May 17, 2021
[excerpts for Israel, West Bank, and Gaza]…
SECRETARY BLINKEN: It’s – but it’s just particularly good to be here and to just get across the board such a warm welcome from everyone.
Before speaking in greater depth about the partnership with Denmark, I do want to talk briefly about the ongoing situation in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. The United States remains greatly concerned by the violence, by the escalating violence – hundreds of people killed or injured, including children being pulled from the rubble. We’re also alarmed by how journalists and medical personnel have been put at risk. Palestinians and Israelis, like people everywhere, have the right to live in safety and security. This is not an Israeli privilege or a Palestinian privilege; it’s a human right. And the current violence has ripped it away.
So we’ve been working intensively behind the scenes to try to bring an end to the conflict. President Biden’s been in touch with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. I spent my own flight on – yesterday to Copenhagen on the phone with regional leaders, including from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, as well as with my counterpart in France, discussing the urgent need to end the violence. And we’ll continue to do that later this afternoon.
As we’ve said before, Israel has the right to defend itself. There is no equivalence between a terrorist group indiscriminately firing rockets at civilians and a country defending its people from those attacks. So we call on Hamas and other groups in Gaza to end the rocket attacks immediately.
I’ve also said that I believe Israel, as a democracy, has an extra burden to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, even as it defends itself and its people. We call for an end to the ongoing violence within mixed communities in Israel, and we urge all parties to avoid any actions that undermine the chance for future peace. Further, we call on all parties to ensure the protection of civilians – especially children – to respect international humanitarian law, to protect medical facilities, protect media organizations, and protect UN facilities where civilians are desperately seeking shelter. And we are ready to lend support if the parties seek a ceasefire.
We’ll continue to conduct intensive diplomacy to bring this current cycle of violence to an end. Then we will immediately resume the work, the vital work of making real the vision of Israel and a Palestinian state existing peacefully, side by side, with people from all communities able to live in dignity.
This was a topic of conversation with the foreign minister today, because Denmark and the United States are allies and partners on virtually every major issue facing our countries, facing the world, facing our citizens. And I think you can see the strength of that partnership in our shared commitment to democracy and human rights…
FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD: We’ll open for questions […]
QUESTION: Good afternoon, gentlemen. Mr. Secretary, if it’s okay, I’ll start with you. The prime minister of Israel and officials from the IDF said over the weekend that they’ve transmitted intelligence to the United States that shows Hamas was using that tower they struck in Gaza to house military assets. As you know, it also has several media organizations who lost their offices and equipment and archives. Have you seen that intelligence? Has it been transmitted? And did you find it credible?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: So let me start by saying, I think as you know, I had the opportunity over the weekend before leaving to speak to the president and CEO of the AP, Gary Pruitt. We had what I thought was a good – very good conversation. And I wanted to speak to him and as well as to all of you to reaffirm the strong commitment of the United States, the unwavering support of the United States for independent journalists and media organizations around the world, including for their safety and security.
I think independent journalism is especially important in conflict zones. I made a similar point earlier this month when we marked World Press Freedom Day, and I had the opportunity then to speak to journalists from around the world who, like so many of you, are pursuing the truth at – sometimes at great risk, and that’s something I take very much to heart.
So when it comes to the strike in Gaza, first, I was relieved that no one from the journalism community in that strike was hurt and people were able to leave the building safely. As you know, I think, President Biden and other members of the administration have raised directly our concerns with our Israeli counterparts about the safety and security of journalists operating in Gaza. And we have stressed the need for their protection.
Shortly after the strike, we did request additional details regarding the justification for it. I wouldn’t want to weigh in on intelligence matters in – in this forum. It’s not my place. I will leave it to others to characterize if any information has been shared and our assessment of that information.
The broader point, though, remains, and this is really critical: Israel has a special responsibility to protect civilians in the course of its self-defense, and that most certainly includes journalists.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a follow up: You said that you’ve requested additional information. Have you received it? Have you seen it? And did you find it credible?
SECRETARY BLINKEN: I have not seen any information provided. And again, to the extent that it is based on intelligence, that would have been shared with other colleagues and I’ll leave that to them to assess.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD: Yeah, I would also like to emphasize we also talked on the issue in the Middle East, Blinken and I. We are deeply, deeply concerned about the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine, and we have called from the Danish side for immediate de‑escalation. It is needed to avoid further loss of civilian life. I have myself been in contact with the Israeli foreign minister and also the Palestinian foreign minister. The indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel by Hamas and militant groups in the Gaza Strip is completely unacceptable. So I recognize Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense, but the Israeli military operations must be proportionate and in line with international humanitarian law. U.S. and EU are already deeply engaged in ensuring de-escalation, and it’s something that we work hard for. And I echo the words of Tony, that we need to protect civilian life as much as we possibly can.
…For Secretary Blinken, you and President Biden have called for de-escalation in the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and it seems like quite the opposite has happened. What do you think about that? Would you support a United Nations Security Council statement immediately to call for a ceasefire, given that many U.S. senators and others are calling for an immediate ceasefire? And if not, what other concrete steps – or in general, what other concrete steps can you do at this point to influence what’s happening there on the ground? Thank you.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: With regard to the second part of the question, we have been working around the clock through diplomatic channels to try to bring an end to the conflict. As you know, President Biden was on the phone with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas 24 hours ago and on Saturday. I’ve spoken to both of them. As I mentioned coming over here, I spent most of the time on the plane actually calling various counterparts: Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, as well as my French counterpart. And there’ll be more such conversations later today. We’ve had a whole series of senior officials, starting as well with our Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, working with her counterparts, Deputy Secretary of State Sherman as well, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, and of course we have our Senior Official for Israel-Palestine Affairs Hady Amr on the ground in Israel now.
In all of these engagements, we’ve made clear that we are prepared to lend our support and good offices to the parties should they seek a ceasefire. And that’s precisely the message I think you heard from Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield during the UN session yesterday. Any diplomatic initiative that advances that prospect is something that we’ll support. And we are, again, willing and ready to do that, but ultimately it is up to the parties to make clear that they want to pursue a ceasefire. Any ceasefire would be, by definition, between them but we are ready to engage in support of. Meanwhile, we are working tirelessly across every diplomatic channel we have to advance the prospect of getting to a – getting to calm and ending the violence.
QUESTION: Does that mean the United Nations Security Council does not help that process of de-escalation, and that’s why the U.S. isn’t supporting it or – correct me if I’m misunderstanding.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: No, no that’s – it’s – we’re not standing in the way of diplomacy. To the contrary, we’re exercising it virtually nonstop. The question is: Will any given action, will any given statement actually, as a practical matter, advance the prospects for ending the violence or not? And that’s the judgement we have to make each time. If we think that there’s something, including at the United Nations, that would effectively advance that, we would be for it. We thought it was very important the other day to have this open discussion where the parties could put forward their views, their concerns, and be heard. And we’ll continue to look for ways to advance the goal that we have, which is ending the violence.
QUESTION: Thank you guys.
SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you.
FOREIGN MINISTER KOFOD: Thank you so much. Thank you.
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