Yesterday at Foggy Bottom, reporters grilled State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland about what the U.S. planned on doing as two of its clients — Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) — acted against its will and interest. The Associated Press’s Matthew Lee noted that the U.S. gives $3 billion in annual aid to Israel, and millions to the PA, who then “continue(d) to ignore you and, in fact, not just to ignore you but to make matters worse.” Lee then asked a pointed question:
LEE: Answer this: Is the Administration upset or embarrassed at all by the fact that two relatively tiny groups of people are running roughshod over American foreign policy?
NULAND: We are concerned about whether we can get back to a good environment for talks. That is what we are concerned about.
LEE: You do believe that your involvement in U.N. organizations such as UNESCO, such as the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], such as the World Health Organization, are in – that your involvement is – that that’s an American national security interest or in an American interest. And you’re prepared to allow these two small groups of people to make you forfeit your national interests in international organizations. That’s what you’re saying to me.
In an earlier portion of the exchange, at the top of the briefing, Lee brought up the announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government that it would build more settlements in occupied territories, which an Amnesty International blogpost said might be a war crime. Nuland had said Israel’s actions were “unhelpful,” but Lee pressed her on consequences:
LEE: Okay. So what is the consequence for Israel of this? Is it the same consequence that the Palestinians face for going ahead with their plans at UNESCO and the UN, which is nothing?
NULAND: Look, we have said, as I just reiterated here, this is not helpful. I think that the fundamental consequence for both sides is that we’re not getting closer to two states living side by side in peace and security.
LEE: Yeah. Well, at this point, neither side seems to be really all that enthusiastic about getting to that point. So – and you seem to have zero influence. Now it seems to me that one of the ways that you could have some influence, or could get some influence back over one or the other side, is to actually do something in response to actions that you consider to be counterproductive and provocative. Why won’t you do that? Or is that just too much to ask during this political – the election season coming up?
Watch a compilation of the two exchanges here:
Nuland then noted the U.S. had reacted to the Palestinian push at UNESCO and subsequent vote by cutting off funding to the agency, leading Lee to quip that, “[I]t’s heartening to hear that you cut off funding to a party that really isn’t involved in this as a result, but you haven’t done anything that would affect either the Palestinians or the Israelis. Nothing.”