Get to Know Israel From Inside: Ari Shavit’s “My Promised Land”

— by Kenneth R. Myers, Esq.

With Secretary of State Kerry’s peace initiative in the Middle East nearing a conclusion, this is a great time to read My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. If you have already read it, consider reading it again.

Shavit is a Sabra, and the son and grandson of Sabras. His British great-grandfather came to Palestine as a tourist in 1897, returned home to fight for the Zionist cause, and ultimately resettled his family in Palestine.

Shavit lived through the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, and has been a kibbutznik, a soldier, and ultimately, a well-known journalist.  

Shavit carried out the direction in Genesis 13:17, and traveled the land, beginning in the steps of his great-grandfather. He interviewed both important and ordinary Jews and Palestinians, and visited sites of historic significance in the struggle between the Jews and the Palestinians.  

More after the jump.
In every page of this book, his love for the land comes forth. He asks the question, how did the best of intentions of the early settlers to live side-by-side with the Palestinians, turn into 60 years of confrontation with no apparent solution?

The book describes the massacres, the important battles, and the victories and defeats of both sides.

Shavit visited locations where Arab villages existed but do not anymore, or have been replaced by Israeli towns and cities. He visited Jewish settlements that have been, and in some instances are still, marauded. He pieced together the reasons that Palestinians departed or were driven away from them.

The title, “My Promised Land,” is misleading: After reading the whole book, “Our Promised Land” sounds more appropriate. Along with the victories and wonders Israel has accomplished, the Palestinian claim to a fair shake comes through loud and clear.

Shavit sets forth great achievements by Israel, far beyond any parallel development in Arab lands. But he also perceives several missteps. The most serious of these, Shavit explains, was the government’s decision to retain, at least for a time, the territories conquered in the Six Day War:

[F]rom the beginning Zionism skated on thin ice. On the one hand it was a national liberation movement, but on the other it was a colonialist enterprise. It intended to save the lives of one people by the dispossession of another.

In its first 50 years, Zionism was aware of this complexity and acted accordingly. It was very careful not to be associated with colonialism and tried not to cause unnecessary hardship. It made sure it was a democratic, progressive, and enlightened movement, collaborating with the world’s forces of progress. With great sophistication Zionism handled the contradiction at its core…

But after 1967, and then after 1973, all that changed… The self-discipline and historical insight that characterized the nation’s first years began to fade… You were wrong to think that a sovereign state could do in occupied territories what a revolutionary movement can do in an undefined land… Ironically, [occupation] brought back the Palestinians Ben Gurion managed to keep away.

After building a detailed history, Shavit examines Israeli society, politics, economics, government, and the competing positions between Israel and the Palestinians of today.  

[F]ive different apprehensions cast a shadow on Israel’s voracious appetite for life:

  • the notion that the Israeli Palestinian conflict might not end in the foreseeable future;
  • the concern that Israel’s regional strategic hegemony is being challenged;
  • the fear that the very legitimacy of the Jewish state is eroding;
  • the concern that a deeply transformed Israeli society is now divided and polarized, its liberal democratic foundation crumbling; and
  • the realization that the dysfunctional governments of Israel cannot deal seriously with such crucial challenges as occupation and social disintegration.

Through interviews with key political and government figures, Shavit explores each of these five apprehensions, gloves off and no holds barred.

For anyone trying to understand where Israel is headed and what might happen there in the future, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel is a must-read.

Conference to Raise Cause of Jewish Refugees From Muslim Countries


Jewish refugee camp in Israel, 1950.

The “forgotten refugees” of the Arab-Israel conflict — Jews forced from their homes in Arab countries — will gain a hearing at the United Nations Building in New York tomorrow, at a conference named “The Untold Story of the Middle East: Justice for Jewish Refugees from Arab Countries.”

The conference will urge that American and international diplomacy recognize the rights of the Middle East’s Jewish refugees on an equal footing with those of other refugees in the region, including Palestinian Arabs — an especially salient topic given ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

The conference will be convened by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and Justice for Jews from Arab Countries.

“The world has long recognized the Palestinian refugee problem, but without recognizing the other side of the story — the 850,000 Jewish refugees of Arab countries,” president of WJC, Ronald S. Lauder, said.

More after the jump.
The conference will hear presentations from Israeli Minister of National Infrastructure Silvan Shalom, Israeli Permanent Representative to the U.N. Ron Prosor, Lauder, Conference of Presidents Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenlein, and Co-President of Justice for Jews from Arab Countries Sylvain Abitbol.

The film The Forgotten Refugees, a documentary by Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and North Africa, will be screened.

“For any Middle East peace process to be credible and enduring, it must ensure that all bona fide refugees receive equal rights and treatment under international law,” Lauder said.

Boycott Divestment Summer Camp

— by Alana Goodman

Reprinted with permission from The Washington Free Beacon

Anti-Israel college students will trek to a scenic campsite in upstate New York this summer to learn how to launch campus boycotts against the Jewish state at a program subsidized and run by one of America’s largest Quaker faith groups.

The American Friends Service Committee “We Divest Campaign Student Leadership Team Summer Training Institute” describes itself as a “five (5) day intensive program for campus [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] organizers-those with campaigns already running and those hoping to get one launched in the 2013-2014 school year.”

More after the jump.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign was officially launched by a network of pro-Palestinian groups in 2005 and seeks to use economic and cultural boycotts to isolate Israel, force the government’s hand on Palestinian negotiations, and evoke comparisons between the Jewish state and South Africa’s Apartheid regime.

Students attending the AFSC’s Summer Training Institute, which is also sponsored by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, will participate in “anti-oppression analysis workshops,” “non-violent direct action planning,” and “strategy sessions with BDS movement leaders,” according to the AFSC website.

The program runs from July 28 to Aug. 1 and promises “fun in a summer camp-like environment!” The cost of room and board is subsidized by the AFSC and the JVP, according to the website.

An AFSC official said the number of attendees for this year is not yet finalized and said the 2013 program will focus on “call[ing] attention to what is happening in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories while supporting a just and lasting peace that benefits both Palestinians and Israelis.”

Pro-Israel groups have vehemently opposed the BDS movement, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report that said the campaign was driven by anti-Jewish sentiment in March.

“It doesn’t help a single Palestinian. It doesn’t improve the quality of life for Palestinians. It is simply anti-Israel,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Abraham Cooper told the Washington Free Beacon. “Unfortunately, the community of the people associated with this particular church have embraced [the BDS campaign] completely, so much so that they are using up whatever moral capital they have to do training for an immoral, hypocritical, and anti-Semitic undertaking.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center report said the BDS program meets Natan Sharansky’s “three D’s” test for anti-Semitism: It follows “double-standards” by criticizing Israel while overlooking human rights abuses across the Arab world; “demonizes” Israel by comparing its actions to those of Apartheid regimes; and attempts to “delegitimize” the Jewish state by targeting its existence.

Cooper said students attend these events “thinking their actions are doing the equivalent of the folks that [participated in] the Montgomery Bus Boycott, or following the route of Martin Luther King Jr.-complete and utter nonsense.”

“What a shame, for young people, who are highly motivated that want to do something good in the world,” he added.

The AFSC’s Michael Merryman-Lotze, who helped organize the summer program, objected to the argument that the BDS campaign is anti-Semitic.

“We see nothing inherently anti-Semitic in the use of these proven nonviolent tactics nor in the BDS movement as a whole,” said Merryman-Lotze. “Are BDS opponents next going to argue that these same tactics were anti-White in the Jim Crow south and apartheid era South Africa?”

Merryman-Lotze also disputed claims from critics that the campaign has been ineffective.

“Why, if BDS is ineffective and largely a failure, have the Israeli government and groups like the ADL, the Wiesenthal Center, and AIPAC invested millions of dollars in developing campaigns to counter minimally funded grassroots BDS activism?” said Merryman-Lotze. “If our efforts are ineffective, why write a story about our planned training program? The answer is that BDS is effective and successful.”

While the BDS campaign has gained traction on college campuses and won support from some high-profile names such as Elvis Costello and Stephen Hawking, it has failed to have an impact on the Israeli economy or influence policy.

Israel’s tech industry in particular continues to boom, with Google purchasing Israeli company Waze for $1 billion on Tuesday.

“Culturally-just this week-two enormous, international sporting events were held in Israel,” one D.C. Jewish organization official told the Free Beacon. “Economically, the world’s largest tech companies are rushing to invest there. Politically, Israel stands out more than ever as the only stable Western ally left in the entire Middle East.”

The BDS movement’s failure to meet its objectives suggests that efforts to fund and support the campaign are aimed at opposing the Jewish state rather than achieving any legitimate policy goal, according to pro-Israel advocates.

According to the D.C. Jewish organization official.

“You’ve really got to ask yourself where boycott advocates keep getting the energy, given that efforts to economically and culturally isolate Israel have been an utter failure. Let’s pretend that boycotters succeed in getting everyone to stop buying Israeli hummus, which is something they actually think is important. If they keep that up for a few thousand years, it will almost offset this week’s billion-dollar acquisition of Waze by Google. No company in its right mind is ever going to boycott a country that’s been nicknamed ‘Start-Up Nation.'”

The Anti-Israel Movement: BDS On Campus

This weekend, on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, a conference will be held. The gathering, which the University is hosting, has been arranged by a group which is identified by the acronym BDS. BDS refers to the movement dedicated to punishing, vilifying and delegitimizing the State of Israel in three ways.

  • First, this group encourages “B”, boycotting Israeli products.
  • Second, the group advocates “D”, divesting from companies which do business in and with Israel.
  • And third is “S”, the efforts to convince governments around the world to impose sanctions against Israel.

[Read more…]

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.