Press Conference Following Meeting with Leaders
of Israel and Palestine
Press Conference Following Meeting with Leaders
of Israel and Palestine
Press Conference Following Meeting with Leaders
of Israel and Palestine
delivered 25 May
2021, David Citadel Hotel, Jerusalem, Israel
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Good evening, everyone. Must be -- Must be a slow night. Good to see you all.
We had, as those of you whoíve been along with us all day know, a fairly busy
and certainly very productive day in Jerusalem and Ramallah since arriving this
morning. I traveled here at the request of President Biden, who asked me to come
to pursue four basic objectives. First, to demonstrate the commitment of the
United States to Israelís security. Second, to start to work toward greater
stability and reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Third, to support
urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance for Gaza to benefit the
Palestinian people. And fourth, to continue to rebuild our relationship with the
Palestinian people and the Palestinian Authority.
Those objectives shaped all of the meetings that I held today with elected
leaders on both sides, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, Foreign Minister
Ashkenazi, Defense Minister Gantz here in Jerusalem, and President Abbas and
Prime Minister Shtayyeh in the West Bank. Theyíll drive my discussions this
evening with Knesset opposition leader Lapid and tomorrow morning with President
Across the meetings that Iíve had so far, Iíve heard a shared recognition from
all sides that steps need to be taken, work needs to be done, to address the
underlying conditions that helped fuel this latest conflict. The ceasefire
creates space to begin to take those steps. Attending to the urgent humanitarian
needs of Palestinians in Gaza and helping rebuild is a key starting point. The
United States is committed to rallying international support to that effort and
doing our part. Thatís why we announced additional assistance for the
Palestinian people today.
But we all know that is not enough. As President Biden has said, we believe that
Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely; to enjoy
equal measures of freedom, opportunity, and democracy; to be treated with
dignity. Earlier today, I had a chance to meet with two of the State
Departmentís locally employed staff: an Israeli whose family lives near the Gaza
separation wall and a Palestinian who lives in Gaza. Both of them recounted how
the violence in recent weeks repeatedly forced them and their families to take
cover. Both feared they would be killed. For too many innocent Israelis and
Palestinians, lives lost in the conflict and loved ones suffering immeasurably
as a result.
But the stories of those staff members remind us that the survivors on both
sides also walk away scarred, none as much as children. Thatís another reason we
have to break the cycle of violence. Leaders on both sides will need to chart a
better course, starting by making real improvements in the lives of people in
Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. Iím convinced that if they do, they will find
willing partners in both Israeli and Palestinian civil society. Thatís one of
the messages I took away from a meeting earlier today with Palestinian civil
Tomorrow, Iíve got a chance to travel to Egypt and also to Jordan. As you know,
Egypt played a critical role in helping to broker the ceasefire, and Jordan has
long been a voice for peace and stability in the region. Weíre grateful for
their continued engagement, and I look forward to the meetings there tomorrow.
But with that, Iím happy to take some questions.
Mr. Price: Weíll start with Lara Jakes, New York Times.
Question: Good evening, Secretary Blinken. Hello.
SecState Blinken: Where are you, Lara? Oh,
there you are.
Question: I think some of my colleagues will ask you some of the nitty-gritty
questions of the day. I wanted to kind of take a step back, if I could.
Reasserting Americaís role in the world has been one of the themes of your
foreign policy. Can you describe how that took shape over the last three weeks
in this part of the Middle East, where the United States had a very active role
in promoting Israeli interests during the Trump administration but had shut down
relations with Palestinian officials? And so what struck you in what you heard
today from both sides?
SecState Blinken: Well, a few things. First,
I think that the violence that weíve seen in recent weeks is a reminder of the
need to try to make genuine progress toward peacefully resolving the conflict
that continues to divide Israelis and Palestinians.
In terms of U.S. reengagement, U.S. leadership, I think what you saw was
President Biden leading, very determined, very intensive, but also
behind-the-scenes diplomacy to do the first thing that needed to be done, which
was to end the violence, to get the ceasefire. And with a lot of hard work, with
the efforts of others, including the Egyptians, we were able to do that. But
that was just the starting point for something that I just described.
Itís now I think incumbent on us to work with our partners here and work with
others, as I said, to address the urgent needs in Gaza itself and the people in
Gaza, to then try to build something more positive on that, and also to address
some of the underlying causes that could, if not addressed, spark another cycle
So I think we found in working on this intensely, quietly but resolutely, that
Americaís words matter, Americaís actions matter, and Americaís engagement
matters. Iím glad that we were able to make -- help make a difference in getting
to the ceasefire. And I hope and expect that we can continue to make a
difference in moving beyond it in trying to build something more positive. So
thatís what I take away from at least the last couple of weeks.
Mr. Price: Weíll go to Gili Cohen from KAN.
Question: Mr. Secretary, thank you for that. Prime Minister Netanyahu has been
pretty vocal in his objection to the JCPOA. Did those remarks encourage or deter
the U.S. from returning to the JCPOA? And speaking of the Iran deal, is it a
matter of weeks before the U.S. will return to the agreement?
SecState Blinken: Thank you. Letís start
with this. The fact is the United States and Israel are absolutely united in the
proposition that Iran must never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. We
share exactly the same goal. Itís no secret that we sometimes have our
differences with regard to the best way to achieve that goal, and thatís what
allies and partners do. We work together, try to find the best way to achieve a
common objective. What we have done very, very resolutely, as weíve tried to see
whether a return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA is possible, is that we
have regularly before, during, and after all of our engagements -- indirect
engagements with the Iranians in Vienna -- kept our partners here in Israel
informed, as well as others who are concerned. And thatís not going to stop.
Let me add this: The JCPOA I think accomplished something very important, and
that is it cut off all of Iranís pathways to produce fissile material for a
nuclear weapon on short order. And it pushed the so-called breakout time, the
amount of time it would take Iran to develop that material for a nuclear weapon,
to beyond a year. It was the most heavily monitored and verified agreement in
the history of arms control. Our experts said that Iran was abiding by its
commitments under the agreement. So did international experts. And as a result,
the challenge that both the United States and Israel were focused on, the
prospect of Iran getting to the point where it could have a -- fissile material
for a nuclear weapon or produce it on very short order, we took that off of the
-- off the field. And I think that was an important development.
What have we seen since we pulled out of the agreement? Well, Iran has stopped
abiding by some of the critical constraints in the agreement, and as a result,
it is far closer today to the ability to produce fissile material for a nuclear
weapon on short order than it was even before the deal was reached, and
certainly during the pendency of the deal itself. And so I think that only
underscores the importance and, indeed, urgency in seeing if we can get Iran
back into compliance with the agreement, to put Iran back in the nuclear box
that the deal constructed. The alternative is an Iran that is getting closer and
closer -- if it continues to do what itís doing, in spinning more and more
sophisticated centrifuges and building up stockpiles of enriched uranium --
getting closer and closer to having a very, very short breakout time, which is
in -- not in our interest, not in Israelís interest, not in anyoneís interest.
So thatís why weíre working to see if we can get back into mutual compliance.
Weíve said all along that that would be a first step, that we also would seek to
try to make the agreement longer and stronger, and also to deal with other
issues and other challenges posed by Iran, to include its support for terrorism,
its support for destabilizing proxy groups in countries throughout the region,
its proliferation. All of these things weíre determined to engage, but the first
thing weíre trying to achieve is to, as I said, put the nuclear problem back
into the box that we constructed and that was strong, solid, and doing what we
needed to do.
Now, weíre engaged or about to engage in I think the fifth round of discussions
in Vienna, and we still donít know the answer to the most important question,
which is whether Iran is actually willing and able to make the decisions it
needs to make to come back into full compliance. The jury is still out, and we
will see whether or not Iran makes that decision.
Mr. Price: Nick Wadhams.
Question: Thanks. Mr. Secretary, a few of those nitty-gritty questions for you:
Did President Abbas say anything to you about reopening a Palestinian Authority
representative office in the U.S.? Can you give us a timeframe on when you would
reopen the consulate and bring Michael Ratney here?
And then if I could just press you a little bit on the Iran issue, understanding
everything youíve laid out to us, did you offer any assurances to Prime Minister
Netanyahu? His comments to us essentially showed that he disagreed with
everything you just said. He thinks that the deal essentially legitimizes Iran
getting a nuclear weapon. So was there anything you asked of him or offered him
on the JCPOA to try to reassure him? Thanks.
SecState Blinken: Thank you. So on the
question of an office in Washington, that did not come up today. With regard to
our consulate, weíre just beginning the process. I canít give you a timeline on
how long that will take. But I can tell you that itís, I think, important to
have that platform to be able to more effectively engage not just the
Palestinian Authority, but Palestinians from different walks of life, the NGO
community, the business community, and others. And so we look forward to doing
that, but I canít put a timeline on it.
And coming back to Iran, no, I think the most important thing when it comes to
this is what we committed to do from day one of this administration. We said all
along that if there was an opportunity, we would seek to return to mutual
compliance with the JCPOA, but we also said that from day one, we would be
keeping our closest allies and closest partners fully and contemporaneously
informed of what we were doing and where we were going. And thatís what weíve
done and thatís what weíll continue to do. That is how you keep faith with your
partners and allies on something that, of course, is of great consequence to
Israel. We understand that.
And again, we have the same objective, and letís see where things go in the next
few weeks. But I can again tell you that we are fully, fully engaged with our
partners here in at least making sure that theyíre fully informed of what weíre
Mr. Price: Weíll turn to Hikmet Yosef from PalSawa.
Mr. Price: Please, go ahead.
Question [Via interpreter]: Good afternoon.
Interpreter: Okay. So his question was: ďThe U.S. administration said that itís
going to do the reconstruction of Gaza through the United Nations. Is this
considered an implicit, direct, or indirect recognition of Hamas that is taking
over -- that is the taken-over authority in Gaza? And -- or is there a plan for
Washington to deal with Hamas directly or indirectly?Ē
And heís asking also: ďIs the negotiation -- will be resumed between the PA and
Israel after the ceasefire?Ē Thank you.
SecState Blinken: Thank you very much for
your question. Look, if we do this right, reconstruction and then -- and relief
for the people of Gaza, far from empowering Hamas, I think has the potential to
undermine it. I say that because Hamas thrives, unfortunately, on despair, on
misery, on desperation, on a lack of opportunity. In fact, itís a movement that
has thrived on a vacuum of opportunity. And what reconstruction and relief need
to do is not just answer the immediate needs -- and those needs are significant
and theyíre urgent, whether itís water, whether itís sanitation, whether itís
electricity -- but they need to offer a genuine prospect for opportunity, for
progress, for material improvement in peopleís lives. And our goal is to give
the Palestinian people, including those in Gaza, a renewed sense of confidence,
of optimism, of real opportunity.
And if we succeed -- and by the way, itís not just us, itís not just the UN. Itís
the Palestinian Authority that needs to be fully engaged, Israel needs to fully
engage, other partners need to fully engage. But in my judgment, at least, if
weíre able to do that all together, then Hamasís foothold in Gaza will slip, and
we know that and I think that Hamas knows that.
Weíll take one final question from Andrea Mitchell.
Question: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Did you get any commitments from
Prime Minister Netanyahu to not evict Palestinians from East Jerusalem
neighborhoods and to work with the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinians
in order to avoid any spark that could break the ceasefire? And did you get any
assurances from the Palestinian Authority today that they could have any
influence over Gaza? Thank you very much.
SecState Blinken: Thanks, Andrea. So first,
as -- let me take a step back for a minute, because weíre focused right now on
responding to, as I said, the urgent needs that exist in Gaza on a humanitarian
basis, the urgent needs for rebuilding and reconstruction, and then looking to
see actions on the part of both Israelis and Palestinians that will take down
tension, and try to remove or minimize some of the potential catalysts for a
renewed cycle of violence, and, building on that, try to -- in very practical and
material ways, start to improve peopleís lives and add a real sense of dignity
If that happens -- and that will take some time -- that may, I think, produce a
better environment in which ultimately thereís a possibility of resuming the
effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only
way to truly assure Israelís future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of
course, to give the Palestinians the state that theyíre entitled to.
I say all that because any steps that either side takes that either risk
sparking violence or -- over time -- and ultimately undermine the prospect for
returning to the pursuit of two states, we oppose. And that includes settlement
activity, it includes demolitions, it includes evictions, it includes incitement
to violence, it includes payment to terrorists. All of those things would, I
think, on the one hand potentially be catalysts for renewed tension and
potentially violence, and certainly undermine the prospects of achieving two
states. And thatís something that weíve been very clear about in our
conversations with Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Question: But did you get any commitment today?
SecState Blinken: Iíll let the
-- Iíll let
our partners speak for themselves.
Mr. Price: Thank you very much, everybody.
SecState Blinken: Thank you.
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