Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas Statements to the Press

Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

Ramallah, West Bank

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (Via interpreter)  In the name of God, the merciful and the compassionate, we would like to welcome Secretary Clinton, who visits us these – in these days —

STAFF:  Blinken.

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (Via interpreter) – sorry – Blinken, who visits us in these days —

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  It’s an improvement.  (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT ABBAS:  (Via interpreter) – under very difficult conditions.  And we also would like to thank President Biden and the U.S. administration for their efforts to achieve a ceasefire between the Gaza Strip and Israel, and the efforts that they continue to exert in order to reach a comprehensive ceasefire that will hold.

We would also like to thank the U.S. administration for its support to the state of Palestine and for the resumption of its assistance to us and to the UNRWA.  This is something that we highly value, and we hope that the future will be rife with diplomatic and political effort headed by the U.S. and the Quartet so that we can reach a lasting and comprehensive peace in the region according to international legitimacy resolutions, and so that these actions on the part of a few – of a hurtful few would come to an end.

We also thank the U.S. administration for its commitment to a two-state solution, and the maintenance of the status quo in Jerusalem, and to keep the residents of Jerusalem and Sheikh Jarrah in their homes.  And also we thank the U.S. administration for its position vis-a-vis the expansion of settlements, and the actions taken by settlers.

We have also affirmed that we are committed to peaceful popular resistance and that we renounce violence and terrorism, and we only want to achieve a political solution through peaceful means between us and Israel.

We have also affirmed that our government stands ready to work directly in order for the reconstruction of Gaza and also to establish a national unity government for that end that would be all-inclusive.  And in the event that such agreement materializes, our first condition would be that Hamas and all parties have to abide by international legitimacy resolutions that are known for everyone.

And we also informed the Secretary that we have postponed the elections, because Israel has refused to include Jerusalem in these elections, and the minute that it does we will hold them immediately and without any delay, because ultimately what we’re interested in is to establish democracy throughout Palestine.

Once again, I thank the U.S. administration and President Biden and Secretary Tony Blinken for the efforts that he’s in engaging in now in order to achieve that end.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much.  It’s very good to be in Ramallah, or maybe I should say back in Ramallah, to see you, to see the prime minister and your team.

And let me start by conveying the deep condolences of the United States to the families who’ve lost loved ones in the recent violence – the children, the women, the men whose lives were lost.  I say this as a father.  No child, whether Israeli, Palestinian, or American, is a statistic.  We know the human consequences when violence takes the upper hand, and we are determined that that not be the case.  I think the loss of any child is a universe of loss, and in some ways incomprehensible except to those who’ve suffered the loss.  And that’s true irrespective of whether you’re Israeli, Palestinian, American; if you’re a human being, that’s what matters.

We know that the last round of violence is symptomatic of a larger set of issues that we have to address if we’re going to prevent its recurrence, and that’s what we talked about today.  We welcome the ceasefire that continues to hold, but that’s not enough.  We have to build on the ceasefire and try to move things in a genuinely positive direction.  As I told the president, I am here to underscore the commitment of the United States to rebuilding a relationship with the Palestinian Authority and with the Palestinian people, a relationship built on mutual respect and also a shared conviction that Palestinians and Israelis alike deserve equal measures of freedom, security, opportunity, and dignity.

As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, the United States will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem.  That’s an important way for our country to engage with and provide support to the Palestinian people.  We’re also working in partnership with the United Nations, the international community, the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian people, the Government of Israel to assist in the relief and recovery efforts in Gaza.  The – this relief is urgent.  We have to respond to the profound need to help people in this moment.

To that end, I informed President Abbas and, earlier, Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States will notify Congress of our intention to provide $75 million in additional development and economic assistance for the Palestinians in 2021.  We’ll also provide $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza and a little over $32 million for UNRWA’s emergency humanitarian appeal.  This new assistance comes on top of significant support the United States has recently committed and resumed to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians, to different agencies and groups.

In total, we are in the process of providing more than $360 million of urgent support for the Palestinian people, and across these efforts, we will work with partners to ensure that Hamas does not benefit from these reconstruction efforts.  Asking the international community, asking all of us to help rebuild Gaza only makes sense if there is confidence that what is rebuilt is not lost again because Hamas decides to launch more rocket attacks in the future.  So this is vitally important.

We also talked a little bit about a challenge that all of us have faced together in the past year, and that is COVID-19.  And we will work in the United States to rally the international community to provide 1.5 million doses of safe, effective COVID-19 vaccines to the Palestinian people.

Beyond the immediate reconstruction and (inaudible), we’re also committed to working with the Palestinian Authority and the international community to promote economic stability and progress in the West Bank and Gaza, more opportunity, to strengthen the private sector, expand trade and investment, all of which are essential to growing opportunity across the board.  We’ll also work with the Palestinian Authority to ensure freedom of expression for all Palestinians and the promotion and protection of civil society.  I very much look forward in a short while to meeting with leaders from Palestinian civil society a little later today.

We will, as the president noted, continue to firmly oppose any unilateral provocative actions that risk sparking more violence and that undermine prospects for a just, durable resolution of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, which ultimately requires two states.  And whether that is settlement activity, whether that is home demolitions, annexation of territory, incitement to violence, compensation for individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism, any unilateral action that undermines the prospects for genuine progress and genuine peace is something we will continue to oppose.

We remain committed to the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif.  Palestinians and Muslims from around the world must be able to pray in peace on the Noble Sanctuary, now and eternally.  In Jerusalem and across Israel, Christian and Muslim Palestinian families deserve the same right to worship, build, and thrive as their Jewish cohabitants.

The aspirations of the Palestinian people are like those of people everywhere: to live in freedom; to have their basic rights respected, including the right to choose their own leaders; to live in security; to have equal access to opportunity for themselves, for their children; to be treated with dignity.  And my message today is that the United States is committed, Mr. President, to working with you, to working with the Palestinian people, to realize these aspirations.

Thank you for having us here today.

More from: Antony J. Blinken, Secretary of State

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    Neurosurgeon Wilson Asfora, M.D. of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and two medical device distributorships that he owns, Medical Designs LLC and Sicage LLC, have agreed to pay $4.4 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations relating to illegal payments to Asfora to induce the use of certain medical devices, in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute, as well as claims for medically unnecessary surgeries.
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  • Secretary Blinken’s Call with Colombian Foreign Minister Blum
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  • Six Defendants Charged in Scheme to Defraud Student Loan Programs of More Than $12 Million.
    In Crime News
    Six former administrators from the Columbus, Georgia, campus of the Apex School of Theology were charged in an indictment unsealed Monday for their alleged participation in a scheme to defraud student loan programs of more than $12,000,000.
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  • Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a Joint Press Availability
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Judiciary Addresses Cybersecurity Breach: Extra Safeguards to Protect Sensitive Court Records
    In U.S Courts
    After the recent disclosure of widespread cybersecurity breaches of both private sector and government computer systems, federal courts are immediately adding new security procedures to protect highly sensitive confidential documents filed with the courts.
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  • Cybersecurity: DHS and Selected Agencies Need to Address Shortcomings in Implementation of Network Monitoring Program
    In U.S GAO News
    Selected agencies—the Federal Aviation Administration, Indian Health Services, and Small Business Administration—had generally deployed tools intended to provide cybersecurity data to support the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM) program. As depicted in the figure, the program relies on automated tools to identify hardware and software residing on agency networks. This information is aggregated and compared to expected outcomes, such as whether actual device configuration settings meet federal benchmarks. The information is then displayed on an agency dashboard and federal dashboard. Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program Data Flow from Agencies to the Federal Dashboard However, while agencies reported that the program improved their network awareness, none of the three agencies had effectively implemented all key CDM program requirements. For example, the three agencies had not fully implemented requirements for managing their hardware. This was due in part to contractors, who install and troubleshoot the tools, not always providing unique identifying information. Accordingly, CDM tools did not provide an accurate count of the hardware on their networks. In addition, although most agencies implemented requirements for managing software, they were not consistently comparing configuration settings on their networks to federal core benchmarks intended to maintain a standard level of security. The agencies identified various challenges to implementing the program, including overcoming resource limitations and not being able to resolve problems directly with contractors. DHS had taken numerous steps to help manage these challenges, including tracking risks of insufficient resources, providing forums for agencies to raise concerns, and allowing agencies to provide feedback to DHS on contractor performance. In 2013, DHS established the CDM program to strengthen the cybersecurity of government networks and systems by providing tools to agencies to continuously monitor their networks. The program, with estimated costs of about $10.9 billion, intends to provide capabilities for agencies to identify, prioritize, and mitigate cybersecurity vulnerabilities. GAO was asked to review agencies' continuous monitoring practices. This report (1) examines the extent to which selected agencies have effectively implemented key CDM program requirements and (2) describes challenges agencies identified in implementing the requirements and steps DHS has taken to address these challenges. GAO selected three agencies based on reported acquisition of CDM tools. GAO evaluated the agencies' implementation of CDM asset management capabilities, conducted semi-structured interviews with agency officials, and examined DHS actions. GAO is making six recommendations to DHS, including to ensure that contractors provide unique hardware identifiers; and nine recommendations to the three selected agencies, including to compare configurations to benchmarks. DHS and the selected agencies concurred with the recommendations. For more information, contact Vijay A. D'Souza at (202) 512-6240 or dsouzav@gao.gov.
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  • The United States Targets Foundations Controlled by Iran’s Supreme Leader
    In Crime Control and Security News
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  • Medicaid: CMS Needs to Implement Risk-Based Oversight of Puerto Rico’s Procurement Process
    In U.S GAO News
    Like other U.S. territories and states, Puerto Rico implements major functions of its Medicaid program by procuring services from contractors, such as the delivery of managed care services to Medicaid beneficiaries. In 2018, procurement costs represented $2.4 billion of Puerto Rico's $2.5 billion in total Medicaid expenditures. A 2019 federal indictment alleging Puerto Rico officials unlawfully steered Medicaid contracts to certain individuals has raised concerns about Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process, including whether this process helps ensure appropriate competition. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for overseeing the Medicaid program. CMS requires states and territories to use the same process for Medicaid procurements as they do for their non-federal procurements. However, CMS has not taken steps to ensure Puerto Rico has met this requirement. Instead, CMS has relied on Puerto Rico to oversee the territory's procurement process and to attest to its compliance. CMS approved Puerto Rico's attestation of compliance in 2004 and has not required subsequent updates. CMS officials told GAO that states and territories are in the best position to ensure compliance with their respective procurement laws. GAO and others have found that competition is a cornerstone of procurement. Using competition can reduce costs, improve contractor performance, curb fraud, and promote accountability. GAO reviewed selected Puerto Rico Medicaid procurements against federal procurement standards designed to promote competition and reduce risks of fraud. States and territories are generally not required to meet such standards. However, GAO and others have found that such standards can indicate whether a state's or territory's procurement process includes necessary steps to achieve fair competition. GAO found that seven of the eight selected Puerto Rico procurements did not include important steps to promote competition and mitigate the risk for fraud, waste, and abuse, underscoring the need for federal oversight. Competitive procurements. The requests for proposals for two of the three competitive procurements GAO reviewed did not include certain information on factors used to evaluate proposals and make awards. In contrast, Puerto Rico's managed care procurement—the largest procurement reviewed—included this information. Noncompetitive procurements. None of the five noncompetitive procurements GAO reviewed documented circumstances to justify not using competitive procurements, such as a lack of competition or an emergency. Puerto Rico officials explained that territorial law allows noncompetitive procurement for professional services regardless of circumstances. Because CMS does not oversee Puerto Rico's procurement process, the agency lacks assurance that Puerto Rico's Medicaid program is appropriately managing the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. Procurements that did not include important steps to promote competition could have unnecessarily increased Medicaid costs, reducing funding for Medicaid services to beneficiaries. States' and U.S. territories' Medicaid procurement processes can directly affect their ability to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in the program. A 2019 federal indictment alleging fraudulent Medicaid procurements in Puerto Rico has raised questions about the program's oversight. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020 includes a provision for GAO to review oversight of Puerto Rico's Medicaid procurement process and its use of competition. This report examines CMS oversight of Puerto Rico's procurement process from its initial steps through the award, and how it helps ensure competition. GAO reviewed federal regulations, guidance, and Puerto Rico's December 2020 procurement reform plan; interviewed Puerto Rico and federal officials; and reviewed eight awards that represented about 97 percent of the costs of Puerto Rico's procurements in effect as of April 2020. These procurements were selected based on variation in cost, use of competition, and other factors. GAO assessed whether CMS addressed risks in Puerto Rico's procurement process by reviewing selected procurements against certain federal standards that apply to other non-federal entities and aim to mitigate the risk of fraud, waste, and abuse. GAO also assessed CMS's policies and procedures against federal internal control standards. GAO recommends that CMS implement risk-based oversight of the Medicaid procurement process in Puerto Rico. The Department of Health and Human Services concurred with this recommendation. For more information, contact Carolyn L. Yocom at (202) 512-7114 or YocomC@gao.gov.
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  • Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers: Observations on the Navy’s Hybrid Electric Drive Program
    In U.S GAO News
    In 2009, the Secretary of the Navy set goals to reduce fuel consumption and, 2 years later, initiated a program to install Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) systems on its fleet of Arleigh Burke class (DDG 51 Flight IIA) destroyers. The HED system draws surplus power from the ship's electric system and uses it to propel the ship. This allows the crew to turn off the propulsion engines and save fuel. Since 2011, Navy officials told us that they have spent over $100 million on the development, purchase, and upgrade of six HED systems. In October 2018, the Navy completed installation of one of the systems on the USS Truxtun (DDG 103). However, the Navy has yet to install the remaining five HED systems and now plans to use them to support another research effort. The Navy issued a January 2020 report to Congress on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun, but did not include some requested information. For example, while the report included performance information from operations on board the USS Truxtun, it did not include sufficient information to determine the overall performance of the HED system. A comprehensive test and evaluation could have assessed the system's performance, reliability, and cyber survivability to inform program decision-making. Further, the report did not include a summary of planned investment that includes: an assessment of the costs and benefits of the HED system, or a projection of the funding needed to execute the program. The Navy stated that it did not include a summary of the planned investments in the report because the HED program was not included in the President's fiscal year 2020 budget and also due to the need for additional HED data. However, Congress appropriated $35 million in funding for the HED program in 2020, which was available to support ship installation of the five previously purchased HEDs. The Navy stated that it can only use a small portion of this funding before it expires in September 2022 since the systems cannot be upgraded and incorporated into a ship's maintenance schedule in the next 3 years. In summer 2020, Navy requirements officials informed GAO and Congress that they plan to suspend the HED program and send the five surplus HED systems to support research into a new electric motor, known as Propulsion Derived Ship Service (PDSS). Navy requirements officials identified several reasons for suspending the HED program, but these reasons differ from information GAO obtained during the course of this review. For example: Navy officials stated that it is expensive to maintain the HED system. However, the commanding officer and crew of the USS Truxtun and senior Navy engineers stated that the system requires little maintenance. Navy officials also stated that the HED is not used very often in operations. According to the Navy's January 2020 report, the system was designed for low-speed operations (speed up to 11 knots), which comprise more than one-third of a typical DDGs operating profile. GAO did not assess the Navy's decision to use the HED systems for PDSS research because the Navy did not have documentation regarding the requirements, testing, schedule, or costs of the PDSS effort. GAO could not determine the merits of suspending the HED program and using the other five HED systems for the PDSS effort because the Navy has yet to complete analysis that determines the costs, benefits, and performance necessary to support such a decision. If the Navy completes a further assessment—which has been requested by Congress—it could provide the information necessary to inform future decisions about the HED program. This report assesses the Navy's HED program. Senate Report 115-262 accompanying the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 asked the Navy to submit a report on the HED system installed on the USS Truxtun. GAO was asked to review the Navy's report and the Navy's recent decision to suspend the HED program to pursue the PDSS research project. This report (1) examines the extent to which the Navy's report on the USS Truxtun included information regarding the assessment areas as requested by Congress; and (2) describes the Navy's decision to suspend the HED program and use the HED systems for the PDSS research effort. To conduct this work, GAO reviewed the Navy's 2020 report on the HED system, analyzed data and documentation the Navy used to guide investments, and assessed HED performance information. GAO also interviewed relevant Navy officials, such as the commanding officer and other senior crew of the USS Truxtun, and Navy engineers. GAO is not making any recommendations. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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  • Gender Pay Differences: The Pay Gap for Federal Workers Has Continued to Narrow, but Better Quality Data on Promotions Are Needed
    In U.S GAO News
    The overall pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has narrowed considerably, from 19 cents on the dollar in 1999 to 7 cents in 2017, but the current pay gap is greater for certain groups of women, according to GAO's analysis of data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Two trends help explain why the pay gap has narrowed: (1) men and women have become more similar in measurable factors related to pay, such as occupation; and (2) women have earned slightly higher rates of pay increases than men. In 2017, most of the overall pay gap—or 6 of 7 cents on the dollar—was not explained by differences between men and women in measurable factors (see figure). This unexplained portion of the pay gap may be due to factors not captured in the data GAO analyzed, such as work experience outside the federal government, or factors that cannot be measured, such as discrimination and individual choices. In 2017, the overall and unexplained gaps were greater for certain groups. For example, compared to White men, the unexplained gap was greater for Hispanic/Latina, Black, and American Indian or Alaska Native women than for White and Asian, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander women. Pay Gap between Men and Women in the Federal Workforce, 1999 to 2017 OPM and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have taken steps to analyze data on the pay gap and help agencies address it. From 2014 to 2016, OPM implemented a government-wide strategy to address the pay gap, and officials said their future efforts will include monitoring the pay gap periodically. EEOC annually collects workforce data from agencies and provides related technical assistance, and officials said they plan to expand these efforts. These data include promotions by gender and race and ethnicity, which EEOC and agencies use to identify potential barriers to career advancement, but GAO found these data were not sufficiently complete. Of the 51 data tables GAO requested, 35 were either missing or had at least one incomplete data element. EEOC officials said this is partly due to promotion applicants not being required to provide demographic information. However, EEOC has not fully assessed the reliability of these data and generally does not follow up with agencies about missing data between technical assistance visits. Without taking steps to assess and improve the quality of these data in a timelier manner, EEOC may miss opportunities to ensure equal opportunity for all promotion applicants. As the nation's largest employer, the federal government employed about 2.7 million workers in 2019. Although the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce is smaller than it is for the entire U.S. workforce and has narrowed over time, studies show that pay disparities continue to exist. GAO was asked to explore the current status of pay equity in the federal workforce. This report examines how the pay gap between men and women in the federal workforce has changed since 1999, and what factors account for any remaining gap; and the extent to which OPM and EEOC have monitored and taken steps to address the pay gap in the federal workforce, including assessing potential disparities in promotions; among other objectives. GAO analyzed OPM's Enterprise Human Resources Integration data on about 2.1 million federal employees from September 1999 to September 2017 (the most recent reliable data available at the time of GAO's review); reviewed federal agency promotion data collected by EEOC for fiscal years 2015 through 2017 (the most recent available data); and interviewed OPM and EEOC officials and reviewed relevant documentation. GAO recommends that EEOC take steps to assess the quality of federal agency promotion data and address missing data with agencies in a timelier manner. EEOC neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO's recommendation. For more information, contact Cindy Brown Barnes at (202) 512-7215 or brownbarnesc@gao.gov.
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