Return to Transcripts main page


Kerry: Hamas Responsible for Incitement to Violence; Kerry on Middle East Peace: We Cannot Stand by and Do Nothing; Trump Grumbles about Transition; Trump Disagrees with Obama on Russia Hacking; Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu Reacts to John Kerry Speech. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired December 28, 2016 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] DIANA BUTTU, HUMAN RIGHTS ATTORNEY & FORMER ADVISOR TO PLO PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: This is the root of violence. I believe, if we want to address violence, we have to address the root causes. And that is ending the occupation and giving Palestinians their freedom. That's the only way forward.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The argument that people like Naftali Bennett make is, look at what happened when we gave land to the Palestinians, we withdrew from Gaza, and they created a terrorist state with Hamas attacking Israel, even after they had their own country. What's your response to that?

BUTTU: Well, actually, they didn't end their occupation. Israel still controls all of the borders and still controls the airspace. It still controls the very food that gets into the Gaza Strip. They control every single aspect of Palestinian life around the perimeter of the Gaza Strip. More than that, they have even gone so far as to continue to bomb Gaza throughout this period when they claim that it's a state. It hasn't been something that's been turned into a state and then attacked Israel. Quite the opposite. It's that all that Israel did was turn it into an open-air prison and then drop bombs on Gaza.

TAPPER: Obviously, the Israelis would note that there were rockets fired upon Israel by Gaza, but I don't want to relitigate the Gaza/Israel war from a few years ago.

I want your response to Secretary Kerry's speech. What was your response?

BUTTU: Look, I think it's about time that this administration recognize that the settlements are an issue and it's about time they recognize that they have been an enabler of Israel's continued military rule. What I'm disheartened by is the fact they didn't end up coming up with something different. Rather than simply allowing Israel to continue its military rule, I would have expected that after eight years of seeing this, after having to go so far as to abstain on a U.N. resolution, that the Obama administration would actually do something rather than give Israel $38 billion. So, while the formula was nice, I don't think that at the 11th hour this administration is capable of doing anything. And certainly, the next administration has made it clear they're not going to do anything. This is why it's so important the global citizenry come together and focus on boycotting Israel, divesting from Israel and putting sanctions on Israel. It's the only way forward to hold Israel accountable.

TAPPER: Why should Israel be held accountable for its treatments of the Palestinians as opposed to the way that so many other Arab countries treat their citizens? I could point to any number of countries and I'm sure you would likely agree where they do not have rights. Why focus on Israel and not, for instance, the way that the Saudis treat their citizens, as Saudis treat their citizens, or Qataris, et cetera?

BUTTU: Those are also problems. The difference, Israelis get $38 billion a year from the United States, first of all. Secondly, the way that -- the reason Israel continues to do this is because the world has turned a blind eye to it. I don't see that the world has turned a blind eye to these other human rights abuses. You've name add few. The fact of the matter is the U.S. role is central, and the U.S. role enabled Israel to continue to deny Palestinians their freedom. And that's why it's imperative the U.S. take steps to curtail and scale back Israel's actions. Sadly, this speech does not do it. While we all welcome the idea of the U.S. involvement in actually putting forward a final resolution to this, it is not going to come at the 11th hour, sadly.

TAPPER: One last question for you, Diana. How are Palestinians, especially the Palestinian leadership -- I know you're not a member of it but have friends and contacts in the Palestinian leadership -- how are they preparing for the Trump administration?

BUTTU: It's not clear. One thing that is clear is that the U.S. has made it - that this next administration made it clear they're going to be very right wing, very pro-settlement, and they are going to push for an extreme agenda in the same way this current Netanyahu administration has been pushing for. I don't know if that mean a human rights struggle -- I hope they do -- instead of pushing for a two-state solution, they focus on a one-state solution. It's not clear.

One thing that is clear, however, is that Palestinians are not going to sit by idly and just watch more of their land taken. There are other options, such as taking Israel to court, and such as engaging in a civil rights struggle, and I hope that it happens soon.

[13:34:25] TAPPER: Diana Buttu, thank you very much. Happy New Year to you.

You're looking at live pictures now from Jerusalem where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, we're told, will take the podium to react to Secretary of State John Kerry's speech. We will bring that to you live.


TAPPER: Back now to our discussion on the comments on Middle East peace from Secretary of State John Kerry. Later this hour, we expect to hear live from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will react to comments such as this one from Secretary Kerry. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Obama and I know that the incoming administration has signaled that they may take a different path, and even suggested breaking from the long-standing U.S. policies on settlements, Jerusalem, and the possibility of a two- state solution. That is for them to decide. That's how we work. But we cannot, in good conscience, do nothing and say nothing when we see the hope of peace slipping away.


Let's bring in former CIA Director James Woolsey, also a senior adviser to the Trump campaign.

What's your general reaction to the speech we heard?

JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR & SENIOR ADVISOR, DONALD TRUMP PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: I think the main point is that there's an elephant in the living room that, particularly, I think the Palestinians and those who support their position won't notice, refuse to notice, which is that they have to stop killing Israelis and Jews, or there's not going to be a one-state or two-state solution or anything. You can't do a deal as long as the Israelis, who want to live on the West Bank, have to build shelters around themselves in order to exist. With the Palestinian Arabs, the Israeli Arabs, who are citizens of Israel -- about one-sixth of Israel is Palestinian -- if -- when they are in a -- running a country, or partially running a country, they get representatives in the Knesset, they have a Supreme Court justice, cabinet members, they have publications, and they are not afraid somebody's going to come kill them in the middle of the night. But Jews trying to live peacefully somewhere in the West Bank do have to be afraid. They've got have is a settlement.

We just had 92 young Russians killed in the Black Sea air -- a terrible tragedy. But nobody came along and said, you know, every few months, we're going to kill 92 people, or just kind of don't bother us, because it would offend us if you bothered us. You know, they have to begin the process of working together with the Israelis. And I think the Israelis would do a two-state deal if it were run by somebody other than the way things have worked out. If look at the Clinton parameters at the end of the Clinton administration --

[13:40:56] TAPPER: Uh-huh.

WOOLSEY: -- it was tough on Israel, but one that -- a deal that could have been accepted, and Barak got it accepted by the Knesset.

TAPPER: Ehud Barak, yes.

WOOLSEY: And that was fine, and the Palestinians gave it the back of their hand.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question. John Kerry said something that I have been hearing a long, long time, which is it's in Israel's future unless there's a two-state solution that Israel will have to choose between a Jewish state, in which case, it does not let Palestinians have voting rights, et cetera, those under current occupation, or Naftali Bennett put it, in the autonomous regions, a Jewish state or democracy, but it will have to choose, unless there is a two-state solution. And you from Naftali Bennett, the education minister, somebody who is a rising star on the right in Israel, you know, that Benjamin Netanyahu is always looking over his shoulder to see where Bennett is, and he --there's no two-state solution coming from that guy?

WOOLSEY: Well, there's -- that's the conventional wisdom, I understand that. But I think that it matters a huge amount whether or not the parties are living for a while at peace the way the Israelis and the Israeli Arabs do, or whether they're living only with guns lowered and in shelter, the way one has to on the West Bank if one wants to live on the West Bank. And I think that there are a lot of people in Israel who would go along with something, if the Palestinians stopped killing them.

But you look at what's happened now out of Gaza. You look at what's happened with the attack with knives. It just goes on and on and on. And I must say, I don't think Israel is the provocateur in this. The only way that they're the provocateur is that they exist, and Palestinians don't want a Jewish state or partially a Jewish state or any Jews at all in that part of the world, and that's the problem.

TAPPER: What seemed to prompt Secretary Kerry's speech today are two things. One, the U.N. resolution and the Israelis pushing back really strongly against the Obama administration for not vetoing it, and, two, the notion that, in the view of Secretary Kerry and the Obama administration, the Netanyahu government says publicly that they want a two-state solution, but when you look at their policies, and the settlements that have grown in the West Bank, including outside areas that would be possibly part of Israel in a land swap in any sort of peace process, they are undermining any ability to create a two- state solution by just demolishing the idea of any contiguous state there. Is that not -- is that not legitimate?

WOOLSEY: Well, the Israelis have, like I say, about five-sixth citizens of Israel. The other one-sixth are Arabs. Nobody worries about continuity and continuous state. They live in all sorts of different places. And it's -- it's two people that, at least in Middle East terms, are getting along reasonably well with one another, and would it be that different if it was one-third Palestinian and two-thirds Israeli? Which might be a single state? I don't know. I don't know that it would be all that different if people just stopped murdering their opponents. That's -- that has to happen, or nothing works.

TAPPER: You heard Bennett, who said they wouldn't be giving them voting rights. They would let them live in autonomous regions?

WOOLSEY: I would like somebody to look into a one-state solution with full rights and see how it would work. I don't know. It might be hard, but I don't think it's as impossible as trying to make something work while the Palestinians keep killing Jews.

[13:44:54] TAPPER: All right. I don't think we'll solve this problem right now.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Merry Christmas and happy New Year.

Donald Trump taking a swipe at President Obama. Responding, really. We'll take a look at what he's saying about the transition and the cooperation, and what his team is now saying to clarify the tweets. That's next.

And you're looking at live pictures from Jerusalem. The Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expected to respond to Secretary of State Kerry's speech and moment. We'll bring that live to you.


TAPPER: We're expecting to see Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu any moment. Expected to respond to comments made in just the last few minutes by Secretary of State John Kerry. We'll bring that to you live when the prime minister comes to the podium.

Let us turn in our moments that we have left to the president- elect, Donald Trump, who's back in meetings today after taking a break for Christmas. And as he works to fill his final cabinet slots, Mr. Trump now blaming President Obama for what he says will be anything but a smooth transition, tweeting a short time ago, quote, "Doing my best to disregard the many inflammatory statements and road blocks. Thought it would be a smooth transition. Not."

Not. Let's talk with my panel. Joining me, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN senior political reporter; and Betsy Woodruff, political reporter for "The Daily Beast."

First of all, Nia-Malika, the Trump team was trying to clarify what he was talking about there. What do they say?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yeah, they are essentially saying nothing to see here. The transition is going smoothly and they're talking regularly, because that means what Trump was saying --

TAPPER: But he said, not.

[13:49:40] HENDERSON: Right, not. I think Obama may have started this, saying if he was on the ballot, running a third term, of course, he couldn't do that - that he would have won. He would have been able to mobilize the Obama coalition in a way that Hillary Clinton was unable to. Since then, we've seen three tweets from Donald Trump, basically saying, no way, that he would have beaten Obama. But this goes back to -- I mean, these you saw each other. This is an acrimonious relationship. You saw Obama try to make nice with him during those initial meetings in the Oval Office. But, you know, the gloves are off again with this, and so I think we'll see more of this.

These -- they're two competitive guys. And when it comes to Trump, he is a little thin skinned. And I think you can also argue that Obama didn't have to say that. He didn't -- he lost. In some ways, Obamaism lost, right? I mean, if anything, Donald Trump ran as the anti-Obama and he ended up winning.

TAPPER: Although -- yes, that's all true.

To be devil's advocate, maybe somebody supporting President Obama would say, Betsy, well, Donald Trump hasn't behaved the way a normal president-elect does. They normally go and huddle and form administrations and don't make policy and don't dispute current policy until they become the president, and Donald Trump has violated that tradition.

BETSY WOODRUFF, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE DAILY BEAST: Almost like Donald Trump isn't a traditional candidate --

TAPPER: Almost.


WOODRUFF: -- handling his presidency in a different way. Perplexing. I think the gloves will get worn out from being pulled on and off until January 20.

One thing that strikes me is how little Trump has changed. Ever since he started back in June, people expected a serious Trump to come out. This is the reminder that this is who he is. This is how he's going to approach his presidency.

TAPPER: There's no pivot?


WOODRUFF: There's no pivot at all.

But it's really tough for his staff. They're going to get whiplash. A few days ago, Sean Spicer was saying the transition going really well, they were grateful to Obama and his team for bending over backwards to help them go through this process. Now, you have Trump on Twitter, in all caps, saying, wrong, that's not true. So, from a staffing, logistical, personnel perspective, he's making his team's life really hard, and that won't change, either.

TAPPER: It's also interesting, Nia, normally, presidents just leave and they're quiet, they don't say anything. Maybe every now and again they pop up, they are always deferential. I'm talking about George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush more than anyone else. Bill Clinton has popped up but he's still stayed fairly cautious in terms of criticizing any current president.

Barack Obama is going to stay here in Washington. Vice President Biden will stay here in Washington. And I have a very difficult time imagining President Obama staying quiet.

HENDERSON: Following the Bush model. He has said he likes that model. Bush basically went back to Texas and hasn't said much about anything about Obama's presidency. There was a smooth transition. Obama said he wanted to do that. In the meantime, he's trying to secure his legacy in terms of criminal justice, in terms of the environment, as well, because he knows once Trump gets in he wants to undo many parts of that legacy.

But when you think about Obama, his political identity, activism, grass-roots, wanting to have a viable Democratic Party, and a viable progressive movement, it's hard to see him staying quiet. He sees himself still as someone who would have won and who can mobilize that progressive base that wasn't mobilized in this last election.

TAPPER: Those are issues that I would expect President Obama to stay active in pushing, criminal justice reform and combatting climate change.

Do you think Palestinian rights will now be part of the soon to be ex-President Obama's portfolio? Is this going to be an issue? I mean, I'm surprised, I have to say, that this has erupted on his way out the door, pushing the Israelis as he is doing. And when you consider the fact that Donald Trump seems to be very close with Benjamin Netanyahu, assuming he gets confirmed, the new U.S. ambassador to Israel is somebody who supports the settlements, I would guess, if I had to make a prediction, will visit settlements as an ambassador. I'm going out on a limb here. Do you think President Obama will make Palestinian rights one of his causes?

WOODRUFF: I doubt it would be a signature cause. But I think it will be something he'll be comfortable bringing up and needling Trump on.

Remember, this question of how transitional presidencies handle the Israeli/Palestinian conflict isn't a new one. In 2008, during a transition period, the Gaza war was on going. And Obama was assiduously careful not to assert himself into that process and to make sure there was only one president at a time during this tense moment in that region.

Of course, the situations are not identical. 2016 is not the same as 2008. However, I think there's a certain respect for precedent and tradition that Obama showed in 2008 that he's likely to maintain in his post-presidency here.

That said, of course, the acrimony between him and Netanyahu can't be overstated. Hard to overstate that. So, wouldn't surprise me if he finds ways to capitalize on that.

TAPPER: We're talking about the many ways that President-elect Trump has voiced disagreement with the current president. One of them has to do with his rejection of what the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have to say in terms of Russia hacking. Listen to Senator Lindsey Graham talking about what the Senate feels on that issue.


[13:55:16] SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I would say that 99 of us believe the Russians did this. And we're going to do something about it, along with Senator McCain, after this trip is over, we'll have the hearing and we'll put sanctions together that hit Putin and his inner circle for interfering in our election.


TAPPER: Where does this go if President-elect Trump doesn't believe it?

HENDERSON: I think you'll have different sides with Donald Trump trying to have a different relationship with Putin. This is someone, he said warm things about and essentially defended the Russian against these charges, so you'll see this play out in the Tillerson nomination, the nomination for secretary of state. But this could get ugly, because it's Donald Trump going against GOP orthodoxy. The hawks in that party, the folks who believe what Mitt Romney said, which is that Russia is the number-one geopolitical foe, this is going to get testy between those wings of the party.

TAPPER: Do you think President-elect Trump will be facing off against the Republican Senate?

WOODRUFF: Sure, without a doubt. But there's not any chance whatsoever he would sign off on sanctions like this.

TAPPER: I have to interrupt. I'm sorry.

We're seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making remarks, his response to Secretary of State John Kerry. Let's listen in.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translation): I have to say that I'm surprised. That's what the security of state of the biggest empire in the world has to say. This is one of the speeches that will conclude his administration, the Obama administration. Whole countries in the Middle East are collapsing, terror is everywhere, and for an entire hour, the secretary of state of the United States talks only about the only democracy in the Middle East, a democracy that is one of the only stable places in the entire Middle East.

We are now celebrating Christmas. Maybe Secretary of State John Kerry didn't see that Israel is the only place in the Middle East where Christians can celebrate Christmas in security and peace and happiness.

Unfortunately, that doesn't interest the president of the United States. He makes a biased comparison between building houses in the east of Jerusalem and terror that kills innocents. And after that he talks only about Israel and only merely condemns terror.

The settlements, that's Israel, but Palestinian incitement, it happens. They don't say who incites. If the U.S. administration would have taken the same energies that they put in condemning Israel in stopping the Palestinian terror, maybe they would have helped the peace process more.

I talked today with the father of a person killed in the east settlement. This is what he said: "In these days of the Chanukah holiday the light must overcome the darkness." And Israel's light must light to the distance and overcome all challenges. I must say that the Jewish menorah lights, and I would like to embark light in the world.

(SPEAKING ENGLISH): Before I explain why this speech was so deeply painful to me, I want to explain why the Israel is so deeply grateful to the United States, the American Congress and the American people. We're grateful for the support Israel has received over many, many decades. Our lives are based on shared values, shared interests, a sense of shared destiny, and a partnership that has endured difference of opinions between our two governments over the best way to advance peace and stability in the Middle East. I have no doubt --