Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki

Below are excerpts from the White House Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Jen Psaki Aboard Air Force One, May 18, 2021. The full text can be found here

May 18, 2021

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Detroit, Michigan

10:51 A.M. EDT

Q    Thank you, Jen.  About the call that President Biden had with Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday, he said that he supports a ceasefire.

MS. PSAKI:  Yep.

Q    Is he insisting that it happen immediately?

MS. PSAKI:  I will leave the description to the readout that we put out last evening.  The President’s objective is clear, which is that he wants to see an end to the violence on the ground, an end to the suffering of the Israeli and the Palestinian people.

As I’ve noted in the past, our focus and our strategy here is to work through quiet, intensive diplomacy.  And he’s been doing this long enough to know that the best way to end an international conflict is typically not to debate it in public, so we will continue to remain closely engaged behind the scenes.

There’s been more than 60 calls, including three calls the President had with Prime Minister Netanyahu.  And our team is actively engaged today as well.


Q    What explains the change in — change in tactic?  Because, obviously, the White House did not think there was value in supporting the ceasefire publicly before, but now you’re doing that.

MS. PSAKI:  I would say: We don’t see it that way; we see it as an ongoing, behind-the-scenes discussion with our partners in Israel, with our part- — or Palestinian leaders, with leaders in the region about how we can bring an end to the conflict.

We also fully recognize it is up to the parties involved to bring an end to the conflict.  And our objective is do — every statement we make, every action we take, everything we sign on to is going to have that objective in mind.


Q    Jen, if the President does support a ceasefire, then why is the United States not supporting — why is it blocking a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for an end to the fighting?

MS. PSAKI:  Darlene, that’s an excellent question.  I will say that, again, our role in this conflict is to ensure that every conversation we’re having, every statement we support, every action we take is toward the end goal of ending the violence on the ground, to ending the suffering of the Israeli and Palestinian people.  We’re not going to take actions or steps that we think would hinder that effort.

Q    Do you think the resolution would hinder that effort then?

MS. PSAKI:  Again, I would say: We make every decision about everything we sign on to, every statement we make, every call we do with that objective in mind.

And the President has been doing this long enough, as has many members of his team, to know that sometimes diplomacy needs to happen behind the scenes; it needs to be quiet.  And we don’t read out every component.  And we don’t read out every specific conversation we have with our partners.

Q    But is the strategy working, Jen?  Netanyahu says that they would still “continue to take whatever action was necessary to restore quiet.”  The IDF said today that they still have thousands of targets to attack.  So what are you — what are you getting out of this quiet-diplomacy strategy?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, this has been going on now for eight days.  Every person who loses their life — every day it continues is one we’d like to see, of course, an end to the conflict.  But our tact- — our tactical approach is that most of our conversations, the majority of them, will happen behind the scenes.

We continue to believe, as was clear in the President’s — in the readout of the President’s call last night, that Israel has the right to defend itself.

There have been more than 3,000 rocket attacks from Hamas — more overnight — into Israel.  Civilians have lost their lives.  Civilians have — Palestinian civilians have also lost their lives.  And our goal is to get to the end of this conflict.

We’re going to evaluate, day by day, what the right approach is.  It continues to be that quiet, intensive, behind-the-scenes discussion are, tactically, our approach at this point.

Q    Jen, should there be a full accountability when — whenever this is over, on both sides, looking into the question of war crimes?  You said yesterday you’d make that assessment.  So should there be, on both Israel and Hamas, a — an investigation and accountability held on whether there were war crimes committed?

MS. PSAKI:  That’s going to be a decision for the international community to make together.

I will say that our objective now is on bringing an end to the current conflict.  And that’s what our focus is on.  And, again, to bring an end to the suffering, the loss of life that we’re seeing on both sides at this point in time.

And I’ll also note that the only way to bring a longstanding end to the conflict is for a two-state solution, where people can live — from Palestinian people, Israeli people — can live side by side.  Those are discussions we’ve had from the beginning, through our Strategic Dialogue with Israel.  Obviously, it’d be up to both parties to move that forward.

Q    Jen, just for clarification, did President Biden specifically ask Prime Minister Netanyahu for a ceasefire?  Or did he just say that he would generally supportive of that?

MS. PSAKI:  As was — as was clear in our readout, he conveyed his support for a ceasefire.

Q    Jen, is it — is there some idea that it might be time to rethink the thinking behind the Abraham Accords, which basically — if like — if you sort of open them up, what they really seem to say is that, you know, “Forget the Palestinians; they’re not a problem.  We’re just going to move on.”

And this clearly seems to have shown that that’s not true.  Right?

MS. PSAKI:  Well, again, I would say that we are not following the same tactics of the prior administration.  We — the President has reinstated humanitarian assistance and security assistance to the Palestinians.  That’s something that was stopped back in 2018 and we felt was not a constructive action by the prior administration.

Aside from putting forward a peace proposal that was dead on arrival, we don’t think they did anything constructive, really, to bring an end to the longstanding conflict in the Middle East.

So, obviously, we’re dealing with a conflict that is happening as we speak.  Right?  It is happening on the ground.  People’s lives are being lost.  There’s ongoing violence.  We’re going to work to resolve that.

But our view continues to be that providing that humanitarian and security assistance to the Palestinians while still maintaining our longstanding security relationship with Israel is in the interest of the United States, and a two-state solution — which both parties would have to get together to agree on — is the only way to have a long-term outcome that’s peaceful and lasting.


Q    And a quick clarification on the Secretary of State — what he said today about it was his understanding that the Israelis have provided, through intelligence channels, information on the media tower strike.  I know you’re not going to get into what, if anything, was shared, but can you confirm that the Israelis are — have indeed produced some kind of intelligence to — for us?

MS. PSAKI:   I’m — I’m just not going to be confirming what intelligence we have, discussions about with our partners around the world.


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