Israeli settlements and the “negotiating table” panacea

US State Department Press Briefing with Deputy Spokesman Mark C. Toner (bolding mine):

QUESTION: The Israeli Government has announced plans to actually encourage settlers to move into the West Bank and to begin – and also to begin a process that would – that could end up in legalizing what are now illegal outposts. I’m assuming that your position on both of these things hasn’t changed, so I’m wondering —

MR. TONER: You assume correctly.


MR. TONER: You know we’ve said multiple times —

QUESTION: What is it – can you maybe make it a little bit more clear, because it seems to be apparent that the Israelis, or at least Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, don’t understand exactly what it is that you, as their prime benefactor and large – huge ally, want from them.

MR. TONER: Well, Matt, we’ve said this many times from this podium and from elsewhere that we view any move that would jeopardize getting these two parties back to the negotiating table, and indeed, we’ve obviously seen them back – face-to-face negotiations over the past couple of weeks – that we find those unconstructive and unhelpful.

QUESTION: And that would include what they have announced today?

MR. TONER: Yes, that would include that.

QUESTION: All right. So what is the consequence, then, for Israel for them continuing to defy – not only defy but really to do – not just to say no, we don’t agree with that, but then to actually actively —

MR. TONER: Well, again —

QUESTION: — oppose or actively take active steps that fly in the face of what you say is helpful?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we’re seeking clarity on what is actually being proposed here. We did have an initial round of direct talks in Jordan. Those talks have ended, but they did show signs of progress and we certainly want to see them continue. And these kinds of actions don’t help create the kind of atmosphere that are conducive to these talks continuing.

Now, David Hale is in the region. He’s going to have meetings in Amman as well as Jerusalem and Ramallah, and he’ll be back in Washington later this week. But – obviously, he’s there in his capacity, but also I think he’ll make some of these concerns – convey them to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: Well, these concerns have been conveyed over and over and over to the Israelis. What is the consequence for them continuing to do this?

MR. TONER: Well, again, this is about getting them back to the negotiating table. And what we make clear is that whenever these kinds of actions take place, that they hamper that process.

QUESTION: So there is no consequence at all?

MR. TONER: Well, again, it’s not about carrots and sticks. What it’s about is trying to encourage these parties to get back to the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Why not? It’s about carrots and sticks everywhere else in the world. Why isn’t it about carrots and sticks here?

MR. TONER: In this case, it’s in both their —

QUESTION: What are you doing —

MR. TONER: — it’s in both parties’ best interests to continue negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement.

QUESTION: But the actions of at least – one could argue the actions of both parties, but in this series of questions, which is about the announcements by the Israeli Government —

MR. TONER: Right.

QUESTION: — they are not acting in the best interests of that, according to you.

MR. TONER: Again —

QUESTION: Correct? So what is the consequence of that? The consequence is they don’t get back to talks that they apparently don’t seem to want?

MR. TONER: Well, again, you’ll have to ask the Israeli Government what their intent is here. But you’re absolutely right that this has to be something that both sides want to pursue and to do so in a meaningful and committed fashion. And again, we are very outspoken when we see actions by either side that we believe hampers the chance for these parties to get back into direct negotiations. It’s certainly – as we’ve said many times, it’s in both of their interests to be in direct negotiations.

QUESTION: All right. Two more very quick ones —

MR. TONER: Yeah. Sure.

QUESTION: — and then I’m done. You talk about meaningful and committed fashion. Are the actions of the Israeli Government something that you would consider meaningful and committed to be – is what they’re doing, is that something that you consider to be acting in a meaningful and […] committed fashion?

MR. TONER: Thanks, Andy. Again, I think I’ve been very clear that actions by either side that we view as unconstructive to the process —

QUESTION: So they are not acting in a meaningful and committed fashion?

MR. TONER: Well, again, we have had talks in Jordan over the past few weeks that we believe offered a good start. We want to see those talks continue. David Hale is in the region. He’s consulting with all sides as well as the Jordanians.

QUESTION: Mark, that’s a great answer to a question, but it’s not the question I asked. Is Israel asking in a meaningful – acting in a meaningful and committed fashion toward getting a peace – towards encouraging these talks?

MR. TONER: Again, we’ve said that these kinds of actions are not constructive.

QUESTION: I think it’s a yes-or-no question.

MR. TONER: And I’m going to answer you the way I’m answering you, which is that it’s not constructive.

QUESTION: It’s not constructive, all right.


QUESTION: — quick follow-up on this. Now, you keep saying that the path to statehood is through direct negotiations. Seeing how the settlement processing increased by 20 percent in 2011 and with today’s announcement, and in fact, since the beginning of this month we are likely to see an increase if they continue at this pace – like a 40 percent increase in settlement activities. So what incentive is there for the Palestinians to go into these negotiations to sort of get a state that is viable – as you keep saying – that is viable and contiguous and independent and sovereign?

MR. TONER: Well, the motivation should be clear, and that is the sooner they sit down with Israel and work through these issues in a comprehensive fashion so that we can get a clear way forward in terms of borders, then the sooner they have that comprehensive settlement and that statehood that they so desire.

QUESTION: But isn’t there a pattern that every time there is some sort of a negotiation and, in fact, a visit by a high-level U.S. official and so on to Israel, that the Israelis always counter by announcing a new settlement and increase the settlements and so on?

MR. TONER: Again, you’re asking me to speak to the motivations behind this decision. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. So you talk about incentives for the Palestinians, but do you have any kind of disincentive for the increased Israeli settlement activities?

MR. TONER: Well, we’ve always been clear that – and Israelis themselves have commented that the status quo is unsustainable. So that’s —

QUESTION: So then the expression of anger and perhaps a little pouting, there is nothing that you can do?

MR. TONER: I disagree. David Hale is right now in the region. He is consulting with our partners as well as the parties. And we’re committed to getting them back into direct negotiations.

QUESTION: Can you tell us the last time that your position that was made very clearly to the Israelis did have an impact on stemming the settlement activities?

MR. TONER: Again, we are very outspoken when we see these kinds of actions by either side. We convey those to the Israelis, but you’re asking me to —

QUESTION: But you expressed a little recollection on that —

MR. TONER: — elaborate on some kind of actions that I can’t.

QUESTION: In the last 12 months, you have not been able to sort of dissuade the Israelis from settlement activities. Are you aware of any time that you were able to persuade them?

MR. TONER: Again, Said, it is a question better directed to the Israeli Government. What we’re trying to do without preconditions, we’re trying to get the parties back to the negotiating table, and we’ve had a good start.

To summarize: Israel spits in the face of the US State Department and the Palestinian Authority with the clear intent of sabotaging any future Palestinian state and all the US does is wag its finger in mild disapproval and fetishize the “negotiating table” as the end-all-be-all solution. There is–of course–no suggestion that the US could even threaten a reduction in the massive amounts of aid shoveled into Israel’s coffers. It’s not clear how simply getting the parties back to the negotiating table is going to solve anything when Israel is hellbent on colonizing the West Bank. If anything, it puts the onus on the Palestinians to make even more concessions and passively allow the IDF to enclose them into smaller and smaller ghettos with the collaboration of PA security forces.