Settlement Construction Is No Obstacle to Peace


“There are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here.”

— by Steve Sheffey

Israel’s announcement of new construction, in settlements beyond the 1967 cease-fire line with Jordan, is not an obstacle to peace. Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas knew about it in advance, and it did not scuttle the peace talks. Significantly, and in contrast to previous administrations, the Obama administration has taken no action to force Israel to reverse this announcement, even though the Obama administration’s position on settlements is the same as previous administrations.

Every administration since the Six Day War has opposed and condemned Israeli settlement construction. Secretary of State John Kerry said last week, “The policy of the United States of America with respect to all settlements is that they are illegitimate, and we oppose settlements taking place at any time, not just the time of the peace process.”

More after the jump.
So what was Kerry’s reaction when Israel announced new settlement construction as peace talks were beginning? Did he strike Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with lightning? Did he cut aid to Israel? Did he demand that Israel rescind the construction plans? No. In the same press conference where he reiterated U.S. policy on settlements, Kerry said:

Prime Minister Netanyahu was completely upfront with me and with President Abbas that he would be announcing some additional building that would take place in places that will not affect the peace map, that will not have any impact on the capacity to have a peace agreement. That means that it is building within the so-called blocs in areas that many people make a presumption — obviously not some Palestinians or others — will be part of Israel in the future. He has specifically agreed not to disturb what might be the potential for peace going forward.

Now, we still believe it would be better not to be doing it, but there are realities within life in Israel that also have to be taken into account here going forward. President Abbas understood that coming into these talks. That’s why these talks are pressed into this time period of nine months. That’s why we all understand there is urgency, as I said yesterday, to getting to the discussion of borders and security. If you resolve the borders of Israel — and you can only do that also resolving the security issues for Israel — you have resolved any questions about settlements, because then you know what is in Israel and what is not.

In other words, the U.S. opposes settlement construction, but it understands that Netanyahu faces internal political pressure of his own, and has to do what he has to do. If that is pressure, I wish that the Bush and Reagan administrations had applied similar pressure.

Why did Israel announce new construction in disputed areas? Some have suggested, with no evidence, that maybe there was a quid pro quo, that in return for releasing Arab prisoners, Israel was allowed to announce new settlements. Such a belief has no basis in reality, and suggests that Benjamin Netanyahu would release terrorists in exchange for housing starts. The idea is absurd. The two have nothing to do with each other.

Others have suggested that Israel’s announcement shows that it is not serious about peace, or is trying to undercut the process as it gets underway. Read again what Kerry said. Abbas and Kerry knew in advance that this was coming, and indeed, the peace talks were not derailed by this announcement.

Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.

What Price to Pay for Peace?

— by Steve Sheffey

There is no evidence that the U.S. pressured Israel to release Palestinian prisoners in order to renew the peace talks. Prime Minister Netanyahu made this painful decision because he believes it is in Israel’s best interests to negotiate a two-state solution, even at an unfairly high price.

Virtually all of the 26 prisoners released on August 13 were directly involved in the murders of Israelis. Read about each of them here.

So why did Israel release them? Blogger Matan Lurey summed it up perfectly: The Israel/Palestinian negotiations are about “peace, not justice; pragmatism, not revenge.” The prisoner release was unfair, unjust, and — in the opinion of Prime Minister Netanyahu — in the best interests of Israel.

Perhaps Netanyahu could have brought the Palestinians back to the table with a settlement freeze (which he tried to do before, but it did not work), or an explicit agreement to negotiate based on the 1967 lines, but instead he decided to release the prisoners, which he said was “an incomparably difficult decision, it is painful for the bereaved families and it is painful for me.”

More after the jump.


Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel.

This is not about justice or fairness. Israel needs a two-state solution to remain Jewish and democratic. We can talk as much as we want about what it says about the Palestinians, that they insisted that these murderers be released as a precondition to negotiations. Israel is negotiating a two-state solution for its own sake, not the Palestinian’s sake. Prime Minister Netanyahu determined that this prisoner release was in the best interests of Israel.

Feel free to criticize the prisoner release, if you think that you understand Israel’s security needs better than the Prime Minister of Israel, but do not insult Netanyahu by suggesting that he would sacrifice Israel’s security in response to U.S. pressure. Do not insult previous Israeli governments, which have released more than 10,000 terrorists. There is no evidence whatsoever that the Obama administration pressured Israel into releasing these prisoners. Those on the extreme right and the extreme left, albeit for very different reasons, refuse to see that Netanyahu is willing and able to make difficult decisions for peace.

This is how the White House defines the American role in the negotiations:

The bottom line is these are direct and bilateral talks between the parties. They are going to have to sort these issues out themselves. They will be meeting with each other, as they did here. They met together with the Americans, they also saw each other separately. But as [Senior State Department Official] said, facilitator means to facilitate, and whatever way we can to be helpful, at whatever level, is what we’re going to do.

And that is exactly what they are doing.

Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.

Reprinted courtesy of Yaakov (Dry Bones) Kirschen www.DryBonesBlog.blogspot.com.

Kerry: “There Is No Alternative to a Two-State Solution”

US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat held a joint press conference today on the Israeli-Arab peace process talks.

Secretary Kerry:
I’m delighted to stand here — I think it’s still morning — it is still — with Minister Tzipi Livni and Dr. Saeb Erekat, both of whom I’ve had the privilege of knowing for some period of time and enjoyed working with for all of it.

As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It’s taken the leadership of President Obama, who set this process in motion with his historic visit to the region this spring. And then he spoke powerfully about the necessity and possibility of peace, not only to the leaders but also to citizens who overwhelmingly hope for a better future for their children and for their countries, for their peoples.

Continued after the jump.
The President’s support for our efforts, including his personal engagement with the parties this morning, has been essential, and I thank him for that. And we had a very positive meeting with the President and the Vice President earlier this morning at the White House. I want to also emphasize that Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have both demonstrated courageous leadership to bring us here, and I commend them for the tough choices that they made in terms of the politics at home.

I know the path is difficult. There is no shortage of passionate skeptics. But with capable, respected negotiators, like Minister Tzipi Livni and Dr. Saeb Erekat, standing side by side here today and last night sharing an Iftar meal together with all of us, with their efforts, their expertise, and their commitment, I’m convinced that we can get there.

We’re here today because the Israeli people and the Palestinian people both have leaders willing to heed the call of history, leaders who will stand strong in the face of criticism and are right now for what they know is in their people’s best interests. Their commitment to make tough choices, frankly, should give all of us hope that these negotiations actually have a chance to accomplish something.

I’m pleased to report that in the conversations we’ve had last night and again today, we’ve had constructive and positive meetings, both meetings with the United States present and also meetings with the parties by themselves. The parties have agreed to remain engaged in sustained, continuous, and substantive negotiations on the core issues, and they will meet within the next two weeks in either Israel or the Palestinian Territories in order to begin the process of formal negotiation.

The parties have agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation. And they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims. Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months. The parties also agreed that the two sides will keep the content of the negotiations confidential. The only announcement you will hear about meetings is the one that I just made. And I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks, in consultation, obviously, with the parties. That means that no one should consider any reports, articles, or other — or even rumors — reliable, unless they come directly from me, and I guarantee you they won’t.

The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate — believe me — we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders — President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu — and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there. We can envision a day when Palestinians can finally realize their aspirations for a flourishing state of their own, and the groundbreaking economic initiative that we’ve been working on the with the Quartet and with Tony Blair and others, with the help of the private sector, can help transform the Palestinian economy and build up unprecedented markets and unblocked waves of foreign investment. And we shouldn’t forget that the new jobs, the new homes, the new industries that can grow in a new Palestinian state will also benefit Israelis next door, where a vibrant economy will find new partners.

We can also envision a day when Israelis actually can truly live in peace — not just the absence of conflict, but a full and a lasting peace with Arab and Muslim nations, an end once and for all to the pernicious attacks on Israel’s legitimacy. Israel and — Israelis and Palestinians both have legitimate security concerns. Our commitment to Israel’s security is why President Obama’s Administration has done more than any before it to strengthen our unshakeable bond and why General John Allen is on the ground working to ensure Israel’s security needs will be met. And I emphasize we have worked very closely with our Palestinian friends to help develop Palestinian security capacity. And we cannot forget that the security of Israel will also benefit Palestinians next door.

The Israeli Government has recognized this, which is why it will be taking in the next days and weeks a number of steps in order to improve conditions in the West Bank and in Gaza. And the Palestinian security forces have recognized this, which is why we have seen such a dramatic improvement in law and order and such a dramatic decrease in terror attacks originating from the West Bank.

The Israeli and Palestinian people understand their common interests, and that’s why they continue to take positive steps on the ground to improve relations between themselves. I also want to point out that the Arab League understands this too, which is why it has reaffirmed the Arab Peace Initiative and provided vital statements of support for this process.

Finally, I’d just say everywhere I go, leaders from around the world understand that they share a stake in this endeavor’s success. They all have a role to play, which is why they have continued to contribute to this effort, to advise, to make commitments of support, and to push and advocate and encourage the parties every step of the way. And President Obama and I joined in thanking all of them for their concern and initiative.

So many things are already happening. When somebody tells you that Israelis and Palestinians cannot find common ground or address the issues that divide them, don’t believe them. Just look at the things they are doing together and trying to do together. There are many reasons why we need to solve this conflict, but none more important than the security and dignity of the next generations of Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and the generations who will follow them and benefit from these negotiations hopefully.

I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war.

So while I understand the skepticism, I don’t share it and I don’t think we have time for it. I firmly believe the leaders, the negotiators, and citizens invested in this effort can make peace for one simple reason: because they must. A viable two-state solution is the only way this conflict can end, and there is not much time to achieve it, and there is no other alternative. We all need to be strong in our belief in the possibility of peace, courageous enough to follow through on our faith in it, and audacious enough to achieve what these two peoples have so long aspired to and deserve.

Dr. Erekat.

Mr. Erkat: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Thank you, Minister Livni. On behalf of President Mahmoud Abbas, I would like to extend our deepest appreciation to President Barack Obama and to you, Secretary Kerry, for your relentless efforts and unwavering commitment to achieve a just, comprehensive, lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians have suffered enough, and no one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than Palestinians. I am delighted that all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions, and it’s time for the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state of their own. It’s time for the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state of their own. It’s time for the Palestinians to live in peace, freedom, and dignity within their own independent, sovereign state.

Thank you, Mr. Secretary.  Thank you, Minister Livni.  

Justice Minister Livni: Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Secretary Kerry, on behalf of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Government, and the state of Israel for your determination, for not giving up, because you need to know that I think it was our first meeting during this process that you said to me that failure is not an option. And you proved today that failure is not an option. And this is the man, Secretary Kerry, who showed everyone that nothing can stop true believers. And thank you for that.

I also want to thank President Obama for his personal commitment to peace and to Israel’s security. The powerful impression left by the President’s last visit to Israel still remains in the hearts of the Israeli people. We came here today — Mr. Molho, the Special Envoy of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and myself — after years of stalemate. We came here today from a troubled and changing region. We are hopeful, but we cannot be naive. We cannot afford it in our region. We owe it to our people to do everything, but everything we can for their security and for the hope of peace for future generations.

But it took more than just a plane ticket to be here today. A courageous act of leadership by Prime Minister Netanyahu that was approved by the Israeli Government made this visit here and the beginning of the negotiation possible. We all know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to be hard, with ups and downs. But I can assure you that these negotiations — in these negotiations, it’s not our intention to argue about the past, but to create solutions and make decisions for the future.

You know, Saeb, we all spent some time in the negotiations room. We didn’t reach dead end in the past, but we didn’t complete our mission. And this is something that we need to do now in these negotiations that will be launched today. A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it. Now, I hope that our meeting today and the negotiations that we have re-launched today will cause, I hope, a spark of hope, even if small, to emerge out of cynicism and pessimism that is so often heard. It is our task to work together so that we can transform that spark of hope into something real and lasting.

And finally, I believe that history is not made by cynics. It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people.  Thank you.

Secretary Kerry: Thank you very, very much.

Kerry Names Indyk as Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian

Secretary of State John Kerry And Ambassador Martin Indyk
July 29, 2013, Press Briefing Room, Washington, D.C.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good morning, everybody. Well, as you all know, it’s taken many hours and many trips to make possible the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. And the negotiators are now en route to Washington, even as we speak here. And I will have more to say about the journey to this moment and what our hopes are after our initial meetings conclude tomorrow.

This effort began with President Obama’s historic trip to Israel and Ramallah in March of this year.  And without his commitment, without his conversations there, and without his engagement in this initiative, we would not be here today. The President charged me directly with the responsibility to explore fully the possibility of resuming talks. And in our meetings with President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, he conveyed his expectations for this process.

Transcript continues follows the jump.
Getting to this resumption has also taken the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And I salute both of them for their willingness to make difficult decisions and to advocate within their own countries and with their own leadership teams – countries with the Palestinian territories.

I would also like to recognize the important contributions of senior negotiators on both sides, particularly Minister Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat, both of whom really stood up and stood strong in the face of very tough criticism at home and whose unwavering commitment made the launch of these talks possible. I look forward to beginning work with them tonight.

Going forward, it’s no secret that this is a difficult process. If it were easy, it would have happened a long time. It’s no secret, therefore, that many difficult choices lie ahead for the negotiators and for the leaders as we seek reasonable compromises on tough, complicated, emotional, and symbolic issues. I think reasonable compromises has to be a keystone of all of this effort. I know the negotiations are going to be tough, but I also know that the consequences of not trying could be worse.

To help the parties navigate the path to peace and to avoid its many pitfalls, we’ll be very fortunate to have on our team on a day-to-day basis, working with the parties wherever they are negotiating a seasoned American diplomat, Ambassador Martin Indyk, who has agreed to take on this critical task at this crucial time as the UN – U.S. – excuse me – U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations. Assisting Martin will be – as his deputy and as a senior advisor to me – will be Frank Lowenstein, who has been working with me on this process from the beginning.

In his memoir about the peace process, Ambassador Indyk quotes a poem by Samuel Coleridge that begins, “If men could learn from history, what lessons it would teach us!” Ambassador Indyk brings to this challenge his deep appreciation for the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And from his service under President Clinton, Secretary Christopher, and Secretary Albright, he brings a deep appreciation for the art of U.S. diplomacy in the Middle East. That experience has earned Ambassador Indyk the respect of both sides, and they know that he has made the cause of peace his life mission. He knows what has worked and he knows what hasn’t worked, and he knows how important it is to get this right.

Ambassador Indyk is realistic. He understands that Israeli-Palestinian peace will not come easily and it will not happen overnight. But he also understands that there is now a path forward and we must follow that path with urgency. He understands that to ensure that lives are not needlessly lost, we have to ensure that opportunities are not needlessly lost. And he shares my belief that if the leaders on both sides continue to show strong leadership and a willingness to make those tough choices and a willingness to reasonably compromise, then peace is possible.

So Martin, I’m grateful that you’ve agreed to take a leave from your post at the Brookings Institution to serve once again in this most important role. And I know that you are eager to get to work, as am I.  Martin.

AMBASSADOR INDYK: Thank you. Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for that generous introduction and for vesting in me such important responsibilities. I am deeply honored to serve you and to serve President Obama in your noble endeavor to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The fact that later today Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will sit down in this building to resume final status negotiations after a three-year hiatus is testament to your extraordinary tireless efforts, backed by President Obama, to try to resolve this intractable conflict.

President Obama made the case so eloquently in his historic speech in Jerusalem in March of this year when he argued to an audience of young Israelis that, quote, “Peace is necessary, peace is just, and peace is possible.” And you, Mr. Secretary, have proven him right. You’ve shown that it can be done.

I couldn’t agree more with President Obama. It’s been my conviction for 40 years that peace is possible since I experienced the agony of the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a student in Jerusalem. In those dark days, I witnessed firsthand how one of your predecessors, Henry Kissinger, brokered a ceasefire that ended the war and paved the way for peace between Israel and Egypt.

Because of your confidence that it could be done, you took up the challenge when most people thought you were on a mission impossible. And backed by the President, you drove the effort with persistence, patience, and creativity. As a result, today, Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas have made the tough decisions required to come back to the negotiating table.

I’m therefore deeply grateful to you and to President Obama for entrusting me with the mission of helping you take this breakthrough and turn it into a full-fledged Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. It is a daunting and humbling challenge, but one that I cannot desist from. I look forward with great excitement to working with you, President Abbas, and Prime Minister Netanyahu, and their teams, to do our best to achieve President Obama’s vision of two states living side-by-side in peace and security. I also look forward to working with the team that you are assembling, starting with Frank Lowenstein, who, as you said, has made such an important contribution to getting us to this point and who will be my partner in this endeavor.

Fifteen years ago my son, Jacob, who was 13 at the time, designed a screensaver for my computer. It consisted of a simple question that flashed across the screen constantly: Dad, is there peace in the Middle East yet? I guess you could say, Mr. Secretary, that he was one of the original skeptics. (Laughter.) But behind that skepticism was also a yearning. And for 15 years, I’ve only been able to answer him, “Not yet.”Perhaps, Mr. Secretary, through your efforts and our support, we may yet be able to tell Jake, and more importantly, all those young Israelis and Palestinians who yearn for a different, better tomorrow, that this time, we actually made it.

Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you, all. We’ll see you later. Thank you.

All You Really Need to Know About the Israeli-Arab Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry in Tel Aviv


Tzipi Livni (Israeli Minister of Justice) and Saeb Erekat (Member of the P.A. Parliament)

— by Steve Sheffey

On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Expect to be deluged with spin and speculation from the right and the left about how it happened, the details, and what will happen next. Read it for grins if you have time on your hands. If not, all you need to know for now is what Kerry said on Friday:

The agreement is still in the process of being formalized, so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now. Any speculation or reports you may read in the media or elsewhere or here in the press are conjecture. They are not based on fact because the people who know the facts are not talking about them. The parties have agreed that I will be the only one making further comments about this.

If everything goes as expected, Saeb Erekat and Tzipi Livni, Minister Livni, and Isaac Molho will be joining me in Washington to begin initial talks within the next week or so, and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time.

There will be plenty of leaks from anonymous sources with hidden agendas. Keep in mind what Kerry said and take them with a grain of salt. As events unfold, we will learn more. This is a positive development. That is all we know for sure.

Click here to sign up to Steve Sheffey’s newsletter.

Jewish Organizations Welcome Renewal of Peace Talks


Secretary of State John Kerry

In response to Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement, that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have the basis to resume peace talks, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:

We welcome this apparent progress toward peace, and commend Secretary of State Kerry for his leadership and effort and pledge our support for such efforts as they move forward. We pray that this is the beginning of a process that will lead to a lasting agreement that will bring true peace and stability for a region that has known conflict for thousands of years. We call on both the Israelis and the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table with a true willingness to work for peace and we pray that the vision of the prophets will soon be fulfilled.

JCPA and JStreet comments after the jump.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs Chair Larry Gold said:

This is an opportunity that for the past two years has been extremely elusive. It grows out of the recognition that peace and security, prosperity and independence, cannot be reached by any path other than direct negotiations between Israel and Palestinians. We have no illusions about the difficulties ahead. The issues that must be resolved are profound. But the status quo is unacceptable. Israel’s future as a secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people cannot be fully preserved without establishment of a stable, viable, and independent State of Palestine. We encourage both sides to show the courage, flexibility and persistence necessary for these talks to be successful.

JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow added:

This is a great achievement for Secretary of State Kerry who invested so much time and diplomatic effort in finally bringing Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Last week, we and the American Task Force for Palestine joined together in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of the administration and leaders in Congress to express our support for this effort and for a negotiated peace. Two states for two peoples cannot be achieved without a strong U.S. leadership, and we are thankful to Secretary Kerry and President Obama for their leadership. But the hard work is just beginning. As we move forward, we urge all who want peace to support these negotiations and to encourage reconciliation, not division.

JStreet President Jeremy Ben-Ami said:

Secretary Kerry deserves the recognition of the entire world for his determination and creativity in achieving this breakthrough. We are confident he will remain fully engaged as the parties get down to negotiating. We thank President Obama for making this issue a top foreign policy priority of his second term.

We call on Congress and American Jews to get fully behind this peace effort to give the parties the support they need to make the tough decisions necessary to resolve their conflict.

Achieving a two-state solution is a vital U.S. national security interest and would inject much-needed stability into an increasingly unstable region. It would deal a setback to extremists and terrorists around the world who have exploited this conflict to mobilize support for their violent methods.

Such an agreement is also the only way to secure Israel’s future as both a democracy and a Jewish homeland and would provide Palestinians with a vehicle in which to fulfill their self-determination and national aspirations.

We know that difficult days lie ahead, but we are convinced that with persistence, creative mediation and international support, a deal is within reach. Vocal minorities on both sides can be expected to oppose the negotiations going forward, but must not be allowed to frustrate the desire of clear majorities of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution to end this conflict.

Happy 90th Birthday President Peres!

— by Jason Berger

Yesterday, Israeli President Shimon Peres started his 90th birthday celebration in the only way he knows: in style. The list of celebrities and politicians joining President Peres is long, and it includes President Bill Clinton, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Barbara Streisand and Robert De Niro.

Haaretz wrote about what President Clinton had to say to President Peres:

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivered his much awaited speech, telling Peres, “You are the world’s social Einstein.”

“You have tried to put together a unified theory of meaning to unite politics and philosophy and psychology and history and science and technology,” he said. ” Every one of us who has been blessed enough to know you… has been made a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little more optimistic that one day your theory will be real.”

“On your 90th birthday, what we really celebrate, is your great gift to all of us. God bless you.”

Following the jump are a excerpts from the interviews the press has been conducting with President Peres.
Washington Post:

Q: How do you see Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to get the peace process going again?

A: I’m impressed by his seriousness, his devotion, but I don’t underrate the difficulties that he’s facing. I think we have to stand by his side and help him to fulfill his mission, which is our hope…

Q: You’ve been outspoken in saying Israel should not bomb the Iranian nuclear program unilaterally. Do you still feel that way?

A: I won’t talk about it. I want to say that I think President Obama proposed a policy which is reasonable and, in my eyes, acceptable. He committed himself that he will not permit a nuclear Iran, and he says the way to achieve it is to start by nonmilitary means without excluding such a [military] possibility. Now, what America can do, we cannot do. But if America and we can act together, it is for us the right thing to do. I don’t think we have to monopolize the danger of Iran, because I think Iran is a danger to all of us.

AP:

A: For me, what is important is tomorrow, the next day. What happened until now is over, unchangeable. I’m not going to spend time on it. So I am really living in the future. I really think that one should devote his energies to make the world better and not to make the past remembered better…

I am not running for anything and I am not running away from anything. I am trying where I can to be a unifier, to unite. When I have to voice my view I do, and I shall continue to do it.

Foreign Policy:

Q: How important is the United States to the survival of Israel?

A: Very. I believe vision precedes strategy; not only for Israel, but for the entirety of humanity. Many nations became great or attempted to achieve greatness by taking from the other. The United States became great by giving, not by taking. The one that contributes generates friendship, which is always wiser and cheaper than creating animosity…

Q: What impact did President Obama’s visit have?

A: A tremendous impact. He was wise, sincere, and friendly. He brought a fresh breeze to the Middle East, which reinvigorated public opinion in the region and encouraged everyone to believe that we can achieve a better tomorrow. The people of Israel want peace and are willing to pay the price for peace. President Obama’s visit encouraged them to believe that it can happen and made clear to the people of Israel, once again, that the United States is a true, dedicated, and loyal friend of the state of Israel. It was a historic visit and a hopeful moment for us all.

Secretary Kerry Meets With Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

— by Jason Berger

Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Here are the highlights from their public address:

Netanyahu: Well, John, it’s a pleasure to welcome you to Jerusalem. You’re an old, personal friend and a longstanding friend of Israel. And that friendship was demonstrated in President Obama’s historic visit here in March … We’ll discuss Iran. We’ll discuss the terrible harm to stability in Syria. But above all, what we want to do is to restart the peace talks with the Palestinians.

More after the jump.

You’ve been working at it a great deal. We’ve been working at it together. It’s something I want. It’s something you want. It’s something I hope the Palestinians want as well. And we ought to be successful for a simple reason: When there’s a will, we’ll find a way.

Kerry: My pleasure. We were just saying what a pleasure it is; it’s always wonderful to come back to Israel, and particularly to Jerusalem. It’s a pleasure for me to visit with my friend of many years now — longer than we can count — Bibi Netanyahu. And I’m really grateful to him for the seriousness with which he is working and undertaking the homework that President Obama asked all of us to engage in when he came here on his visit.

There have been some very serious meetings, a lot of very serious discussions. We’re working with the Prime Minister, with Minister Tzipi Livni, with military — General John Allen was here on the ground, working with his counterparts on the issues of security. I would reiterate that the United States of America is committed now, as it always has been and will be, to the security of Israel. The security of Israel is paramount in our discussions with respect to the peace process.

On Syria, I just came from a meeting in Amman with 10 other ministers. They all agreed and are committed to try to move towards a negotiated solution. Nobody has any illusions about how difficult, complicated, what a steep climb that is. But we also understand that the killing that is taking place, the massacres that are taking place, the incredible destabilization of Syria, is spilling over into Lebanon, into Jordan, and has an impact, obviously, on Israel. So we have an obligation to try to see if we can implement Geneva One. Again, we’re aware of the pitfalls, but I think the Prime Minister knows better than anybody what the implications of these security threats are.

And S-300 missiles coming from Russia or other countries — from Iran, missiles — are destabilizing to the region. The United States is committed not only in its defense of Israel, but in its concerns for the region, to try to address this issue.

Kerry Appoints Ira Forman as Special Envoy to Combat Anti-Semitism

Secretary of State John Kerry announced yesterday that Ira Forman will serve as the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Forman, a graduate of both Harvard and Stanford Universities, previously served as Director of Congressional Relations for the Office of Personnel Management during the Clinton administration. He led the National Jewish Democratic Council for fifteen years. Secretary Kerry made the announcement as he released the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report.

Response after the jump from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
The Global Anti-Semitism Review Act of 2004 created the position of Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. Special Envoy Forman’s first act will be to join a group of imams for visiting the site of the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. He will then proceed to the International Conference of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs enthusiastically welcomed the selection of Forman. JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutov said:

For decades, I have admired my friend and colleague, Ira Forman, as a devoted father and husband, model in his community, and voice for positive change in the world. I am proud of our government’s unprecedented commitment to make fighting anti-Semitism a national priority, thanks in large part to the extraordinary leadership in recent years of the immediate past Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal, my beloved predecessor at the JCPA. In selecting someone with the experience and wisdom of Ira, Secretary Kerry and President Obama have made sure this important work will continue. We also are appreciative of the excellent work in this arena carried out by Ambassador Michael Kozak, who has served as the Interim Special Envoy.

JCPA Chair Larry Gold added:

Ira is a deeply respected figure who has long been a powerful advocate for Jewish community interests here at home. With this new position as Anti-Semitism Envoy, he will take that respect and his passion abroad to help identify anti-Semitism where it persists and bring the influence of the US State Department to bear in attacking this pernicious phenomenon.

Kerry in Israel: “No Option Is Off The Table” for Iran


Photo by Yad Vashem

— by Jacob Miller

Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Israel to meet with Israeli officials this week. Secretary Kerry met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres.

Before meeting with President Peres, Secretary Kerry spent Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Memorial Day — laying a wreath at Yad Vashem.

Before Secretary Kerry’s meeting with President Peres he delivered remarks:

Well, Mr. President, thank you very, very much for an extraordinarily generous and warm welcome. It’s really such an honor to be here today to share in Yom HaShoah and to be there at Yad Vashem to lay a wreath on behalf of the American people, but most importantly to simply share in the uniqueness of that expression of sorrow and honor for this remarkable moment in history that we marked.

Continued after the jump.

I was standing there listening to the siren wail and thinking of the stories people have told me of everybody in Israel stopping. If you’re in a car, you get out and you stand at attention. The whole country freezes. And I know it’s one of only two moments when that happens, for Yom HaShoah and for the fallen in battle in struggles. So that wailing had a profound impact on me. It was impressive. And I think the lesson of today is underscored in your comments about the possibilities for peace, the possibilities for people to live together without hatred, and finding the common ground. I believe in that, and I know you believe in that.


Photo by State Department

You are correct; we have known each other, I think, more than 30 years now. And I’ve had the privilege of watching you lead as a statesman. I’ve had the privilege of working with you in the different hats you have worn in government. And it’s a great privilege for me to be able to be here now representing President Obama and the American people in this effort to try to get us across the line.

We all know it’s not easy. But as you said yourself, it can be done. And it has been expressed by your leaders and others through years that people believe in the possibility of a two-state solution. I am convinced there is a road forward, and I look forward to the discussions with your leaders and yourself regarding how that road could be sort of reignited, if you will, once again setting out on that path […]

With respect to Iran and other threats, I am very pleased to confirm to you what I know you know, and what I hope the people of Israel know after the historic visit of President Obama here: You have a friend in President Obama. You have friends in this Administration, in the Congress, and in America. We understand the nature of the threat of Iran. And as the President has said many times — he doesn’t bluff; he is serious — we will stand with Israel against this threat and with the rest of the world, who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.

No option is off the table. No option will be taken off the table. And I confirm to you, Mr. President, that we will continue to seek a diplomatic solution. But our eyes are open, and we understand that the clock is moving. And no one will allow the diplomatic process to stand in the way of whatever choices need to be made to protect the world from yet another nuclear weapon in the wrong hands.

Before meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry delivered brief remarks:

I want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for, first of all, his extraordinary hospitality yet again. We had an extremely friendly, very productive, long discussion last night. I think it’s fair to say that we made progress, that we were pleased with the substance of the discussion and agreed, each of us, to do some homework. And we’re going to do our homework over the course of the next weeks, and today we’re going to continue some of that discussion with a view to seeing how we can really pull all of the pieces together and make some progress here. And I want to thank the Prime Minister for his good-faith efforts here. It’s been serious, it’s been focused, and I would characterize it as very productive.