US President Barack Obama's administration refused to hold the Palestinian Arabs accountable for the recent wave of lethal Arab terrorism plaguing Israel, with a spokesman insinuating that both sides are equally guilty of "incitement."
In a press briefing on Tuesday in the wake of two lethal Jerusalem terror attacks that left three murdered, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner was put in the spot by Associated Press reporter Matt Lee.
Lee asked whether the fact that the White House issued a statement, which called on both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to end the "incitement," meant that Obama is accusing Netanyahu equally of inciting violence.
Toner tried to equivocate, saying that while the White House condemns the terror attacks: "we've seen also attacks on Palestinians...we need to reduce these kinds of incitements."
Lee pressed Toner, noting that if that message is being given to both sides, that would seem to indicate the US administration sees both sides at fault.
"Both sides need to decrease the tension," said Toner, to which Lee asked what it is that the administration isn't satisfied with the Israeli government about as far as combating incitement is concerned.
"If the secretary is calling up both Abbas and Netanyahu and has the same message for both of them, it would suggest that you think that both of them need to do more to that," reasoned Lee. "I’m just trying to figure out what is it you would want the Israelis to do more in condemning the violence."
Temple Mount curve ball
"For one thing, upholding - for one thing, as I said upholding the status quo in Haram al-Sharif (the 'Noble Sanctuary' - ed.) and Temple Mount,” Toner said.
“But has there been suggestion that the status quo is going to be changed?” Lee responded. Toner ignored the comment.
Toner's comment about the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism where Arab rioters have been attacking police with rocks and explosives, flies in the face of Netanyahu's repeated pledges to "maintain the status quo." That status quo sees the Jordanian Waqf wield de facto control and ban Jewish prayer at the site, despite Israeli laws ensuring freedom of worship.
Abbas for his part just last month called for violence so as to block the "filthy feet" of Jews from visiting the Temple Mount, as he praised "martyrs" spilling blood in the Holy City. His Fatah faction and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have actively called for more attacks, and termed the murders of civilians a "national duty."
Lee continued his questions, asking if Toner thinks that "the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, needs to do more to combat incitement and condemn violence?"
"I think that both leaders need to...need to convey that message," replied Obama's spokesperson.
"Both sides need to take actions...to stop the cycle of violence that’s currently taking place," he added, removing the onus of guilt over the terror wave from the Arab side by calling the violence "cyclical." Toner again called to keep the status quo on "Haram al-Sharif and the Temple Mount."
Toner emphasized that the message needs to be the same to both sides, saying, "our statement frankly said as much." He reiterated the statement condemning the attacks, with the caveat: "but we also mourn any loss of any innocent life, Israeli or Palestinian."
"I don't know how that can be more plainly put," said Toner, to which Lee responded, "I suppose it can't, but my question was whether the message to both sides is the same, and if it is - and you say that it is - why is the message to both sides the same?"
"Do you think that both are lacking or are not doing enough?"
Toner reiterated that "we are deeply concerned that there's escalating tensions on both sides so we want to see both sides take affirmative steps to decrease those tensions," once again refusing to hold the Palestinian Arabs and their leadership to blame for the wave of terror.
The current upsurge in lethal attacks began with the murder of a young couple in front of their four children earlier this month, which took place the day after Abbas appeared at the UN to abandon the 1994 Oslo Accords, which formed the PA and removed PLO and Fatah from international terror lists.
US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Tuesday that he plans to travel to Israel in the near future to "try to work to reengage and see if we can't move that away from this precipice," warning that the "two-state solution" may be lost if the violence continues.