AFP, When the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty?

While some are raising concerns about the future of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty now that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate has won Egypt’s presidential race, AFP has a different issue with the historic bilateral agreement. Today AFP refers to “1980, the year after Cairo signed its peace agreement with Tel Aviv.” (Emphasis added.)

AFP would hardly be the first to relocate Israel’s capital from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, but the misinformation is all the more jarring in light of then-President Anwar Sadat’s unprecedented trip to Jerusalem in 1978, paving the way to the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement.

Perhaps AFP would do well to review its own archives from that time, including this AFP photograph of Sadat addressing the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in the capital city, Jerusalem:

AFP’s own caption reads:

Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat (L) addresses the Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem 20 November 1977 during his historic visit to Israel, as Israeli Premier Yitzhak Begin (C) listens to him. Thirty years ago, the Egyptian leader became the first Arab leader to visit the Jewish state. AFP PHOTO/FILES

Anwar Sadat’s obituary in the New York Times states:

Eleven days before Mr. Sadat made his trip to Jerusalem, he said in Cairo that he was willing to go to ”the ends of the earth,” and even to the Israeli Parliament, in the cause of peace. The Israeli Government made known that he was welcome in Jerusalem, and after complex negotiations he flew there, although a state of war still existed between the two nations.

His eyes were moist and his lips taut with suppressed emotion as he arrived, but his Arabic was firm and resonant when, hours later, he told the hushed Israeli Parliament, ”If you want to live with us in this part of the world, in sincerity I tell you that we welcome you among us with all security and safety.

In 1978, the leader of the Egyptian nation, which at the time was in a state of war with Israel, could bring himself to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but in 2012, AFP cannot?

Reprinted from CAMERA

Overthrowing Tyrants, Inside and Out

I, with my wonderful congregation Leyv Ha-Ir, celebrated Purim, the wild and crazy Jewish holiday celebrating the downfall of Haman (boo!), who as vizier to the Persian King tried to massacre all the Jews in the realm; but his plan was foiled by Mordechai (yay!) entering his beautiful cousin Esther (woo hoo!) into a beauty pageant to be the queen, and Haman’s plot was foiled.

It’s the celebration of the downfall of a tyrant; the world has been full of them, people who have become legends in their own minds, such as Mubarak in Egypt, Ghadaffi in Libya, and Assad in Syria. There are also mental Hamans as well, within our psyches, such as low self-esteem and self-doubts, which we daily must overthrow; I know, I deal with them as well.

More after the jump.

Now coming up is the holiday of Passover, the liberating of the Jews from Pharaoh’s slavery in Egypt. The traditional word for Egypt in Hebrew is Mitzrayim, “the narrow place,” the place of limitation. There are Pharaohs in the word today-political dictators for one thing, also abusive relationships-as well as internal Pharaohs, like the voice inside you that says, “I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I can’t do it.” Those dictators and tyrants, inside and around you, also need to be vanquished.  

One issue I have dealt with is allowing myself downtime, time of rest and recreation and plain ol’ fun, however you define it; I have often felt guilty about not doing something “productive.” But when we went to school and studied, we twice daily had recess, so it’s not an either-or situation. Having fun and recreation can be a great revolt against the inner and outer Hamans and Pharaohs in the world, you can in effect say to them, “Screw you, I’m not your damn pack mule!”

Grapel Returns Home Thanks to Joint US-Israel Efforts

(NJDC) Yesterday, Ilan Grapel — the dual U.S.-Israeli citizen held since June in an Egyptian prison on espionage charges — returned to Israel through the tremendous joint efforts of Israel’s and the United States’ leadership. On his arrival, Grapel thanked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others for helping to secure his return.

Video shows Grapel’s late-night arrival in Israel; his welcome by his own Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY), who worked to secure his release and flew to Israel to escort him and his parents home; his welcome by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro; and his joint welcome meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Send Obama A Message!


— by Rabbi Avi Shafran

The Obama administration considers Israel a sponsor of terror — at least according to Dick Morris, the disgraced ex-advisor to Bill Clinton, and a host of self-styled “conservative” media. The news was shocking — well, maybe not to the clever folks who knew all along that the president is a secret Muslim, but certainly to the rest of us.

What turned out to be the case is that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency maintains a list of 36 “specially designated countries” whose immigrating citizens get extra scrutiny because their nations “promote, produce or protect terrorist organizations or their members.” Note the word “or.”

“Produce,” in this context, means that terrorists reside in the country. Thus, countries like the Philippines and Morocco, along with Israel, are on the list. Approximately a million and a half Israeli citizens are Arabs-many of whom have ties to Arab residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. So no, with apologies to Mr. Morris et al, the U.S. does not consider Israel a terror sponsor.

What makes some people all too ready to misrepresent such things is that many Americans, especially in the Jewish community, have deep concerns about President Obama’s Middle East policies. My personal view is that these concerns are overblown. While I realize there are other opinions, as far as I can tell Mr. Obama’s positions on building in the settlements and on the terms of Israel-Palestinian negotiations have been American policy since long before his presidency.

Even doubters of Mr. Obama’s good will, though, should recognize the import of the administration’s declared readiness to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood. That stance risks the U.S.’s international political capital and may even, G-d forbid, come to threaten Americans’ safety. Might it speak more loudly about the president than his opposition to new settlements?

Speaking equally loudly is what happened on September 9, when Mr. Obama acted swiftly to warn Egyptian authorities that they had better protect Israeli embassy guards in Cairo besieged by a mob. When Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minster Barak were unable to reach the apparently indisposed Egyptian military leader Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta spent hours hounding the Egyptian, finally reaching him at 1 AM to let him know that if anything happened to the Israelis, there would be “very severe consequences.” Egyptian soldiers protected the hostages until an Israeli Air Force plane safely evacuated them.

Mr. Netanyahu later recounted that he had asked for Mr. Obama’s help and that the president had replied that he would do everything he could. “And so he did,” testified the Prime Minister.  

It may not be meaningful for many, but I was struck two days later on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks when the president, betraying his Islamic beliefs (joke!), chose for his reading at the New York ceremony the 46th chapter of Tehillim. The one including the words (in the White House’s translation):

“Though its waters roar and be troubled… there’s a river whose streams shall make glad the City of G-d, the holy place of the Tabernacle of the Most High.”

And:

“The God of Jacob is our refuge.”

Whatever our takes on this or that statement or position, hard facts are not up for debate.

Let’s not forget some such facts:

  • The Obama administration has provided more security assistance to Israel than any American administration;
  • he has repeatedly declared (first in 2009 in Cairo during his speech to the Arab world) that the bond between the U.S. and Israel is “unbreakable”;
  • his Secretary of State lectured Al-Jazeera that “when the Israelis pulled out of Lebanon they got Hezbollah and 40,000 rockets and when they pulled out of Gaza they got Hamas and 20,000 rockets”;
  • his State Department has condemned the Palestinian Authority’s “factually incorrect” denial of the Western Wall’s connection to the Jewish people;
  • and much more.

Last week, in the lead-up to a Congressional election in Brooklyn  in which Jews had ample other reason to vote against the Democratic candidate, some ads presented the contest as an opportunity to “Send Obama a Message”-which some Jews took to mean an angry message about Israel.

Many thoughtful Jews, though, have a different message for Mr. Obama:

"Thank you."

“Leadership of historic dimensions” to save Israelis in Cairo embassy

Monday night at Israel Policy Forum’s symposium in New York on “Security and the New Middle East,” former Director of the Mossad Efraim Halevy spoke directly about President Obama’s efforts to extricate the six Israelis trapped inside the Israeli embassy in Cairo last Friday night.

I believe the leadership that the President of the United States showed on that night was a leadership of historic dimensions. It was he who took the ultimate decision that night which prevented what could have been a sad outcome-instead of six men coming home, the arrival in Israel of six body bags.

And I want to say to you very openly and very clearly that had there been six body bags, there would have been a much different Israel today than we have been used to seeing over recent years. This would not have been one more incident, one more operation, one event. And the man who brought this about was one man, and that was President Barack Hussein Obama.

Full transcript after the jump.
We’ve been talking these days about Turkey and about Egypt. And I would like to say something about the event which took place last Friday evening or through the night in Cairo, which I think to a large extent was a seminal event, not only in the history of the Middle East but also in the history of the relations between Israel and Egypt, and between Israel and the United States of Americ

During that night, as you know, our embassy was surrounded and was on the verge of being stormed.  And the Prime Minister went to the special command center in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from there he actually ran and commanded this operation of trying to extricate our staff from the embassy. And, at the end, there were six people left, six people of the security detail of the embassy.  They were there inside the last room, which had been the ultimate room in the embassy. And, they had one steel door, which was between them and the mob.

And the Prime Minister took many very, very important decisions that night. Successful decisions, very responsible decisions.  And for that he has been lauded, and rightly so I think by the public in Israel and by the population at large for his cool and his measured way of handling this crisis.

But one of the decisions he had to take in the end, he wanted to take, was to find ways of extricating his people, our people, out of that embassy. And he turned to one man, to the President of the United States, and he spoke to him. And the President of the United States, without having much time to consult with Congress, and with the media, and with the analysts and with all of the other people who have to be consulted on major and grave decisions. He took a decision to take up the telephone and get on the line with the powers that be in Egypt, and get them to order the release of these six people, and the detail of the Egyptian commando forces entered and saved them.

I think that this decision by President Obama was a unique decision in many ways. Because I don’t have to tell you, and this was just said time and time and over again this afternoon/this evening, that the United States is not in a position the way it was many years ago in the Middle East, it has its problems, it has its considerations, and rightly so. But I believe the leadership that the President of the United States showed on that night was a leadership of historic dimensions. It was he who took the ultimate decision that night which prevented what could have been a sad outcome-instead of six men coming home, the arrival in Israel of six body bags.

And I want to say to you very openly and very clearly that had there been six body bags, there would have been a much different Israel today than we have been used to seeing over recent years. This would not have been one more incident, one more operation, one event. And the man who brought this about was one man, and that was President Barack Hussein Obama.

And I believe it is our duty as Israelis, as citizens of the free world, to say, not simply thank you President Obama, but also we respect you for the way and the manner in which you took this decision.”

Netanyahu on Rescue at Israeli Embassy in Cairo

— by David A. Harris

This Shabbat has been an extremely difficult time for Israel as Israel’s Embassy in Egypt was attacked by protesters, and Israel’s Ambassador and staff had to be airlifted out.

Tonight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the country and discussed in part how the Israelis made it safely home:

“I would like to express my gratitude to the President of the United States, Barack Obama. I asked for his help. This was a decisive and fateful moment. He said, ‘I will do everything I can.’ And so he did. He used every considerable means and influence of the United States to help us. We owe him a special measure of gratitude. This attests to the strong alliance between Israel and the United States. This alliance between Israel and the United States is especially important in these times of political storms and upheavals in the Middle East.”

As the crisis was escalating on Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama coordinated directly by phone. The President expressed his “great concern” about the security of the Israelis serving at the Embassy, and he pressed “the Government of Egypt to honor its international obligations to safeguard the security of the Israeli Embassy,” as the White House noted.

More after the jump.   .
 

This cooperation existed at many levels — not just between the President and the Prime Minister. As The Washington Post noted, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak had been in close contact with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the National Security Council’s Dennis Ross. The Post explains that Panetta pressed for and received assurances from the head of Egypt’s ruling military council that the Embassy would be secured.

The ramifications of this extremely disturbing event are significant and will be lasting — even as Prime Minister Netanyahu strives to maintain the treaty with a changing Egypt as he indicated he would tonight.

But with this strong security partnership — between countries, and between these two leaders, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu and their teams — Israel’s safety and security can and will be assured.      

“To Bigotry No Sanction”: Should US follow Washington or Pharaoh?

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Remarks at Philadelphia City Hall, March 11, 2011

The hearings planned by Congressman Peter King to isolate American Muslim communities as hotbeds of terrorism evoke two memories from Jewish life – one from two centuries ago, in America; the other, far more distant —  about 35 centuries ago, in Egypt.

The first:

“Now there arose a new king over Egypt… And he said to his people, “Behold,  the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. Come, let us use our wits against them, lest they multiply and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and rise up over the land…. So they made the Children of Israel subservient and embittered their lives.” (Exodus 1: 10-13)

In the other, it was August 17, 1790. The new Constitution had been in effect barely more than a year, and the Bill of Rights — including the First Amendment’s forbidding Congress to invade freedom of religion — had not yet been adopted. But President George Washington had just received a letter from the “Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island,” asking what the role of Jews and Judaism would be under the new government.

More after the jump.
Washington was no great writer, no great speaker. Yet he wrote back perhaps the most eloquent and ringing words of his life.  Though it is clear that his behavior as a slaveholder was ignoble, yet this letter bespoke nobility:

“To bigotry, no sanction;
To persecution, no assistance.”

“May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall  be none to make him afraid….”

 

In the minds of Americans in 1790, “the stock of Abraham” meant the Jewish community. Yet two centuries later, millions of American Muslims also look upon themselves as “the stock of Abraham,” and for them Washington’s promise is in jeopardy.

Shall American government and society today lean toward Washington’s or Pharaoh’s vision of society, when it comes to behavior toward American Muslims?

There have been virulent attacks by radio talk “hosts” with millions of listeners against Islam as a religion. Local governments have tried to use zoning laws to prevent the construction of mosques in neighborhoods where churches were warmly welcomed. And where local governments have supported such efforts (as in New York City and the plans to create a Muslim community center/mosque in Lower Manhattan), political vigilantes have whipped up a storm of fear and rage.

Yet the most egregious of these acts of bigotry is the  decision by the new chair of the House of Representatives Committee of Homeland Security, Congressman Peter King of Long Island, to hold hearings on American Islam as if it were a hotbed of terrorism.

Leave aside Congressman King’s own hypocrisy: He used to support the Irish Republican Army, twin culprits with the Ulster nationalists in terrorizing Northern Ireland for three decades. Leave aside the real question about homeland security: Why is it taking so long to secure American ports against the clandestine import of high explosives, even nuclear weapons, for use against civilians? Leave aside why the Committee is not looking urgently into the network of incitement against “homeland security” that led to the near murder of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the actual murder of her staff and supporters  and a Federal judge — an event that one might think should occupy the thoughts of another Member of Congress.

Leave all that aside, and we still must ask ourselves what it means for the Congress to be inciting bigotry and inviting persecution of an entire religious community

In two sorts of crises in the past — wars and economic depressions — some Americans have reacted with scapegoating of “the other” and attacks on freedom. These moments include passage of the Alien & Sedition Acts in the 1790s during the half-war with France, the “draft riots” that killed hundreds of Blacks in New York City during the Civil War, the “Red Scare” deportations led by J. Edgar Hoover in 1919, the wave of anti-Semitism during the Great Depression, the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the hounding of artists and professors and actors and activists by Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee early in the Cold War.

Afterward, almost all Americans have felt deeply ashamed of these behaviors. But during each episode, some political forces in America benefited from inciting bigotry.

Now, we are in the midst of both mass disemployment and an endless, unwinnable war. For those modern analogues of Pharaoh who rule and support centers of great undemocratic power and wealth while stripping others of public services and servants — teachers, nurses, social workers — indeed, while some lose jobs, homes, lives, and limbs — it is convenient to make scapegoats, just as Pharaoh did.

Indeed, as we look around today we notice that the same political forces that are trying to smash unions, to undermine the health of low-income women by defunding Planned Parenthood, to weaken even the mildest milieux of independent public discussion by defunding NPR, to risk global scorching and the pollution of the drinking water of millions of Americans and the imposition of unprecedented droughts in Russia and unprecedented floods in Pakistan — all for the sake of enormous profits — are the same forces trying to scapegoat Hispanics and Muslims, so as to distract those who are suffering in the present economic, political, and cultural crisis in the US and the world.

This analysis of our situation suggests that addressing bigotry directly is a necessary but not sufficient response to the wave of bigotry. It is crucial to address as well the need to end the endless wars and the economic depression that are exacerbating Americans’ sense of insecurity and anxiety that make scapegoating attractive.

In the present American crisis, there is an even more precise political use for anti-Muslim scapegoating. The second most progressive ethnic voting bloc in the US, second only to African-Americans, is the Jewish community.   Efforts to use anti-gay or anti-immigrant or anti-abortion rhetoric to divide various progressive blocs and nullify their progressive instincts have been shrugged off by almost all American Jews.

But anti-Muslim bigotry, because it evokes fears of Muslim and Arab hostility to the State of Israel, has won more support in parts of the Jewish community than any of these other forms of bigotry. At the same time, still other parts of the Jewish community have responded out of strong memories of the treatment of Jews as outsiders, pariahs, and traitors, from the time of Pharaoh to the time of Henry Ford and Father Coughlin.

The best of Jewish wisdom, Jewish values, and Jewish historical experience all accord with the best of American wisdom, American values, and American historical experience to teach us that America will “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity,” as the Constitution promises,  if we choose the path of shalom and tzedek — peace and social justice – and the path of President Washington, not the path of Pharaoh as in our generation it is echoed in Congressman King’s diatribes against Islam.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center;  co-author with Sr. Joan Chittister and Saadi Shakur Chisti of The Tent of Abraham (Beacon Press, 2006);  co-author with Rabbi Phyllis Berman of Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia (Jewish Lights, 2011) – on learning from the biblical story of Pharaoh, the Exodus, Sinai, and the Wilderness how to address the world-wide crisis of today.

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.