Things are moving pretty fast, and I wanted to make sure you had the Obama administration’s most updated positions regarding the wave of terrorism in Israel. Some of the coverage that’s floating around is citing White House and State Department statements from one or even two (!) days ago, many of which are no longer current.
All of these positions have been clarified as not the administration’s stance, or in the last case simply dropped:
(1) Blaming the violence on Israel building settlements — On Tuesday Secretary Kerry seemed to link the wave of violence to Israeli settlement construction: “there’s been a massive increase in settlements over the course of the last years, and now you have this violence because there’s a frustration that is growing” [a]. The premise is strained: recent housing statistics indicate that settlement growth has ebbed to historic lows in the last few years [b]. Even if the premise wasn’t strained, the claim would still be untenable: the narrative driving the terrorism is that Israel is damaging Muslim holy places, specifically the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and has nothing to do with settlements [c]. White House spokesperson Earnest was asked about Kerry’s assessment at yesterday’s briefing and clarified that “Kerry didn’t assign any specific blame for the recent tensions” [d].
(2) Blaming the violence on Israel violating Muslim holy places – On Wednesday State Department spokesperson Kirby seemed to link the wave of violence to Israel changing the status quo on the Temple Mount: “certainly, the status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence” [e]. The claim would be in line with the Palestinian and Israeli-Arab justifications for the recent attacks, under which Israel is accused of either eroding Muslim access to the site or expanding Jewish access. The accusation goes back decades, and is false: the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs recently published a full-blown book exploring its history and debunking its current version [f]. A few hours after the briefing Kirby clarified that the administration assesses Israel has maintained the status quo: “Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken” and “We welcome both Israel’s & Jordan’s commitment to continued maintenance of status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif” [g][h].
(3) Characterizing Israel as using excessive force in combating the violence – At Wednesday’s briefing Kirby also seemed to characterize the Israelis as using excessive force: “we’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force… we’ve certainly seen some reports of security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force” [i]. The claim was quickly picked up and echoed by among others Iranian state media [j][k]. It came in for significant criticism on last night’s cable news programs and in Israel [l][m]. Kirby clarified at today’s press briefing: “we have never accused Israeli security forces with excessive force with respect to these terrorist attacks” [n].
(4) Characterizing the Palestinian and Arab-Israeli terrorism as “tragic” and “outrageous” – On Thursday morning the State Department tweeted that Kerry would address “the tragic, outrageous attacks on civilians in Israel and West Bank.” The tweet was quickly deleted [o]. It was replaced by a different tweet that described the attacks as “recent” [p].