Background Briefing on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks
Background Briefing on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks
Senior White House Official and Senior State Department Official
July 30, 2013
MODERATOR: So just to repeat for all of you, this is a background briefing. Attribution will be – [Senior White House Official] here, who many of you know. His title now is [title withheld]. He will be known here forward as Senior White House Official. And, of course, [Senior State Department Official], who was just named [title withheld], will be as Senior State Department Official. And [Senior White House Official] and [Senior State Department Official] with start out with some remarks, and then we’ll take questions.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Thanks, [Moderator]. Hey, everybody. Yeah, I’ll just begin with some comments from a senior White House official perspective and then turn it over to my colleague for more details. And I would just start by underscoring how appreciative the President is of all of Secretary Kerry’s efforts over the previous months and days and how supportive he is of what the Secretary has accomplished and how personally committed he is to the process.
As I think you all know, the President met with the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Oval Office this morning. He wanted personally to hear from them, hear about their progress, the challenges, the way forward. And he wanted to underscore for them his commitment and his appreciation for their leadership and courage in tackling this difficult set of final status negotiations.
He is fully aware, and he made clear to the parties, that there is an awful lot of difficult work to do in the days and months ahead. But he wanted them to know that the United States is fully behind them, and he personally is ready to engage to support the process.
As you also know, going back just a little bit, the President really kick-started this process in March with his trip to the region. You’ll recall, many of you who were on that trip, he went to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Amman. He had a chance to speak to the publics in all of those places and to meet with counterparts. And he came away from that trip convinced that peace was both necessary and possible, and so he asked the Secretary to follow up and to do everything he could to get a negotiation started again after quite a long hiatus. And ever since that point, Secretary Kerry has seized that mantle and has been working diligently, as you all know, and energetically, to do so. It hasn’t been easy. You know about the six trips and all the shuttle diplomacy, and all the more reason the President was delighted to see that Secretary Kerry’s efforts paid off and the negotiators came to Washington to get this process started.
I also want to underscore that every step of the way, the Secretary has been closely engaged with the President. I can think of pretty much every occasion before Secretary Kerry went back out to the region, him coming over to the White House for a meeting with the President and the White House team, working very closely together on the process. Just before – to take a more recent example, just before the announcement, I think on July 19th, that these talks would happen, the President and the Secretary – the Secretary called him from the region, went through in great detail what the plan was, what the expectations were, and he spoke to him repeatedly since then as this process has gotten underway. The President has also been engaged with leaders in the region. He spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu on July 18th in the run-up to the announcement. And then yesterday, the Secretary met with the President to brief him ahead of the meetings with the parties that took place.
So all of that is to say, again, the President is very appreciative of all of the work that Secretary Kerry has put into this process, that the negotiators have put in, that the leaders in the region have put in. He is under no illusions that the process will be easy. Like I said, he mentioned that specifically to the negotiators when he met with them this morning. He knows there is an awful lot of hard work ahead. But I think he, in his meeting with the negotiators and those of us who participated in the talks over the last couple of days, were impressed with the outlook and the atmosphere. It really does appear that these negotiators are coming to it with the seriousness that will be necessary to tackle the challenges ahead.
So with that, let me turn it over to my colleague, and then we’ll look forward to your questions.
QUESTION: [Moderator], do you know that thing goes up? You can get it to rise, the podium.
MODERATOR: We can also move his step.
QUESTION: You can also move the step.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, that’s fine by me.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you all very much. I would just start off by saying how much the Secretary appreciates the very strong support that he’s received from the White House, how much we here at the State Department have appreciated the support from the national security staff team over there. It’s been an integrated effort from the very beginning, and I think we’re all very, very happy where we wound up today.
As the Secretary announced, we watched final status negotiations, direct final status negotiations between the parties today. [Senior White House Official] mentioned, I think, the atmosphere was excellent between the parties. We tackled mainly process issues. This summer, you can imagine, is the beginning of a nine month negotiation. There are certain modalities that need to be worked out between the parties. We agreed on the next meeting, which will take place in the region within the next two weeks. We discussed the U.S. role, and as the Secretary said, we will be playing the role as facilitator. We will be deeply engaged in the process and we will be there every step of the way.
Sorry, is that a – at any rate, the Secretary’s message, I think, is an important one to reinforce, which is that we are under no illusions that this is going to be easy. It’s going to be very, very hard, and it’s going to take some very, very tough choices by the leaders if we’re going to get where we were all trying to get to. But I would say, and I would emphasize, really, that the Secretary was very encouraged by the decisions that Prime Minister Netanyahu took in the last days to – agreement to release prisoners, a tough, tough fight he had with his cabinet. The message he sent out to the Israeli people making the case for peace, these were all extraordinarily encouraging signs as far as we were concerned, and I think really took some courage and some leadership from Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the Secretary really feels it’s important to recognize that and to understand that.
By the same token, President Abbas made a very difficult decision. I think both of them experienced some political heat, if you will, as a result of all of this. And I think when you see that the politics are tough on both sides and that the leaders are willing to move forward despite that, I think it gives you a reason to have some hope and some optimism that this process can succeed going forward.
And I think that was very much the tone of the negotiators over this weekend. They were – obviously everybody is aware that this is difficult, everybody’s aware this is hard, and everybody’s aware this is the beginning of a long process. But at the same time, they seem genuinely interested in working together to try to find a way to resolve the issues between the parties.
I think they feel a great responsibility to their people. I think they feel a great responsibility to their leaders to follow up on what they’ve – what – as I said, the tough political decisions those guys had to make over the course of the last weeks. And I think there’s a real sense that this is an opportunity that may not come around again, and I think they have a real feeling that they have a responsibility, as one mentioned – I won’t go into names, but a responsibility to future generations of their people to try to see if there’s a way to get this done.
And I would add the Secretary, from the very beginning, has been determined to have – to reach a final status agreement. That has been his goal from the very beginning. He’s been completely persistent and completely consistent on that front – never interested in talks for the sake of talks, never interested in any sort of phony process here. And down to the last days in Amman last week before we – before he was able to announce that an agreement had been reached on the basis for resuming these talks, the Secretary was adamant that this was only – he was only going to spend time on this if it had a chance to result in a final status agreement.
So – and that’s our objective. We have a clear-cut role to play in all this. And I feel like we’re off to a very good start. So with that, I’m happy to take any questions.
MODERATOR: All right. Do you want to call on --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, by all means, you do --
MODERATOR: Okay. Arshad.
QUESTION: Can – two things. One, can you shed some light on the role that the United States plans to play? For example, when the negotiators meet in the next two weeks in the region, do you expect Ambassador Indyk to be with them? Do you expect Secretary Kerry to be with them? Or do you plan to leave them to their own devices for that first – or for that next meeting?
And secondly, you talked about Prime Minister Netanyahu’s courage in the prisoner release. Can you sketch out for us how you expect the prisoners to be released in terms of timing? And can you also tell us what you expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to do to try to ease the lives of people in the West Bank and Gaza, as Secretary Kerry said he would?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Okay. Well, [Senior White House Official], maybe I’ll take the first. We got into the U.S. role in these negotiations in some detail over the last two days. And I would emphasize that we are there as a facilitator. These are direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. But I think everybody understands we have an indispensable role to play in that process as we go forward.
We haven’t determined the exact modalities, but I think it’s fair to say that the U.S. will be on hand for – throughout these negotiations at every step of the way. The Secretary’s (inaudible).
QUESTION: Is that Martin? Does that mean Martin will be there in two weeks or somebody from the United States will be there in two weeks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. We do expect Ambassador Indyk will be on the ground there over the next couple of weeks. I think he’s going to be coming back and forth a fair amount. But he’ll be the main point on the ground for the United States. He’ll be leading that effort.
MODERATOR: But whether or not he’ll be in meetings, just to make sure you – we don’t – whether or not he’ll be in the meetings.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. Whether – I think it’s safe to say he will be in some meetings and he will not be in other meetings. But it is also safe to say that he will be keeping a very close eye on the process and he’ll be deeply engaged throughout, as I said, that he’ll be involved at every turn.
QUESTION: In two – I’m sorry, just so we’re clear, so you expect him to actually be in the meetings in two weeks or at least some of them?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We haven’t decided exactly what his role is going to be in the meetings in two weeks.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: And maybe say a word about prisoners.
QUESTION: And also on the other steps that Prime Minister Netanyahu will take on Gaza and the West Bank.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I’ll start. [Senior State Department Official] may want to add. I would just underscore what I think has already been said on the prisoner issues. It really is, I think, a sign of seriousness on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu that he was willing to take this step. We’ve all seen in Israel the criticism of it, the difficulty. You saw, no doubt, the Prime Minister’s open letter explaining and defending the decision, which he knows is very painful. But I think the point of that is commitment to doing difficult things to get the process started. And we all know that leaders are going to have to do courageous and difficult things to advance the process. So as a sign of seriousness, that, I think, is the first thing to underscore about the prisoner release that was announced.
It’s not for us to go into details about how that’s going to roll out. You saw what the Israeli Government said. They announced that they would proceed with releasing 104 prisoners, and it’s for them to address the issues of exactly the process.
And then Arshad, on your final point again, without going into details about the situation in the West Bank, the general rule we’ve said that we’d be looking to the parties to taking steps that assure the other side that they’re committed to making this process succeed, and that would fall under that category.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. And I would just elaborate on that very, very quickly. Obviously, one of the things that the Secretary has emphasized all the way along has been the economic initiative that the Quartet office is taking the lead on. And we expect that there will be steps forward on the economic front that we’ll be able to point to in the coming weeks.
QUESTION: But does that mean removing roadblocks so that people can move more easily? I mean, can you give us some tangible sense?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t want to spoil the suspense.
QUESTION: You spent quite a bit of time, both of you, talking about how closely John Kerry kept the President appraised of his efforts, of how appreciative the President was of the Secretary’s efforts. Are you trying to dispel any doubts out there that they are not on the same page or that the President is not fully supportive and fully engaged of the – in the Secretary’s efforts?
And second of all, this is the second time that President Obama or his Administration tries its hand at Middle East peacemaking. It failed during the first term. What did this Administration or what did the President and the people around him learn from the failure the first time around that you are trying to address this time?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: On the first part, Kim, just calling it like it is, I’m standing here as someone from the White House and therefore addressing the issue of the President’s role. And there’s been a lot of questions about the President’s role, and I answered those questions, I think, in a direct way, and really just wanted to underscore and will underscore now how focused he is, how committed he is, and also, in the wake of the meeting that the President did with the parties this morning, I think, was also a sign of that. And he genuinely is appreciative, and I think we’re all appreciative of the Secretary’s work. Having watched this from where I sit, the amount of energy and commitment it took to get this off the ground really is impressive, and I think that reflects the President’s point of view and the White House overall point of view.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I would just say very, very briefly that from the State Department’s perspective, we felt 100 percent support from the White House all the way along. The Secretary was on the phone with national security advisors, two of them, with senior NSS staff, [Senior White House Official], and others and with the President as well. So at no point have we ever felt anything other than that we were completely synced up on all that. So –
QUESTION: And on the second point about what have you learned from – I mean, I know some of you are new and you weren’t here in the peace efforts the first time around, but what has the President and his team and the people in this building, what have they learned from the failure of the first time around?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I don’t know if there’s a single lesson or even if failure is the right word if you’re trying to say that, ah, the Administration did something one way, and now needs to do it another way. We know how difficult this is. There are some very serious challenges to overcome.
So it’s not a question of doing it right whereas others might have done it wrong. There’s new circumstances, there have been elections in Israel, there’s another election here, we have a new Secretary of State. There’s a new dynamic vis-a-vis the UN, which, each successive year, another process going on there, a new coalition in Israel, a new strategic environment with Syria, Egypt, and developments taking place in the rest of the region. So there are variables changing all the time. This was another opportunity. Fortunately, we had a new Secretary of State who was ready to take this on, and this President has always believed that peace in the Middle East would benefit the United States, and that’s why he’s ready to do what he can to advance it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I would just add one point on that. We have a nine-month period where the parties have agreed to stay in negotiations, so – we all remember what happened last time. There was a moratorium on settlement building, it was to come to an end, so there was a very short deadline sort of built into that process from the beginning. And one of the things we’ve been adamant about from the beginning is that the Secretary wants this committed to being a serious process here, and so one of the things we wanted was the commitment by the parties to stay at the table for an extended period of time to give this a chance to succeed, so –
QUESTION: I just wonder if we could back into these economic steps to help the Palestinians. Is this now – is it an American proposal? Will there be financing, helping coming from the American side? Is that how this will work?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, yeah, I’ll tackle the econ front. This is not a U.S. assistance program. I think that’s a very, very important thing to understand at the very beginning. This is not a bilateral aid program. We’re not going to be seeking an appropriation of money to provide development assistance to the Palestinians. That’s not what this is about.
The objective here is to leverage the private sector into making very, very significant investments into the West Bank and also to Gaza Strip. That’s what will be required to build, to create a sustainable – to create sustainable growth for the Palestinian economy, right? If you give bilateral assistance once, then that money gets spent, and you’re right back at the beginning. If you create an environment where foreign investment comes flowing in, which is exactly what we’re trying to do here, then that should be sustainable over time.
And I will say the – Secretary Kerry talked about $4 billion in GDP growth at the World Economic Forum. The studies that McKinsey and other folks who have been working this on the ground have made on this indicate that really significant transformative economic growth is possible in the West Bank, but only in the context of a two-state outcome. So the premise here is that we’re talking about what can happen if there’s success on the negotiating track, and the Israelis have agreed to take some steps. Obviously, some of this is going to require the Israelis to change some of their rules and regulations and behaviors and attitudes, really. And they’ve indicated a strong willingness to do that. Prime Minister Netanyahu said from the beginning he sees Palestinian economic growth as being in Israel’s interests as well as in Palestine’s, and they’ve agreed to take some steps, and we’ll be able to talk a little bit more about that in the days to come.
QUESTION: And just the private sector that you referred to, is that U.S. or international private sector or what?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, right now most of the private sector types that are engaged in this are from the United States, but that’s only because we’ve been the point in getting this up and off the ground, but we absolutely anticipate that companies from all around the world – and frankly, they’re multinational corporations, most of the ones that have been engaged in this process – but we do expect it’ll be a global effort.
QUESTION: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about some of the modalities you said you’ve worked out. What rhythm do you expect these meetings to be taking place? Will it be every two weeks fortnightly like – as we’re seeing at the moment, or will it increase? And also, when you look at each of the issues which – the core issues of which the two sides are still very deeply divided, how are you going to tackle those? Will you be doing them by session, or will they all be negotiated in one flow, or is it going to be sort of siloed out?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’ll say Secretary Kerry has said repeatedly he has a real sense of urgency about this. I can tell you that he already feels the clock ticking, right. He’s pushing the parties to get to work as soon as possible, but I would also at the same time emphasize that it’s direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and to some degree, the schedule for those talks always be determined by the actual negotiators. I wouldn’t read anything into two weeks, now. There – they’ve been in a very intensive work period leading up to this. There’s some personal holiday involved for various figures here, and so that just was the next time we could all agree made sense for a meeting, but I don’t think it speaks to the tempo of these things going forward.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Some of which still has to be worked out, obviously, and there’s been so much work preparing the launch. Now the parties need to really focus on – so there are not yet answers to some of your questions.
QUESTION: So you don’t know yet how you’re going to tackle each of the core issues, whether it’s going to be issue by issue by issue to get an agreement, or whether they’re all going to be coming together and you’re going to try --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I said we did spend a fair amount of time talking about that. Without going into any details, I think it’s fair to say that all the issues – the parties have agreed that all the issues would be on the table. I think determining the sequence of addressing those issues is something that we will be working together with the parties on, but there is an acceptance of the basic premise that all the issues will be on the table.
QUESTION: Have the parties agreed to anything beyond that, that all issues are on the table? In other words, in May 2010 the President came to this building and gave a big speech, in which he said that – he outlined U.S. policy saying --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: 2011.
QUESTION: -- ’11, sorry – saying that it would be – it was U.S. policy that the negotiations – any negotiations should proceed with a goal of creating a Palestinian state based on the ’67 lines with swaps, and that Israel should be – is entitled to be – assurances that it will be a secure, Jewish state. Is that still U.S. policy? Are you proceeding in your facilitation of these talks with that as the end-game, and have the parties agreed to that even tacitly? Because there’s been no mention by anybody of any of the core issues that are the big problems.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I’ll just very brief – first of all, that’s by design, Matt, to answer your last question first. We’re not going to get into any terms of reference that may or may not have been agreed to between the parties. I would draw a distinction here between an agreed upon basis between the parties for resuming negotiations and the U.S. position on the matter. I can say unequivocally that the U.S. position is what the President said it was in May 2011; we remain absolutely committed to that position. But it would not be safe to say that the parties have necessarily accepted that as the basis for their negotiations going forward.
QUESTION: Okay. But wait, when you say that you’re intentionally going to be vague about it, can you say that the negotiators are being vague about these things as well? Or are they actually getting into the details?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. What I can say, and what we said from the beginning, Matt, is that we’re not going to talk about that.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to talk about it. I just want to know if they’re talking about it. I just – I mean, are these things coming up? Or are these guys just dancing around and saying, “Oh yeah, we’re going to talk about all the final status issues,” but then they don’t say what they are and it means nothing.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think there’s an understanding and there has been discussion about what the final status issues are. That, I think, there’s general agreement on what final status issues --
QUESTION: I would hope so after 60 years of them being – (laughter) – I just don’t understand. I mean, are they talking about that right now or --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, as I said, they have – they had a discussion about the range of topics that would be covered. They had an agreement that all the topics would be on the table, and that’s as far as we got this time around.
QUESTION: [Senior White House Official], when you talked about the ways things have changed since two years ago, you mentioned a new dynamic at the United Nations.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Can you explain what you mean?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Sure. I think we’ve all been very clear about how things could develop if we couldn’t get negotiations started again. The Palestinians, as you know, went to the UN last September and got a significant amount of support for elevating their status. The United States opposed that, but was in the minority. And the Palestinians throughout the course of this year have been making clear that if they couldn’t see progress on the peace front, that their intention would be to seek other elevations of their status, whether at the UN or other international organizations, which is not something that the United States supports but is something that could have created a significant amount of friction with Israel and really interrupted the progress we want to see in the region.
So it’s no secret that one of the motivating factors, I think for everybody, was to avoid that sort of train wreck that would have happened, that might have happened, if we weren’t able to get negotiations started. And I think – again, I mean, there are no guarantees in anything, but so long as this process is moving forward I think the risks of that sort of thing are reduced, if not entirely eliminated. So that’s one of the positive things we --
QUESTION: Right. But it wasn’t an explicit assurance from the Palestinian side that they won’t refer Israel to the ICC or there was not explicit assurance of that, because either way we’re going to see over the next – it’s been a very public declaration that they reserve that right. Are we going to be hearing that or are we --
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I don’t want to get into explicit or un-explicit, private or non-private assurances in any way. I’m just saying that, I think I’m stating pretty much the obvious that with this process moving forward, the risk of that sort of clash at the UN or elsewhere is reduced or eliminated.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I would just add on that that the parties have agreed to take affirmative steps to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations, and that’s a commitment that both sides are going to take very seriously and that we take very seriously.
QUESTION: Could I ask you to both just to speak a little bit about the nuts and bolts of the U.S. role here. I mean, when – if things get tough, do you expect Indyk or Secretary Kerry or even President Obama to kind of weigh in with guidance or what’s been called “bridging proposals” in other negotiations? I mean, is it going to be that hands on? Or is it going to be, “No, you two have to keep talking”?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think the key word here is that we will be a facilitator of these negotiations – direct negotiations between the parties. Honestly, and we haven’t gotten to the point where we have to determine what, if any, the U.S. role might be in bridging gaps or in trying to move the parties forward. We just started yesterday and today, and as I said, we were just focusing on primarily process issues. I think that there’s any number of different ways you can approach these kind of questions. As I said, the Secretary intends to be -- for the United States to be engaged at every step of the way in that role of facilitator. And as we move forward, we’ll have to determine what – how most appropriately to play that role.
QUESTION: So you don’t rule out that kind of essentially participatory negotiation by the U.S.?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I wouldn’t – honestly, Anne, I just wouldn’t rule it in or rule it out at this point. We just haven’t gotten there yet.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: The bottom line is these are direct and bilateral talks between the parties. They are going to have to sort these issues out themselves. They will be meeting with each other, as they did here. They met together with the Americans, they also saw each other separately. But as [Senior State Department Official] said, facilitator means to facilitate, and whatever way we can to be helpful, at whatever level, is what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: Yes. My question is what happens when the Israelis decide to go on and expand settlements, as their behavior has indicated in the past over and over again? Are the Palestinians – have they given any commitment to stay in the talks, or should they walk out of the talks?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first I would reiterate the United States position on the settlements remains unchanged. We’ve made that very, very clear the parties all the way along. As we’ve said, we hope they will take steps to create a positive atmosphere for negotiations. But I think it’s also safe to say that whereas last time we did an extensive amount of work to create a settlement moratorium or a settlement freeze, we haven’t gone down that path now. And so I think it would be fair to say that you are likely to see Israeli settlement continue – activity continue, and we’ve made our position very clear on that to the Israelis.
QUESTION: I guess in the absence of assurances on this issue, what kind of guarantees or what kind of leverage do you have to stop either side from taking actions on the ground that may scuttle the negotiations?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we have clear – we have some understandings that we’ve reached with the parties and some understandings the parties have reached with each other that we are not going to elaborate on in any way, other than I will say that creating a positive atmosphere for negotiations is an important commitment that both sides have undertaken.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: And Secretary Kerry stressed with the parties, and I think we will stress it throughout, the President brought it up this morning: There will be provocations. Everybody knows that there will be people on both sides who will do things that will make things more difficult. And we hope that the parties will understand that and realize what’s going on and do what they can to not be provoked into letting those who are determined to interfere with the process succeed. And rest assured there are going to be obstacles thrown up, and we should be ready for that and aware of it and not let opponents succeed.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And when we say the parties have agreed to stay at the table for nine months, as we have said before, obviously that is with an understanding that external events will conspire at some points to make life difficult. Too, there will be those who are, as [Senior White House Official] just said, very aptly enemies of this process who will be trying to sabotage it along the way. And then there’s just bad things that happen in the Middle East all the time.
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: Many of which, by the way, won’t even be true. And we’ve seen that even in the recent days – rumors or word about something happening on one front or another, whether it’s settlement or something else, and people feel obliged to respond. And then you check it out a bit and it’s not true, and I think everyone involved in this process is going to have to be conscious of that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And I think it’s fair to say not all the reporters over there are scrupulous about their sourcing as you guys are, so that sometimes plays a role in it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) people who have promised to make this pledge to stay silent are, in fact, the ones who will be spreading these rumors? You do – you’re not naive enough to think that people who have told you that they won’t talk actually will, because that’s what’s happened every single time before?
QUESTION: Sorry – again, just if I may follow very quickly. If there is an announcement --
MODERATOR: Said, we haven’t made it through a lot of other people --
QUESTION: I just want to --
MODERATOR: -- Said, so we’ll come back around. Go ahead, in the front.
QUESTION: Can you give us a little more detail on these steps that the Israelis are going to be taking in the near future to – I think [Moderator] said removing barriers and burdens on the Palestinians, and also a little more detail on this economic plan that’s being put together?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. Well, I think the important thing to understand on the economic plan is that, as I mentioned before, it’s private-sector driven, it’s supported very much by the United States, and that it’ll only come to fruition in the context of a two-state outcome, that it will require the Israelis to take certain steps. They’ve agreed already in advance of negotiations to take some of those steps. But just candidly, guys, we talked about we’re going to – we decided not to roll out those agreements now. But I think that when, as I said, in the coming weeks we’ll be able to tell you more about specifics there.
But it’s more than just removing roadblocks and that kind of thing. That’s not the right way to think about this. There’s affirmative steps they’re taking to – that the folks who have been working on this economic mission have identified as crucial to begin this process of what we hope will be transformative economic growth.
MODERATOR: We have time for two more.
QUESTION: I wanted to come back to the point on dealing with outside provocateurs. Given the ongoing political instability next door in Egypt and Egypt’s traditional role in helping to maintain some sort of stability at the southern end, what role can the U.S. expect Egypt to play, and for that matter expect Jordan to play, as these talks go forward? Will they be brought into the process? What kinds of incentives can they be given to help keep the peace, as it were, while the Israelis and the Palestinians try to work this out?
SENIOR WHITE HOUSE OFFICIAL: I mean, it’s a little bit beyond the topic, but obviously, Israel’s treaty relationships with those two countries remain critically important. It is true that people have been particularly focused on stability in Egypt and what that might mean for the relationship in Israel, the question of security in the Sinai and counterterrorism operations in the Sinai. And that – that’s why I underscore it as sort of a separate matter. We’re very focused on the question of stability in Egypt. I don’t see it as directly related to this except perhaps to the degree – maybe this is what you were getting at is – is provocateurs in perhaps Hamas or out of Gaza, without Egypt’s help in dealing with that issue it’s one more challenge that the Israeli-Palestinian talks are going to deal with.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And also two very quick points on that. First of all, I think it’s important to know what Prime Minister Netanyahu said in his statement to the Israeli people over the weekend that he saw the turmoil in the region as an opportunity for Israel. I think that’s a little bit different than what we were hearing at the beginning publicly and otherwise that the uncertainty in the region made it very hard for Israel to move forward peace with Palestinians. Now the Prime Minister came out and said we see opportunity here.
And I think the – it is safe to say that the Prime Minister recognizes that the potential for unrest to come to the West Bank is real. It’s come to Egypt, it’s come to Syria, obviously to a degree to Lebanon and throughout the region. And I think that was a consideration that he had in the last days there.
I would also point out that the Arab League has played a very, very constructive role in this process. We had a meeting here with them about two months ago where they issued a very helpful elaboration on the Arab Peace Initiative clarifying that it contemplated a mutually agreed land swaps, which was an important distinction. And they played a very, very important role in Amman just last week when they – well, now two weeks ago, I guess. (Laughter.)
MODERATOR: And the last one from Jay in the back. And we’ll do more backgrounders, I promise. We just have limited time. Go ahead, Jay.
QUESTION: Thanks. Could you give some sense of how important Livni’s role in this – is in this, in the sense that she’s kind of seeing this from the peace camp in Israel, and obviously there’s a lot of skepticism towards maybe the Prime Minister, but how crucial her role is from leading the Israeli side?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. Yeah, I mean, I – obviously, Minister Livni’s been involved in this process since day one. The Secretary went to Jerusalem right after the President left Amman, had a meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with Minister Livni. And she’s been there in every meeting at every step of the way. And I think it’s no secret that she’s committed to negotiating a final status agreement with the Palestinians. This has been her – the work of her career, and I think she played a very, very positive role in moving the process to where we are right now.
QUESTION: Sorry, on the nine months, where does – this is the question Matt asked earlier today – where does that take us to in the calendar? Is it May or – what are you targeting as nine months?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think that’s a math question. [Moderator], are you – (laughter) --
QUESTION: That’s what Matt – that’s what [Moderator] said.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think it’s a trick question.
MODERATOR: It’s time to do math. Technically, nine months from now is the end of April.
QUESTION: End of April. Okay, so that is – that’s –
MODERATOR: But again, it’s not a deadline.
QUESTION: I realize it’s not a deadline, but that’s – the goal was within nine months to have a final status agreement, so the --
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yes, that is our goal and that is our objective.
QUESTION: So the end of April is what we should be marking in our calendars, then?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I would think around --
QUESTION: By May.
MODERATOR: None of us are math experts. That’s – thanks, everyone. We will send around the transcript as always.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, all.