photo by Rhonda Spivak
PRESIDENT OBAMA: HIS CONNECTION TO AIPAC PRESIDENT LEE “ROSY” ROSENBERG
LINGERING PROBLEMS AND CLARIFICATIONS WITH OBAMA’S ISRAEL SPEECHES; HOW ERIC CANTOR
UPSTAGED OBAMA-THE DEFINING MOMENT: HOW DEMOCRATIC SENATOR UNDERMINED OBAMA;
HOPEFULS GINGRICH AND BACHMAN AT AIPAC
Washington- Although President Barack Obama delivered a speech about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at the the AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] conference on Sunday May 22, 2011 to “clarifiy” his earlier speech of May 19, 2011 many in the AIPAC crowd were not convinced about the degree of Obama’s support of Israel.This was the case notwithstanding that Obama recieved a standing ovation and notwithstanding that his speech to AIPAC was an improvement over his original speech. [Both Obama’s speeches of May 19 and May 22 are reprinted at the end of this article.]
The failure of the crowd of 10,000 people to be won over in their heart of hearts by Obama’s clarification speech is important because most of the AIPAC delegates voted for Obama in the last elections.
Before analysing the changes in Obama’s two speeches, let me state at the outset that assuming that I am correct in my observation that a noticable proportion of AIPAC delegates have serious doubts about Obama’s committment to preserving what they see to be Israel’s vital interests, this means that it should not be assumed that Obama will sew up the Jewish vote like he did in the last election.
Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Secretary for President George W. Bush made one of the most important observations at the conference. Fleischer said that if Jews vote 4 to 1 in favour of the Democrats in Florida, the Democrats win Florida– but if Jews vote only 3 to 1 in favour of the Democrats, the Republicans take Florida. Florida is a key state, as are a few other states (i.e. New York) where there is a large concentration of Jewish voters.
I had assumed that Obama needed to keep Jewish financial support intact. But until Fleischer made this statement, I figured that Jewish votes as a bloc are not that important to him. But that’s not necessarily the case – Obama needs both Jewish financial contributions and votes as he looks towards his 2012 re-election campaign.
And speaking of Obama’s need of financial contributions, one of the most important words in Obama’s speech at AIPAC was the word “Rosy“, the name he uses to refer to his long-time friend and President of AIPAC since 2010 Lee Rosenberg (who also happens to have contributed money to Obama’s campaign last election). Here’s the way Obama referred to “Rosy”, who got mentioned three times in the first paragraph of Obama’s speech:
“Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction. But even more, thank you for your many years of friendship. Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first. When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy – you were at my side every step of that very meaningful journey through the Holy Land. And I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership and for your warm welcome today.”
After being mentioned three times in the opening paragraph of Obama’s speech, I began wondering just how important Rosy is to Obama. Founder and CEO of LRS media, founding shareholder and managing director of Kettle Partners, and founding shareholder and director of New York-based GRP Records, Rosy must be one of the reasons Obama made sure he got to AIPAC at the very beginning of the conference to “expand” on his last Thursday’s speech. (Note that “expand on ” is the diplomatic term used in AIPAC’s newsletter I read at the conference as oppposed to the more accurate term “change”, “retreat from”, “adjust”, “backpedal”, etc.)
A correspondent based at the White House that I met told me that Rosy wasn’t just any old contributer to Obama’s campaign–but rather he was a key financial campaign organizer who was pivotal in bringing in other donors.
The Washington Post’s “Who Runs Government ” website http://www.whorunsgov.com/Profiles/Lee_Rosenberg describes Rosy under the title “Why He Matters” as follows: “Chicago entrepreneur Rosenberg was one of President Barack Obama’s staunchest Jewish allies during his 2008 campaign. He advised the President on foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel and delivered speeches to Jewish groups around the country.”
Now I would venture a guess (and it is only a guess) that after Rosy heard Obama’s speech last Thursday about Israel, that he may have put in a call to his “enduring” friend and told Obama that the Jewish reaction to the speech wasn’t so rosey.
What follows is my analysis of the problems in Obama’s original speech, his clarifications and, finally what I think the AIPAC crowd made out of Obama’s clarifications. Before getting to the nitty gritty, let me state unequivacably that the real story of the AIPAC conference is how Republican Eric Cantor, Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives (and the highest ranking Jewish politician in U.S. history) upstaged Obama in his speech, the key elements of which I shall touch upon.
If the Republicans have any sense in 2012 they will fly Cantor in to Florida to knock down the margin of Jewish votes from 4 to 1 for the Democrats to 3 to 1 over the issue of Israel. If they do that, then according to Ari Fleischer, the Republicans will take Florida. Moreover, if the Republicans are really smart they will begin consulting with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper as to how to win over the Jewish vote, since if a segment of Liberal Jewish voters can become Conservatives in Canada because of the “Israel factor”, then arguably the same trend can happen in America.
That’s not to say that I am in any way predicting that Obama won’t win the next U.S. election–If I had to guess today, I’d guess that he will, but after being at the AIPAC conference I think he will get less than the 78% of the Jewish vote he got last time.
Newt Gingrich, who is a Presidential hopeful for the Republicans, held a reception after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC delegates on May 24. Now, what I gathered at the conference is that Gingrich does not have much of a chance at gaining the Republican nomination, but both he and Republican Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who also wants the Republican Presidential nomination, were smart enough to host receptions at the AIPAC conference. Mitt Romney, who may have an edge right now as the Republican candidate was not smart enough to have done this. That was a mistake on his part. My assessment is that some of the Jewish vote is ripe for the picking-and Republicans will make in-roads.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz also had a reception but media couldn’t attend. Some delegates were lining up to take photos with both Gingrich and Bachmann, and I noticed there were people with kippas there. I think more of the Orthodox Jewish vote will move away from Obama, but they won’t be the only ones.
Regarding the slipping Jewish vote for Obama, note that former New York Mayor Ed Koch has now said he is re-thinking his support of Obama,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/21/top-jewish-americans-pond_n_865175.html ]
THE PROBLEMS WITH OBAMA’S INITIAL SPEECH RE: ISRAEL AND HIS CLARIFICATIONS
There were some good things in Obama’s initial speech on May 19, 2011 that former Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler pointed out in a session at the AIPAC conference which Wexler said “go further than the Bush letter to Ariel Sharon in 2004.”
Specifically, Wexler noted that Obama referred to Israel as a “Jewish state,” (Wexler said this is “mutually exclusive” with saying that Palestinian refugees can’t come back to pre-67 Israel, but I don’t buy that. I think a “Jewish state” means that non-Jews can’t become the majority of Israel’s population, but under that wording hundreds of thousands of Palestinians could come back en masse to Israel.)
Wexler noted correctly that in both his speeches Obama said the U.S. would not back the Palestinian strategy of going to the UN to have it declare a Palestinian state unilaterally without Israel’s agreement. (Although there are real doubts among the AIPAC crowd whether Obama did this with enough clarity earlier before Abbas joined Hamas, and whether he has used U.S. clout enough to convince other countires not to back it).
Wexler noted Oboma spoke of a “demilitarized” Palesinian state (not in the Bush letter, that’s true ), and that Obama wasn’t far from Netanyahu in both his speeches regarding the need for an Israeli pesence on the Jordan valley which Wexler suggested Obama said would be phased out over time. (Wexler may have a point here, but on the whole I am not nearly convinced. Neither of Obama’s speeches actually refer to the Jordan valley, the language about security arrangements is vague and I think it’s too soon to say if the differences between Netanyahu and Obama are gettting narrower regarding the Jordan Valley issue).
Wexler concluded that Netanyahu ought to have focused on the positives in Obama’s speech, rather than the negatives.
Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, has also said that on the whole he saw a lot of positives in Obama’s initial May 19 speech, saying “The speech indicated to me this administration has come a long way in better understanding the difficulties facing both parties but especially in trying to make peace with the Palestinians.”http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/post/adls-abraham-foxman-obama-didnt-throw-israel-under-the-bus/2011/03/03/AFV3Rv7G_blog.html
Notwithstanding Wexler’s defence of Obama’s May 19 speech, there were a few clear problems the AIPAC conference focused on, not all of which were remedied by Obama’s second speech to AIPAC. Here’s my analysis of the problems:
LACK OF NOTICE TO ISRAEL-THE SURPRISE FACTOR: This issue was not something that came out near the beginning of the conference, but became more prominent throughout, and is something that disturbed many AIPAC delegates. It became clear that the Obama administration had not consulted with Netanyahu’s government in advance of his original last Thursday speech to explain what would be the content of his speech, a normal courtesy that would be extended to an ally with whom you have an “iron clad”, “unshakeable bond” (even if there were differences of opinion in substance on the peace process.)
Elliot Abrams, a former Deputy National Security Advisor to George W. Bush said in a session that Netanyahu was genuinely surprised with what was in Obama’s speech because the Israelis were notified “two hours before.”
Barry Rubin, of the Gloria Centre for Strategic Studies, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that ” Is that how you treat an ally?” The lack of consultation was something that even Wexler seemed to acknowledge was a problem when Abrams mentioned it in the session.
Abrams referred several times to the known poor personal relationship between Netanyahu and Obama,something which many AIPAC delegates felt did not justify Obama surprising Netanyahu (and now begins to explain why Netanyahu confronted Obama the way he did during their joint press conference.)
Netanyahu was apparently surprised by the “1967 lines” aspect of Obama’s speech with “land swaps”. He has never publicly or privately endorsed the notion of land swaps, according to the Jerusalem Post.
HAMAS-FATAH RECONCILIATION: In his original speech Obama gave watered down language on the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation which did not re-iterate that Hamas would have to comply with the conditions laid out by the Quartet to qualify as a legitimate partner with Fatah for negotiations. Obama adjusted his speech before AIPAC to meet those concerns, saying:
“I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.”
There is no doubt this clarification regarding Hamas was an important impovement over Obama’s initial speech, which was not very clear at all on what would be absolutely necessary for Hamas to do in order to be accepted as a negotiating partner.
Were the AIPAC delegates satisfied with this improvement? I think not. No one seriously thought that Obama somehow forgot to outline the Quartet requirements, and now remembered this as an after thought. It’s a no brainer that the requirements ought to have been spelled out in the first version of the speech and the fact that they weren’t is likely because Obama’s administration wanted the ability to water-down the requirements if they deem it politically expedient (just as the Europeans are prepared to water down the requirements so that they don’t put Hamas to the real test and force Israel into negotiating with Hamas.)
In a session on Monday, the day after Obama spoke, Elliot Abrams made a remark about not thinking that Israelis would be too comforted by Obama forgetting the Quartet requirements. When Abrams said this, the crowd burst into a long loud applause.
But there’s more to be said on this issue. After saying in his second speech that Israel can’t be “expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction” (in other words, negotiations are impossible), Obama went on to say essentially that meaningful negotiations are needed – an internal contradiction in his speech, since neither America nor Israel can make Hamas accept the Quartet conditions.
THE 1967 LINES-HOW ERIC CANTOR UPSTAGED OBAMA
Obama called for the 1967 lines with mutually agreed land swaps to be the basis of a Palestinian state last Thursday and again this Sunday before the AIPAC Conference.
Regarding the 1967 lines, Obama clarified in his AIPAC speech that he did not mean that he thought Israel would have to return to the lines that existed on June 4, 1967, and would be a U.S. reversal of a position stated by president George W. Bush in his 2004 letter to Ariel Sharon that any agreement would have to take into account “new realities on the ground.”
In this AIPAC speech, Obama said that what this means is that the Israelis and Palestinians “will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967.”
“That’s what mutually agreed upon swaps means. It is a well-known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last 44 years. It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.” [emphasis added]
Obama’s mention of “new demographic realities on the ground” is an echo of what Bush said in his letter to Sharon that “in light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli population centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final-status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
Israel has interpreted this Bush formulation to Sharon as U.S. support for Israel keeping the large settlement blocs, something Obama seemed to be hinting at on Sunday for the first time.
Did AIPAC delegates like hearing this change from Obama’s original speech ? Yes they did–but, again, not completely. That’s because for the last two years Israel has been asking Obama to confirm the Bush letter of understanding and he hasn’t, and that can’t be a little oversight. So now after two years, once he had to do major damage control, Obama was finally able to spit out some of the words of the Bush letter.
But it got worse for Obama. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recieved the longest loudest applause of the conference when he took a direct swipe at Obama.
Calling the Palestinian culture one “infused with resentment and hatred,” Eric Cantor said, “It is this culture that underlies the Palestinians and the broader Arab world’s refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This is the root of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. It is not about the ‘67 lines.” [emphasis added]
When Cantor delivered those simple words “It is not about the ’67 lines” the reporters around me stopped typing and looked up from their labtops rather astounded by the sustained volume of applause. People had lept to their feet by instantaneous reflex. Make no mistake about it–that line was a turning point of the conference. Cantor had struck a cord so fundamental, so deep that the crowd unleashed a torrent of applause, surprising itself with the thundering sound. It was the defining moment of the conference.
Cantor then rolled out another sentence that captured the uneasy sense in the crowd that if left to his own devices Obama could not be counted on when Israel would need America most.
“Israel deserves America’s friendship in reality, not just in rhetoric. Words and promises come and go. Only deeds count.” When he said the words “in reality” Cantor again struck a cord, that had the crowd generate more thundering applause.
Finally Cantor said that this was the time for action and the time “to lead – from the front.” I interpreted this as a reference to Obama’s failure to make it clear months ago to Abbas that under no circumstances would the United States support a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian State, and that it would use its substantial clout with other countries to also oppose it. As Barry Rubin,Director, Global Research for International Affairs (Herzlia IDC ) said to the Winnipeg Jewish Review, by the time Obama got around to saying it himself that the U.S. opposed this unilateral declaration strategy of the Palestinians, “other states, such as Germany and Italy…” had already come out opposing it. “Obama didn’t show any leadership.”
The use by Cantor of the phrase “to lead-from the front” was also a stab at an Obama adviser who talked of “leading from behind” when it comes to the U.S. policy of building a coalition on Libya.
And so, without actually naming Obama, Cantor delivered three strong punches-one after the other. He had clearly upstaged the President before the AIPAC crowd.
The “67 lines” issue was also hit on hard again by Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, a Democrat who in effect undermined his own President, when he said without mentioning Obama’s name:
“The only way to achieve the delicate balance we seek between security and peace is through the hard work of negotiation. And I believe the parties that should lead those negotiations must be the parties at the center of this conflict – and no one else. The place where negotiating will happen must be the negotiating table – and nowhere else.
Those negotiations will not happen – and their terms will not be set – through speeches, or in the streets, or in the media. No one should set premature parameters about borders, about building or about anything else.” (my emphasis)
The entire crowd rose to its feet eagerly—something that I don’t think would have happened so quickly it had really been won back over by Obama’s clarification speech.
As Ron Radosh writes in Pajamas Media, “Unlike the President, Reid – representative of the majority of Democrats in the House and Senate – made it crystal clear that his party was opposed to the policy direction taken by his own President and party leader.” [I recommend a read of Radosh’s complete article, where you can also find the text of Reid’s speech at http://pajamasmedia.com/ronradosh/2011/05/24/reid-and-netanyahu-at-aipac-a-report/ ]
Dr. Tal Becker, an International Associate of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy suggested that Obama’s speech had to be considered in light of the looming “question at isssue” which is whether the “European Union will take a united front against the declaration for unilateral stathood [by the Palestinians].” Becker suggested that a “generous” interpretation of Obama’s speech of May 19 was that it was made becasue “he wants leverage” with the European Union, so that he has something to convince them not to back the Palestinians bid for a unilateral declaration of statehood. “That’s what his [Obama’s] people are saying. Whether its true or not I don’t know.”
THE RIGHT OF RETURN AND END OF ALL CLAIMS
The President’s failure to say in both his speeches specifically that the descendants of Palestinian refugees would need to be absorbed in a future Palestinian state rather than in Israel did not go unnoticed at AIPAC. In my view Obama didn’t say this, because he wants to get Palestinians ( Abbas and maybe Hamas too??) back to the negotiating table, and they have never prepared their people for this real compromise.
Because he did not say anything about the Palestinian refugee issue, Obama’s original speech seemed to suggest that Israel would have to agree to withdraw to the 1967 lines with land swaps, and give the Palestinians a state, and then AFTER this there would be discussion about the Palestinian refugees, who want to return to pre-67 Israel. That seemed to be a shift in U.S. policy, which is a complete no go from the Israeli side, and understandably so. Israel isn’t ever going to agree to any borders to create a Palestinian state without knowing what the deal is going to be on the Palestinian refugee issue.
Netanyahu challenged Obama on that point by saying at their press conference that it’s time to tell the truth that the refugees are not coming back to pre-67 Israel, precisely because of this.
Obama never in his intial speech referred to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza as being “an end of all claims”. To talk about the “67 lines” and not “an end to all claims” leaves the Palesitnians completely free to pursue the “demolish Israel in stages plan”, by flooding Israel with refugees even after they have a state.
Are we to belive that Obama forgot the “end of alll claims language” originally? I can only surmise that he left it out so as encourage the the PA (and Hamas too??) to get to the table. Yet before the AIPAC crowd Obama found a way to slip in the “end of all claims language,” saying:
“That is why, on Thursday, I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims – the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.”
But really that’s not at all what Obama said originally. He originally said that issues such as Jerusalem and refugees would have to be discussed after the borders, so how could the principles he laid out be referred “to ending all claims”? He said in his first speech:
“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’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will 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 both Israelis and Palestinians.” [emphasis added]
There’s “no end of claims” language in there at all.
ISRAEL’S PRESENCE ON THE JORDAN VALLEY
Netanyahu has been consistent in demanding that Israel have an ongoing military presence on the Jordan Valley to prevent weapons build up, terrorism, infiltrators from the East (Jordan and Iran) attacking Israel, etc.
Elliot Abrams suggested at the conference that in his speech to the Knesset recently, Netanyahu has softened his stance by not saying that the presence would have to be permanent, (forever)-Although I think Netanyahu is thinking of it being there for many years /decades ?)
Neither of Obama’s speeches specifically mention any security presence on the Jordan Valley. In his AIPAC speech,Obama said:
“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”[emphasis added]
Obama said something similar in his original Thursday speech.
By including this, Obama may have been suggesting that he would agree with Israel’s need for a military presence on the Jordan Valley for a period of time, but the language is not at all clear. He could be talking about a number of things, not necessarily the Jordan Valley.
My gut feeling is that Obama is hoping to get away without saying anything at all about the Jordan Valley, so he can doublespeak to both Israelis and Palestinians about what this means.
At the conference David Makovsky, Director, Program on Middle East Peace Process of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said that he thought Israel was reasonable in having a presence on the Jordan Valley for a period of time (he didn’t specify a length). I have heard David Makovsky speak in Washington at the end of 2009 and he never mentioned the need for any Israeli military presence on the Jordan Valley after a withdrawal (this idea wasn’t ever in the Olmert -Abbas negotiations ), so it appears to me that Makovsky has shifted a bit in Netanyahu’s favour on this point.
The issue of Jerusalem was not mentioned in Obama’s speech to AIPAC. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk told the opening plenary that was probably because “you wouldn’t have liked what he [ Obama] would have had to say about that point” (i.e. East Jerusalem to the Palestinian state). Obama had enough on his plate to repair at AIPAC–it was smart not to have mentioned it.
OBAMA’S MENTIONING OF HIS PREVIOUS TRIP TO ISRAEL
I’m not so sure how Obama’s talking about his visit to the Western Wall and Sderot in his Sunday’s AIPAC speech played out. It reminded me of the fact that since becoming President, Obama hasn’t found the time to visit Israel, and that according to his Thursday speech (and even his Sunday speech) to retain sovereignity over the Western Wall, I think Israel wpuld have to have a “land swap”–agreeing to give up something of pre-67 Israel.
As for Sderot, Obama said, “When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket.”
I don’t think too many of the residents there would have forgotten to mention the Quartet conditions when it comes to considering whether Hamas (who not very long ago hit a school bus with a missile) ought to be considered a peace partner.
Remarks of President Barack Obama at AIPAC Policy Conference-As Prepared for Delivery
Good morning! Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction. But even more, thank you for your many years friendship. Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first. When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy – you were at my side every step of that very meaningful journey through the Holy Land. And I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership and for your warm welcome today.
Thank you to David Victor, Howard Kohr and all the Board of Directors. And let me say that it’s wonderful to look out and see so many great friends, including Alan Solow, Howard Green and a very large delegation from Chicago.
I want to thank the members of Congress who are joining you today-who do so much to sustain the bonds between the United States and Israel-including Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, and the tireless leader I was proud to appoint as the new chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
We’re joined by Israel’s representative to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren. As well as one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years, and who I know is going to be an outstanding ambassador to Israel-Dan Shapiro. Dan has always been a close and trusted advisor, and I know he’ll do a terrific job.
And at a time when so many young people around the world are standing up and making their voices heard, I also want to acknowledge all the college students from across the country who are here today. No one has a greater stake in the outcome of events that are unfolding today than your generation, and it’s inspiring to see you devote your time and energy to help shape the future.
Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years-that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket. And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.
Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.
That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.
You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.
You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it.
And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.
And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. That is why, on Thursday, I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims – the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.
I know that stating these principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days. I was not entirely surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. And so I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.
Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.
And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.
Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.
There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations. But since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday.
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.
That is what I said. Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is 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.
If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know that we can have this discussion.
Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.
Even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security; even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us; and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead – I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything-if the story of Israel teaches us anything-it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.
For so long as there are those, across the Middle East and beyond, who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. This is not idealism or naivete. It’s a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
TEXT OF OBAMA’S FIRST SPEECH RE: ISRAEL MAY19, 2011, BEFORE AIPAC SPEECH
[The part about the Israeli-Palestinian conflcit occurs at the end of this speech.]
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 be 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 to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people
For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations. 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 and on and on, and sees nothing but 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 now.
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 be 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 to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.
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. That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.
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’s 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 one or two 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.
Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action. No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else. But endless delay won’t make the problem go away. What America and the international community can do is to 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, 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. We believe 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 full 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. And 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’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will 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 both Israelis and Palestinians.