What’s the U.S. saying about Palestine, today? Kerry meets with Abbas, Netanyahu

At the U.S. State Department press briefing on Tuesday, spokesperson Mark Toner was asked a few questions about Secretary John Kerry’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu on Tuesday.

They did not discuss the occupation or the illegal settlements during their meeting, so a reporter asked Toner if the U.S. changed its position on settlements. The question was also inspired by a reported conversation with Netanyahu about giving Palestinians building permits. But according to The Jerusalem Post the PM will only do so, if Kerry recognizes Israeli settlements.

Toner reiterated the U.S.’ hard position against settlements, stating that “Every U.S. administration since 1967, Democrat and Republican alike, has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines, and this Administration’s been no different and will be no different.”

Kerry released also met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Kerry released a statement before the meeting,  that said he was in the region at the request of President Barack Obama to help end the violence and restore people’s confidence in the ability of a two state-solution being achieved.

QUESTION: Mark, I just want to ask you a very quick question about the Secretary’s meeting today —

MR TONER: Sure. Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: — with Prime Minister Netanyahu. He talked about Israel’s right to defend itself. He talked about terrorism and all these things. Did not mention settlements, did not talk about the occupation. Has there been any change in the U.S. policy towards settlements?

MR TONER: Well, I’m glad you brought up that issue.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just ask this question in a way that you can respond to it.

MR TONER: Yeah, sure. Okay.

QUESTION: The Israelis – an Israeli official after the meeting said that the prime minister had made it clear – well, first of all, does the United States want the Government of Israel to issue building permits for Palestinian projects? And then part of that is that the Israeli official says that in response to that request – I don’t know if it’s being made or not – but in response, the prime minister, quote, “made clear that if the international community expects building permits for the Palestinians, Israel expects recognition for building in existing settlement – in the blocs,” referring to existing settlement blocs.

One, is that an accurate representation? Did the prime minister ask the Secretary to recognize existing settlements and new construction in them in return for this step of approving building permits for the Palestinians? And if he did, what was the response? Is the U.S. going to change its position on settlements?

MR TONER: Thank you. Well, as you can probably understand, I’m not going to get into the contents or the details of what are private diplomatic conversations. But as to those comments and those reports, I can be very clear that we’re not changing – again, we’re not changing – the decades-old U.S. policy regarding settlements. Every U.S. administration since 1967, Democrat and Republican alike, has opposed Israeli settlement activity beyond the 1967 lines, and this Administration’s been no different and will be no different. The U.S. Government has never defended or supported Israeli settlements and activity associated with them and by extension does not pursue policies that would legitimize them. And administrations of both parties have long recognized that settlement activity and efforts to change the facts on the ground undermine the goal of a two-state solution.

QUESTION: So that sounds like that’s a big no.

MR TONER: That’s a big no.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: China?

QUESTION: Does that mean that you do not —

MR TONER: Regarding your question about whether we’re considering changing our policy on settlements.

QUESTION: Right. Are you suggesting to the Israelis that one way to ease the tensions might be to allow – to approve building permits for the Palestinians?

MR TONER: I would just – again, we’ve been very clear not to get into specifics of some of the confidence-building measures or some of the efforts that we want to see, affirmative actions that we want to see both sides take. But we’ve been very clear that we want to see tensions de-escalated. And we’ve suggested some of the steps that Israel might take, but I’m not going to confirm that that was one of them.

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