How to Say Nothing without Really Trying

State Dept. Spokesman Stonewalls on Settlement Stance

It is true that How not to do it was the great study and object of all public departments and professional politicians all round the Circumlocution Office.

— Charles Dickens, Little Dorrit

On Wednesday January 18, at 1:51PM, a master class in American obstructionism, political spin, question-dodging, the zombie-like repetition of non-committal and meaningless talking points was held by United States State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley. When asked by journalists about a new United Nations Security Council resolution draft condemning Israel for its continuing colonization of Palestinian land during the daily press briefing, Crowley managed to avoid giving even a single straight or substantive answer to many of the questions, demonstrating once again the U.S. government’s outright refusal to be honest about anything related to Israel.

The brilliance of Crowley’s performance as a whole might best be summed up by the following statement he made, which came about in the middle of the lengthy exchange between the spokesman and numerous State Department correspondents:

“These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.”

In truth, Crowley’s verbal acrobatics speak for themselves and require very little commentary to demonstrate the boundless energy expended by the U.S. government to protect Israel from any public scrutiny. As such, the conversation will be presented in all its glory at the bottom of this post.

But first, some background:

The new resolution, which reiterates the illegality of all Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and demands an immediate cessation of their expansion, will soon come to a vote in the United Nations Security Council. The resolution draft, first put forth by Lebanese representatives and supported by virtually the entire planet (it has nearly 120 co-sponsors from Arab and other non-aligned nations), is wholly uncontroversial in that it simply reaffirms long-standing tenets of international law and repeats the call for the very actions the United States have long demanded; namely, for both the Israelis and Palestinians to abide by “previous agreements and obligations” and to continue direct “negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process.”

The most relevant text of resolution, as revealed by Jewish Telegraph Agency stalwart, Ron Kampeas, states that the United Nations Security Council…

1. Reaffirms that the Israeli settlements established in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace;

2. Reiterates its demand that Israel, the occupying Power, immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and that it fully respect all its legal obligations in this regard;

3. Calls upon both parties to act on the basis of international law and their previous agreements and obligations, including under the Roadmap, aimed, inter alia, at improving the situation on the ground, building confidence and creating the conditions necessary for promoting the peace process;

4. Calls upon all parties to continue, in the interest of the promoting of peace and security, with negotiations on the final status issues in the Middle East peace process, according to its agreed terms of reference and within the time frame specified by the Quartet in its statement of 21 September 2010;

5. Urges in this regard the intensification [sic] of international and regional diplomatic efforts to support and accelerate the peace process toward the achievement of a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

Besides the United States, the four other permanent members of the Security Council – Britain, France, China and Russia – are all expected to vote for the draft without objection. Additionally, the ten non-permanent member states currently sitting on the Council – Germany, South Africa, India, Brazil, Portugal, Lebanon, Nigeria, Colombia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Gabon – are also expected to vote in favor of the resolution.

In the interest of preserving the “inalienable rights of the Palestinians,” the United Nations human rights board supports the measure, and has called upon “world powers to force Israel to put a dead-end on peace-impeding settlement plans,” while expressing “sorrow over the world’s lack of political will.”

Earlier this week, a letter, signed by fifty academics, journalists, rabbis and public officials, including a number of former Assistant Secretaries of State, U.S. ambassadors and diplomats, and a former U.S. Secretary of Defense, was sent to Barack Obama urging the president “to instruct our Ambassador to the United Nations to vote yes on this initiative.”

The letter continues:

“The time has come for a clear signal from the Unites States to the parties and to the broader international community that the United States can and will approach the conflict with the objectivity, consistency and respect for international law required if it is to play a constructive role in the conflict’s resolution.”

The signatories, who include Lawrence Wilkerson, Thomas Pickering, Andrew Sullivan, Peter Beinart, Paul Pillar, and Chas Freeman, refer to well-established international law and United States policy to strengthen their case. “The settlements are clearly illegal according to article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” they write, “a status recognized in an opinion issued by the State Department’s legal advisor on April 28, 1978, a position which has never since been revised.” They also warn that “if the proposed resolution is consistent with existing and established U.S. policies, then deploying a veto would severely undermine U.S. credibility and interests, placing us firmly outside of the international consensus, and further diminishing our ability to mediate this conflict.”

The so-called “pro-Israel, pro-peace” advocacy organization Americans For Peace Now issued a statement to the White House, calling upon Obama to consider the resolution “on its merits: both the context and the content of the resolution matter,” explaining that the draft has come about due to “Israel’s dogmatic refusal to refrain from settlement activity that is destructive to peace and to Israel’s future” and “is a resolution whose text is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy regarding settlements.” The statement concludes,

“Given this context and content, APN calls on the Obama Administration to not veto this resolution in its current form. Vetoing this resolution would conflict with four decades of U.S. policy. It would contribute to the dangerously naive view that Israeli settlement policies do no lasting harm to Israel. And it would send a message to the world that the U.S. is not only acquiescing to Israel’s actions, but is implicitly supporting them.”

The American pro-Zionist lobbying group J Street has also given tacit, albeit begrudging, support of the resolution by stating, “we cannot support a U.S. veto of a Resolution that closely tracks long-standing American policy and that appropriately condemns Israeli settlement policy.”

An article in the International Herald Tribune, written by former Palestinian legislator and peace negotiator, Hanan Ashrawi, explained that, not only is it “universally recognized that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law,” but they are also “a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention” and “under the Rome Statute, they are considered a war crime.” Nevertheless, Ashrawi continues,

“With America unwilling to hold Israel accountable to international law and existing agreements, Israel has remained intransigent in the face of international efforts to revive genuine negotiations. A Security Council resolution would reaffirm today’s international consensus in support of the two-state solution by recognizing the threat posed by illegal settlements.”

The draft resolution also ignited a frantic move on the part of Israel and its American apologists to render the settlement issue moot by presenting maps of a potential Palestinian state with provisional borders. These maps, drafted by Israel’s fascist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and presented by a Zionist think tank in Washington D.C., are intended to “freeze the existing situation in the territories, with minor changes,” thereby legitimizing and entrenching decades of ethnic cleansing, occupation, illegal settlement and land theft. Needless to say, the proposals, which would force Palestinians to create a demilitarized prison state on a mere 13% of their homeland, have even been dismissed by the collaborationist Palestinian Authority as an “invention and a joke.”

Clearly terrified of supporting any resolution that reflects negatively on Israel, however truthful or obvious it may be, the U.S. government’s reaction to the proposal has been nothing short of embarrassing.

A letter, delivered to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from seventeen U.S. Senators and initiated by Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), claims the resolution “hurts the prospects for a peace agreement and is not in the interest of the United States” and “strongly” urges Clinton “to make clear that the United States will veto such a resolution if it is raised at the Council, and to clearly communicate the United States’ intent to do so to other Security Council members.” Undoubtedly drafted by AIPAC and passed along to the most die-hard Zionist apologists in Congress, the letter is so fraught with inaccuracies and misstatements that even JTA‘s Ron Kampeas was forced to admit that it makes no sense. The UNSC resolution, he explains, “doesn’t resemble anything Gillibrand is writing about” and, “weirdest of all,” the letter actually “calls for exactly what the resolution calls for.”

Still, the U.S. State Department’s desperate attempts to avoid the issue of Israeli aggression, continued colonization, and its consistent criminal violation of international law with impunity and American protection, were never more blatant than in recent statements by both Secretary Clinton and her State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Clinton, in response to the draft, said that the United States does not “see action in the United Nations or any other forum as being helpful in bringing about that desired outcome,” and stated that “we continue to believe strongly that New York is not the place to resolve the long-standing conflict and outstanding issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians. We do not think that that is a productive path for the Palestinians or anyone to pursue.”

However, the tour-de-force of doublespeak and duplicity was delivered by Clinton’s spokesman P.J. Crowley at Wednesday’s press briefing. The conversation, led by Associated Press reporter (and perennial thorn in Crowley’s side) Matthew Lee along with others, is remarkable for its clear exposition of both government obstructionism and public stonewalling.

The briefing came one hundred and fifty-four years and four months after the publication of the tenth chapter of Charles Dickens’ satirical serial novel Little Dorrit. The chapter, entitled “Containing The Whole Science Of Government,” contains the following passages:

“The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office…

…It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving – HOW NOT TO DO IT.”

Crowley’s carefully crafted answers and persistent repetition of the same phrases (notably, “I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the coming days.”) also recall the words of 17th Century English bishop, George Morley: “A sudden lie may sometimes be only manslaughter upon truth; but by a carefully constructed equivocation truth is always, with malice aforethought, deliberately murdered.”

Below is the relevant part of the January 18 press briefing.

Fair warning: Reading the following exchange may result in the same severe headache and delirium one would expect from ten thousand hard headbutts to an Apartheid wall.

Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
January 18, 2011

QUESTION: Let’s see, where to begin? There are so many places. I’ll – can I start with the Middle East and the Palestinians talking about this resolution that they want to put into the Security Council this week which would condemn Israeli settlement activity. At the same time, they’re continuing their push to get countries to recognize their independence, even without a negotiated settlement. They raised the flag at their mission downtown here today, this morning.

MR. CROWLEY: Which, on that particular point, we had agreed months ago, but it doesn’t change their status in any way.

QUESTION: Well, no, but their status changed in August.

MR. CROWLEY: No, but the granting permission to raise the flag –

QUESTION: Well, that’s actually part of my question.

MR. CROWLEY: — (inaudible) does not change their fundamental status of their diplomatic mission here in the United States.


QUESTION: But did you approve their – the status of the –

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second. Hold on a second. The flag issue –

MR. CROWLEY: We digress.

QUESTION: — would be a sideshow. I want to know what you’re going to do about this resolution at the UN and I want to know if you’re going to continue to oppose or lobby governments not to do what the Palestinians want, which is to recognize them as independent.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to be in conversation with a range of countries on this issue. Our view hasn’t changed. We’ve made that clear in our discussions with the Palestinians and others. We do not think that New York or the UN Security Council is the right forum for this issue, and we’ll continue to make that case.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: Okay. Well, hold on. What does that mean? If you don’t think that New York or the Security Council is the right venue, that means that you will veto a resolution if it’s brought to the Council?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, I’m not going to speculate on what happens from this point forward.

QUESTION: Well, are you trying to keep – prevent them from, or are you trying to dissuade them from – and their allies from bringing this to the Council?

MR. CROWLEY: We have made clear that we do not think that this matter should be brought before the Security Council.

QUESTION: And when you do that, what do you tell them if it – what does that mean, exactly?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, what that means is that we believe that –

QUESTION: Are you going to veto it if it comes up?

MR. CROWLEY: — these issues should be resolved through the ongoing process and through direct negotiations. That is our position. We’ve made that position clear to those who have an interest in this issue. But again, I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the coming days.

QUESTION: All right. Well, as I understand it, the resolution merely restates what has been U.S. policy for some time, that – basically, it criticizes settlement activity.

MR. CROWLEY: And again –

QUESTION: Why is it not – why are you opposed to the UN adopting a resolution that isn’t – that supports existing U.S. policy?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that the best path forward is through the ongoing effort that gets the parties into direct negotiations, resolves the issues through a framework agreement, and ends the conflict once and for all.

QUESTION: So it’s not the contents that you’re opposed to; it’s simply the idea of a resolution.

MR. CROWLEY: We do not think that the UN Security Council is the best place to address these issues.

QUESTION: Can I ask why? Because, I mean, the UN is where Israel was created, basically. Why is the UN not the place to deal with these issues?

MR. CROWLEY: These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.

QUESTION: Plus, it undermines your own efforts. I mean, isn’t that the real reason, that it undermines your own peacemaking efforts?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we do not believe that this is a – would be a productive step.

QUESTION: But the peace process is not working, and your efforts didn’t achieve anything until now.

MR. CROWLEY: Michel, you’re right; as of this moment today, we do not have a framework agreement. That does not necessarily say that one is – that is not a – that’s an achievable task, in our view. And that remains something that we’re actively engaged in.

QUESTION: Are you contemplating any other – do you have any other levers at your disposal to persuade the Palestinians not to move ahead of these two tracks that you’re – you’re saying constantly that you don’t want them to do it, but they’re forging ahead anyway. What can the U.S. do in this situation?

MR. CROWLEY: Well, we continue to engage the relevant actors. We do not think this would be a productive step.

QUESTION: Can you say exactly what will you think would be a productive step?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe the parties ultimately need to – in order to reach a framework agreement, they need to get back into direct negotiations, and we’re working to create the conditions that allows that to happen.

QUESTION: But that’s been going on for the past two years.

MR. CROWLEY: I understand that.

QUESTION: And if you’re talking about productive steps –

MR. CROWLEY: Well, it’s been going on for longer than that if – (laughter).

QUESTION: Well, this Administration, it’s been going on for the last two years. And if you’re talking about productive steps, certainly that process hasn’t produced anything.

QUESTION: Well, but I mean –

QUESTION: Why not –

MR. CROWLEY: I mean, Matt, you’re –

QUESTION: I guess the fundamental question is –

MR. CROWLEY: You’re leading to a kind of a glass half full, glass half empty kind of discussion.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, except that the glass doesn’t have any water in it at all. (Laughter.) It’s not half full or half empty. It’s completely empty. And I don’t really understand why it is that you would be opposed to a resolution that simply restates what U.S. policy has been for a long time. I mean –

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I’m not going to speculate. We’ve made our position clear. We continue to make our position clear. I’m not going to speculate on what happens going forward.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve stated the policy, but the position’s not clear, because – do you think that settlements are illegal or not? And if they’re illegal when you say them from the podium, then why shouldn’t they be illegal according to UN resolutions, which you’ve acknowledged all along? Like why can’t you just restate what you’ve been –

MR. CROWLEY: No, no. Our position on settlements is well known.

QUESTION: Is that they’re illegal.

MR. CROWLEY: It hasn’t changed. You’re talking about is this a prospective step that moves the process forward? In our view, it would not be.

QUESTION: Well, do you think that the building of settlements is a productive step that moves the process forward?

MR. CROWLEY: We believe that unilateral actions on all sides are not productive.

QUESTION: But you seem to think it’s okay – well, I mean, you don’t like it but there don’t seem to – you don’t – there’s nothing that you prevent – you don’t do anything to prevent the Israelis from continuing to build settlements. I mean, they continue to build them.

MR. CROWLEY: Again, I can continue to state our position, but I’m not going to speculate on what happens in the coming days.

QUESTION: Can I have a –

QUESTION: Follow-up?




January 23, 2011 – According to the right-wing Israeli website, DEBKAfile, American sources have indicated that Barack Obama opposes using veto against the UNSC resolution. The sources added that this would mark the first time the United States had not used its veto against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Nima Shirazi is a writer and musician from New York City. Contact him at: Read other articles by Nima, or visit Nima's website.

3 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 25th, 2011 at 10:38am #

    “These are complex issues, and we think they’re best resolved through direct negotiations, not through the unilateral declarations, even if those unilateral declarations come in the form of a multilateral setting.”

    always when u want to obnubilate and avoid simplicities–which only can be understood–run for cover under a complexity or complexities—which cannot ever be understood.

    eh, folks, this is not a novelty or an u.s. specialty only, every priest, ‘noble’ that ever lived had used the artifice! tnx

  2. bozh said on January 25th, 2011 at 10:53am #

    u.s. needs mercenaries wherever it can produce them. the best place to produce mercenaries is israel, korea, colombia, japan, et al.
    but first u.s must render a country a total or near-total dependency. israel is ideally dependent not only on u.s., but also on nato countries.

    even japan is a near-total dependency. that’s why japan supports israel and korea.
    it has to. for, if it did not, u.s. cld impose sanctions on it or even blockade the country.
    and thus bring it to its bootlicking position. tnx

  3. hayate said on January 25th, 2011 at 11:35am #

    The israelis gave crowley his job in their american colony because he is good at saying nothing while rattling on incessantly. That’s the advanced hasbara routine, being able to speak/write mountains of meaningless rubbish. The beginning hasbara routine is repetition of the lies incessantly. Either from the guvs of their colonies, their propaganda wing (that’s the media) or from their s.w.a.r.m. of internet hasbarats, the pattern remains essentially the same.