that --
MR KIRBY: You’ve answered – just give me a second.
QUESTION: All right.
MR KIRBY: You’ve answered your own question, that we still believe in it, and what we want to see are – is strong leadership on both sides to reaffirm their desire to get there. And there are decisions being made that, as you said in your question, that we have noted raise questions and doubts in our mind about the sincerity on their part of moving forward.
QUESTION: But what makes you think that there is – that they have this desire or this commitment, either side?
MR KIRBY: I never stood here --
QUESTION: You said that they – that these kind of actions raise serious questions about their commitment --
MR KIRBY: Right.
QUESTION: -- to a two-state solution and – which presupposes that they are committed.
MR KIRBY: That there was a commitment. They have said --
QUESTION: Why do you still think that they are committed, both sides?
MR KIRBY: Their public and private statements have said --
QUESTION: Really? But their actions seem to do the exact opposite.
MR KIRBY: Exactly. So you see, you’ve answered the question.
QUESTION: So why do you insist on saying that they’re committed to something that they’re showing no commitment to?
MR KIRBY: They have reaffirmed it themselves. They have said publicly; they’ve said it privately. And what we continue to see are decisions and actions that raise serious doubts about that commitment, and we’re open and honest about that.
I never said – I won’t speak for either side. I can only speak for our side and our view, and our view is we still believe it’s possible. We still believe it’s the right way forward.
QUESTION: But the line that says it raises serious questions about the commitment --
MR KIRBY: About their commitment.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. What makes you think their commitment exists?
MR KIRBY: Because they have said that they are committed to it.
QUESTION: Well they – all right.
MR KIRBY: And their actions in some ways aren’t reaffirming or proving that point, and that’s a concern.
QUESTION: All right. Are those cameras up on the Temple Mount yet?
MR KIRBY: No.
QUESTION: Is this Administration willing to deny Israel its request for increased military aid in order to get it to stop expropriating land in the West Bank?
MR KIRBY: I’m – I think I’ve taken this particular issue as far as I’m going to today. I’m certainly not going to speculate about actions one way or the other going forward.
QUESTION: But --
MR KIRBY: We’ve made clear our concern – our serious concern about it