Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Speaks at AIPAC 2012

As the world faces monumental challenges, I know that Israel and America will face them together. We stand together because we are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dream — the dream of achieving security, prosperity and peace.

This dream seemed impossible to many Jews a century ago.

This month, my father celebrated his one-hundredth birthday. When he was born, the Czars ruled Russia, the British Empire spanned the globe and the Ottomans ruled the Middle East. During his lifetime, all of these empires collapsed, others rose and fell, and the Jewish destiny swung from despair to a new hope – the rebirth of the Jewish state.

Full transcript follows the jump.

  • Members of the Obama Administration,
  • Senators,
  • Members of Congress,
  • Defense Minister Ehud Barak
  • Minister [of National Infrastructure] Uzi Landau
  • [Israeli] Ambassador [to the United States] Michael Oren,
  • Howard Kohr, David Victor, Lee Rosenberg — Leaders of AIPAC,
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

As the world faces monumental challenges, I know that Israel and America will face them together. We stand together because we are fired by the same ideals and inspired by the same dream — the dream of achieving security, prosperity and peace.

This dream seemed impossible to many Jews a century ago.

This month, my father celebrated his one-hundredth birthday. When he was born, the Czars ruled Russia, the British Empire spanned the globe and the Ottomans ruled the Middle East. During his lifetime, all of these empires collapsed, others rose and fell, and the Jewish destiny swung from despair to a new hope – the rebirth of the Jewish state. For the first time in two thousand years, a sovereign Jewish people could defend itself against attack.

Before that, we were subjected to unremitting savagery: the bloodletting of the Middle Ages, the expulsion of the Jews from England, Spain and Portugal, the wholesale slaughter of the Jews of the Ukraine, the pogroms in Russia, culminating in the greatest evil of all — the Holocaust.

The founding of Israel did not stop the attacks on the Jews. It merely gave the Jews the power to defend themselves against those attacks.

My friends, I want to tell you about the day when I fully understood the depth of this transformation. It was the day I met Shlomit Vilmosh over 40 years ago. I served with her son, Haim, in the same elite unit in the army. During a battle in 1969, Haim was killed by a burst of gunfire.

At his funeral, I discovered that Haim was born shortly after his mother and father had been freed from the death camps of Europe. If Haim had been born two years before, this daring young officer would have been tossed into the ovens like a million other Jewish children. Haim’s mother Shlomit told me that though she was in great anguish, she was proud. At least, she said, my son fell wearing the uniform of a Jewish soldier defending the Jewish state.

Time and again the Israeli army was forced to repel attacks of much larger enemies determined to destroy us. When Egypt and Jordan recognized that we could not be defeated in battle, they embraced the path of peace.

Yet there are those who continue the assault against the Jewish state and who openly call for our destruction. They seek to achieve this goal through terrorism, missile attacks and most recently by developing atomic weapons.

The ingathering of the Jewish people to Israel has not deterred these fanatics. In fact, it has only whetted their appetite. Iran’s rulers say “Israel is a one bomb country.” The head of Hizbullah says: “If all the Jews gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

My friends,

These are unpleasant facts, but they are the facts.

The greatest threat to any living organism or nation is not to recognize danger in time. Seventy-five years ago, many leaders around the world put their heads in the sand. Untold millions died in the war that followed. Ultimately, two of history’s greatest leaders helped turn the tide. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill helped save the world. But they were too late to save six million of my own people.

The future of the Jewish state can never depend on the goodwill of even the greatest of men. Israel must always reserve the right to defend itself.

Today, an unprecedented threat to humanity looms large. A radical Iranian regime armed with nuclear weapons could bring an end to the era of nuclear peace the world has enjoyed for the last 65 years. Such a regime could provide nuclear weapons to terrorists and might even be tempted to use them. Our world would never be the same. Iran’s brazen bid to develop nuclear weapons is first and foremost a threat to Israel, but it is also a grave threat to the region and to the world.

Israel expects the international community to act swiftly and decisively to thwart this danger. But we will always reserve the right to self-defense.

We must also defend ourselves against lies and vilifications. Throughout history, the slanders against the Jewish people always preceded the physical assaults against us and were used to justify these assaults. The Jews were called the well-poisoners of mankind, the fomenters of instability, the source of all evil under the sun.

Unfortunately, these libelous attacks against the Jewish people also did not end with the creation of Israel. For a time, overt anti-Semitism was held in check by the shame and shock of the Holocaust. But only for a time. In recent decades the hatred of the Jews has reemerged with increasing force, but with an insidious twist. It is not merely directed at the Jewish people but increasingly at the Jewish state. In its most pernicious form, it argues that if only Israel did not exist, many of the world’s problems would go away.

My friends,

Does this mean that Israel is above criticism? Of course not. Israel, like any democracy, has its imperfections but we strive to correct them through open debate and scrutiny. Israel has independent courts, the rule of law, a free press and a vigorous parliamentary debate — believe me, it’s vigorous.

I know that members of Congress refer to one another as my distinguished colleague from Wisconsin or the distinguished Senator from California. In Israel, members of Knesset don’t speak of their distinguished colleagues from Kiryat Shmona and Be’er Sheva. We say — well, you don’t want to know what we say. In Israel, self-criticism is a way of life, and we accept that criticism is part of the conduct of international affairs.

But Israel should be judged by the same standards applied to all nations, and allegations against Israel must be grounded in fact. One allegation that is not is the attempt to describe the Jews as foreign colonialists in their own homeland, one of the great lies of modern times.

In my office, I have a signet ring that was loaned to me by Israel’s Department of Antiquities. The ring was found next to the Western wall, but it dates back some 2,800 years ago, two hundred years after King David turned Jerusalem into our capital city. The ring is a seal of a Jewish official, and inscribed on it in Hebrew is his name: Netanyahu. Netanyahu Ben-Yoash. That’s my last name. My first name, Benjamin, dates back 1,000 years earlier to Benjamin, the son of Jacob, One of Benjamin’s brothers was named Shimon, which also happens to be the first name of my good friend, Shimon Peres, the President of Israel. Nearly 4,000 years ago, Benjamin, Shimon and their ten brothers roamed the hills of Judea.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel cannot be denied. The connection between the Jewish people and Jerusalem cannot be denied. The Jewish people were building Jerusalem 3,000 years ago and the Jewish people are building Jerusalem today.

Jerusalem is not a settlement. It is our capital.

In Jerusalem, my government has maintained the policies of all Israeli governments since 1967, including those led by Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin. Today, nearly a quarter of a million Jews, almost half the city’s Jewish population, live in neighborhoods that are just beyond the 1949 armistice lines. All these neighborhoods are within a five-minute drive from the Knesset. They are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem. Everyone knows that these neighborhoods will be part of Israel in any peace settlement. Therefore, building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

Nothing is rarer in the Middle East than tolerance for the beliefs of others. It’s only under Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem that religious freedom for all faiths has been guaranteed. While we cherish our homeland, we also recognize that Palestinians live there as well. We don’t want to govern them. We don’t want to rule them. We want them as neighbors, living in security, dignity and peace. Yet Israel is unjustly accused of not wanting peace with the Palestinians. Nothing could be further from the truth.

My government has consistently shown its commitment to peace in both word and deed. From day one, we called on the Palestinian Authority to begin peace negotiations without delay. I make that same call today. President Abbas, come and negotiate peace. Leaders who truly want peace should sit down face-to-face.

Of course, the United States can help the parties solve their problems but it cannot solve the problems for the parties. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside. It can only come through direct negotiations in which we develop mutual trust.

Last year, I spoke of a vision of peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state. Just as the Palestinians expect Israel to recognize a Palestinian state, we expect the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state.

My government has removed hundreds of roadblocks, barriers and checkpoints facilitating Palestinian movement. As a result, we have helped spur a fantastic boom in the Palestinian economy (coffee Shops, restaurants, businesses, even multiplex theaters). And we announced an unprecedented moratorium on new Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria.

This is what my government has done for peace. What has the Palestinian Authority done for peace?  Well, they have placed preconditions on peace talks, waged a relentless international campaign to undermine Israel’s legitimacy, and promoted the notorious Goldstone report that falsely accuses Israel of war crimes. In fact, they’re doing right now in the UN in the grotesquely misnamed UN Human Rights Council.

I want to thank President Obama and the United States Congress for their efforts to thwart this libel, and I ask for your continued support.

Regrettably, the Palestinian Authority has also continued incitement against Israel. A few days ago, a public square near Ramallah was named after a terrorist who murdered 37 Israeli civilians, including 13 children.  The Palestinian Authority did nothing to prevent it.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Peace requires reciprocity. It cannot be a one-way street in which only Israel makes concessions. Israel stands ready to make the compromises necessary for peace. But we expect the Palestinians to compromise as well. But one thing I will never compromise on is our security.

It is hard to explain Israel’s security predicament to someone living in a country 500 times the size of Israel. But imagine the entire United States compressed to the size of New Jersey. Next, put on New Jersey’s northern border an Iranian terror proxy called Hizbullah which fires 6,000 rockets into that small state. Then imagine that this terror proxy has amassed 60,000 more missiles to fire at you. Wait. I’m not finished. Now imagine on New Jersey’s southern border another Iranian terror proxy called Hamas. It too fires 6,000 rockets into your territory while smuggling even more lethal weapons into its territory. Do you think you would feel a little bit vulnerable?  Do you think you would expect some understanding from the international community when you defend yourselves?

A peace agreement with the Palestinians must include effective security arrangements on the ground. Israel must make sure that what happened in Lebanon and Gaza doesn’t happen again in the West Bank.

Israel’s main security problem with Lebanon is not its border with Lebanon. It is Lebanon’s border with Syria, through which Iran and Syria smuggle tens of thousands of weapons to Hizbullah.

Israel’s main security problem with Gaza is not its border with Gaza. It’s Gaza’s border with Egypt, under which nearly 1,000 tunnels have been dug to smuggle weapons. Experience has shown that only an Israeli presence on the ground can prevent weapons smuggling. This is why a peace agreement with the Palestinians must include an Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state.

If peace with the Palestinians proves its durability over time, we can review security arrangements. We are prepared to take risks for peace, but we will not be reckless with the lives of our people and the life of the one and only Jewish state.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The people of Israel want a future in which our children no longer experience the horrors of war. We want a future in which Israel realizes its full potential as a global center of technology, anchored in its values and living in peace with all its neighbors.

I envision an Israel that can dedicate even more of its creative and scientific talents to help solve some of the great challenges of the day, foremost of which is finding a clean and affordable substitute for gasoline. And when we find that alternative, we will stop transferring hundreds of billions of dollars to radical regimes that support terror.

I am confident that in pursuing these goals, we have the enduring friendship of the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth. The American people have always shown their courage, their generosity and their decency. From one President to the next, from one Congress to the next, America’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering. In the last year, President Obama and the U.S. Congress have given meaning to that commitment by providing Israel with military assistance, by enabling joint military exercises and by working on joint missile defense.

So too, Israel has been a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States. As Vice President Biden said, America has no better friend in the community of nations than Israel. For decades, Israel served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism. Today it is helping America stem the tide of militant Islam. Israel shares with America everything we know about fighting a new kind of enemy. We share intelligence. We cooperate in countless other ways that I am not at liberty to divulge. This cooperation is important for Israel and is helping save American lives.

Our soldiers and your soldiers fight against fanatic enemies that loathe our common values. In the eyes of these fanatics, we are you and you are us. To them, the only difference is that you are big and we are small. You are the Great Satan and we are the Little Satan. This fanaticism’s hatred of Western civilization predates Israel’s establishment by over one thousand years.

Militant Islam does not hate the West because of Israel. It hates Israel because of the West — because it sees Israel as an outpost of freedom and democracy that prevents them from overrunning the Middle East. That is why when Israel stands against its enemies, it stands against America’s enemies.

President Harry Truman, the first leader to recognize Israel, said this: “I have faith in Israel and I believe that it has a glorious future — not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

My Friends,

We are gathered here today because we believe in those common ideals. And because of those ideals, I am certain that Israel and America will always stand together.

Ambassader Susan Rice at AIPAC 2012

U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice delivered remarks to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington, D.C. on March 5, 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen, not a day goes by – not one – when my colleagues and I don’t work hard to defend Israel’s security and legitimacy at the United Nations.

Complete transcript follows the jump.
Thank you all so much.  Good afternoon.  And boy is it great to see friends and colleagues, including Lee Rosenberg and Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, who’s such a great source of wisdom and compassion. Technically, I’m not sure I’m allowed to have a rabbi, but if I am, it’s she.

Julie, thank you so much for that incredibly warm introduction. It’s great to be back at AIPAC. This extraordinary gathering is a testament to the strength and dedication of the pro-Israel community and the American Jewish community-a community devoted to the unshakeable U.S.-Israel bond, to human rights for all, and to the wider principle of tikkun olam.

In fact, being here calls to mind one of my favorite psalms: Hinei ma’tov uma-nayim, shevet achim gam yachad — I’ll take some lessons afterwards if anybody’s willing — but as you know well, that is “how good it is and how pleasant when we sit together in brotherhood.” That verse strikes so many chords: how good it is when citizens of different backgrounds come together in common purpose; how deeply we yearn for the day when the children of Isaac and the children of Ishmael can at last find peace; how much stronger we are when we band together than when we let ourselves be split apart. It’s a theme of great power and great hope.

But it doesn’t always reflect the imperfect world in which we live. In that world, as President Kennedy said, we go forth asking for God’s blessing and God’s help, but, quote, “knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”

In our imperfect world, we still face leaders who deny the plain truths of history, who deny their people’s basic rights, who deny the right of their neighbors to exist.

Therefore, in our imperfect world, we remain determined to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. That is why, under President Obama’s leadership, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1929, imposing the toughest sanctions ever against Iran.  This resolution targets the elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, bans ballistic missile launches, provides for rigorous inspection of suspect cargo in the air or on the sea, prohibits the sale of many heavy weapons to Iran, severely constrains financial transactions with Iran, and highlights the oil sector’s role in financing Iran’s nuclear program.

In our imperfect world, we also remain determined to hasten the day when the brave people of Syria can shake off the yoke of bondage and tyranny. And we remain determined not to rest until a secure, Jewish, and democratic State of Israel lives side by side with a viable Palestinian state established through direct negotiations-two states for two peoples, living in peace and security.

Today, I’d like to focus on another persistent challenge we face: ensuring that Israel gets the fair and equal treatment at the United Nations, with all the rights and responsibilities of any UN member state.

And this subject brings to mind an old story about one of my distinguished predecessors, Adlai Stevenson.

The year was 1961. The Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations and a diplomat from Ireland were sitting next to each other in the United Nations General Assembly, watching Ambassador Stevenson defend the Kennedy Administration’s actions at the Bay of Pigs. Explaining the Bay of Pigs to the General Assembly wasn’t a fun assignment, and Stevenson was having a rough time. He squinted over his glasses and started in on a particularly overwritten section about why Castro’s sins had justified the operation. Stevenson declared, “I have already told you about Castro’s crimes against man. But now let me tell you about Castro’s crimes against God.”

Then, Stevenson peered down at his notes and stammered a bit: “Castro has-Castro has circumcised the freedoms of the Catholics of Cuba.” And at that, the Israeli diplomat looked over at his Irish friend and said, “I always knew that, somehow, we would be blamed for this.”

Now, all countries come in for knocks every now and then at the United Nations, including our own. Nobody is above fair criticism. But what Israel faces is something very different. It’s relentless. It’s obsessive. It’s ugly. It’s bad for the United Nations. It’s bad for peace. And it has got to stop.

So we fight it. Ladies and gentlemen, not a day goes by — not one — when my colleagues and I don’t work hard to defend Israel’s security and legitimacy at the United Nations.

  • Last fall, when the Palestinians prematurely sought UN membership, we stood firm on principle and rallied others to ensure no further obstacles were placed in the path to peace.  President Obama went before the UN General Assembly and said, and I quote: “There is no short-cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades….Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations.” As the President reminded us yesterday, that was not a big applause line in the General Assembly Hall, but it was the right thing to say. And, for those who may still seek such a short-cut, the vote count in the Security Council has not improved this year.
  • Last February, when the Palestinians pushed a Security Council resolution on settlements-a final status issue that can only be resolved through direct negotiations between the parties-the United States vetoed it.
  • When in 2009 and 2011, major events were held to follow up on and to commemorate the notorious Durban conference, which had featured such ugly displays of intolerance and anti-Semitism, we twice refused to participate.
  • When the deeply flawed Goldstone Report was released, we insisted on Israel’s right to defend itself and maintained that Israel’s democratic institutions could credibly investigate any possible abuses.
  • When the tragic flotilla episode occurred, we worked hard to find a constructive path forward to minimize the damage to the traditional ties between Israel and Turkey.
  • When a 2010 resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference singled out Israel’s nuclear program for rebuke, we rallied our partners and defeated the resolution. And when the same resolution was considered in 2011, its sponsors, anticipating another defeat¸ preemptively withdrew their proposal.
    When the Human Rights Council turns session after session to Agenda Item Seven on Israel, the Council’s only standing agenda item on any single country in the world, we fight hard on principle to end this glaring, structural bias.
  • When pre-cooked anti-Israel resolutions come up by the dozen at the Human Rights Council, the General Assembly, UNESCO, and elsewhere, we consistently oppose them, and we press others to do the same.
  • Last October, when the Syrian regime’s ambassador, speaking at the Security Council, had the temerity &mdash the chutzpah — to accuse the United States and Israel of being parties to genocide, I led our delegation in walking out.
    And when an American working for the United Nations as a Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights indulged in anti-Semitic web postings and endorsed vile conspiracy theories about 9/11, I called for him to resign.

These are our principles.  That is our commitment.

But we do far more than just play defense. We have also racked up important wins that support Israel as it struggles to assume its rightful place among its fellow nations.

  • Over the past few years, the United States has negotiated a dramatic expansion of Israel’s participation in the important group of Western countries known by a crazy acronym JUSCANZ, both in New York and Geneva, and that enables Israel’s participation in the UN system.
  • When terrorists recently struck at Israeli diplomatic personnel in India and Georgia, we led the Security Council in unanimously condemning the attacks “in the strongest terms.”  It was the first Security Council statement supporting Israel against terrorism in seven years.
  • Israel is also proudly showing the world how much it has to offer. In January 2010, with U.S. support, Israel became Chair of the Kimberley Process-an important conflict-diamonds certification initiative. Israel will join the board of UNICEF this year. And just last month, Israel won its first-ever seat on the executive board of the United Nations Development Program, which Israel’s Deputy UN Ambassador called, and I quote: “a milestone in Israel’s integration into the global agenda of the United Nations.”

Now, we’ve still got real work to do to ensure that Israel has all the rights and responsibilities of every other UN member state-no more, no less. And we will not let up.

But there’s an important distinction to understand. Israel gets singled out at the UN, not by the UN. When Israel gets marginalized and maligned, it’s not usually because of the UN Secretariat or the international public servants who work for agencies such as UNICEF or the IAEA. It’s typically because of the decisions of individual member states.  As one of my predecessors, the late Richard Holbrooke, liked to say, “Blaming the United Nations when things go wrong is like blaming Madison Square Garden when the Knicks play badly.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I know you’re profoundly frustrated by the treatment Israel all too often endures at the UN. I know I am too. But, I hope we never let that very justified frustration blind us to the real good the UN does-from imposing crippling sanctions on Iran and North Korea to saving untold thousands of Libyan civilians from Muammar Qaddafi to protecting victims of genocide in Darfur. Some people suggest simply giving up on the United Nation. But, for all the UN’s flaws, doing so would deeply harm American security and American values – and it would leave Israel alone to get bashed. It’s not in our interest to throw out the baby with the bathwater. But it is very much in our interest to have the United Nations keep the peace in conflict zones at a fraction of the cost of sending U.S. troops to do the job, to save the lives of desperate refugees or starving children, and to support fragile democracies from Tunisia to Haiti to South Sudan.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will continue to be guided by our principles. In word and deed,  President Obama has insisted that the United States  be clear and consistent: the treatment Israel receives across the UN system is unacceptable. Efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy have been met with the unflinching opposition of the United States. And they always will be.

This is but one of the reasons our Israeli friends are glad we’re at the UN – in New York, Geneva, Vienna and elsewhere. They’re glad we’re there to stand up for fair treatment; to fight double standards; to uphold our shared values; and to help Israel assume its rightful place across the entire UN system. They’re glad we’ve got their back. And they know how much we do to help, in forum after forum, in fight after fight.

Even still, you should know that this on-going fight for Israel at the United Nations is just one part of a much larger mandate from President Obama. His guidance to us all has been crystal clear: to strengthen and deepen America’s special and enduring relationship with Israel – a relationship rooted in common interests and common values.

That’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. That’s why, even in tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.  That’s why, on top of the record funding we secured in the Fiscal Year 2011, we provided additional support for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system – which has already been used to defend innocent Israelis who live near the Gaza frontier.

The stakes could not be higher. I’ve seen it personally.  In 2008, I joined President Obama — then Senator Obama — on his second visit to Israel. I followed behind him as he studied each wall at Yad Vashem.  I watched from afar as he slipped a personal prayer into the stones of the Kotel.  And I touched the charred remnants of the rockets that Hamas continues to fire at the brave, unyielding citizens of Sderot.
Strong as those memories are, I will never forget my first visit to Israel, when I was just 14 years old. I went with my younger brother and my late father, who was then on the Board of Directors of Trans World Airlines (TWA).  We had the extraordinary experience of flying on one of the very first flights from Tel Aviv to Cairo, just around the time of Camp David. On that same trip, we went to Yad Vashem, we floated in the Dead Sea, we walked the lanes of the Old City, climbed Masada, and picked fruit at a kibbutz. I learned by heart the words of the sacred prayer, the Sh’ma.  And since that first wonderful visit, my admiration for Israel has grown ever stronger.
Let me close with one last powerful memory from that same time.  I am a native Washingtonian, and my mother still lives across the street from the Egyptian Embassy.  So I got to see Anwar al-Sadat bound out of his motorcade waving – triumphant, proud, and sure – just after he had signed the Camp David Accords. As a kid, I think I was more impressed by the heavily armed Secret Service agents occupying our roof.

But, as an adult, I am most impressed by the central lesson that Sadat’s actions taught us: that human conflict and human suffering can be ended by human courage. Hinei ma’tov uma-nayim-how good it is when we come together. How important it is for us to stand together for peace, security, and dignity for Israelis, Palestinians, and all the people of the Middle East. How crucial it is that we shun the voices of division and despair, and that we reaffirm the deep and bipartisan foundation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel.

We’ve come far. But we’ve got far more to do. And in that work, let there be no doubt. America remains deeply and permanently committed to the peace and security of the State of Israel.  That commitment starts with President Obama, and it is shared by us all. It spans generations. It spans political parties. It is not negotiable. And it never will be.

Thank you so much.

Isreali President Shimon Peres speaks at AIPAC 2012

In his speech, Israeli President Shimon Peres thanked US President Barak Obama for his political and diplomatic support on the assistance he has given Israel during the three-and-a-half years of his presidency.

As The President of the State of Israel I came here first and foremost to say on behalf of my people:  

Toda

“Thank You”.

Thank you President Obama, for being such a good friend.

*Transcript continues after the jump.*

Thank you AIPAC, for your dedication and excellence.

It is great to be here. To be together. Strong and united.

I see old friends and new ones. I see many young faces. The future belongs to you.  Israel loves you.

I am moved by your generous tribute.

I stand here, before you, a hopeful man. Proud to be Jewish, Proud to be Israeli, Proud to be there at the birth of Israel, Proud to have served it for 65 years, proud of our alliance with the United States.

Israel, like America, was conceived as an idea, born in defiance of history; creating a new world by drawing on the values of the past and the innovations of the future.

Friends, the restoration of Jewish statehood after two thousand years in exile — is a historic miracle.

We started as a doubt and wound up as a certainty. We had to fight six wars in six decades. We did not lose one. We never will.

We cannot afford it. We had to defend ourselves. Self-defense is our right and obligation.

With little land, water or resources, Israel grew tenfold in population. Fifty-fold in gross domestic product. Israel’s high-tech and innovation enriches the world its agriculture makes deserts green. Israel built new villages, new cities, new universities, new theatres and cultural centers. Our children are speaking the language of the prophets. Hebrew literature is flourishing. From a dispersed people we became a united democracy.

No day of war ever interrupted a day of democracy.

Dear Friends, permit me a personal note. Fate placed me in the eye of the storm. I was eleven years old when my beloved grandfather, Rabbi Tzvi Melzer, accompanied me to the train-station on my way to Israel. He hugged me and whispered in my ear only three words,

“Shimon…. stay Jewish.”

Those were his last words to me. I never saw him again.

In 1942, when the Nazis arrived to his village, they forced my Grandfather, together with the remaining Jews into the wooden synagogue and set it on fire.  No one survived. Not one.

What remained was my Grandfather’s legacy. His last words to me:

“Stay Jewish.”

Dear Friends, I was privileged to work with the father of our nation, my mentor, David Ben-Gurion.  For me, Ben Gurion’s  great leadership with my Grandfather’s legacy became my compass.

That compass is comprised of four core values:
Our moral code. Our pursuit of peace and security. Our quest for knowledge. Our alliance with America.

The moral code, the return to the Book and its values, enabled the Jewish people to survive, for four thousand years.

NOT because of quantity — because of quality.  Not due to thousands of guns — but due to Ten Commandments. We are guided by the call of our Prophets, to me it means:

  • To be just.
  • To do justice.
  • To never deny justice to others.

Dear Friends, the pursuit of peace, for us, is not a passing opportunity it is a moral imperative.  It is the tenet of our national security. To make peace, Israel must be strong. Let me assure you, Israel is strong.

Dear Friends, the Middle East is undergoing its greatest storm. With horrible bloodshed in Syria, where a tyrant is killing his people, killing children.  I admire the courage of the Syrian people. We wish them peace and freedom. In spite of the storm, we have to reach out to the young generation in the Arab world,  to those who strive for freedom, democracy and peace.  The Palestinians are our neighbors for life.  Peace can and must be achieved. A peace based on:

A Two State Solution

  • A Jewish state — Israel,
  • an Arab state — Palestine.

It was accepted by past and present Israeli Prime ministers and American presidents: Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The principle of the Two State Solution is a paramount Israeli interest.

We want to preserve an Israel that is Jewish, democratic and attractive.  I meet from time to time with President Abbas and PM Fayyad.  They need and want peace.

I believe that peace is possible.
They are our partners for peace.  Not Hamas.

A peace that is a dream for both of us, is a nightmare for the Ayatollahs in Iran. Iran is an evil, cruel, morally corrupt regime. It is based on destruction. and is an affront to human dignity. Iran is the center, the sponsor, the financier of world terror.  Iran is a danger to the entire world.  It threatens Berlin as well as Madrid, Delhi as well as Bangkok. Not just Israel.

Iran’s ambition is to control the Middle East, so it can control a major part of the  world’s economy.
It must be stopped. And it will be stopped.

Israel experienced the horrors of war. It does not seek it.  Peace is always our first option, but, if we are forced to fight, trust me…. we shall prevail.

President Obama is leading and implementing, an international complex and decisive policy, imposing economic and political sanctions against Iran.  President Obama made it clear that the US will not permit Iran to become nuclear. That containment is not a sustainable policy; all options are on the table. The United States and Israel share the same goal – to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.  There is NO space between us.

Our message is clear: Iran will not develop a nuclear weapon.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the quest for knowledge defines Jewish history. Judaism is a constant debate. It is about asking the right questions.  It is about being a liberal and pluralistic society.

I believe Jews are never satisfied because they are always seeking new answers.

A better tomorrow, Tikun Olam.

I believe that the next decade will be the most scientific, the most dramatic chapter  in human history. It will expose possibilities that today sound like science fiction. Its center will be brain research.

The more we shall know about ourselves, the more we shall be able to control ourselves. In a global world without a global government, self-control is vital.

Friends, in a world of science and knowledge, the Jewish people and Israel have an exciting role to play. Much to contribute.

Ladies and Gentlemen, members of Congress,
America was, is, and will remain the indispensable leader of the free world. The indispensable friend of our people. Today more than ever, the world needs America.

I have had the privilege to meet all American Presidents in the last fifty years, Democrats and Republicans. I was strongly impressed by their deep commitment. Their care for Israel. That commitment was and is bipartisan.

Mr. President, Members of the Administration, Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle:
We are forever grateful for your unwavering support of the unbreakable alliance between the US and Israel.

I first met President Barack Obama, our great friend, when he was a Senator from Illinois. I saw before me a born leader. His care and devotion to Israel’s security were evident.

Mr. President, I know your commitment to Israel is
deep and profound.

Under your leadership, security cooperation between the US and Israel has reached its highest level.

Ladies and Gentlemen, We have a friend in the White House. He reflects the values that make America great and make Israel secure.

Thank you President Obama on behalf of my people.

Soon I will return home. Great challenges and promising opportunities await us. Thanks to your love and commitment and America’s great friendship. I return home, much more hopeful, much more encouraged.

Thank you very much,

God Bless America,

God Bless Israel.

Shalom.

AIPAC Conference Day 2: Benjamin Netanyahu and Joe Lieberman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Senator Joe Lieberman deliver remarks to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee at the second day of its annual conference at the Washington Convention Center.

Live video is available via CSPAN:

Tomorrow’s speakers include Presidential Candidates Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA).

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will provide links and embedded video as they become available.

Obama Speaking At AIPAC

One day before he meets with the Israeli Prime Minister, President Obama address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual conference in Washington. He addressed the situation in the Middle East, including the situation in Iran. Other speakers at the conference today include Israeli President Shimon Peres. Tomorrow, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be speaking and on Tuesday, Republican candidates Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be speaking.

Every time that I come to AIPAC, I’m impressed to see so many young people here – students from all over the country who are making their voices heard and engaging in our democratic debate. You carry with you an extraordinary legacy of more than six decades of friendship between the United States and Israel. And you have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to make your own mark on the world. For inspiration, you can look to the man who is being honored at this conference – my friend, President Shimon Peres.

Shimon was born a world away from here, in a shtetl in what was then Poland, a few years after the end of the first World War. But his heart was always in Israel, the historic homeland of the Jewish people, and when he was just a boy he made his journey across land and sea – towards home.

Transcript continues after the jump.
In his life, he has fought for Israel’s independence, and he has fought for peace and security. As a member of the Haganah and a Member of the Knesset; as a Minister of Defense and Foreign Affairs; as a Prime Minister and as a President – Shimon helped build the nation that thrives today: the Jewish state of Israel. But beyond these extraordinary achievements, he has also been a powerful moral voice that reminds us that right makes might – not the other way around.

Shimon once described the story of the Jewish people by saying it proved that, “slings, arrows and gas chambers can annihilate man, but cannot destroy human values, dignity, and freedom.” He has lived those values. He has taught us to ask more of ourselves, and to empathize more with our fellow human beings. I am grateful for his life’s work and his moral example, and I am proud to announce that later this Spring, I will invite Shimon Peres to the White House to present him with America’s highest civilian honor – the presidential Medal of Freedom.

In many ways, this award is a symbol of the broader ties that bind our nations. The United States and Israel share interests, but we also share those human values that Shimon spoke about. A commitment to human dignity. A belief that freedom is a right that is given to all of God’s children. An experience that shows us that democracy is the one and only form of government that can be truly responsive to the aspirations of citizens.

America’s Founding Fathers understood this truth, just as Israel’s founding generation did. President Truman put it well, describing his decision to formally recognize Israel only minutes after it declared independence: “I had faith in Israel before it was established,” he said. “I believe it has a glorious future before it – as not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”

For over six decades, the American people have kept that faith. Yes, we are bound to Israel because of the interests that we share – in security for our communities; prosperity for our people; and new frontiers of science that can light the world. But it is our common ideals that provide the true foundation for our relationship. That is why America’s commitment to Israel has endured under Democratic and Republican Presidents, and congressional leaders of both parties. In the United States, our support for Israel is bipartisan, and that is how it should stay.

AIPAC’s work continually nurtures this bond. And because of AIPAC’s effectiveness in carrying out its mission, you can expect that over the next few days, you will hear many fine words from elected officials describing their commitment to the U.S.-Israel relationship. But as you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds. Because over the last three years, as President of the United States, I have kept my commitments to the state of Israel. At every crucial juncture – at every fork in the road – we have been there for Israel. Every single time.

Four years ago, I stood before you and said that “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable.” That belief has guided my actions as President. The fact is, my Administration’s commitment to Israel’s security has been unprecedented. Our military and intelligence cooperation has never been closer. Our joint exercises and training have never been more robust. Despite a tough budget environment, our security assistance has increased every year. We are investing in new capabilities. We’re providing Israel with more advanced technology – the type of products and systems that only go to our closest friends and allies. And make no mistake: we will do what it takes to preserve Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge – because Israel must always have the ability to defend itself, by itself, against any threat.

This isn’t just about numbers on a balance sheet. As a Senator, I spoke to Israeli troops on the Lebanese border. I have visited with families who’ve known the terror of rocket fire in Sderot. That’s why, as President, I have provided critical funding to deploy the Iron Dome system that has intercepted rockets that might have hit homes, hospitals, and schools in that town and others. Now our assistance is expanding Israel’s defensive capabilities, so that more Israelis can live free from the fear of rockets and ballistic missiles.  Because no family, no citizen, should live in fear.

Just as we’ve been there with our security assistance, we have been there through our diplomacy. When the Goldstone report unfairly singled out Israel for criticism, we challenged it. When Israel was isolated in the aftermath of the flotilla incident, we supported them. When the Durban conference was commemorated, we boycotted it, and we will always reject the notion that Zionism is racism. When one-sided resolutions are brought up at the Human Rights Council, we oppose them. When Israeli diplomats feared for their lives in Cairo, we intervened to help save them. When there are efforts to boycott or divest from Israel, we will stand against them. And whenever an effort is made to de-legitimize the state of Israel, my Administration has opposed them. So there should not be a shred of doubt by now: when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.

So if during this political season you hear some question my Administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts. And remember that the U.S.-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics. America’s national security is too important. Israel’s security is too important.

Of course, there are those who question not my security and diplomatic commitments, but my Administration’s ongoing pursuit of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace. Israel’s own leaders understand the necessity of peace. Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Barak, and President Peres – each of them have called for two states, a secure Israel that lives side by side with an independent Palestinian state.

I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest. The reality that Israel faces – from shifting demographics, to emerging technologies, to an extremely difficult international environment – demands a resolution of this issue. And I believe that peace with the Palestinians is consistent with Israel’s founding values – because of our shared belief in self-determination; and because Israel’s place as a Jewish and democratic state must be protected.

Of course, peace is hard to achieve. There’s a reason why it has remained elusive for six decades. The upheaval and uncertainty in Israel’s neighborhood makes it that much harder – from the horrific violence raging in Syria, to the transition in Egypt. And the division within the Palestinian leadership makes it harder still – most notably, with Hamas’s continued rejection of Israel’s very right to exist.

But as hard as it may be, we should not give in to cynicism or despair. The changes taking place in the region make peace more important, not less. And I have made it clear that there will be no lasting peace unless Israel’s security concerns are met. That is why we continue to press Arab leaders to reach out to Israel, and will continue to support the peace treaty with Egypt. That’s why – just as we encourage Israel to be resolute in the pursuit of peace – we have continued to insist that any Palestinian partner must recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements. And that is why my Administration has consistently rejected any efforts to short-cut negotiations or impose an agreement on the parties.

Last year, I stood before you and pledged that: “the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations.” As you all know, that pledge has been kept. Last September, I stood before the United Nations General Assembly and reaffirmed that any lasting peace must acknowledge the fundamental legitimacy of Israel and its security concerns. I said that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable, our friendship with Israel is enduring, and that Israel must be recognized. No President has made such a clear a statement about our support for Israel at the United Nations at such a difficult time. People usually give those speeches before audiences like this one – not the General Assembly.

There wasn’t a lot of applause. But it was the right thing to do. And as a result, today there is no doubt – anywhere in the world – that the United States will insist upon Israel’s security and legitimacy. That will also be true as we continue our efforts to our pursuit of peace. And that will be true when it comes to the issue that is such a focus for all of us today: Iran’s nuclear program – a threat that has the potential to bring together the worst rhetoric about Israel’s destruction with the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand: no Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu, Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders.

A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests. But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States. Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we have done so much to build. There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization. It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia.

That is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what we have done.

When I took office, the efforts to apply pressure on Iran were in tatters. Iran had gone from zero centrifuges spinning to thousands, without facing broad pushback from the world. In the region, Iran was ascendant – increasingly popular, and extending its reach. In other words, the Iranian leadership was united and on the move, and the international community was divided about how to go forward.

And so from my first months in office, we put forward a very clear choice to the Iranian regime: a path that would allow them to rejoin the community of nations if they meet their international obligations, or a path that leads to an escalating series of consequences if they don’t. In fact, our policy of engagement – quickly rebuffed by the Iranian regime – allowed us to rally the international community as never before; to expose Iran’s intransigence; and to apply pressure that goes far beyond anything that the United States could do on our own.

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before. People predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us in moving toward pressure. They did, and in 2010 the UN Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort. Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime. They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011. Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports. But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us. And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions.

That is where we are today. Iran is isolated, its leadership divided and under pressure. And the Arab Spring has only increased these trends, as the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime is exposed, and its ally – the Assad regime – is crumbling.

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unsolved. The effective implementation of our policy is not enough – we must accomplish our objective.

In that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity remains for diplomacy – backed by pressure – to succeed. The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program. Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists. Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July – thanks to our diplomatic coordination – a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold. Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision. They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

Given their history, there are of course no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice. But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically. After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons. That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply-held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm’s way. I have seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who have come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency. For this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it. And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically. Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States, just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs. I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power. A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort to impose crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Moving forward, I would ask that we all remember the weightiness of these issues; the stakes involved for Israel, for America, and for the world. Already, there is too much loose talk of war. Over the last few weeks, such talk has only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend upon to fund their nuclear program.  For the sake of Israel’s security, America’s security, and the peace and security of the world, now is not the time for bluster; now is the time to let our increased pressure sink in, and to sustain the broad international coalition that we have built. Now is the time to heed that timeless advice from Teddy Roosevelt: speak softly, but carry a big stick.  As we do, rest assured that the Iranian government will know our resolve, and that our coordination with Israel will continue.

These are challenging times. But we have been through challenging times before, and the United States and Israel have come through them together. Because of our cooperation, citizens in both our countries have benefited from the bonds that bring us together. I am proud to be one of those people. In the past, I have shared in this forum just why those bonds are so personal for me – from the stories of a great uncle who helped liberate Buchenwald, to my memories of returning there with Elie Wiesel; from sharing books with Shimon Peres, to sharing seders with my young staff in a tradition that started on the campaign trail and continues in the White House; from the countless friends I know in this room, to the concept of tikkun olam that has enriched my life.

As Harry Truman understood, Israel’s story is one of hope. We may not agree on every single issue – no two nations do, and our democracies contain a vibrant diversity of views. But we agree on the big things – the things that matter. And together, we are working to build a better world – one where our people can live free from fear; one where peace is founded upon justice; one where our children can know a future that is more hopeful than the present.

There is no shortage of speeches on the friendship between the United States and Israel. But I am also mindful of the proverb, “A man is judged by his deeds, not by his words.” So if you want to know where my heart lies, look no further than what I have done – to stand up for Israel; to secure both of our countries; and to see that the rough waters of our time lead to a peaceful and prosperous shore. Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless the United States of America.

Where You Stand and What You Hear

Thoughts Regarding Israel AdvocacyI have just returned from the Policy Conference of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). This year’s convention was particularly exciting and provocative. Beyond the speakers of notoriety and prominence, however, I left the conference with a clearer and deeper sense of what it means to support and advocate for Israel. Indeed, that is the explicit mission of AIPAC.  Simply put, AIPAC is about knowing where you stand.

[Read more…]

Remarks of President Barack Obama at AIPAC Policy Conference

— President Barack Obama

On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.

A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence.  It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.

America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share.  As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation.  As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured.  And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people.

We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.  When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket.  And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.

Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority.  It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.  It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies.  And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.

That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.  This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives.  So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.

You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.  At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world.  Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure.  So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Complete transcript after the jump.

Good morning!  Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction.  But even more, thank you for your many years friendship.  Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first.  When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy – you were at my side every step of that very meaningful journey through the Holy Land.  And I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership and for your warm welcome today.

 

Thank you to David Victor, Howard Kohr and all the Board of Directors.  And let me say that it’s wonderful to look out and see so many great friends, including Alan Solow, Howard Green and a very large delegation from Chicago.

 

I want to thank the members of Congress who are joining you today—who do so much to sustain the bonds between the United States and Israel—including Eric Cantor,  Steny Hoyer, and the tireless leader I was proud to appoint as the new chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. 

 

We’re joined by Israel’s representative to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren.  As well as one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years, and who I know is going to be an outstanding ambassador to Israel—Dan Shapiro.  Dan has always been a close and trusted advisor, and I know he’ll do a terrific job.

 

And at a time when so many young people around the world are standing up and making their voices heard, I also want to acknowledge all the college students from across the country who are here today.  No one has a greater stake in the outcome of events that are unfolding today than your generation, and it’s inspiring to see you devote your time and energy to help shape the future.

 

Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.

 

On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. 

 

A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence.  It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations. 

 

America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share.  As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation.  As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured.  And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people.

 

We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland.  When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket.  And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.

 

Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority.  It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels.  It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies.  And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. 

 

That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system.  This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives.  So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. 

 

You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime.  At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world.  Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure.  So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.     

 

Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality.  Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.

 

You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel.  As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.” 

 

So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew.  In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself.  When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it. 

 

And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians. 

 

Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties.  And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace.  No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction.  We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements.  And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.

 

And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. That is why, on Thursday, I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims – the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.

 

I know that stating these principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days. I was not entirely surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. And so I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.

 

Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.

 

Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.

 

And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.

 

Just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There is a reason why the Palestinians are pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process – or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab World, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world.

 

These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.

 

Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.

 

But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require. 

 

There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations. But since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday.

 

I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

 

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

 

That is what I said.  Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.

 

By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.

 

If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.

 

I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know that we can have this discussion.

 

Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed.  And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.

 

Even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security; even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us; and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead – I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything—if the story of Israel teaches us anything—it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.

 

The Talmud teaches us that so long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith. And that lesson seems especially fitting today,

 

For so long as there are those, across the Middle East and beyond, who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal. 

 

And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security.  This is not idealism or naivete. It’s a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.

 

Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel, and God bless the United States of America.  

Dennis Ross Speaks to AIPAC

Dennis Ross, Mark Aronchick and Rabbi Neil Cooper at Temple Beth Hillel Beth El in 2008
Remarks by Dennis Ross, Special Assistant to the President at the AIPAC Summit in Hollywood, Florida on October 25, 2010

It is always a pleasure to speak to AIPAC, one of the most active and well-informed foreign policy groups in the country.

I want to spend some time talking to you today about an issue you care deeply about and where the AIPAC membership has been deeply engaged: Iran.  It is also the issue on which I spend much of my time.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to your Policy Conference in Washington six months ago, she laid out the Obama administration’s fundamental approach to what is one of the most complicated and serious challenges facing the United States today.  It is an approach rooted in the fundamentals of diplomacy and statecraft: building leverage through creative and persistent diplomacy to change the behavior of a government insistent on threatening its neighbors, supporting terrorism, and pursuing a nuclear program in violation of its international obligations.

More after the jump.
The first step in this process was making an unmistakable offer of engagement to the Iranians to show their government – and the rest of the international community – that we were committed to resolving our long-standing differences with Iran through peaceful diplomacy on the basis of mutual respect.  We recognized that during the years of not talking, Iran significantly expanded its nuclear program and sowed its breed of terror and coercion across the region.

Engagement was also designed to take away excuses: the excuses of those in Iran who focused on blaming us for the failure of diplomacy; and the excuses of many in the international community who would not support additional pressure on Iran, because the United States was too often seen as part of the problem and not the solution.

And finally, engagement clearly signaled to Iran that there is a path of peace it could take by fulfilling its international obligations and restoring the confidence of the international community in the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

Iran’s own behavior over the past two years, however, has demonstrated that it prefers defiance and secrecy to transparency and peace.  Iran continues to provide incomplete information about its nuclear program to IAEA inspectors.  When it revealed last September that it had constructed a covert enrichment facility outside Qom, Iran only raised greater suspicions about its nuclear program.  The Iranian government’s continued repression and intimidation of its own people following the presidential election last year demonstrated the lack of respect it shows even to its own citizens.  And in the Middle East, Iran continues to rely on tactics of intimidation and coercion to gain influence, a pattern clearly on display during President Ahmadinejad’s provocative recent visit to Lebanon and through Iran’s ongoing support for Hizballah.    

So the combination of our diplomatic initiative and Iran’s behavior has helped build a broad-based international coalition that is now imposing significant pressure on Iran to change its behavior.

But that coalition did not emerge on its own.  It required President Obama’s commitment and leadership on this issue.  Over the past 18 months, the President has consistently devoted more time to this issue than almost any other national security challenge.  It has been a focal point in his meetings and conversations with President Medvedev of Russia and President Hu of China, with our European partners, and other key international leaders around the world.  The President’s focus on this issue has been matched with the same level of intensity by the rest of the administration, especially Secretary Clinton and our new National Security Advisor Tom Donilon, who tirelessly orchestrated our diplomatic campaign.  As a result of these efforts, we produced United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929, which established the most comprehensive set of sanctions on Iran to date.

UNSCR 1929 bans a wide range of Iranian activities including ballistic missile activity, Iranian investment in nuclear industries abroad, and the export of certain heavy weapons to Iran, which the Russians in particular have used as the basis for canceling the sale of an advanced air defense system to Iran.

The resolution provides mechanisms for inspecting Iranian cargo and seizing contraband, and requires member states to exercise vigilance when conducting business with any Iranian entity, including the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps and Iran’s shipping firm IRISL.

The resolution highlights the potential linkage between Iran’s energy sector revenues and procurement, proliferation, and its nuclear activities and.  And perhaps most significantly, the Resolution calls upon member states to prevent all financial services, including banking, insurance, and reinsurance if there are reasonable grounds to believe that such services could contribute to Iran’s nuclear or missile programs.  This provision, in particular, has provided the legal basis for states to take additional strong steps of their own.

Following the passage of 1929, we have seen the EU, and others in the international community from Australia and Canada to Japan and South Korea adopt additional sanctions measures of their own.  The EU prohibited the opening of new outlets of Iranian banks, the establishment of any new correspondent accounts by Iranian banks, and the provision of insurance or re-insurance to the Government of Iran or any Iranian entity.  In other words, Iran is no longer able to conduct business as usual abroad.  

And of course, with strong encouragement from AIPAC, Congress amplified all of these measures by passing the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act, which the President signed on July 1.  This was a completely bipartisan bill indicating that the entire American political spectrum views the challenge of Iran as a foremost national security priority of the United State.  

This legislation makes it increasingly difficult for companies doing certain business in Iran to do business with the United States.  It makes it harder for the Iranian government to purchase and trade refined petroleum and the goods, services and materials to modernize Iran’s oil and natural gas sector.  It makes it harder for the Revolutionary Guards and banks that support Iran’s nuclear programs and terrorism to engage in international finance.  And companies that want to work with the United States government must now certify that they’re not engaged in prohibited business with Iran.

When Secretary Clinton spoke to you in March, she noted, “Our aim is not incremental sanctions, but sanctions that will bite.”  I think it is fair to say that over the last several months, we have produced biting sanctions.

Here are some of the results we have observed since the adoption of USCR 1929 and the additional sanctions measures:

  • More and more international companies and foreign subsidiaries of American companies have stopped doing business in Iran.  These include:  Toyota, Kia, Daimler, Lukoil, Allianz, Lloyds, Royal Dutch Shell, and many others.
  • Major fuel suppliers, such as Total and TUPRAS are cutting back fuel shipments to Iran, forcing Iran to divert its own fuel production capabilities to cover domestic needs.
  • At the same time, investors in Iran’s energy sector are pulling out of projects, making it far more difficult for Iran to modernize its infrastructure or develop new oil and gas fields.  These include Royal Dutch Shell, the Spanish firm Repsol, and the Japanese energy firm INPEX.  Iran has been unable to increase production despite the presence of large oil and gas reserves, and its actual production will likely begin declining in the near future as a result of these difficulties.  Iran has limited abilities to advance Liquified Natural Gas projects, because the western companies with the required specialized technologies and services are now unwilling to work in Iran.
  • Earlier in October, the Iranian rial experienced a sudden drop in value by 10-20 percent, and the Central Bank had to intervene to stabilize the currency.  Iran is struggling to sell its currency abroad and access hard currency from its traditional suppliers.  The currency run is symptomatic of the public’s concern that the government is mismanaging the economy.  With an unhealthy and unstable banking sector, Iran’s currency problems are likely to get even worse.
  • Bazaari merchants in several cities including Tehran and Shiraz went on strike in July and again in October to protest government plans to impose value added taxes on certain guilds.  These are the kinds of reactions we can expect to see from Iranians as the government moves to raise funds to make up for economic mismanagement.
  • And we have already seen the Iranian government postpone a decision to implement a drastic cut in domestic subsidies due to the unrest it expects will take place when it has to raise prices on heavily subsidized gasoline and other important items.  With high unemployment and inflation, Iran has little margin for error.

The point here is that the pressure on Iran only continues to grow.

As my colleague Stuart Levey from the Treasury Department circles the globe explaining sanctions measures to governments and companies, and highlighting the risks of doing business with Iran, we expect that more banks and more industries will continue to cut ties with Iran.  The Iranians are a proud people – and rightfully so.  Their heritage and civilization are worthy of international respect and admiration.  But the Iranian people are now experiencing isolation because of the actions of their government.

Sanctions, like engagement, were always intended as a tool, not as an end to themselves.  There is no question Iran has been surprised by the magnitude of the sanctions and the depth of support for them in the international community.  They can no longer rely on those in the international community they thought would block such measures on their behalf.

Ultimately, we hope that the severe pressure Iran faces today will compel a change in behavior.  The door for diplomacy is still open and we certainly seek a peaceful resolution to our conflict with Iran.  But should Iran continue its defiance, despite its growing isolation and the damage to its economy, its leaders should listen carefully to President Obama who has said many times, “we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Before I leave you today, I’d like to say a few words about the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel, which is of course foremost on your minds.

I was fortunate to be able to visit Israel with then-Senator Obama in the summer of 2008.  I saw through his engagements with Israeli officials and with the Israeli people, including in Sderot, that he immediately understood Israel’s unique situation, its achievements, and the many threats it still faces.  The President has insisted repeatedly that our commitment to Israel is rock solid.  I see this commitment every day in the serious and unique manner in which we work to improve Israel’s security.

Just last week, I participated in the U.S.-Strategic Dialogue, a biannual event that includes a comprehensive exchange of views on regional issues crucial to both the United State and Israel.  It is a serious discussion among inter-agency representatives from both sides, and this administration has upgraded the level of our participation.

But more importantly, the Strategic Dialogue is just one of many, ongoing, and high-level exchanges that occur regularly between the United States in Israel.  I’m not aware of another country that we engage more regularly on such a wide range of issues.  These types of exchanges not only provide opportunities for discussion of ideas on policy, but they also help solidify connections between our two governments.  Over the last two years, I have seen four-star generals, intelligence officers, and high-ranking diplomats all develop personal relationships with their Israelis counterparts.

Frankly, this degree of coordination is unprecedented.  I have participated in these types of discussions for the last 30 years, and they have never been as intense or focused, reflecting the serious cooperation that we have today with Israel.

But our commitment to Israel’s security is defined not by talk.  It is defined by the kinds of actions and deeds that help make both of our countries safer and stronger in the face of common threats.  This year, President Obama decided to supplement our annual $3 billion in military assistance to Israel with a $205 million request to Congress to support Israel’s indigenously-developed Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.  This assistance comes in addition to the existing multi-year commitments we have made for jointly developing Israel’s David’s Sling and Arrow missile defense systems.

Our military regularly conducts exercises with the IDF, including the JUNIPER COBRA ballistic missile defense exercise in Israel a year ago that involved 1300 U.S. servicemen and women, as well as other exercises involving our Navy, Marines, and Air Force.  These commitments are real.  They are tangible.  And they solidify the truly special relationship between the United States and Israel.  

This administration’s commitment to Israel has also been demonstrated in our work to defeat efforts in international organizations to single out or delegitimize Israel.  Most recently, we successfully coordinated the opposition to a resolution at the IAEA General Conference singling out Israel’s nuclear program for rebuke.  A similar resolution passed in 2009, but together with our international partners, we defeated the resolution last month in part because the Obama administration has restored America’s standing in international organizations.  We will continue to stand up for Israel in these organizations, but there should be no mistake that our efforts are strengthened when Israel is actively participating in peace negotiations.

I don’t have time to go through how we are working intensively to jump-start negotiations today, but I do want to close with a couple of points about the need for peace and the importance for both sides to take the strategic and historic decisions that are required to preserve a two-state solution before it is too late.

First, while we will continue to do whatever we can to support Israel’s security needs and to fight efforts to delegitimize Israel, the only true way for Israel to gain the long-term security it deserves is through a genuine peace with its neighbors.  There is a struggle today in the region between radicals and pragmatists, between those aligned with Iran and those who are not, between those who reject peace and those who are prepared to coexist with Israel.  It is in our interests and in Israel’s interests for the pragmatists to succeed in that struggle.  It is in our mutual interests to strengthen the pragmatists and discredit the narrative of the rejectionists – and real progress toward peace can make a significant difference in this struggle.

Second, there has been remarkable progress on the ground in the West Bank over the past two years in security and the economy.  I remember conversations not so long ago with Israeli security officials doubting that Palestinian security forces could ever take serious steps against terrorism.  Today, the situation is very different.  Palestinian security forces have reached new levels of training and professionalism, and they coordinate more closely than ever with their Israeli counterparts.  They are committed to stopping the kind of violence that only feeds the conflict.  Just last week, Palestinian security forces uncovered a large cache of weapons in Ramallah that can no longer be used in support of terrorism.  These positive developments will be difficult to sustain if the prospects for peace look less and less real.

Third, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian Authority is building the kinds of transparent and effective institutions required for a functioning, independent state.  Fayyad has said many times that he models his efforts in part after Ben-Gurion’s record of building the institutions of Israel so that the state could function once it was established.  Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas represent unique Palestinian leaders committed to non-violence, negotiations, and state-building.  Their interest in peace represents a strategic opening and it should not be lost.

Now, no one is more familiar with the challenges of reaching an agreement than I am.  And there are serious and difficult issues that must be resolved both in the near-term and in the long-run to achieve an agreement and ensure that it lasts.  I am certainly under no illusions about how hard that will be.   But no one should underestimate the strategic importance of peace for Israelis, for Palestinians, and for the United States.

I hope that as you continue to advocate on behalf of the United States and Israel, you will continue to advocate for peace, security, and the decisions that will be necessary to realize these objectives.

Thank you very much.