November 12, 2021
AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Good morning, everyone, and good afternoon to some of you. It’s really great to be with you. I’m looking forward, as you know, to making my first visit to Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan next week. The United States and Israel have a strong and enduring partnership, particularly as it relates to our interests at the United Nations. So it’s been a top priority for me to visit, to meet with Prime Minister Bennett, President Herzog, and other officials, and to explore ways to expand our close cooperation at the United Nations.
The Biden administration is committed to defending Israel from one-sided and biased resolutions that consume too much time in UN bodies, and I have been proud to stand up for Israel at the Security Council. I also hope to discuss our positive agenda at the UN aimed at promoting Israel’s full participation in the UN system, which is in the interest not only of Israel but the entire international community. We also want to make the Abraham Accords and other normalization agreements between Israel and its Arab and Muslim neighbors felt at the UN, where I hope there will be new opportunities for cooperation.
During my visit, I will also have the opportunity to visit Yad Vashem to honor and remember those who perished in the Holocaust. This is particularly important to me as we work to combat anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred across the globe and as we consistently raise our voices to say never again.
I also look forward to visiting Ramallah, where I will continue this administration’s efforts to build ties with both Palestinian leaders and the Palestinian people. I will be meeting with Palestinian Authority President Abbas and several of his closest advisors, as well as with the representative of – with some representatives of Palestinian civil society.
We continue to believe that Palestinians and Israelis should enjoy equal measures of security, freedom, and prosperity, which is important in its own right and in protecting the viability of a two-state solution. And in Amman, I look forward to engaging with Jordanian leaders to discuss the strength of our strategic partnership and how the United States can help Jordan address its economic challenges.
I’ll also have the opportunity to see firsthand the lifesaving work being done by the State Department, USAID, and UN agencies to support refugees and humanitarian efforts in the region. And I look forward to expressing our deep gratitude to Jordan for hosting these refugees, including from neighboring Syria.
So I’m looking forward to this visit next week. And with that, I’ll be glad to take a few questions from you.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. We’ll go for our first question to Keren Betzalel. Keren, can you unmute yourself?
QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ambassador, for doing it, and just – Prime Minister Bennett has passed a budget on the same day President Biden has passed the infrastructure bill, so both are less encumbered by internal politics. Do you see any clashes regarding the American consulate in East Jerusalem or the construction in the West Bank, and during your visit about the resume of talks with Iran? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Okay. I didn’t hear the last part of your question. But as you know, the infrastructure bill has been in the works for quite some time, and we’re delighted that the President and Congress were able to get the infrastructure bill through. It’s unrelated to Israel’s budget, but we’re delighted to hear that they were able to get their budget passed as well.
And I have nothing new to share with you on the consulate. The Secretary, Secretary Blinken, spoke about that in May, and I have nothing to add to that.
On Iran’s aggression in the region, President Biden has made clear that the United States is firmly committed to ensuring Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. And I think you know the administration continues to believe in diplomacy in coordination with our allies and regional partners. We believe this is the best path forward to achieve that goal. And we also believe that a mutual return to the JCPOA compliance would restore the nonproliferation achievements of the deal.
So again, the administration has been conscious of Iran’s escalation of its nuclear activities beyond the JCPOA’s limits, and we think these are unconstructive and not in accordance with its stated goals of returning to mutual compliance with the JCPOA. They only isolate Iran internationally and will not provide Iran any negotiating leverage. Again, nothing else to share on that, but thank you for your question.
QUESTION: And what about the construction?
MODERATOR: Thank you – I’m sorry. What was that?
QUESTION: The Israeli pushing for the construction of 3,000 (inaudible) in the West Bank.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah. I commented on that, as you know, in my speech at the Security Council and expressed our concerns.
MODERATOR: Thank you. Next we’ll go the line of Mohammed Issa. Mohammed, are you there? Can you unmute yourself?
QUESTION: Yes, yes, I’m here. I’m sorry. My question, it’s about the projects of the United States to improve the daily lives of people in Gaza Strip so it just may help in holding the ceasefire and not renew the clashes between Israel and the Palestinian military in Gaza. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you, Mohammed, for that question. And I can say that the U.S. is deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and we’re working diligently with the Israelis and with the Palestinian Authority, other regional partners, and the UN to increase humanitarian and reconstruction assistance in a way that addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns. And we have proudly supported the work of the – of UNRWA, which we believe provides critical services.
To that end, we’ve resumed funding and provided more than $318 million in FY 2021 in support of the agency’s operation, and we continue to engage with other donors to ensure that it has the resources to carry out its critical mandate. There will be a meeting in Norway in the next few days to address some of UNRWA’s needs. And you may be aware that I have met with organizations in Gaza to discuss the issues on the ground, and we are – we hope to continue to work diligently to improve the humanitarian situation.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mohammed. Next we’ll go to the line of Jonathan Lis with Haaretz.
QUESTION: Hi. I wanted to ask you, Bennett, Prime Minister Bennett, declared that he’s not willing to promote an agreement with the Palestinian Authority that the government might collapse due to a bunch of things? Do you take this under consideration when you pressure Israel in the different decisions that you take?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: If I understood your question correctly, you indicated that Prime Minister Bennett has said that –
MODERATOR: Can you – maybe you can repeat it?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Why don’t you repeat it.
MODERATOR: Can you hear us? Could you – would you mind repeating the question, please?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Jonathan, we didn’t quite hear you. Can you –
MODERATOR: Can you unmute yourself and ask your question again, please?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Yeah.
MODERATOR: Jonathan, are you there? I think you’re on mute. Okay, well, let’s –
QUESTION: Can you hear me?
MODERATOR: Yes, there you are. Thank you, Jonathan. Would you mind repeating your question? It didn’t quite come through on our end.
MODERATOR: Okay, it still looks like we’re having trouble hearing from Jonathan, so we’ll come back to your question, Jonathan, if we can get that from you, or maybe you can type it in the chat.
Next let’s go to the line of Rania at Al Jazeera English.
QUESTION: Hi, can you hear me?
MODERATOR: We can. Thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks for taking the time. Have you been informed of why it still outlawed six Palestinian NGOs and the (inaudible) of the civil society here, and the (inaudible) this year with regards to why those NGOs have been banned showed little evidence. Your administration says it puts human rights at the heart of its foreign policy. What are you doing in that regard? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Rania, thank you for that question, and I also addressed that issue in my statement at the Security Council last week. We do take allegations of terrorism seriously, and we’re in the process of evaluating the information provided by the Israeli Government related to these designations, but we do. And there is no question about that. We believe that respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including associational freedoms, is the – is of utmost importance. And we will continue to support independent organizations that monitor human rights violations and abuse, whether they operate in the West Bank, Israel, or anywhere else around the world.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Rania. Next, let’s go to the line of Barak Ravid.
QUESTION: Hi. Thank you, Ambassador, for making the time for this briefing. And Jeff, it’s great to have you back in government. And my question is about UNESCO. The previous administration left UNESCO early on in the previous – in its first year in office, and this administration said it’s going to join UNESCO again. And one of the main issues that was in the midst of the decision to leave UNESCO was its treatment of Israel and politicization and issues like that. And I was wondering if you are planning to raise this issue in your talks in Israel and ask Israel to rejoin UNESCO. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you for that question, Barak. And while I have nothing new to announce on rejoining UNESCO at this time, we will be discussing a broad range of issues in Israel with the Israeli Government. But I want to also note that since the U.S. withdrawal from UNESCO, we have seen that many of our adversaries have really exploited the vacuum we left to advance their own authoritarian agenda in the organization. And we don’t believe that’s in U.S. or Israel’s interest.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Barak. Next we’ll go to the line of Rana Abu Farha. Rana, can you unmute yourself and ask your question? We can’t hear you.
QUESTION: Yes, hello. Thank you for this opportunity. Your Excellency, my question is: What is your role in implementing United Nations resolutions regarding the rights of the Palestinian people? I specify here first with regard to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Rana, thank you for that question. We believe that a negotiated two-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and we’re working to advance equal measures of freedom, security, and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike. We will focus our efforts on an affirmative, practical approach to take positive steps that help keep the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution alive, and we applaud both parties in doing whatever they can to maximize productive communications that we hope will help reduce tensions and improve the situation on the ground.
So to that end, we believe it is important for the United States to engage with both Israel and the Palestinians. Our interest in supporting peace and stability requires that we have open and constructive engagement with the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people. So we will be engaging with both sides during this trip that I’m making.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Rana. Next we’ll go to the line of Gili Cohen.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you for having this Zoom meeting and thank you for taking our questions. I would like to ask: Is the Biden administration would continue to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and what is your response to the latest announcement by the Prime Minister Bennett that Israel will establish two new communities (Inaudible.)?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: The State Department has made clear that there has been no change in U.S. policy toward the Golan.
And we have also made clear our position on the construction of new settlements*.
MODERATOR: Thank you –
QUESTION: And you consider communities in the Golan as settlements as well?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your question.
QUESTION: I just wanted to clarify. Are you consider the communities at the Golan Heights as settlements just like in West Bank?
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: I have nothing additional to add on that.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MODERATOR: Jonathan, would you like to try to ask your question again if you’re still on the line?
MODERATOR: Okay. Well, we’ll look to follow up with you, Jonathan, after this call if we can be helpful. I’m sorry we had some connection issues this morning.
Thank you, everybody, for joining the call. We’re looking forward to a really constructive visit. You know where to find us if there’s anything else that we can do to help you in advance of the ambassador’s travel this week. Thank you for joining us this morning. Take care.
AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all.