State Department Labels Flotilla “Irresponsible and Provocative”

The State Department released a statement last Friday calling the potential Gaza flotilla “irresponsible and provocative.”

The statement said:

We are concerned that a number of groups are organizing a one year ‘anniversary’ flotilla to commemorate the incident by sailing from various European ports to Gaza in the near future. Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers. Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza. For example, humanitarian assistance can be delivered at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where cargo can be offloaded, inspected, and transported to Gaza. We urge all those seeking to provide such assistance to the people of Gaza to use these mechanisms, and not to participate in actions like the planned flotilla.

The statement explained that there is necessity for the Israeli blockade on Gaza:

Recent seizures by Israel and Egypt of advanced military systems, weapons, and ammunition bound for terrorist groups in Gaza, as well as periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians, highlight the continuing problem of illicit arms smuggling to Gaza. These seizures underscore the vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.

They expressed a positive outlook on the humanitarian situation in Gaza:

The United States remains concerned by conditions in Gaza, but notes that the humanitarian situation has significantly improved over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the gradual expansion of exports. The United States will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, donors, and the international community to do more and ensure that the needs of the people of Gaza are being met.

The statement concluded:

We also continue to call on Hamas to play a constructive role by renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and accepting past agreements. We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.

Full statement from the State Department follows the jump.
Gaza “Anniversary” Flotilla
Victoria Nuland
Department Spokesperson, Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
June 24, 2011

Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the confrontation between Israeli forces and activists when a flotilla attempted to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza on May 31, 2010. The United States deeply regrets the tragic loss of life and injuries suffered among those involved in that incident aboard the Gaza bound ships.

We are concerned that a number of groups are organizing a one year “anniversary” flotilla to commemorate the incident by sailing from various European ports to Gaza in the near future. Groups that seek to break Israel’s maritime blockade of Gaza are taking irresponsible and provocative actions that risk the safety of their passengers. Established and efficient mechanisms exist to transfer humanitarian assistance to Gaza. For example, humanitarian assistance can be delivered at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where cargo can be offloaded, inspected, and transported to Gaza. We urge all those seeking to provide such assistance to the people of Gaza to use these mechanisms, and not to participate in actions like the planned flotilla.

Recent seizures by Israel and Egypt of advanced military systems, weapons, and ammunition bound for terrorist groups in Gaza, as well as periodic rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza against Israeli civilians, highlight the continuing problem of illicit arms smuggling to Gaza. These seizures underscore the vital importance to Israel’s security of ensuring that all cargo bound for Gaza is appropriately screened for illegal arms and dual-use materials.

The United States remains concerned by conditions in Gaza, but notes that the humanitarian situation has significantly improved over the last year, including a marked increase in the range and scope of goods and materials moving into Gaza, an increase in international project activity, and the gradual expansion of exports. The United States will continue to work with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, donors, and the international community to do more and ensure that the needs of the people of Gaza are being met.

We also continue to call on Hamas to play a constructive role by renouncing violence, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and accepting past agreements. We underscore that delivering or attempting or conspiring to deliver material support or other resources to or for the benefit of a designated foreign terrorist organization, such as Hamas, could violate U.S. civil and criminal statutes and could lead to fines and incarceration.

Barack Obama on the Middle East: A Moment of Opportunity

Remarks of President Barack Obama at the U.S. Department of State

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace….

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.

My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

Full text and background material from the White House follow the jump.
I want to thank Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark – one million frequent flyer miles. I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy. For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change take place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square; town by town; country by country; the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights. Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow. And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith.

Today, I would like to talk about this change – the forces that are driving it, and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security. Already, we have done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts. After years of war in Iraq, we have removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there. In Afghanistan, we have broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue transition to Afghan lead. And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader – Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr. He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate – an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change. He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy – not what he could build.

Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents. But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life. By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia. On December 17, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart. This was not unique. It is the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world – the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity. Only this time, something different happened. After local officials refused to hear his complaint, this young man who had never been particularly active in politics went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

Sometimes, in the course of history, the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years. In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat. So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands. And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home – day after day, week after week, until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this Revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise. The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not.  In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of the few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn – no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

This lack of self determination – the chance to make of your life what you will – has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere. The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half century after the end of colonialism. Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression. Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and diversion won’t work anymore. Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world – a world of astonishing progress in places like India, Indonesia and Brazil. Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before. A new generation has emerged. And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.”

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now. It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.”

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region. And through the moral force of non-violence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily. In our day and age – a time of 24 hour news cycles, and constant communication – people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks. But it will be years before this story reaches its end. Along the way, there will be good days, and bad days. In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual. And as we have seen, calls for change may give way to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds. For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them. We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks. People everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut off in energy supplies. As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind. Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our own interests at their expense. Given that this mistrust runs both ways – as Americans have been seared by hostage taking, violent rhetoric, and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens – a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities.

That’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then – and I believe now – that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self determination of individuals. The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

As we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility. It is not America that put people into the streets of Tunis and Cairo – it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and must determine their outcome. Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short term interests do not align perfectly with our long term vision of the region. But we can – and will – speak out for a set of core principles – principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.

We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran.

And finally, we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest- today I am making it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.  

That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab World’s largest nation. Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections; a vibrant civil society; accountable and effective democratic institutions; and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have been answered by violence. The most extreme example is Libya, where Moammar Gaddafi launched a war against his people, promising to hunt them down like rats. As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to impose regime change by force – no matter how well-intended it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help. Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed. The message would have been clear: keep power by killing as many people as it takes. Now, time is working against Gaddafi. He does not have control over his country. The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council. And when Gaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it is not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power. Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens. The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime – including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad

Thus far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression. This speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet suppresses its people at home. Let us remember that the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran. The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory. And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Our opposition to Iran’s intolerance – as well as its illicit nuclear program, and its sponsorship of terror – is well known. But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for change consistent with the principles that I have outlined today. That is true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. And that is true, today, in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a long-standing partner, and we are committed to its security. We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. Nevertheless, we have insisted publically and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict. In Iraq, we see the promise of a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian democracy. There, the Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence for a democratic process, even as they have taken full responsibility for their own security. Like all new democracies, they will face setbacks. But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress. As they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region. Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we will need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike. Our message is simple: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future – particularly young people.

We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo – to build networks of entrepreneurs, and expand exchanges in education; to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease. Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths. And we will use the technology to connect with – and listen to – the voices of the people.

In fact, real reform will not come at the ballot box alone. Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information. We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard – whether it’s a big news organization or a blogger. In the 21st century, information is power; the truth cannot be hidden; and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them. We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion – not consent. Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion. In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.” America will work to see that this spirit prevails – that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them. In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation. And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women. History shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are  empowered. That is why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men – by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office. For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.

Even as we promote political reform and human rights in the region, our efforts cannot stop there. So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that transition to democracy.

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets. The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family. Too many in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, and perhaps the hope that their luck will change. Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job. Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from them.

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people. In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world. It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google. That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street. Just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

Drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; and investment, not just assistance.  The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness; the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young. America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy – starting with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we have asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G-8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt. Together, we must help them recover from the disruption of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.  And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we are working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt. These will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall. OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.  And we will work with allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. If you take out oil exports, this region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland. So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement. Just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress – the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect. We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts anti-corruption; by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to hold government accountable.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region. For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own. Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security, prosperity, and empowerment to ordinary people.

My Administration has worked with the parties and the international community for over two years to end this conflict, yet expectations have gone unmet. Israeli settlement activity continues. Palestinians have walked away from talks. The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on for decades, and sees a stalemate. Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure. Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection. And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums. But precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself. A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people – not just a few leaders – must believe peace is possible. The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve 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.

So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear: a viable Palestine, and a secure Israel. 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.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met. I know that these steps alone will not resolve this conflict. Two wrenching and emotional issues remain: the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees. But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians.

Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table. In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel – how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist. In the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question. Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be. Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past. We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones. He said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.” And we see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza. “I have the right to feel angry,” he said. “So many people were expecting me to hate. My answer to them is I shall not hate…Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow”

That is the choice that must be made – not simply in this conflict, but across the entire region – a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past, and the promise of the future. It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful. In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests. In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, ‘peaceful,’ ‘peaceful.’ In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known. Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful civil war that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved. And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of non-violence as a way to perfect our union – organizing, marching, and protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.”

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa – words which tell us that repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. It will not be easy. There is no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope. But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves. Now, we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.


FACT SHEET: “A Moment of Opportunity” in the Middle East and North Africa

“So we face an historic opportunity. We have embraced the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity. Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.” – President Barack Obama, May 19, 2011 Washington, DC

Today, recognizing the irreversible changes that have taken place in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months, President Obama announced a new approach to promoting democratic reform, economic development, and peace and security across the region.

Aligning Our Interests and Our Values:  The President reaffirmed his commitment to a set of core principles that have guided the U.S. response to events in the Middle East and North Africa for the past six months.  First, the United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. Second, we support a set of universal rights including free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly and association; equality for men and women under the rule of law; the right to practice your religion without fear of violence or discrimination; and the right to choose your own leaders through democratic elections. Third, we support political and economic change in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of the people throughout the region.  

Our support for these principles is a top priority and central to the pursuit of other interests in the region.  The U.S. will marshal all our diplomatic, economic, and strategic tools to support these principles.  The status quo is not fair, nor stable.  And it can no longer secure the core interests of the United States.  Ultimately, our values and our interests will be better advanced by a region that is more democratic and prosperous.

Promoting Democratic Reform:  It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy.  Real and durable democratic change in Tunisia and Egypt could have a transformative effect on the region and beyond.  We will support free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, basic rights to speak your mind and access information, and strong democratic institutions in both nations.  We will empower women as drivers of peace and prosperity, supporting their right to run for office and meaningfully participate in decision-making because, around the world, history shows that countries are more prosperous and peaceful when women are more empowered.  And we will deliver an economic program that reinforces our strong support for the transitions that are now underway.

The United States will also stand up for human rights and democracy in those countries where transitions have yet to take place.  We will make the case to our partners that reform is in our shared interest.  We will be a strong voice for democratic reform – a message we will deliver consistently, at high-levels, and across the U.S. government.  We will strengthen and protect advocates for reform.  Our message to governments in the region will be simple and clear: if you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the support and partnership of the United States.

A New Chapter of American Diplomacy: As the U.S. continues to work with governments, we will broaden and elevate our engagement with the people of the region.  Building on our efforts since Cairo, our engagement will reach beyond elites and extend beyond capitals, cultivating reformist voices both inside and outside government.  We will engage with and listen to those that will shape the future, particularly young people and women.  Across the region, we will provide assistance to legitimate and independent groups, including some not officially recognized by governments.  And we will expand and deepen our ties with entrepreneurs, and our cooperation on science and technology.  We will engage, too, with all groups that reject violence, support democratic practices, and respect the rights of minorities, even if we don’t agree with them. Using the same connective technologies that helped power the protests, we will connect and listen to the people of the region and factor the concerns of all these individuals and groups into our policy choices.

Making this strategic shift in our own approach will not always be easy.  It demands that we renew and reshape our partnerships with governments in the region, and forge a deeper connection to a new generation that is desperate for a new beginning.  President Obama will issue a Presidential Directive in the coming weeks to direct his Cabinet and national security team to put this new approach into action.

The United States is already putting this approach into practice across the region:

Bahrain:
The United States is committed to Bahrain’s security.  However, we believe that reform is the only path to enduring stability in Bahrain and that both sides must compromise to forge a just future for all Bahrainis. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.
 Egypt:
The United States supports an orderly, peaceful, and legitimate transition to a representative and responsive government committed to democratic principles in Egypt.  It is important to empower positive models, and Egypt is critical as the largest Arab country and an enduring partner of the United States.  We are encouraged by some of the steps that the interim government has taken on the political front, and we support a fully transparent and inclusive process moving forward.  The U.S. is working with the international community to identify ways to stabilize Egypt’s economy in the short-term and promote economic policies for the medium and long-term that will help ensure economic prosperity accompanies the transition.
Jordan:
The United States is committed to our long-standing partnership with Jordan – a regional leader on political and economic reform.  We recognize the government’s efforts to respond to the legitimate demands of citizens through the National Dialogue Committee, and urge Jordan’s leadership to seize this opportunity to advance meaningful reforms.  U.S economic assistance supports Jordan’s economic growth and development and promotes political, economic, and social reforms though programs in judicial reform, education, public health, job creation, and youth empowerment.  We are also working with non-governmental partners is Jordan to cultivate a vibrant civil society.  The United States also remains committed to Jordan’s security and continues to provide security assistance aimed at, among other things, modernizing the Jordanian military and enhancing border security.  
 Libya:
The United States led an international effort to intervene in Libya to stop a massacre – joining with with our allies at the UN Security Council to pass a historic resolution that authorized a no-fly zone and further authorized all necessary measures to protect the Libyan people.  At the start of the air campaign, the President pledged to the American people that U.S. military action would be limited in duration and scope and that we would ultimately transition from a U.S. to a coalition lead. The President has made good on that pledge. Now that we have transitioned to a NATO lead, we will continue to play an important role in the international community’s effort to put pressure on Col. Qaddafi and to protect innocent civilians that his regime continues to attack.  The President has made clear, Qaddafi has lost the confidence of the Libyan people and he must go.  At the same time, the United States is engaging and assisting the Transitional National Council, a legitimate and credible interlocutor, which is committed to an inclusive, democratic political transition in Libya.  We are also working to address humanitarian needs in Libya and along its borders.
 Morocco:  
The United States supports Morocco’s efforts to promote ongoing democratic development through constitutional, judicial, and political reforms.  We recognize the Moroccan government’s efforts to respond the demands of its citizens and we urge the government to implement these crucial reforms.  We are working with the people and the government of Morocco to support their efforts to consolidate the rule of law, protect human rights, improve governance, empower youth, and works towards meaningful constitutional reform.  This includes a robust dialogue on human rights and political freedom.
Syria:
The United States condemns the Syrian government’s murder and mass arrests of its people.  We have imposed additional sanctions on the regime, including on President Assad and his inner circle. We stand by the Syrian people who have shown their courage in demanding dignity and a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way.  
Tunisia:
The United States is committed to supporting the Tunisian people as they build the stronger democratic foundations needed for long-term stability and broad-based economic growth.  We welcome the significant steps that have been taken to advance the democratic transition, and will support Tunisians inside and outside of government as they hold democratic elections, craft a new constitution, and implement a broad-based reform agenda. We will support a new partnership between Tunisian civil society groups and technology companies in order to get more information, communications capacity available broadly throughout society.
Yemen:  
The United States supports the aspirations of the Yemeni people for a more stable, unified, and prosperous nation, and we are committed to assisting them in this courageous pursuit.  We are also committed to assisting Yemen to eradicate the security threat from al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula.  President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power. We support a peaceful and orderly transfer of power that begins immediately.

Supporting Economic Development: To ensure that democratic change is reinforced by increasing economic opportunity, the President laid out a new economic vision for the region to support nations that commit to transition to democracy. We will also focus on rooting out corruption and other barriers to progress.  Our efforts will create incentives for nations to pursue a path to democracy and modern economies and will also help tap the enormous potential of the region’s young people. Our approach is based around four key pillars – support for economic policy formulation, support for economic stability, support for economic modernization, and the development of a framework for trade integration and investment.

Support for Better Economic Management: We will offer concrete support to foster improved economic policy formulation and management alongside our democratization efforts.  We will focus not only on promoting economic fundamentals, but also transparency and the prevention of corruption.  We will use our bilateral programs to support economic reform preparations, including outreach and technical assistance from our governments, universities, and think tanks to regional governments that have embraced reform, individuals, and NGOs.  We will mobilize the knowledge and expertise of international financial institutions to support home grown reforms that increase accountability.

Support for Economic Stability: Egypt and Tunisia have begun their transitions.  Their economic outlooks were positive before recent events, but they are now facing a series of economic dislocations.

  • Galvanizing Financial Support:  We are galvanizing financial support from international financial institutions and Egypt and Tunisia’s regional partners to help meet near term financial needs.
  • Turning the Debts of the Past Into Investments in the Future: The United States will relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt by designing a debt swap arrangement, and swap it in a way that allows Egypt to invest these resources in creating jobs and fostering entrepreneurship.

Support for Economic Modernization: We realize that the modernization of the economies in Middle East and North Africa will require a stronger private sector.  To address that, we are committed to working with our international counterparts to support a reorientation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to support countries in the region.  The Bank played a crucial role in supporting democratization and economic transition in Central and Eastern Europe and can make a great contribution in Middle East and North Africa as well.  We also seek to establish Egyptian-American and Tunisian-American Enterprise Funds to stimulate private sector investment, to promote projects and procedures that support competitive markets, and to encourage public/private partnerships.  And as Secretary Clinton announced in Cairo, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) will provide up to $2 billion dollars in financial support for private sectors throughout the MENA region.

Develop a Framework for Trade Integration and Investment:  The United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa. We will work with the European Union as we launch step-by-step initiatives that will facilitate more robust trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote greater integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.

(For more detail, see the Economic Support for the Middle East and North Africa Fact Sheet)  

Promoting Peace and Security: Even as we change our policy approach in response to political and economic changes in region, the United States maintains its commitment to pursue peace and stability in the region.  We remain committed to our non-proliferation agenda in the region and worldwide and continue to demand that Iran meets its international obligation to halt its nuclear weapons program.  Our counterterrorism agenda is as robust as ever, as evidenced by the recent takedown of Osama bin Laden.  We will continue to take the fight to al Qa`ida  and its affiliates wherever they are.

The Broad Outlines of Middle East Peace:   The President seeks to shape an environment in which negotiations can restart when the parties are ready.   He intends to do this laying out principles on territorial borders and security.

On territory, the boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian state should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. On security the Palestinian state must be non-militarized, and the full and phased withdrawal of Israeli forces would be geared to the ability of Palestinian security forces and other arrangements as agreed to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; stop the infiltration of weapons; and provide effective border security.  The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and may vary for different areas like borders. But it must be sufficient to demonstrate the effectiveness and credibility of security arrangements.  Once Palestinians can be confident in the outlines of their state, and Israelis are confident that the new Palestinian state will not imperil its security, the parties will be in a position to grapple with the core issues of refugees and Jerusalem.

Ultimately, it is up to Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them, nor can endless delay make the problem go away. But what America and the international community can do is state frankly what everyone knows: a lasting peace will involve 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.

Ending the Combat Mission in Iraq, Building a Strategic Partnership: President Obama kept his commitment to responsibly end our combat mission in Iraq, bringing home 100,000 troops and transitioning to a full Iraqi lead for security in the country. Consistent with the 2008 Security Agreement, the United States intends to withdraw our remaining troops by the end of the year, while our civilians strengthen an enduring partnership with the Iraqi people and government in economic, diplomatic, cultural, and security fields.

Surged in Afghanistan: The strategy in Afghanistan is working.  With the addition of 30,000 U.S. forces, nearly 10,000 coalition forces, and almost 1000 civilians, the surge is achieving its intended effect.  We have arrested the Taliban’s momentum and placed the insurgency under significant military pressure.  Increasingly, our collective efforts are focused intensely on providing trainers and funding for Afghan National Security Forces to support their assuming lead security responsibility, significantly growing the Afghan Security Forces to nearly 300,000. Even as we begin to reduce our U.S. combat forces this July, and increasingly focus on advising and assisting the Afghan security forces, we are working toward completion of a renewed partnership agreement with the Afghans that will affirm our enduring commitment to stability in Afghanistan.  Finally, we are equally committed to an Afghan-led political process toward a peaceful resolution.

Focused on Al Qa`ida: We have applied unprecedented pressure to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qa`ida and its adherents. We have disrupted plots at home, and increased military, intelligence, and diplomatic support to expand the capacity of our partners from Pakistan to Yemen; from Southeast Asia to Somalia. Over half of Al Qa`ida’s top leadership has been killed or captured, including, most recently, Al Qa`ida’s leader, Osama bin Laden.  As the President noted in announcing Bin Laden’s death to the American people, his demise does not mark the end of our effort, as al-Qa`ida remains intent on and capable of striking the United States and our partners.

Political Change in the Middle East and North Africa: The United States has demonstrated with its response to the political change in the Middle East and North Africa that promoting representative, responsive governance is a core tenet of U.S. foreign policy and directly contributes to our counterterrorism goals.  Governments that place the will of their people first and encourage peaceful change through their policies, systems, and actions directly contradict the al-Qa`ida ideology, which at its core advocates for violent change and dismisses the right of the people to choose how they will be governed.  Effective governance reduces the traction and space for al-Qa`ida, limiting its resonance and contributing to what it most fears-irrelevance.  

Standing Up for Universal Rights in Iran: The Administration has strongly condemned Iran’s violent repression at home and will continue to call on the government of Iran to allow the Iranian people the universal right to peacefully assemble and communicate.  Just as we hold Iran accountable for its defiance of its international obligations on the nuclear program, we will continue to take actions to hold the Iranian government accountable for its gross human rights violations, including by designating Iranian officials and entities engaged in such violations.  We will continue to provide capacity building training and new media tools to help Iranian citizens and civil society make their voices heard in calling for greater freedoms, transparency, and rule of law from their government.  

Hasidic Paper Removes Hillary From Situation Room Photo


Text of White House Press release which accompanied the photo:

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011. Seated, from left, are: Brigadier General Marshall B. “Brad” Webb, Assistant Commanding General, Joint Special Operations Command; Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough; Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton; and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Standing, from left, are: Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Advisor Tom Donilon; Chief of Staff Bill Daley; Tony Binken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; Audrey Tomason Director for Counterterrorism; John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Please note: a classified document seen in this photograph has been obscured. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.

Dennis Ross at J Street Conference 2011

Ambassador Dennis Ross is Special Assistant to the President and the Department of State’s Senior Director for the Central Region. He spoke today at  J Street’s Annual Conference in Washington, DC

When J Street began planning this conference, I’m sure you had in mind discussing a very different reality in the Middle East than exists today.  But a few months can feel like an eternity in the Middle East, and we have seen a remarkable transformation in the region over the last several weeks.  For the first time in generations, people in Tunisia and then Egypt took to the streets and unseated their leaders through popular, peaceful protests.  Thousands of people have followed them from Algeria to Bahrain to Yemen where we have seen governments begin to respond with different degrees of effectiveness.  And we have also seen utterly appalling violence in Libya where a detached and brutal leadership has chosen a desperate and irresponsible response to its people’s legitimate demands.

A few months ago, it was difficult to envision a Middle East without Ben Ali and Mubarak, stalwart representatives of an old order who governed with the belief that intimidation could preserve their rule.  Now, as we enter a period of uncertainty, and seek to ensure that the transitions in Egypt and Tunisia are peaceful, orderly and credible, we need to begin thinking about the Middle East in new ways.  As President Obama said a couple of weeks ago,

“The world is changing; you have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity, and that if you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change.  You can’t be behind the curve.”

This morning I would like to talk to you about what has happened in Egypt, its impact on the region, and the actions taken by the Obama Administration in the region and beyond.  

More after the jump.
One thing became very clear on January 25th when the first group of brave young Egyptian men and women descended on Tahrir Square: the status quo in Egypt was neither stable nor sustainable.  For years, the Mubarak regime imposed its rule through a sprawling security apparatus operating under a three-decades-old Emergency Law.
But Egypt’s revolution showed that repression alone cannot stifle dissent.  That was the age-old tactic of the Mubarak regime: to arrest dissidents and activists; restrict the formation of political parties; and limit exposure to independent voices in the media.  The parliamentary elections in November where the ruling National Democratic Party and associated independents won 95 percent of 500 seats was a clear indication of the regime’s intention to disregard all suggestions to open political space.   The problem, however, was that the frustrations of the Egyptian people were growing and were being infused with a new dynamism from Egypt’s youth who have a profound yearning to join the 21st century.  They want jobs, housing, and a future that offers opportunity.  Unable to meet those needs and unwilling to satisfy the desire for openness, the Egyptian government fell back to what it knew best: coercion.

One case in particular exemplifies the fallacy of the old-fashioned thinking that dissident voices could simply be intimidated through force.  Last June, a 28-year-old businessman was pulled out of an internet café and beaten to death on the street by thugs from the security forces.  His crime: posting examples of police corruption on a blog.
His name was Khalid Said, and within five days of his death, a Facebook page was created called, “We are All Khalid Said.”  Within weeks, 130,000 people joined the page, which now has almost half a million followers.  And we now know that the page’s founder was a young Google executive named Wael Ghonim, who himself became a powerful symbol of the opposition following his disappearance and detention for 12 days during the protests.

Many of us who have followed Egypt’s problems for years, assumed the regime was simply too strong and repression was too pervasive for significant change to take place overnight.  As my friend Hala Mustafa, the editor of the Egyptian journal, Democracy¸ warned in the Washington Post in 2005,

“Unless the security services are reined in, real political change and efforts to implement ‘reform from within’ will continue to be blocked in Egypt and across the Middle East.  The enlightened political elite will remain powerless, individuals who can make genuine contributions will be systematically targeted, moderate groups and trends will continue to be excluded, and most citizens will remain absent from political life. In a word, the political arena will still echo only one voice.”

 The irony, of course, is that when the political space is restricted to one voice, frustration is bound to deepen, and when it comes to the surface, it is more likely to boil over quickly.  

The youth of the January 25th movement showed their countrymen how to overcome their fear and were soon joined by Egyptians of all walks of life who maintained a peaceful but persistent call for change.  Not that long ago, as many of you may rememeber, Egyptians were seized by heightened sectarian tensions and attacks against the Christian minority.  But the truly national movement that emerged in Tahrir Square witnessed both faiths, Muslim and Christian, praying together in an ultimate symbol of unity of purpose.

President Obama recognized the magnitude of change in Egypt very quickly.  He stated early on that Egypt could not go back to the way it was and the government had to take meaningful and tangible steps immediately to respond to the legitimate demands of the protesters.  That is what we communicated to our range of contacts within the Egyptian government including to President Mubarak directly.  It is important to note that conversation did not begin on January 25th.  Throughout our administration, we have stressed to the Egyptians the importance of opening the political system by taking tangible steps, such as lifting the Emergency Law and allowing international monitors to supervise last year’s parliamentary elections.   The Mubarak government chose not to heed these warnings, just as they did not realize the magnitude of the problem they faced on January 25th.

From the outset of Egypt’s upheaval, we made clear that the United States cannot dictate how others run their societies, but we also emphasized our support for universal principles, including freedom of assembly, association, speech, and access to information.

We stressed all along that the demonstrations should be peaceful-and so should the government’s response.  As the President stressed repeatedly, “We don’t believe in violence and coercion as a way of maintaining control.”

We encouraged inclusive negotiations between the government and a broad range of opposition and civil society figures, with the aim of supporting concrete reform and irreversible political change.  We expressed the belief that the best way for the government to demonstrate its commitment to reform was for it to articulate a timetable and roadmap to the constitutional and political changes needed, and to lift the Emergency Law.   We have sustained a broad outreach to a diverse range of nongovernmental and governmental actors in Egypt to encourage a negotiated transition and made it clear we support principles, processes, and institution-building – not personalities.

Now that Egypt enters a particularly delicate phase, we have committed to helping in any way we can.  Specifically, we reassigned $150 million in assistance to support Egypt’s democratic transition and aid in its economic recovery.  Despite the extraordinary budget difficulties facing our country, now is not the time to cut aid to Egypt.  The stakes are simply too high.  Egypt has long been a symbolic and practical leader of the Middle East.  The region looks to Egypt and will continue to do so now more than ever as other people from Algeria to Yemen seek to assert their own rights, and other governments determine how to respond to growing citizen demands.  If Egypt’s transition succeeds in establishing a truly representative and responsible government, it will establish a positive model for others and it will affect the whole Middle East.

While we have been encouraged by its initial steps, Egypt, as the President has said, is just at the beginning of its transition.  We have applauded the military’s professionalism and performance during the protests, choosing to safeguard the population at a time of great uncertainty.   The Egyptian military has been a source of stability throughout this period, but it now has an enormous responsibility for which there are no courses in military academies: to supervise an orderly, safe, and credible transition back to civilian rule.  The military has committed itself to undertaking such a transition, and we maintain excellent contacts with the military with whom our own armed forces have worked so closely for several decades.  We are also encouraged that in two of their early communiqués, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces reaffirmed its commitment to abide by all regional and international treaties, including its peace with Israel.  Maintaining that position will be critical for Egypt’s continued responsible leadership in the region and beyond-and that responsible, leading role is something we all clearly want to see.

As I said earlier, the challenges facing Egypt are not unique.  Over the last few weeks, demonstrations have occurred in Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Libya, Morocco, Yemen, and, also Iran.  Each of these countries has particular circumstances, but if there is one lesson these governments should take away from Hosni Mubarak’s final days in office, it ought to be that repression does not pay.   That is why a smarter path for each and every government in the region to pursue is one of open, transparent, and credible reform to establish new, more legitimate contracts between governments and populations.  So far, we have seen initial positive steps in some places.  The King and Crown Prince of Bahrain have pursued a national dialogue initiative with the full spectrum of Bahraini society – an effort we strongly support.  This week, Algeria lifted its Emergency Law that had been in place for 19 years, a step President Obama commended.  These are important moves, but they are only just the beginning.  Each and every government across the Middle East has a responsibility to its citizens to take serious and credible steps toward reform, and to uphold the universal rights of freedom of expression, association, and assembly.  Those who have directed or encouraged violence must stop immediately.  As the President told Chanceller Merkel of Germany over the weekend, “When a leader’s only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now.

We have been looking closely at these challenges across the region for some time.  In fact, last August, the President signed a directive seeking a government-wide study on political reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  For several months, we held weekly interagency meetings examining questions of political reform across the region, looking at past efforts at reform in the region, assessing the lessons from other areas, and considering different kinds of options and approaches.  That preparation and process has helped us respond quickly and effectively to the events of the past month, and will help guide our regional focus on encouraging governments in the region to take on meaningful political reforms going forward.

While the challenges of governance and reform are certainly foremost on our minds given the dramatic events of the past few weeks, I want to emphasize that we have not lost track of our core priorities across the region: maintaining our strong security partnerships, actively pursuing peace between Israel and its neighbors, and keeping the pressure on Iran.  Throughout the crisis in Egypt, we had close and ongoing consultations with our regional partners to share our assessments of the situation, explain our policies, and assure them of our continued commitments to their security.  In the past weeks, the President, the Vice President, the Secretary of State and many others on the national security team have spoken multiple times to key leaders throughout the region.  This week, Admiral Mullen, General Mattis, and senior state department officials have been in the Middle East.  And we are working as intensively with our partners in Europe to develop an effective assistance plan to help Egypt and Tunisia.  We have also been working closely with the Europeans and others on the steps that we unilaterally and collectively can take to respond to the crisis in Libya by conveying a unified international voice about the atrocities there and providing necessary humanitarian assistance.   That unity of purpose was reflected in the unanimous passage of UN Security Council Resolution 1970 on Saturday night  –  a Chapter VII resolution that strongly condemns the crimes of the Libyan regime, and imposes an arms embargo and economic sanctions.  It was also the first time in history where there was unanimous support for referring the investigation of such crimes to the International Criminal Court.  

During this period we have also stayed in close touch with the Israelis.   We understand well that while change in Egypt is a source of concern for many in the region, for Israel, it has profound meaning.  Historically, Egypt broke the circle of isolation and denial of Israel.  Peace – even cold peace – with Egypt has fundamentally altered the prospect for wider wars in the Middle East.  Understandably, many Israelis worried about the meaning of change and wondered whether it might not be better to hold onto the old order.  But as events unfolded, and the problems that Mubarak’s regime had created became more apparent, many Israelis also came to see that the longer those problems festered, the more the extremists would benefit.  That is the last thing that we want to see.  

In this context and in this environment, it is also important to reaffirm a fundamental principle of the Obama administration’s policy toward the region: our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.  Despite all the budgetary challenges, we have protected support for Israel and maintained full funding of the Iron Dome anti-rocket system that will significantly enhance Israel’s defenses against short-range rockets and mortars.  Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mullen recently traveled to Israel to attend the farewell ceremony for outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Ashkenazi, symbolizing the close relations of the very top echelons of our militaries.  Our ongoing strategic discussions with the Israelis have taken on a character, a range of issues, intensity, and a frequency that is simply unprecedented.  This is important not just because these steps demonstrate our commitment to our long-standing ally, but because a strong and confident Israel is one that can take the risks necessary for peace-particularly during a time of great transition in the region.

If Israel can view one lesson from the events in Egypt, it is the danger of getting stuck with an unsustainable status quo.  Just as the frustrations in Egypt grew over time, we should all recognize that the conflict with the Palestinians will only become more intractable over time.  Our efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace are ongoing, even when they are less visible.  Next week, they will continue with meetings between representatives of the Quartet and Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.  I am not going to talk at length about these efforts, but I would like to make two broad points.

First, because there are a number clocks that are ticking, the longer it takes to forge an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, the harder it will be to forge a two-state solution that meets the needs of both sides.  For example, the demographic clock is ticking and it is only a matter of time before it challenges the very foundations of the Zionist dream of a Jewish and democratic state. The biological clock is ticking, and as a younger generation grows up with conflict and occupation and fading prospects for peace, the less likely we will be to see new leaders emerge who believe in coexistence.  And as the struggle between rejectionists and pragmatists continues across the region, there is a technological clock that will empower those committed to violence with increasingly deadly and indiscriminate weapons of terror that can spoil peace at any moment.  Hamas and Hezbollah had fewer rockets with shorter ranges just a few years ago; no doubt a few years from now, their arsenals will be even more dangerous and deadly if left unchecked.  Peace is therefore essential to fulfilling the national aspirations of both peoples; the longer it is deferred, the more elusive it will become.   We will continue to press both sides to engage seriously in negotiations – the only forum and the only mechanism that can resolve this historic conflict.  We will also continue our assistance to the Palestinians institutional development program under President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, which is essential to realizing a two-state solution with a viable state of Palestine.  Indeed, Fayyad’s reform and development plan anticipated how Arab governments can be more responsive to the needs of their citizens by providing better governance and personal security.

This brings me to my second point.  The ongoing wave of political change will finally enable the region to address the long-standing problem that political stagnation actually limited the prospects for comprehensive peace and regional reconciliation.  The landmark 2002 Arab Human Development Report recognized that the lack of Arab-Israeli peace was “both a cause and an excuse for distorting the development agenda, disrupting national priorities and retarding political development.”  For these Arab scholars, Israel’s occupation was used to “justify curbing dissent at a time when democratic transition requires greater pluralism in society and more public debate on national development policies. ”  As a peace negotiator, I heard countless times from leaders in the region that reform could not take place without peace.  That was an excuse then; today, it is simply denial.  As governments begin to initiate reforms in response to the demands of their own citizens, they will soon realize that continued conflict will impede their efforts and national resources can be better applied to local concerns.  In the early 1990s, Shimon Peres described a “New Middle East” where economic opportunities and interdependence would propel the region to a new era of cooperation and coexistence.

Two decades later, let us hope that the people of the Middle East will begin recognizing these opportunities, and that leaders will seize the moment to take necessary reforms not just to advance the cause of local reform, but also to advance the prospects for a comprehensive peace in the region.  Reform and peace go hand in hand and offer the peoples of the region a future of hope and possibility.

Let me close with a few words about Iran.  Many of you probably noticed that the Iranian regime has tried to claim credit for the events in Egypt, but we know two things:  first, that their claims fell on deaf ears in Egypt where a nation rose up seeking only to improve their own lives under national – not sectarian – ideals; and second, Iran’s claims fell on deaf ears to many Iranians who once again took to the streets this week in an open act of defiance against their government.  Indeed, Iran has only exposed its own hypocrisy.  As the President Obama said,

“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people were who trying to express themselves peacefully.”

 And following Iran’s continued suppression of peaceful dissent,  Secretary Clinton said that

“It has been made clear to the world that Iran denies its citizens the same fundamental rights it continues to applaud elsewhere in the Middle East.”

 We support the universal rights of people to express themselves freely and peacefully – the very rights Iran denied in June 2009 and again these past weeks. We will continue to speak up on behalf of those rights when they are so brazenly denied.

In the meantime, we are keeping our eye on the ball with Iran.  We will keep the pressure on and we will increase it with our partners as Iran continues to face serious hardships as a result of international sanctions.  Over the past two weeks, the United States has designated an additional Iranian bank for supporting prohibited proliferation activities and imposed sanctions on two Iranian officials for human rights abuses.  While the door will always remain open for diplomacy, Iran must know that delay tactics and obfuscations will only lead to more pressure.  Iran’s continued unwillingness to engage seriously with the P5+1 and its continued failure to respond fully to inquiries by the IAEA will only add to that pressure.  Let me be very clear about one thing:  we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and we will not be deflected from that goal.

We clearly have a full plate of challenges in the Middle East today.  But our agenda is clear: help Egypt to conduct a successful, orderly, and credible transition; encourage others in the region to undertake meaningful reform now before they too face destabilizing unrest; continue the push for peace between Israelis, Palestinians, and their Arab neighbors; and build the pressure on Iran.  This is a complex and demanding agenda, but it has the complete attention of the President and his full national security team.

Thank you very much.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak Comes to Washington

National Security Advisor Thomas E. Donilon, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates met jointly today with Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak at the White House today.  They stressed the United States’ unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, including through our continued support for Israel’s military, and the unprecedented security cooperation between our two governments.  Mr. Donilon, Secretary Clinton, and Secretary Gates discussed with Minister Barak the latest developments in Egypt, the need to move forward on Middle East peace, our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, and other regional and bilateral issues.  They agreed that the U.S. and Israel would continue to consult closely on common challenges and issues across our shared agenda.

A Rabbi’s Journey to Rome Building Bridges of Hope


Success Stories and Strategies for Interfaith Action

— Rabbi Warren Stone

I was invited to Rome to speak by the U.S. Embassy and the Vatican’s  Pontifical Gregorian University for a major one-day conference on October 12, entitled:  “Building Bridges of Hope: Success Stories and Strategies for Interfaith Action.”  The program’s vision was to include the Abrahamic faith traditions on three global issues panels, each of which included a Christian, Jewish and Muslim leader. The issues were:

  1. Equitable and Ethical Development,
  2. Caring for the Environment and
  3. Preventing Conflict.

Atttending the conference were worldwide ambassadors to the Vatican, Vatican Bishops and officials, seminary students from Gregorian and the international media.
U.S. Ambassador Miguel Diaz envisioned this conference as  a concrete expression of President Obama’s interfaith goals. He spoke about the critical importance of having religious voices work on world issues: “We believe that interfaith strategies can solve many of the world’s biggest problems.”

A special banquet was held at the US Vatican Embassy in honor of the speakers, with kosher/halal food thoughtfully provided to the Jewish and Muslim participants. Together we shared our interreligious visions for cooperation and bold action on environmental and climate challenges, the alleviation of world poverty and hunger, and the development of courageous paths to ease world conflicts.  The press was pleased to get many pictures of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders fully engaged in friendship and dialogue.

Joshua Dubois, head of the White House’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, offered greetings from President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  His keynote address encouraged faith communities to actively engage on these global political issues: “Every day, brick by brick by brick, men and women of faith continuously lay the moral and intellectual foundation of our public life and dialogue, and you are the first responders when for various reasons, that foundation is shaken.”

The vision of this conference was to turn interreligious dialogue into interreligious action.  I served on a panel with Father Joseph Rozansky, the justice chair of the World Franciscans, and Fazlun Khalid, founder and director of the UK’s Islamic Foundation for Ecology and the Environment.  We concurred that religious leadership from all traditions must act to alleviate environmental despoliation and the world-wide threats of climate change.

The other two Jewish representatives, each of whom sat on a panel, were Dr. Hillel Levine, founder of the International Center for Conciliation, and Dr. Edward Kessler, founder of Cambridge University’s Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.  The conference ended with Dr. Levine embracing Archbishop Chacour, a Palestinian priest, on the podium after the archibishop gave an emotionally moving talk about his life in Israel. Cameras went off to capture this moment of embrace.

We were given an “insider’s tour” of the Vatican, which included the Pope’s inner sanctum behind the Sistine Chapel, and I spent a bit of time seeing the Coliseum and the Jewish Ghetto. Of course, I went to see the Arch of Titus, which bears the famous sculpted relief of the Roman soldiers taking the Second Temple’s Golden Menorah and the phrase, “Judea Vanquished.”  It felt good to be in Rome in our time, where we as Jews stood in partnership with representatives of Christianity and Islam to confront our world problems.

We left united in the hope and with the commitment that the message of interreligious dialogue and action will grow throughout our communities.  It was a most inspiring and uplifting conference. We focused on the positive and the doable rather than the divisiveness found too often between faith traditions.

And now it’s time for all of us to act.  

“Building Bridges of Hope” An Interfaith Conference                                                  

           An ancient Jewish Midrash describes how God took Adam around the Garden of Eden and said to him:  “Look at My Creation, how beautiful and perfect is everything that I created.  I created it for you.  Be careful not to ruin and destroy My world.  If you ruin it, there is nobody to restore it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabba 7:28)        

           Those words ring mightily today, for the very future of life as we know it is at stake.  I fervently believe that climate change and our human despoliation of our sacred and fragile Earth has become the most profound religious issue of our times.  Like Adam, we have been warned and cannot plead ignorance.  Like Adam, will we fail to heed God’s words?  The mythic story of Creation warns us that we are guardians of all creation, human and all other species.

           Ancient Jewish traditions call for justice, equity and the Deuteronomic commandment, “Baal tashchit,” meaning, “thou shalt not destroy.”  The reference is to the trees and fruits of future generations and hence, human survival.  Ancient Jewish traditions call for the corners of the fields and the produce of our harvest to be left for the orphan, the widow and the most vulnerable of society.  Yet in our world, it will be the most vulnerable, with the least resources, who first reap the consequences of our environmental failures.  I am referring to the peoples of Micronesia and Bangladesh and hundreds of millions of other of the world’s most impoverished people living close to the seas, who are on the front lines of climate change and have become the first of our world’s environmental refugees. While at the UN in Copenhagen, I met with leaders from the Micronesian island of Kiribati who are already planning the emigration of their entire population.  They have already run out of fresh water and soon will be threatened with food scarcity.

           For all of us, impoverished and comfortable alike, our future will be tied to the scarcity of fresh water and food, as our glaciers melt and water sources, including the Jordan River in our holy lands which has been diminished.  Who is responsible for responding to these threats to our environment?  We may believe that our political leaders and bodies, which came together at the United Nations in Kyoto and Copenhagen and which will meet again in Cancun, or our individual nations’ leaders and lawmakers will have the political will to solve these issues. Others put the burden on our scientists and particularly, our environmentalists. But climate change and the despoliation of our earth and its limited resources are the most urgent moral and spiritual issues for all of us, and we are going to have to be active instruments for driving the necessary changes.   In this regard, people of our faith traditions have a great deal to say. Our futures and the futures of our families are at stake. This conference is meant to express the urgency of people of all faith traditions, represented here by the Abrahamic faiths, to take the bold lead in insisting that world leaders act to protect our earth-changing climate and threats to humanity that those changes portend.  Like Biblical Joseph of old, we have been forewarned and need to plan our survival particularly with water and food issues for our planet. The future will bring environmental refugees in numbers unknown in previous ages.  As a result of climate change and habitat destruction, a myriad of species now faces a silent genocide. We are caretakers of God’s creation. We must never forget that along with the creatures of our earth, the fish of our seas and the birds of our air, we, too are part of the great change of life. We are all interdependent for our common survival of life.

           It is incumbent upon every religious leader, religious institution and person of faith to serve as beacons to our communities, illustrating by our actions and example our spiritual commitment to our earth and its threatened and limited resources.

        In a world where matters of faith seem so often and so tragically to divide us, there is no issue that aligns us more deeply than our shared dependence upon and sacred responsibility to this tiny planet, enfolded within its fragile atmosphere, spinning in the vastness of time and space.  I experienced this shared conviction most profoundly when in 1997, I served as the Jewish NGO representative at the United Nations climate talks in Kyoto and this past year at the UN in Copenhagen. I met with Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders from around the world.  We spoke at Kyoto’s largest Buddhist Temple and in forums throughout Copenhagen.  We led an interfaith march and vigil in our religious garb to the center of Copenhagen to share our concerns as faith leaders on this world stage.

           We all concurred from our diverse faith traditions that our human actions, our human failing and sins, have damaged the environment.  Each speaking from the voice of his or her own authentic spiritual tradition, we affirmed our religious responsibility to act. Amidst chanting from Christians of the Psalms and the reading of the Koran, I blew the shofar, a ram’s horn, the blast of sound that has been Judaism’s ancient call to action since the days we wandered, searching for our way in the desert.

           I carried this mandate for bold action on the environment back to my own country and my own religious community.  Here, too, I found that faith traditions can readily unite on issues of climate change.  Working for many years with the National Partnership on Religion and the Environment, and as Chair of the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, I have joined interfaith leaders to engage Washington’s Capitol Hill leaders and to meet with White House staff.  Political leaders are eager to hear our religious point of view. As interfaith leaders, we also met with the leadership of the World Bank asking them to devote resources to sustainability in the world and cultivating the development of the world’s alternative energy sources.

           Statements by Catholic Bishops, Protestant leaders, Rabbis and Muslim Leaders have symbolic power and carry political weight. Formal resolutions  affirmed by hundreds of thousands of persons of faith help embolden our legislators to act.  Our country witnessed what has been considered the worst oil spill in our world’s history, with the BP massive oil spill of millions of gallons into the fragile ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico. There is an urgent need to regulate worldwide corporate energy companies and put prioritize caring for our sacred Earth as the primary moral concern. Now is the time for religious leadership to be heard, now is the time to engage our world bodies and speak out for Creation.

           As chair of the Environmental Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, I have joined with many committed colleagues to use our faith tradition to increase awareness and encourage action in response to climate change and other environmental challenges.  We have passed national resolutions on climate change and energy policy and have established environmentally conscious guidelines for our myriad congregations around the country.  We have worked with the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light to green religious communities around America in order to serve as a model of the millions of people who observe faith traditions.

               And finally, I believe that our religious voice must be strongest closest to home, manifest in how we daily live.  And, of course, our collective, interfaith efforts gather their strength from the work each of us does within our own particular communities.  The congregation I serve, Temple Emanuel of the Greater Washington area, has worked on greening its agenda for over 20 years.  We believe that local action by religious communities can have a national and international impact.  How have we implemented our agenda?  Let me mention some of the ways:

  • We installed solar panels on the roof for our eternal light, added wind power from a regional collective, made use of energy efficient zoning, lighting and office equipment and during a building phase, made use of passive solar throughout the building.
  • We planted sustainable gardens to meet our annual ritual needs, growing grapes, horseradish, and indoor olive and pomegranate trees.
  • We regularly schedule environmental Shabbats and other opportunities for learning with our state representative and national leaders.
  • We sell CPF bulbs and have information about climate change on our coffee tables.
  • We have become an EPA energy star community and one of the nation’s first “zero carbon footprint’ communities by supporting alternative energy investments.
  • Our webpage includes our Green Shalom action guide which is designed to educate and spur further community involvement and environmental action in our own homes and community.
  • Let us all work with people of every disciplines, be they diplomats, scientists, environmentalists, engineers, architects, writers, artist, poets and journalists to create programming that changes hearts and minds and helps to refocus us on sustainable living and a culture of meaning, not possessing.

           This community focus has borne fruit, with a good number of our young people choosing science, media, religion and public policy arenas that deal directly with environmental issues.  We in faith communities must train our future religious and lay leaders to see the close connection between caring for the Earth and our own spiritual traditions.

           People of faith around our world number in the billions. We are the largest constituency of any nation of our world.  The opportunity to be heard is greater than in previous decades, and we have a prophetic responsibility to seize it.   There is so much that each of us can and must do, within our own homes, congregations, and countries, and beyond, as we work together as a global family in common cause, to preserve and sanctity life.

         As Rabbi Tarphon of the second century reminds us: “It is not your duty to finish all the work, but neither are you are liberty to desist from it.”  May it be that years hence, our children and our children’s children will look back with appreciation to this moment when we heeded one of the great moral imperatives of our time.  May they know that we had the vision and the strength to fulfill our sacred obligation to preserve and protect the earth in all of its majesty, this garden with which we have been entrusted, for those who will follow.
 

Clinton Stumps For Sestak at JCC


— Bonnie Squires

President Bill Clinton stumped for his friend Joe Sestak, running for U.S. Senate, at the Golden Slipper Center for Seniors at the Kaiserman JCC (Jewish Community Center) in Wynnewood, his first stop of a very busy day.  Clinton praised Sestak for having an economic policy plan which fit with Clinton’s philosophy and success.

The appearance at the Jewish community center was a last-minute addition to Clinton’s whirlwind Philadelphia schedule as he came to town to honor former British Prime Minister Tony Blair with the Liberty Medal Monday evening.  But Clinton, who had campaigned for Sestak when the Congressman first ran for office five years ago , seemed genuinely delighted to speak to an adoring Jewish crowd on behalf of his former military advisor.

Clinton told the audience that each year the Pentagon picks the brightest member of the military to send to the White House as military advisor to the President, and they had selected Joe Sestak to send to him.  


Sestak’s words to the JCC audience reminded us of Senator Arlen Specter’s appearance there, years ago, when Lynn Yeakel was the Democratic contender for U.S. Senate.  Specter won that close race.  Perhaps Sestak had that in mind as he continued his wooing of the Jewish community.  And Clinton proved once again that he is a huge magnet, even with only a few hours’ notice.

Clinton gave a detailed analysis of the current economic situation in the country, pointing out the success of his philosophy when his administration turned around a huge deficit and left office with a huge surplus.  He credited Sestak with having a detailed plan and vision for creating jobs in three areas which are vital: small business, manufacturing, and the green economy.  

(photo credit: Bonnie Squires)

Hillary Clinton interviewed by Israeli and Palestinian TV

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participated in a joint interview with Udi Segal of Israel's Channel 2 and Amirah Hanania Rishmawi of Palestine TV at the Department of State.  

Transcript follows the jump.
I will start in asking, this Administration repeats that the Palestinian state is a strategic American interest. Is this become slogan for varied and concrete policies and steps to be taken from your side? Touch on that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: First, thank you both for giving me this opportunity not only to talk to you, but through you to Israeli and Palestinian citizens. And I thank you for that.

The United States believes very strongly, and we are totally committed to working with and supporting the efforts of the Israeli and Palestinian leadership and people to achieve a viable Palestinian state and a secure Israel living side by side. That has been a personal commitment of mine going back many years, and I believe first and foremost it is in the interests of the people of Israel and of the Palestinians, and particularly of the children.

But it is also an interest of the United States. We strongly support the security and the future of Israel and we strongly support the aspirations of the Palestinian people. The only way, in our opinion, in the 21st century, that you can have the kind of security and peace that gives you a chance for the future that each of your people deserve is through a settlement of all of the outstanding issues and an end to the conflict.

Madam Secretary, you said it yourself yesterday, both sides are so disappointed. What makes this attempt different? Why are the odds – this time it’s for us rather than against us?

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a great question, because I know of the skepticism and even the suspicion in the minds and hearts of people in the region. And I said yesterday I’m personally disappointed. I have not only supported the efforts that have come before, but was deeply involved in the support of what my husband tried to do in the 1990s. And I think I’m the first person ever associated with an American administration who called for a Palestinian state as a way to realize the two-state solution.

Why is it different? I think it’s different for three reasons. First, I think that time is not on the side of either Israeli or Palestinian aspirations for security, peace, and a state. It’s not because – there are so many changes in the region where the rejectionist ideology and the commitment to violence that some unfortunately have as we recently saw with the terrible killings in Hebron and the attack outside of Ramallah. They gained greater access to weapons. They have a sponsor, namely Iran, who is very much behind a lot of what they’re doing. The technology is threatening to the stability of both peoples’ lives.

I mean, if you look at the economies that are now growing, much of the world is still coming out of a recession. In the Palestinian business community, in Israel, you have vibrant, growing economies that are making a difference. In Nablus, last year, unemployment was 30 percent; it’s down to 12 percent. It’s clear to me that the forces of growth and positive energy are in a conflict with the forces of destruction and negativity. And the United States wants to weigh in on the side of leaders and people who see this as maybe the last chance for a very long time to resolve this.
Now, I will be the first to tell you it is very difficult. I cannot change history. I cannot take an eraser to the history books and change everything that has happened between you for so many years. But what we can do is offer a different future. But then it takes courage to accept that, because it is a bit of a leap of faith. That’s why I was very impressed that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas came here despite the skepticism.

So Your Excellency, public in the region — consider that Prime Minister Netanyahu came here for a public relationship – relations exercises. What are you going to do at the end of this month if he will not – if he wants to combine between settlement and these public relationship? The end of the month is going to be the last date for that sort of moratorium before the settlement. What are you going to do?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say that I have known Prime Minister Netanyahu for many years, and I am convinced that he understands and accepts the importance of achieving a two-state solution. He publicly committed to that, something he had not done before, and he negotiated with the Palestinians in the past. He and President Abbas know each other. They have, in my presence, been very clear that they want to work extremely hard to get to a final agreement.
We’re well aware that there are issues that have to be dealt with, such as the one you referred to, at the end of the month. I’m not going to get into their discussions, because that really is at the core of their being able to make some tough decisions, being able to have the confidence that they can have sensitive discussions without me or anybody else talking about them. But I am absolutely convinced that these two men, for different reasons, maybe the two can actually do this.

Everyone knows that in order for Israelis to accept a two-state solution, they have to believe – and I support this with all my heart – that they will be more secure, not less secure. And from their perspective, and one of the reasons for the skepticism in Israel, is we pulled out of Lebanon, we got Hezbollah, we pulled out of Gaza, we got Hamas. So there’s a reality to it. It’s not just a kind of public relations or theoretical argument. I think with President Abbas, he was courageous in the times when he was alone in the Palestinian leadership, in the PLO, in Fatah. He’s been calling for a two-state solution for decades and has given his whole life to trying to realize that. And he knows that this may be the last time.
So I really am convinced that we have obstacles, we have some looming challenges in terms of time. But I believe that both men came with the best of intentions. And now, we have to work hard to overcome those obstacles.

President Abbas said clearly that if settlement freeze does not continue, there will be a – come to a screeching halt in negotiation. What do you – do you agree to that? What do you make of that saying of President Abbas?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Udi, I think part of what we are doing here is creating an atmosphere that is conducive to a final agreement that rests on tough decisions. And the parties know that the goal here is to make the decisions within a framework agreement on all the core issues, all the difficult core issues. And clearly, territory, settlements, borders, security, those are the hardest of the core issues in my opinion.

Refugees?

SECRETARY CLINTON: They have to – and absolutely, Jerusalem, refugees, water, I mean, there’s a whole list of the hard internal core decisions. And I think that dealing with all of them – not in a piecemeal way, but in a comprehensive way, because each side is going to have to make concessions, each side is going to have to make tradeoffs. I’ve never been in a negotiation where one side got everything, because that’s not what happens in negotiations. So I understand the positions of both leaders and I think they are sincere about trying to work to get to a resolution of the outstanding problems, including the one that is looming at the end of the month.

Your Excellency, some people in the region say that peace talks are intended to appease Arabs or the Arabs before some kind of military action against Iran. Is there any truth of that?

SECRETARY CLINTON: No, and I think that’s a very important question, because we have great concerns about Iran. And it’s not only about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons; it’s about Iran’s sponsorship of terror and its supply of weapons to groups that are trying to destabilize countries and societies. So that’s a given. And that concern, as you know, is shared by much of the Arab world, because they see in their own countries the results of Iranian state-sponsored terrorism.

But the Arab Peace Initiative that was led by the Saudis and by King Abdullah, which said, “Here is an outline for how we would like to have peace with Israel,” has been embraced by Arab and Muslim countries, as you know. That had nothing to do with Iran. That was an expression of the recognition by Arab leaders that this conflict needs to be resolved, and it needs to finally result in a two-state solution, because there’s so much to be gained in the region, turning the attention to what could be done together on all these difficult issues that are looming over the region, like water and dealing with terrorism and the like.

So I think that Iran is a serious problem. I’m the first to tell you that. It’s a problem not just for the United States. It’s a problem for the entire region, because more than anyone, you see the results. I mean, Hamas is not only attacking Israelis; Hamas has been brutal to the people in Gaza in so many ways over the last years.

So let’s recognize that we have a lot of problems we have to deal with. My goal has been to try to tackle each problem and to say, “What can we do to make progress?” There are connections, but on their own, getting to a two-state solution is so much in the interests of the entire region.

I want to follow up Amira’s question.

Isn’t – we are witnessing a simple deal here, “We, the United States will dismantle of Iran nuclear weapons, and in return, you, the Israeli and Palestinians, finally will establish a Palestinian state”?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that there are some who make that case. I mean, I make the case on the merits. I mean, in the 1990s, Iran was not a looming threat the way that it is now because of its advanced nuclear program. And my husband, I, and others worked very hard with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak and others to try to get to the point where we could establish – and of course, I wish we had done that. We’d now have had a state for 10 years and we would have had, I think, a very clear example to the world about what that meant.

I don’t want to miss this opportunity. We are making progress on the sanctions against Iran. They are clearly feeling the pinch of those because we see it in all the interactions around the world where they are now under tremendous economic pressure. Countries that we didn’t think would join with us have joined and are part of trying to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. So we’re going to stay focused on that. But we know that on its own, this is such an important accomplishment. Will it have consequences? Of course. It will, I believe, help to undermine Iran’s support and that is, in and of itself, good.

Your Excellency, let’s go back – go back with me to the normal and daily life for the Palestinians in the Palestinian territories, checkpoints involved. The Palestinian – Israel maintained more than 500 checkpoints that seriously hinder the freedom of movement in the West Bank. Are the United States writing this up in the negotiation? And are there steps that really give the Palestinians freedom to move, freedom to pray, to reach Jerusalem, to reach a mosque, to reach a better future?

SECRETARY CLINTON: That is very much on our mind and it’s very much on the minds of both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. We are well aware that improving the daily lives of Palestinians, which has been going on for a few years now – we think that President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad, other leaders – but mostly citizens themselves, mostly Palestinians who have really, in the West Bank, been able to do more on their own behalf – are demonstrating, in ways we could not say, the effects, the positive effects of peace. So, the checkpoints, the roadblocks, all of the daily challenges that we know affect the Palestinians are certainly on the agenda.
Tony Blair, who you know represents the Quartet, which has played an important role in keeping the world’s attention focused on the need for these negotiations, will be working even more with the – persistently and we hope effectively with both Israel and the Palestinian leadership to try to ease as many of those problems as possible while the negotiations are going.

You see, I think the political negotiations need to be matched with changes on the ground and confidence-building and interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. You both know the problems that we face in any society where there is a really small number of people who are committed to terror and violence – it sends all kinds of messages of fear into people who themselves are just wanting to live their lives. So we want to increase freedom of access, we want to increase opportunities in the West Bank, while at the same time, we’re pursuing the political track.

A hypothetical “What if” question if I may: If a full agreement cannot be reached through this negotiation, is creating Palestinian states with provisional borders an option?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I never answer hypotheticals and I don’t particularly want to answer this one because that’s really for the parties to decide. And at this point, that is not on the agenda. What’s on the agenda is a final agreement that ends the conflict, resolves all claims, creates a viable Palestinian state, and gives Israel the security that you deserve and need to have.

So we don’t want to talk about fallback positions because that’s not been mentioned by either leader. I mean, each leader has come prepared to talk about all the core issues, and it would be far better to resolve borders, which then resolves a lot of other difficult matters, than to only do it halfway. So our goal, working with and supporting the negotiation by the leaders, is to get to a framework that deals with all core issues and then a final agreement.

Your Excellency, peace doesn’t only come through beautiful words, but needs to be backed by actions. We all know that the PA government now is through a financial crisis. So what is your message to the donors? And we really need, as a Palestinian, your message to them because they are – start losing hope in peace.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes. Well, two messages.
First, on the Palestinian Authority, I want to publicly commend the work that has been done by the Palestinian Authority. The advances in security are recognized by all of us. The Palestinian security forces have gained a good and well-deserved reputation for their work in the West Bank. I want to commend the changes in financial management and accountability. And the United States, as you, I’m sure, know has increased dramatically our direct support for the Palestinian Authority. And I have encouraged and urged all the donors to do that and more. Last year was a good year. We got a very robust amount of contributions. This year, we are upping our request to all of the donors to support the peace process by supporting the Palestinian Authority.
And the second message is really to the Palestinian people themselves. I was in Ramallah last year and I met with a group of young Palestinians. And I came away not only impressed, but so encouraged by their motivation, their ambition, their curiosity, their intelligence. And then shortly after that, I was in Israel and I met with a group of young Israelis. And as an outsider, but someone who has long been devoted to Israel and long been committed to a Palestinian state, I see the potential in this next generation.

And I’m hoping that the adults, I’m hoping that the leadership will be willing to try one more time and to be willing to do the hard work of making peace, because these young people – they deserve to have a future in Ramallah or Jericho, not in Toronto or Chicago. If the Palestinian diaspora came home, it would be one of the most talented group of people ever – the doctors, the lawyers, the business leaders. And Israel deserves to have a peaceful, secure future. And so that’s a passion for me, and I will do everything I can to support this process.

You spoke about a core issue. I’m a little confused. When you were a candidate for presidency, you said that Jerusalem was the undivided capital of Israel. Then you retracted from this statement like the candidate, now President Obama. Who should we believe, then? Candidate Clinton or Secretary of State Clinton?

SECRETARY CLINTON: You should believe that I am committed to a safe and secure Israel, and that I believe a two-state solution that realizes the aspirations of the Palestinian people is in the best interests of Israel. Jerusalem is a contested, emotional issue for both Israelis and Palestinians, and really, for Christians, Jews, and Muslims around the world, as you well know.
I want to support what is the outcome that the parties can agree to. And I think both parties know that they’re going to have to engage on this issue and come to an understanding and a resolution so that Jerusalem becomes not the flashpoint, but the symbol of peace and cooperation. And so I am fully supportive of what can be negotiated between the parties.

You mentioned your husband. Maybe on a personal note, do you have an extra incentive to keep on from the point that your husband left it, and this time, succeed?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yes, there’s no doubt about that. Both my husband and I were very sad that we missed that opportunity. And I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again. We – they were so close. I mean, then-Prime Minister Barak and then-President Arafat were so close. And my husband expended so much energy because he cares so deeply. And when he left office some weeks later, Yasser Arafat called him and he said, “Well, now, we’re ready to take the deal,” and my husband said, “But I’m not the president anymore.”

Do you think that Palestinians still losing chances in this time?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I hope not, because I want to see this done. I want to see it not because it’s something that I care about, although I care deeply. I want to see it because it is so much the right thing to do historically and morally and spiritually and politically and economically.

Otherwise, I see, unfortunately, the forces of destruction, the forces of negativity on both sides gaining strength. And then more young Palestinians and more young Israelis will leave. And that’s – and they don’t want to leave. I mean, I meet with them all the time and they don’t want to leave. But they want to live their lives. They want to live their lives with a level of peace, security, and opportunity, which every person of any common sense wants to have.

Thank you.

So thank you very much, Your Excellency, for having us.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you.  

George Mitchell on the Upcoming Middle East Peace Talks


Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Senator George Mitchell spoke briefly and took questions today regarding the upcoming Middle East Peace Talks.

SENATOR MITCHELL:  Thank you, Mike.  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  

    Last week Secretary of State Clinton invited President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu to Washington on September 2nd to resume direct negotiations to resolve all final status issues.  We believe these negotiations can be completed within one year.

    As you know, both have accepted.  They will have bilateral meetings with President Obama tomorrow, as will President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan.  The four leaders then will join President Obama for dinner at the White House to help launch these discussions.

Egypt and Jordan have a critical role to play, and their continued leadership and commitment to peace will be essential to success.

After the bilateral meetings, the President will make a public statement, and then just prior to the dinner, the President and the other leaders will make public statements.

    On Thursday, Secretary of State Clinton will convene a meeting at the State Department between Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas and their delegations, following which I will provide a readout to the press.

    Since the beginning of this administration, we’ve worked with the Israelis, the Palestinians and our international partners to advance the cause of comprehensive peace in the Middle East, including two-state solution, which ensures security and dignity for Israelis and Palestinians.

    We’re pleased that negotiations will be relaunched after a hiatus of more than a year and a half.  And we will engage with perseverance and patience to try to bring them to a successful conclusion.

    Thank you.  And with that, I’ll be glad now to take your questions.

Question & Answer Session

    Sir, can you put the negotiations in the context of the unfreezing of the settlement moratorium, and how much of it — how important that deadline is, whether or not you guys are counting on Ehud Barak to not approve settlements going forward or whether you expect that settlements will commence once again?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our position on settlements is well known, and it remains unchanged.  We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.

    As Secretary of State Clinton has said, as we move forward it’s important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it.

    Do you expect that the settlement freeze will continue, or what are the Israelis telling you in terms of if negotiations are still going on on the 26th, whether they will continue the freeze?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Our discussions continue with both sides, and they are consistent with and comprise in part the points that I just made.

    Senator, as you know, there’s so much pessimism in the region that they talk about failure more than success.  And many people believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu was tested in 1996 and he did everything to destroy the peace process.  Now they enter in this phase of negotiation where there’s no, like, timetable, there’s no, really, preconditions.  So what makes you optimistic that anything is going to substantially come out of it?  

    And if I may, something else.  The President talked about in the beginning of the administration about comprehensive peace talks, on two tracks.  But now we’ve seen two leaders from the region being invited, and that excluded Syria.  So why Syria was not on the table?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  With respect to opinion in the region, by coincidence I just received last evening from Shibley Telhami, who is at the University of Maryland and with whom I consult regularly, among others, for advice and counsel, some key findings from polls taken in conjunction with the Zogby polling organization in six countries in the region:  Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates.

    Among the key findings are that over 80 percent of Arabs polled are still in principle open to the two-state solution; also, that if and when a two-state solution were to come about, a plurality of those polled — 39 percent — believed it would happen through negotiations, and only 16 percent believed that it would come about through another war or conflict.

    And finally, those polls, the respondents, believed that if prospects for the two-state solution collapse, a majority of those polled believed that the result would be intense conflict for years to come.

    Now, I believe that it is an awareness of these and other realities by the two leaders and their leadership that there is a window of opportunity, a moment in time within which there remains the possibility of achieving the two-state solution, which is so essential to comprehensive peace in the region, that difficult as it may be for both leaders, and we recognize that difficulty for both of them, the alternatives for them and the members of their societies pose far greater difficulties and far greater problems in the future.

    And so having spent much of the time that I served in this position in the region, meeting with these leaders and with many, many others in both societies, I think it is that general recognition combined with the presence, the patience, the perseverance and the commitment of President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton and the leaders of this administration that have persuaded these leaders to take this step which, as I acknowledged and repeat, is difficult for them in many respects — because their societies are divided, not just the Arab nations to whom I referred in these polls, but Israeli and Palestinian society.

    With respect to Syria, our efforts continue to try to engage Israel and Syria in discussions and negotiations that would lead to peace there and also Israel and Lebanon.

    You will recall that when the President announced my appointment two days after he entered office, he referred to comprehensive peace and defined it as Israel and Palestinians, Israel and Syria, Israel and Lebanon, and Israel at peace with and having normal relations with all of its Arab neighbors.  And that remains our objective.

    I was wondering if you could tell us more about what comes after September the 2nd in terms of further meetings?  Is there any sense that while the parties are committed to a process, is there any sense of how you’re going to conduct the next round of talks?  And are you expecting there will always be an American presence in the room, or are you going to let the two parties sit together and call on you when needed?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  I’ll answer the second question first.  The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process.  That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting.  We recognize the value of direct, bilateral discussion between the parties and, in fact, will encourage that between the two leaders on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, it does not mean that the United States will simply stand aside and not participate actively.  We will operate in a manner that is reasonable and sensible in the circumstances which exist, but the guiding principle will be an active and sustained United States presence.

    At what point did you —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Oh, I’m sorry.

    What comes after September the 2nd?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  We hope to proceed promptly on an intensive basis with the parties.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas about every two weeks.  We think that’s a sensible approach, which we hope is undertaken and that, in addition to that, there will be meetings at other levels on a consistent basis.

    Indeed, we have had extensive preparatory meetings with the two sides last week and yesterday and today and continuing through tomorrow, right up until the time when the two sides get together.  And so we want to maintain this — we want to establish this process going forward and to maintain it in an intense way at several levels of engagement.

    At what point during the proximity talks you realized the two parties are ready for direct talks?  And everybody realizes during these future talks that Hamas will be the elephant in the room.  How confident are you that these talks will succeed and will achieve the two-state solution while excluding Hamas?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Once again, let me take the questions in reverse order, if I might.  We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process.  But as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times, while in the Middle East and in the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are, of course, a prerequisite to engage in these serious types of discussions.

    There has been a good deal of a discussion about references to Northern Ireland, and I have repeatedly been asked by reporters and individuals when I make public appearances, well, Senator, you talk to the IRA in Northern Ireland, but don’t you talk to Hamas here.  The questions reflect an incomplete understanding of what occurred in Northern Ireland and its relationship to this situation.  

    So, first, let me say they’re very different.  It’s not useful to try to make direct comparisons because the participants, the circumstances, the situation, the timing are all very different.  And while we should learn what we can from other processes, each is unique.

    But on the central point, the reality is that in Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, the political party that is affiliated with the IRA, did not enter the negotiations until after 15 months had elapsed in the negotiations, and only then because they met two central conditions that had been established.  The first was a ceasefire, and the second was a publicly stated commitment to what came to be known as the Mitchell Principles because I was the chairman of the commission that established them.  

    And those commitments included — I’ll just quote briefly from them — a commitment to democratic and exclusively peaceful means of resolving political issues; a commitment to renounce for themselves and to oppose any efforts by others to use force or threaten to use force to influence the course or the outcome of the negotiations; and finally a commitment to agree to abide by the terms of any agreement reached in negotiations and to resort to democratic and exclusively peaceful methods in trying to alter any aspect of that outcome with which they may disagree.

    So there are analogous — not identical and not directly comparable — conditions that have been set forth by the Quartet with respect to Hamas.  And if there is movement to accept those principles, as occurred with Sinn Féin and the IRA in Northern Ireland, why then, of course, they would be welcome.  And we would want them to participate in those circumstances.  So I want to make clear in that regard what our position is.

    Go ahead, I’m sorry.  Did you want to follow up?

    At what point in the proximity talks you realized that —

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Please keep in mind that when we began the proximity talks, I stated publicly in announcing them that the purpose was to provide a transition into direct negotiations, to encourage the parties to establish the conditions and reach the conclusion that this would be the best to accomplish.  

The circumstances were such that before we reached the four-month period which had been established for a review of those proximity talks by the Arab League Follow-up Committee, we felt that following the President’s personal meeting with President Abbas in June and his personal meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in July, and his direct discussions with them, that the opportunity existed to make the transition from proximity to direct talks at an earlier time.  As it turns out, the time is very nearly consistent with the four-month period that had been established.

    Yes, sir, Senator Mitchell.  We’ve seen — we’ll see that President Obama will be taking a direct personal role tomorrow in the bilateral talks and the dinner with the leaders.  But going forward, how much of a personal engagement will we see from the President?  Will he be ready step in himself to help bridge any differences?  Would he possibly be looking at another meeting, a trilateral meeting at the U.N. General Assembly at the end of the month?  And what about a trip to the region that he’s talked about in the past?

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The President has been engaged personally from the very beginning.  As you may recall, on January 21st of 2009, less than 24 hours after taking office, the first calls he made to foreign leaders were to leaders in this region.  And on the following day, he announced my appointment.

    Please do not confuse personal engagement exclusively with public activities, because as you know, there’s a lot that a President does that isn’t in the public arena but that is a very — represents very active participation.  

    With respect to all of the items that you mentioned, I’m certain that what the President will do will make a judgment based upon the circumstances at the time, the reasonableness and the necessity of his participation, and will continue to be fully and actively a participant in the process, as necessary.  He has many, many important obligations, but he places a high priority on comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

     Senator, good to see you.  Two questions.  The one-year deadline, does that reflect what the parties have communicated to you and others what they believe is possible, or is the one-year deadline meant to create a sense of urgency and place them in a calendar that sorts of tries to apply a bit of pressure?  That’s one question.

    The second question is, of course these talks occur in a larger security context for Israel as it relates to Iran.  There are national security questions facing Israel and there will be diplomatic implications to whatever they do or do not decide.  Can you give us any sense of how this larger context, the question of Iran, and what may or may not happen, could in any way shape the outcome of these talks?    

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  The latter is obviously an issue of high importance, not just to Israel and the United States but to all of the countries in the region and indeed around the world, and has been the subject of intensive activity at the United Nations and elsewhere.  I think you would be better served if I deferred on that to those who are directly involved in the specific formulation and implementation of policy toward Iran.

    But I can say, with respect to this conflict, it is an important issue.  I was struck that when I first went to the region last year, I took out and reviewed the report that I had authored in 2001 and President Bush as chairman of what came to be known as the Sharm el-Sheikh commission regarding the conflict.  And I read it through quickly, but I found no reference to Iran.  And yet on my first visit and subsequent visits, during which I met with the leaders of, I believe, 14 or 15 countries in the region, without exception Iran was included in the conversation.  And in most of them, it was the first or second item mentioned.  So clearly that is an important issue and one which has an impact on this process.

     What was the first part?

    The one-year deadline.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes.  During his visit to the United States in July, Prime Minister Netanyahu in a public statement, not at the time of the meeting in the White House, said that he believed this could be done within one year.  And we were pleased to hear him say that, and President Abbas has privately expressed to me his view that he does not want this to drag out, that he wants to get it done as soon as possible.  And I would let him speak for himself.  But he has provided us with an indication that he wants to move as soon as possible.

    People ask whether the long history of negotiation has been beneficial or harmful.  It’s actually been both, in some respects.  Beneficial in the sense that this has been discussed so often that people have a good sense of what the principal issues are and how they might be resolved; harmful in the sense that it’s created attitudes among many in the region that it’s a never-ending process, that it’s gone on for a very long time and will go on forever.  So it’s very important to create a sense that this has a definite concluding point.  And we believe that it can be done and we will do everything possible, with perseverance and patience and determination, to see that it is done.

     You mentioned the long, rich history of U.S. mediation in the peace process.  There have been any number of frameworks under which these talks have taken place in the past — the road map, the Tenet agreement, the “shelf agreement,” Annapolis.  Assuming that you’re not going into this sort of winging it, can you give us some sense of which parts of those frameworks you’ve adopted?  Give us a little review of the framework you’re using for these talks.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  What we’ve tried to do is to avoid a slavish adherence to the past while trying to learn what might have been improved in the past, what worked, what didn’t work.  And so we have avoided deliberately any specific label or identification that this is a continuation of process A or B or C.  

Rather, what we want to do is to learn what we can from those and take the best of them.  And they include, in my judgment, frequent direct contact between the leaders, between the Prime Minister of Israel and the President of the Palestinian Authority.  

Secondly, active and sustained United States participation so that we are not on some distant sideline cheering the parties on without active participation, but at the same time we recognize that this is a bilateral negotiation, and in the end the parties must make this decision by and for themselves.

Thirdly, maintaining broad international support, which is critical.  I have been to the region many, many times, and that’s all been widely reported.  What has been less widely reported is that on most of my trips, I stop in Europe and in other places on the way over and back.  I’ve made many visits to Brussels, to European capitals and to the United Nations.  We think it important that there be a broad basis of international support.  We take seriously the Quartet’s role, and that’s reflected in Prime Minister Blair’s presence at the diner tomorrow evening.  

And finally, it is to try very hard to create an atmosphere that is conducive to success and positive development of the process.  That’s not easy.  There is a free and vigorous press in the societies that are involved — here as well, as there should be.  There’s a constant back-and-forth, and conflict and sensational statements, of course, generally get quick and widespread coverage.  But we think it’s very important that they establish some degree of confidence in the sincerity and the seriousness of purpose of each other so that they can begin to contemplate the very difficult decisions that each of them will have to make if we’re going to achieve success in the process.

    What’s your estimate, Senator, of the sincerity of purpose on each side?  Following up on Major’s question, many people in the region see the one-year deadline as simply a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Well, we can’t avoid the fact that many people in the region disagree with one or more aspects of this.  Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that if you took every sentence that I’ve uttered today and spent 24 hours, you could find someone in the region who disagreed with some part of it or all of it.  That’s just the reality.  This is a conflict of longstanding, very deeply held views, very strong emotions, high level of mistrust, and therefore sharply divided.

    So if — anybody who wants never to be challenged or face confrontation ought not to get involved in this process because that’s just the reality.  And we have to do our best in a realistic way to try to create the conditions, imperfect in all circumstances, that will enable them to go forward.

    What was the other part of it, Bill?

    The people in the region seeing the one-year timeline as a way of running out the clock.

    SENATOR MITCHELL:  Yes, yes.  Well, we don’t — we disagree with that.  We think it is realistic.  We think it can be done.  We recognize that there are many — indeed, many very knowledgeable and experienced people who hold a different view.  And there are also many who aggressively advocate the view that this can’t be done and shouldn’t be done — on both sides — in public statements and public advocacy.

    But in my judgment, what it really comes down to in the end is what is best for the people of Israel and what is best for the Palestinian people.

    And I believe that a strong and persuasive and convincing argument can be made and must be made by us and others that a peaceful resolution, which ends this conflict, which ends all claim, which creates a viable, democratic, contiguous Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel is in their best interest.  And the alternative to that, of the possibility of continuing conflict into the indefinite future, is far more problematic.  

Army Comic Book Explains “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell”

Rachel Maddow gives voice to the 2001 U.S. Army’s Comic Book guide to “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy regarding homosexual soldiers in the military. Courtesy of Comics with problems.

The policy was enacted in 1993 by the Clinton Administration, and is currently under review by the military.