Sunday, January 20, 2008

State Department Daily Press Briefing

This is the transcript of the portion of the State Department's daily press briefing January 18, 2008 which dealt with the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Aside from the lack of realism regarding hope for a peace settlement when the Palestinian Arabs continue to support the destruction of Israel and have put the radical Hamas terrorist group into power in Gaza/Hamastan — as opposed to the moderate Fatah terrorist group clinging to the appearance of power in Judea and Samaria — it's interesting that it's taken for granted that Israel will continue to routinely provide for the needs of the very people trying to destroy it.

The contrast between the expectations of Israel and the expectations of the Palestinian Arabs, the contrast between civilization and barbarism, lies at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 18, 2008
Full Briefing

QUESTION: On the Middle East, Israel has made, as you're aware, a series of incursions into Gaza this week. Prime Minister Olmert yesterday said that this war would continue. I believe that the crossing points have been closed today.


QUESTION: It would seem as if since the President left the region, that things have gone pretty negatively in terms of events on the ground, including the deaths of the -- you know, the mother and the child yesterday.

Two questions; one, what, if anything, are you doing to try to make things better on the ground and two, do these events, particularly the deaths of -- you know, civilians, including a child -- you know, suggest to you that the President and the Secretary's efforts to push forward on peace are not going anywhere?

MR. MCCORMACK: No, not at all. I'm not sure how you make that connection, but look

--QUESTION: Or hypothetically?

MR. MCCORMACK: The use of violence by Hamas is not new; didn't begin last week, the week before, or two years ago, it began well prior to that. The fact of the matter is that Israel is acting in its self-defense. There are -- there is a steady stream of rockets that is falling on Israeli territory. Israeli citizens are being injured. Israel has a right to defend itself.

We have made it very clear and we have been very consistent in stating our counsel to the Israeli Government that in acting in its own self-defense, that it take every possible precaution to avoid harm to innocent life. You know, all of that said, nobody can bring back those innocent victims, who might -- may have been lost in these actions. And no one mourns the innocent -- loss of innocent life more than we do.

The best way to get to a point where you do have peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is through the negotiating track that the President and Secretary Rice have been working very hard on. And those efforts, by the way, continue even in the wake of the President's trip while these events are ongoing in Gaza.

Now on the crossing points, the Israeli Government has said that they are going to take, as one of their utmost priorities in calculating their actions, the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And they have stated that they do not want to, in any way, degrade the -- an already very difficult humanitarian situation in Gaza. And we take them at their word and we expect them to live up to that word.

Now as for our specific efforts, I can't give you a read on what Jake Walles or Dick Jones have done over the last 48 or 36 hours, but I think the Israeli Government understands pretty clearly where we stand. We have a very significant humanitarian aid program, along with many others of the international community, that is directed at Gaza and we would expect that we would be able to continue to deliver that humanitarian aid as it's in nobody's interest, first and foremost, on the ground in Gaza to see the humanitarian situation in any way, shape or form, degrade because of it.

But also one other final point, yet, you do have to remember that the unfortunate people of Gaza have found themselves in this situation because of the mismanagement and the decision making of Hamas. You don't see a similar situation in the West Bank. There are difficulties in the West Bank, but you don't see anything of the scale or the type in the West Bank as you see in Gaza. And while there may be a variety of different factors that go into that, I would point you to the back of the envelope analysis, probably the primary factor is Hamas and their failure of governance and leadership in Gaza.

QUESTION: And you don't think any of these events makes it harder to get peace talks going?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, look, you're always going to have events that arise that make things more difficult. You always hope to create events that will make things less difficult, but sometimes you do have events that will make things more difficult. What it does -- in the view of the Secretary, these kinds of events are just the kind of thing that underline the importance of putting every ounce of energy and focus into getting an agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians so you don't have the small groups of individuals from Hamas or terrorist organizations bent on the use of violence or terror able to any way negatively affect the course of peace. You don't want that. So for us, the lesson we take away from this is, these are all the more reason why you have to keep the focus and energy on solving the problem.

QUESTION: And you're acknowledging that these things -- that they just do make things

--MR. MCCORMACK: Anytime you have use of violence, I'm sure from the launching of rockets into Israel by Hamas, I'm sure that that in some way, shape or form makes things more difficult for those who are interested in trying to bring about a peace between Israel and the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: And the Israeli response.

MR. MCCORMACK: Look, you know, anytime you have loss of innocent life, that is something that is absolutely to be regretted. And I'm sure that that -- I'm sure that that has an effect on opinion, public opinion. I don't know that as a fact and I haven't done any scientific polling, but I'm sure it does. Again, all it does is underscore the importance of supporting those who have an interest in peace and winning a Palestinian state via the negotiating table.

QUESTION: Last one from me on this. Is rhetoric like Prime Minister Olmert's using the term "war," is that helpful?

MR. MCCORMACK: Because everybody understands what President Olmert -- Prime Minister Olmert's dedication to the cause of peace. He has very clearly dedicated himself 100 percent to the cause of seeking a negotiated political settlement with his counterpart President Abbas. And I -- you saw that in Annapolis. You saw it on the President's recent trip. I don't think there' -- certainly no question in our minds about that.

QUESTION: Right, but that wasn't my question. My question was whether the same rhetoric makes it -- you know, makes it harder.

MR. MCCORMACK: You know, I'd leave it to others to judge those things. We know what his policies are, we know what his intents are. Yeah.

QUESTION: I think one of the things that President Abbas has tried to express in -- with all these -- with the attacks by Israel into Gaza is that this whole process was, in part, to kind of build him up and make him the obvious choice for the Palestinians in Gaza. And how can Palestinians in Gaza even see -- you know, a future if they're being -- if they're being attacked by Israel and President Abbas is powerless to do anything to help them?

MR. MCCORMACK: Well, I think, just juxtapose the -- you know, the headlines and the pictures of, say, this week and last week. On one hand, you have the President of the United States pulling his -- putting his full weight behind bringing -- helping the Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace across the negotiating table. That's a vision of hope.

You see today pictures of Hamas launching rockets, the effects in Israel, the effects of Israel acting in self-defense. That's not a vision I would assume that the majority of the Palestinian people want to pursue. They don't want to pursue a vision of further occupation, of further violence, and unclear possibilities for a better future for their children. There are two very distinct visions here and I think the Palestinian people understand that. There may be some that don't, but we're going to keep driving home that message. We're going to keep our focus and energy on trying to bring -- help these two sides bridge the differences that's between them.

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