As Israeli officials attempted to quell the violence against their citizens this past week, officials of the Obama administration made a number of controversial statements that they later retracted.
The most prominent of these statements came from Secretary of State John Kerry, who in a speech at Harvard on Tuesday appeared to blame the violence on Israeli settlement construction. “What’s happening is that, unless we get going, a two-state solution could conceivably be stolen from everybody,” he said. “And 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.” Kerry made his statement the same time that Ha’aretz reported that settlement growth since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power in 2009 has been the lowest in nearly twenty years. Kerry’s statement also ignored the role in Palestinian incitement in driving the anti-Israel violence. At a press conference the following day, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Kerry’s implication wasn’t his intent: “Secretary Kerry didn’t assign any specific blame for the recent tensions there,” Earnest said.
That same day, State Department spokesman John Kirby attributed the violence to Israeli actions, charging that “The status quo has not been observed, which has led to a lot of the violence.” Palestinian terrorists have said that they were motivated to act due to supposed Israeli threats to take over the Temple Mount or change prayer practices there – an idea that Palestinian leaders have repeatedly promoted, despite consistent denials from Israeli officials, including Netanyahu. Later in the day, Kirby tweeted, “Clarification from today’s briefing: I did not intend to suggest that status quo at Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif has been broken.”
At the same press conference, Kirby said, “We’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force” used by Israel. He later retracted this the following day, saying, “We have never accused Israeli security forces with excessive force with respect to these terrorist attacks.”