Netanyahu: Scarlett Johansson Should Be Applauded

— by Steve Sheffey

In his AIPAC keynote speech last Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, emphasized that Iran is an “outlaw terrorist state” that should not be permitted to enrich uranium:

Pressure is what brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place, and only more pressure will get [them] to abandon their nuclear weapons program. Greater pressure on Iran will not make war more likely; it will make war less likely — because the greater the pressure on Iran and more credible the threat of force on Iran, the smaller chance that force will ever have to be used.

Netanyahu made a case for the peace process, noting that peace with the Palestinians would open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and the Arab world, leading to great economic and other gains in the region.

More after the jump.
Barak Ravid wrote in Ha’aretz that, “For the first time in a major speech, Netanyahu used ‘leftist’ language and stressed ‘the fruits of peace’ that Israel will enjoy if it reaches an agreement with the Palestinians. For a moment one could have thought that it was Shimon Peres at the podium or, God forbid, John Kerry.”

Bibi asked how anyone could “fall for the BS in BDS”:

Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state… attempts to boycott, divest, and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism.

Those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.

Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame. And those who oppose BDS, like Scarlett Johansson, they should be applauded.

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Josh Shapiro’s Letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, is urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to keep the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia open. Recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it is considering closing the consulate.

In a letter dated November 26, 2013, Shapiro wrote that the consulate “is critical to the continuance of the longstanding relationship between the people of Israel and our region.” Shapiro went on to say that the consulate “is of vital importance to our respective nations’ common interests and its continued operation will serve to enhance the mutually beneficial economic and business connection between Israel and our region in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”

In the letter, Shapiro references Netanyahu’s upbringing in Montgomery County during which the future Prime Minister graduated from Cheltenham High School. “The Greater Philadelphia region is an economic hub for Israel, processing 25 percent of Israel’s nearly $20 billion in exports to the United States each year,” Shapiro wrote, adding that the presence of the Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia is integral in that process.

Shapiro is active is many Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in the area. He has traveled to Israel six times, and has met Netanyahu twice.

Rethinking Plans to Close Israeli Consulate in Philadelphia

Among the wonderful aspects of our Jewish community in Philadelphia is the close relationship we have with the State of Israel. We do not take that relationship for granted. It comes as the product of hard work, constant communication and, perhaps most importantly, personal contact. The close personal contact we have with Israel in Philadelphia comes from the warm relationship which we have with the Israel Consulate and, specifically, the Consul General.

I was saddened to receive the news that the government in Israel is considering closing our Consulate. Understanding the financial burdens which weigh on the State of Israel, I am sympathetic to the need to cut costs in many programs.  At the same time, the work of the Consul General and the Consulate creates the close and warm bond which we feel toward Israel, ultimately impacting positively on Israel’s economy through our support. We benefit from the Consul and his office through his personal presence at so many of our synagogues and Jewish Institutions. He provides a friendly and knowledgeable voice for the State when he speaks, contributing strong support for Israel when she is attacked, a voice of reason, warmth and encouragement for those of us who work to support Israel. [Read more…]

Netanyahu: “I Wish We Could Believe Rouhani’s Words”

Yesterday, at the United Nations General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged vigilance in protecting the world from Iran’s nuclear ambitions:

The Jewish people’s odyssey through time has taught us two things: Never give up hope. Always remain vigilant. Hope charts the future. Vigilance protects it. Today, our hope for the future is challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.

In the wake of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s recent campaign to present a moderate face, Netanyahu reminded the world body that the new Iranian president has a long history in his country’s nuclear weapons program.

More after the jump.
Netanyahu said:

Rouhani was also Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005. He masterminded the strategy which enabled Iran to advance its nuclear weapons program behind a smokescreen of diplomatic engagement and very soothing rhetoric. Now I know Rouhani does not sound like Ahmadinejad. But when it comes to Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the only difference between them is this: Ahmadinejad was a wolf in wolf’s clothing and Rouhani is a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a wolf who thinks he can pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. Like everyone else, I wish we could believe Rouhani’s words. But we must focus on Iran’s actions. And it’s the brazen contrast, this extraordinary contradiction between Rouhani’s words and Iran’s actions that is so startling.

B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement in response:

B’nai B’rith would very much like to see the issue of Iran’s nuclear program resolved in a way that puts Iran out of the nuclear weapons business. At the same time, we cannot dismiss 20 years of deception by Iran.

Iran’s centrifuges continue to spin. Tehran has made several feints before while negotiating the nuclear issue, and has continued to hide and build its nuclear program. This is why we must remain skeptical of Iran’s intentions this time.

Kerry and Netanyahu Discuss Israeli-Arab Final-Status Negotiations


Kerry and Netanyahu in Israel last month.

Yesterday, a Senior State Department official issued the following statement about Secretary of State John Kerry’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

Following-on President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Secretary Kerry met with the Prime Minister at the State Department this afternoon. Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu discussed a range of issues, focusing primarily on the ongoing final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians and how the United States, in its facilitating role, can continue to help these talks succeed. They also discussed Iran and Syria. Secretary Kerry underscored our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security and noted that we will continue to work closely with Israel on our shared interests, especially to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Transcript of Kerry and Netanyahu’s remarks follow the jump.
Secretary of State John Kerry and and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before their meeting, September 30, 2013 in the White House Treaty Room

SECRETARY KERRY:  Good afternoon, everybody.  It’s my great pleasure to welcome the Prime Minister of Israel here and to the State Department.  I think – (audio feedback).  Ta-da.  (Laughter).

Obviously, I’ve had a number of very generous, warm welcomes as I have visited Israel and the Mideast frequently.  I think I’ve been probably the most frequent visitor; I should get frequent flyer miles for my visits to the Prime Minister’s office.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  We couldn’t afford it.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY KERRY:  But it is more than safe to say that the Prime Minister and I are every meeting forging a better and better relationship, a stronger and stronger friendship on a very personal level.  And I’m very grateful to him for his very generous welcomes to me, the amount of time he has spent with me in Jerusalem working through very complicated but very, very important issues.

Israel, as everybody knows, is a very special friend to the United States of America.  And we have just had a very constructive luncheon with the President and a very important meeting before that with a larger group of people.  And now the Prime Minister and I will talk about both Iran, the Middle East peace process, Syria, and issues of concern.

We are committed to continuing to work constructively to move forward on the peace process, though it is always difficult, complicated.  We know that.  But we’re working in good faith.  I have confidence in the Prime Minister’s commitment to this effort, and I also want him to know that as we reach out to respond to Iran’s efforts to purportedly change its relationship with the world, we do so very aware of and sensitive to the security needs of Israel and the demands for certainty and transparency and accountability in this process.

So I look forward today to furthering our conversation, and I’m very, very happy to finally welcome the Prime Minister here to the State Department.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU:  Mr. Secretary, thank you.  John, it’s good to be with you.  We have if not the whole world, a good chunk of it to discuss, and we do so as friends and as people seriously committed to both achieving security and a durable peace.  These are hard things to achieve, but none better than you and us to try to do it together.

SECRETARY KERRY:  Thank you.  Thanks, partner.  

Obama: “Words Are Not Sufficient” for Iran

President Barack Obama met today with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office. The two discussed the situations in Syria, Egypt and Iran. After their meeting, Obama and Netanyahu carried short remarks.

About Syria, Obama said:

We are both pleased that there is the possibility of finally getting chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria. But I think we both share a deep concern that we have to be able to verify and enforce what has now been agreed to at the United Nations. Chemical weapons inside of Syria obviously have threatened Syrian civilians, but over the long term also pose a threat to Israel. And we want to make sure that we get those indiscriminate, horrible weapons out of there.  

About Egypt, he said:

We continue to have concerns about what has happened in Egypt, but we also are committed to a constructive relationship with Egypt, in part because of the important role that the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli peace serve not only for the stability and security of both those countries, but also for security in the region and U.S. security.

About Iran, the President said:

It is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon. That is important for American security; it is important for Israeli security; it’s important for world security, because we do not want to trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world. And given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past — the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel — it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient, that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that, in fact, they are meeting their international obligations fully, and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.

Netanyahu commented:

I believe that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table. I also believe that if diplomacy is to work, those pressures must be kept in place. And I think that they should not be lessened until there is verifiable success. And, in fact, it is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened.

Netanyahu also referred to the peace process with the Palestinian Arabs:

We know that for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself, by itself. And I hope that we can achieve an historic transformation that will give a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors, and, who knows, one day with our other neighbors as well.

After the remarks, Obama was asked about the expected government shutdown at midnight, and replied:

The Senate has passed a bill that keeps the government open, does not have a lot of extraneous issues to it, that allows us then to negotiate a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues, but that ensures that we’re not shutting down the government and we’re not shutting down the economy at a time when a lot of families out there are just getting some traction and digging themselves out of the hole that we’ve had as a consequence of the financial crisis.

Full remarks after the jump.
Obama: Well, it’s a pleasure to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu back to the Oval Office. I think I’ve had the pleasure of hosting him more often than just about any other world leader, and hopefully this will provide just some small measure of repayment for the wonderful visit that I had in Israel this spring. And I want to thank him and his family and his entire team for the tremendous hospitality that we had when we were there.

The Prime Minister and I were just talking about the fact these are hectic times, and nowhere is that more true, obviously, than in the Middle East. And so we had an opportunity for a wide-ranging discussion about a range of issues.  

I commended him for entering into good-faith negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in discussing how we can resolve what has been, obviously, one of the biggest challenges for a very long time in the region. And both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have assigned outstanding negotiators. They have been engaging in serious conversations. And our goal continues to be to help facilitate — not dictate, but facilitate — the kinds of genuine negotiations that will result in two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

And we have a limited amount of time to achieve that goal, and I appreciate the Prime Minister’s courage in being willing to step forward on behalf of that goal.

We had an opportunity to discuss the situation in Syria. Obviously, we have a broad set of strategic concerns in Syria. We are both pleased that there is the possibility of finally getting chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria. But I think we both share a deep concern that we have to be able to verify and enforce what has now been agreed to at the United Nations. Chemical weapons inside of Syria obviously have threatened Syrian civilians, but over the long term also pose a threat to Israel. And we want to make sure that we get those indiscriminate, horrible weapons out of there.  

And so we are consulting with the international community on these issues, and I shared with the Prime Minister our belief that we have to move with speed and dispatch in actually making sure that the agreement that was arrived at in the United Nations is followed through on.

In addition, we have the larger question of how to deal with the civil war that’s taking place in Syria. And given Israel’s significant interest in the spillover effects of activities there, we will be consulting very closely with them.

We had an opportunity to discuss Egypt, and I shared with him what I said at the United Nations just a week ago, which is that we continue to have concerns about what has happened in Egypt, but we also are committed to a constructive relationship with Egypt, in part because of the important role that the Camp David Accords and the Egypt-Israeli peace serve not only for the stability and security of both those countries, but also for security in the region and U.S. security.

So we will continue to work with the Egyptian government, although urging them and pushing them in a direction that is more inclusive and that meets the basic goals of those who originally sought for more freedom and more democracy in that country.

And we had an opportunity, obviously, to discuss Iran. Both the Prime Minister and I agree, since I came into office, that it is imperative that Iran not possess a nuclear weapon. That is important for American security; it is important for Israeli security; it’s important for world security, because we do not want to trigger a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region in the world. And given the statements and actions from the Iranian regime in the past — the threats against Israel, the acts against Israel — it is absolutely clear that words are not sufficient, that we have to have actions that give the international community confidence that, in fact, they are meeting their international obligations fully, and that they are not in a position to have a nuclear weapon.  

What I also shared with the Prime Minister is that, because of the extraordinary sanctions that we have been able to put in place over the last several years, the Iranians are now prepared, it appears, to negotiate. We have to test diplomacy. We have to see if, in fact, they are serious about their willingness to abide by international norms and international law and international requirements and resolutions. And we in good faith will approach them, indicating that it is our preference to resolve these issues diplomatically.

But we enter into these negotiations very clear-eyed. They will not be easy. And anything that we do will require the highest standards of verification in order for us to provide the sort of sanctions relief that I think they are looking for.

So we will be in close consultation with Israel and our other friends and allies in the region during this process, and our hope is that we can resolve this diplomatically. But as President of the United States, I’ve said before and I will repeat that we take no options off the table, including military options, in terms of making sure that we do not have nuclear weapons in Iran that would destabilize the region and potentially threaten the United States of America.

In all of this, our unshakeable bond with the Israeli people is stronger than ever. Our commitment to Israel’s security is stronger than ever. And we are very much looking forward to continuing to work with our friends in Israel to make sure that the U.S. security interests are met, Israel’s security interests are met, but hopefully that we can also bring about greater peace and greater stability in a region that has been racked with violence and tensions for far too long.  

And I appreciate the Prime Minister’s views. He is always candid, and we’re always able to have not only a good working relationship at the prime ministerial level, but also because of the outstanding work that our staffs do.

So, Mr. Prime Minister, welcome.  

Netanyahu: Mr. President, thank you for welcoming me and my delegation on what I know is a very busy day for you in Washington today.  

There are many things on your plate, but I know that you know and the American people know that there is no better ally — more reliable, more stable, more democratic — other than Israel in a very raw, dangerous place. So I welcome the opportunity that we’re having to discuss how we work closely together to address the enormous challenges that face both of us. And I think of those, the most important challenge is preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

I appreciate deeply the fact that you have made clear that you remain committed to this goal. I also appreciate the statement you made that Iran’s conciliatory words have to be matched by real actions — transparent, verifiable, meaningful actions.  

Iran is committed to Israel’s destruction. So for Israel, the ultimate test of a future agreement with Iran is whether or not Iran dismantles its military nuclear program. We have a saying in Hebrew, we call it mivchan hatotza’a (“the test of outcome”) — you would say it in English, what’s the bottom line? And the bottom line, again, is that Iran fully dismantles its military nuclear program.  

In this regard, I want to express my appreciation to you for the enormous work that’s been done to have a sanctions regime in place to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. I believe that it’s the combination of a credible military threat and the pressure of those sanctions that has brought Iran to the negotiating table.

I also believe that if diplomacy is to work, those pressures must be kept in place. And I think that they should not be lessened until there is verifiable success. And, in fact, it is Israel’s firm belief that if Iran continues to advance its nuclear program during negotiations, the sanctions should be strengthened. It’s the combination, I believe, that has guided your policy and our policy so far, that is good credible military threat and strong sanctions I think is still the only formula that can get a peaceful resolution of this problem.

Mr. President, we discussed many of these, but I want to use this opportunity to thank you, Secretary of State Kerry and others in your administration for helping to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I remain committed to that peace. And I hope that our efforts — our common efforts — would lead to a secure and lasting peace.  

We know that for peace to endure, it must be based on Israel’s capacity to defend itself, by itself. And I hope that we can achieve an historic transformation that will give a better future for us and our Palestinian neighbors, and, who knows, one day with our other neighbors as well.

So I want to thank you again for your hospitality, for your efforts, and it’s very, very good to see you again.

Q: Mr. President, are you resigned to a government shutdown at this point? And given how close we are to the midnight deadline, have you had any conversations with Speaker Boehner over the past few days?

Obama: I am not at all resigned. And I’ll have a chance to obviously speak more to this. I’m going to have a Cabinet meeting this afternoon and may have some further thoughts for the press as the day goes on. But the bottom line is that the Senate has passed a bill that keeps the government open, does not have a lot of extraneous issues to it, that allows us then to negotiate a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues, but that ensures that we’re not shutting down the government and we’re not shutting down the economy at a time when a lot of families out there are just getting some traction and digging themselves out of the hole that we’ve had as a consequence of the financial crisis.

I’ve said before, Congress has two responsibilities: Pass a budget, pay the bills. And I am not only open to but eager to have negotiations around a long-term budget that makes sure that we’re investing in middle-class families, helping the economy grow, giving people who are working hard a leg up, and greater security and stability and deals with some of our long-term challenges in terms of debt and deficits.

But the only way to do that is for everybody to sit down in good faith without threatening to harm women and veterans and children with a government shutdown, and certainly we can’t have any kind of meaningful negotiations under the cloud of potential default, the first in U.S. history.

There’s not a world leader, if you took a poll, who would say that it would be responsible or consistent with America’s leadership in the world for us not to pay our bills. We are the foundation of the world economy and the world financial system. And our currency is the reserve currency of the world. We don’t mess with that. And we certainly don’t allow domestic policy differences on issues that are unrelated to the budget to endanger not only our economy but the world economy. So I suspect that I will speaking to the leaders today, tomorrow, and the next day.

But there’s a pretty straightforward solution to this. If you set aside the short-term politics and you look at the long term here, what it simply requires is everybody to act responsibly and do what’s right for the American people.  

All right?  Thank you very much, everybody.  Thank you.  

Israel Responds to Rouhani’s Hypocritical UN Speech

— by Israeli Consul General Yaron Sideman

Yesterday, the world witnessed one of the most cynical and hypocritical displays ever made at the U.N. General Assembly, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took the stage. Here are some of the reasons why, clearly articulated in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the Iranian President’s speech:

  • Rouhani spoke of human rights even as Iranian forces are participating in the large-scale slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria.
  • He condemned terrorism even as the Iranian regime is using terrorism in dozens of countries around the world.
  • He spoke of a nuclear program for civilian purposes, even as an IAEA report determines that the program had military dimensions, and while any rational person understands that Iran, one of the most oil-rich nations, is not investing capital in ballistic missiles and underground nuclear facilities in order to produce electricity.
  • It is no coincidence that the speech lacked both any practical proposal to stop Iran’s military nuclear program, and any commitment to fulfill U.N. Security Council decisions. This is exactly Iran’s strategy — to talk and play for time in order to advance its ability to achieve nuclear weapons. Rouhani knows this well.
  • He bragged that a decade ago, he succeeded in misleading the West, so that while Iran was holding talks, it simultaneously advanced its nuclear program.

Continued after the jump.

The international community must test Iran not by its words, but by its actions.

The Israeli delegation absented itself from Rouhani’s speech in order not to grant legitimacy to a regime that does not recognize the existence of the Holocaust, and which publicly declares its desire to wipe the State of Israel off the map. As the Prime Minister of Israel, the state of the Jewish people, I could not allow the Israeli delegation to be part of a cynical public relations ploy, by a regime that denies the Holocaust and calls for our destruction.

Actions speak louder than words. The international community should examine Iran according to its actions, which clearly indicate an acceleration of Iran’s military nuclear program, and continue intensifying economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran until Iran completely dismantles its military nuclear capabilities.  

Kerry in Israel: “The Threat of Force Remains”

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Israel today, and spoke about Syria and the Israeli-Arab Peace talks in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanhayu.

About the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Kerry said: “These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.”

Kerry added that last week, the United States and Russia agreed to “strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria.”

The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons… President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains… We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs.

Netanyahu said:

The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

About the peace talks, Kerry said that “the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.”

Netanyahu said to Kerry, “we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all.”

Full remarks after the jump.
Netanyahu: Mr. Secretary, John, a pleasure to welcome you again in Jerusalem. I very much appreciate the fact that you’re here today. You’ve got a lot on your plate. Despite that busy schedule of yours, you took the time to come to Jerusalem.  It’s deeply appreciated. I appreciate the fact that you’re making a great personal effort on matters of vital strategic importance for all of us.  

We have been closely following and support your ongoing efforts to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. The Syrian regime must be stripped all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer. The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don’t have weapons of mass destruction, because as we’ve learned once again in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them. The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime’s patron, Iran.  

Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons. What the past few days have showed is something that I’ve been saying for quite some time, that if diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat. What is true of Iran — or what is true of Syria is true of Iran, and by the way, vice versa.

John, I appreciate the opportunity we’ve had to discuss at some length our quest for peace with the Palestinians and the ongoing talks. We both know that this road is not an easy one, but we’ve embarked on this effort with you in order to succeed, to bring about a historic reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians that ends the conflict once and for all. I want to welcome you once again to Jerusalem. I want to promise all of those who are seeing us now that this will not be our last long meeting.

Kerry: No.  (Laughter.)  Not by any means.

Mr. Prime Minister, my friend Bibi, thank you very much for one of your generous welcomes here again. I’m very appreciative, very happy to be back here in Israel, and only sorry that it’s a short time and a short visit. I thank you for your generous hospitality and I pick up on your comments that the road ahead is not easy. If it were easy, peace would have been achieved a long time ago.  But what is clearer than ever today is that this is a road worth traveling. And so I’m delighted to have spent a good period of time — (clears throat) — excuse me, folks, the benefits of a lot of travel. (Laughter.)  

I’m really happy to have spent a serious amount of time with the Prime Minister this afternoon talking in some depth about the challenges of the particular road that we are on. This is a follow-up to a very productive meeting that I had in London last week with President Abbas, so I am talking to both presidents directly as we agreed —

Netanyahu: Don’t elevate me to the role of president.

Kerry: President — Prime Minister and President, I apologize.

Netanyahu:
I can’t reach those heights —

Kerry: (Laughter.) Both leaders.

Netanyahu: — and I respect Mr. Peres greatly and —

Kerry: I am talking to both leaders directly. And everybody, I think, understands the goal that we are working for. It is two states living side by side in peace and in security. Two states because there are two proud peoples, both of whom deserve to fulfill their legitimate national aspirations in a homeland of their own, and two states because today, as we commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, I think everybody is reminded significantly of the costs of conflict and the price, certainly, that Israelis have paid in the quest for their security and identity.

The Prime Minister and I and all of the parties involved have agreed that we will not discuss details at any point in time. We are convinced that the best way to try to work through the difficult choices that have to be made is to do so privately with confidence that everybody will respect that process. And since I have asked for that from all the parties, I’m not going to break it now or at any other time. We will not discuss the substance of what we are working on.

I do want to comment, however, as the Prime Minister has, on the challenge of the region and what we have just been doing in the last few days of negotiations in Geneva. And that is, as the Prime Minister has said, an issue that directly affects the stability of this entire region, and ultimately, weapons of mass destruction, which are at stake in this issue, are a challenge to everybody on this planet. So this is a global issue, and that is the focus that we have tried to give it in the talks in Geneva in the last days, but we want to make sure people understand exactly what we are trying to achieve and how.

The ongoing conflict in Syria has enormous implications for all of the neighbors — the press of refugees, the fact of weapons of mass destruction having been used against the people of their own state. These are crimes against humanity, and they cannot be tolerated, and they are a threat to the capacity of the global community to be able to live by standards of rules of law and the highest standards of human behavior.  

So I want people to understand the key elements of what we agreed to in Geneva. It is a framework, not a final agreement. It is a framework that must be put into effect by the United Nations now. But it is a framework that, with the Russian and U.S. agreement, it has the full ability to be able to, as the Prime Minister said, strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria. The Russians have agreed, they state, that the Assad regime has agreed to make its declaration within one week of the location and the amount of those weapons. And then we will put in place what we hope to put in place through the United Nations, what Russia and the United States agreed on, which is the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal effort well beyond the CWC that has been designed.

Now this will only be as effective as its implementation will be, and President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains. The threat of force is real, and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the United States are committed to achieve this goal. We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or any other.  

The core principles with respect to the removal of these weapons and the containment of these weapons, which we want to achieve, as we said in the document, in the soonest, fastest, most effective way possible — if we achieve that, we will have set a marker for the standard of behavior with respect to Iran and with respect to North Korea and any other state, rogue state, group that decide to try to reach for these kinds of weapons.

The core principles will have the full backing of the international community through the U.N. Security Council. And Russia agreed that any breach of compliance, according to standards already set out in the CWC, any breach of the specifics of this agreement or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria will result in immediate referral and action by the Security Council for measures under Chapter 7, which means what they select, up to and including the possibility of the use of force.

So again, I reiterate diplomacy has always been the preferred path of the President of the United States, and I think is any peace-loving nation’s preferred choice. But make no mistake, we’ve taken no options off the table. President Obama’s been absolutely clear about the remainder of the potential of use of force if there is noncompliance or refusal to take part, because the egregious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against innocent men, women, children, their own citizens all indiscriminately murdered in the dead of night, is unacceptable. And we have said in no uncertain terms that this should never happen again. This country understands the words, “Never again,” perhaps better than any other.

I’ve been in contact with many of my counterparts, with Foreign Secretary Hague of the United Kingdom, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Their partnership on these issues has been essential. And I will see both of them tomorrow and Foreign Minister Davutoglu of Turkey in Paris, where I’ll also meet Foreign Minister Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia in order to talk about the road ahead to achieve our goals.  

Our attention and our efforts will now shift to the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the UN Security Council, and the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its commitments, and we expect Russia to join with us in holding them accountable.  

I also want to make clear this effort is not just about securing chemical weapons in Syria. We are not just standing up for a redline that the world drew some 100 years ago, and which is worth standing up for. Our focus now must remain on ending the violence, ending the indiscriminate killing, ending the creation of more and more refugees that is not only tearing Syria apart, but threatens the region itself.  

As President Obama has said, and I have said many times, there is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t want to create more and more extremist elements and we don’t want to see the implosion of the state of Syria. So our overall objective is to find a political solution through diplomacy, and that needs to happen at the negotiating table, and we will stay engaged with a sense of urgency. And I say to the Syrian opposition and all those in Syria who recognize that just removing the chemical weapons doesn’t do the job, we understand that, and that is not all we are going to seek to do. But it is one step forward, and it eliminates that weapon from the arsenal of a man who has proven willing to do anything to his own people to hold onto power.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and I met with Special Envoy Brahimi yesterday. We will meet again in New York. We are committed to continue to work towards the Geneva 2. And we have made clear that our support to the opposition in an effort to get there will continue unabated.  

So, Mr. Prime Minister, I know you and I are both clear-eyed about the challenges ahead. We have to summon the grit and the determination to stay at this, to make the tough decisions — tough decisions about eliminating weapons of mass destruction and tough decisions about making peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We will not lose sight of the end game. I know that from talking with the Prime Minister today. And I think both of us remain deeply committed, and we hope very much with our partners in the region, to doing our best to try to make this journey towards peace get to its destination.

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.  

Netanyahu: John, another sound bite. (Laughter.)

Kerry to Travel to Jerusalem, Paris


Kerry’s meeting with Netanyahu, last May.

— by Jen Psaki

Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Jerusalem tomorrow, Sept. 15, to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The purpose of the visit it to have an in-depth discussion with the Prime Minister on the final-status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, following on the Secretary’s meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London last Monday. They will also focus on developments in Syria.

Secretary Kerry will then travel to Paris, France. He will meet with French Foreign Minister Fabius and UK Foreign Secretary Hague on Monday, Sept. 16. While in Paris, Kerry will also meet with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal. Kerry will return to Washington on the same day.

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.

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