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State Dept. Blames Both Sides for Failure of Process

At a daily press briefing on Monday,  Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman responded to questions by reporters concerning anonymous officials who blamed Israeli settlements for the failure of the peace talks. That was followed by a report in Israel Times that suggested that Martin Indyk had quit, was going back to Washington and dismantling the teams.

Harf said, “As the Secretary said, negotiations  were suspended as a result of a combination of unhelpful actions on both sides. On the Palestinian side, the appeal to 15 different treaties while we’re actively working to secure a prisoner release, as well as the announcement of the Fatah/Hamas reconciliation agreement at the moment we were working for a formula to extend the negotiations, really combined to make it impossible to extend the negotiations.

And on the Israeli side, large-scale settlement announcements, a failure to release the fourth tranche of prisoners on time, and then the announcement of 700 settlement tenders at a very sensitive moment, really combined to undermine the efforts to extend the negotiations. So I would very much take notion with the fact that this was just one side. Both sides did things here that were very unhelpful.

It was then pointed out that the official who said that Indyk quit also said that the Israeli side did not budge an inch—more than an inch on the talks. Is that—Is it a true reflection of what happened behind the scenes?

MS. HARF: What we’ve said is at the end of this—right before we went into this pause, both sides did things that were incredibly unhelpful.

On Ambassador Indyk: He’s returned to the United States for consultations with the Secretary and the White House. As we assess the next steps in the U.S. efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace—premature, quite frankly, to speculate on what those steps will be or what will happen. …He’s returned for consultations but there’s no dismantling (At the time JLBC went to press, Indyk was still a full-time State Dept. employee.). So we’re going to see where this goes from here and figure out what makes sense in terms of staffing.

When a reporter asked if things weren’t worse now than they were nine months ago, she responded, “I would actually disagree with that notion that it’s worse. I think by and large Israeli and Palestinian people want to see a peace process try to make this work, right? They support peace. They support a process even though it’s difficult, right? And so where we were nine months ago when there was no process, when it appeared there was no hope for this to move forward, I don’t think is a better place than we are today, where we’ve seen nine months where, yes, the last few weeks have been very tough. But for nine months we negotiated in good faith. Each side took some steps that, while small and while in the end haven’t led us where we need to be yet, matter. So I would take exception with the notion that things are worse now.

QUESTION: So before they began there was no hope and there was no process. Now there’s no hope and no process, plus you also have the Palestinians going to the UN. You have the unity government with Fatah and Hamas, which all of which you think is bad…

MS. HARF: So we shouldn’t have tried this for the last nine months?

QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that it was. I’m just asking you how you can say, given the list of what you’ve just put out, how in the last nine months the situation is better now than it was…

MS. HARF: I’m not saying it’s better.

QUESTION: Right. So how can you say?

MS. HARF: I’m saying it’s not worse. I’m saying it’s different.

QUESTION: — seems like in addition to no hope —

MS. HARF: I’m saying it’s different.

QUESTION: But there’s no hope and no process now.

MS. HARF: Actually, I think there are a lot of people—Israelis and Palestinians—who looked at the last nine months and said, “Wow. We can sit down at a table for nine months.” Look, this isn’t the first challenging time.  …Look, we will not be happy until they are, as we have said repeatedly, two states living side by side in peace and security. How we get there will be challenging. There will be ups; there will be downs. And it’s not linear. That’s just not how this works. You don’t look for improvements on the ground on a diplomatic process that’s not over yet.

QUESTION:  But it is over.

MS. HARF: Wait. So the choice you have is doing nothing?

QUESTION: No, no, I’m not making that argument.

MS. HARF: Well, right. But these are our choices though, right? Even if we enter into a negotiation and we say, on balance, even if we get to the end of the nine months and there’s been some tangible evidence of working together, there have been prisoner releases, there’s been other things, we don’t have an agreement, it was worth it to do it.

QUESTION: So your argument is that it’s worth it to have tried—even though the situation now is worse than it was than before.

MS. HARF: I am disagreeing with the notion that it’s worse. I said it’s different. I think the notion 10 months ago, where we weren’t even at the table, where they weren’t talking, is worse than seeing that leaders, even though difficult, can come to the table.

QUESTION:  I don’t understand how you can make that argument logically that it got better.

MS. HARF: It got different.

QUESTION: Well, different is worse, right? No?

MS. HARF: No, different is different. Get your dictionary out.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary thinking of releasing a document or maybe some parts of the plan that he said he thought was on the table? He said at one point he thought there was a deal on the table. If he releases some of that to the public, that would then go to the point that we could actually see maybe there was some fruit to the labor and there’s something possibly to build on for the future.

MS. HARF: I’m not downplaying your question. I don’t have any information on whether or not we’ll do that at some point. I know people are asking.

What we’ve said – but you speak to a good point here, that even if these negotiations eventually don’t work in the nine months, you have put the issues on the table, you’ve talked about them, maybe you’ve seen something where whenever we start this process again it will help us make progress faster or make better progress or go further. That’s how these negotiations work, right?

So yes, having done it for nine months, we think getting the parties to the table, putting all the issues on the table, working through very specific language about some things, eventually will be helpful to a process where we can get a final agreement.

Ms. Harf concluded her comments by telling the reporters that Ambassador Indyk was at the time of the press conference, still a full-time employee of the State Department.

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