Thank you, Dalia Rabin and members of the Rabin family for hosting this celebration of peace. Minister Ya’alon, Ambassador Obeidat, General Gilad, and, Your Honor – the man who had the pen on this treaty – Justice Rubinstein, honored guests, good evening.
The Israel-Jordan Peace Treaty / PM Rabin and King Hussein
At a time of dynamic and dangerous change in the region, it is an important moment to reflect on the historic peace treaty between the State of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan that was concluded twenty years ago today – a treaty that remains a pillar of security and stability in the Middle East.
Although officially only a “witness” to this treaty, the United States has had a large, if often unseen, hand in facilitating this peace. As with the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, the United States is constantly striving to identify new opportunities to nurture and strengthen the peace.
This has remained a top priority for President Obama and his administration, building on the legacies and vision of the leaders who we honor here tonight: His Majesty King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, both of blessed memory.
These two leaders were giants of the 20th century, leaders who dreamed of a better future for the people of the Middle East and took courageous decision to realize that dream. As with the Israel-Egypt peace treaty – another pillar of America’s enduring commitment to Israel and to peace and stability in the Middle East – leadership was the decisive factor.
At the risk of conjuring unpleasant thoughts, and in no way minimizing the challenges we face, just try to imagine what the Middle East would look like today without the Israel-Jordan peace treaty. That gives you some idea of the enormity of the gift that the leaders who forged this agreement gave us.
Three months before the signing of the peace treaty, on July 25, 1994, King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin met in Washington at the invitation of President Clinton and signed the Washington Declaration, which ended the state of belligerency that had existed for 46 years. In an extraordinary joint session of the U.S. Congress, they also addressed the American people.
Their words were inspiring, and the images from that day are seared in our minds. For so many Americans, particularly for my generation, these leaders left an indelible imprint.
Next week, we will mark the yahrzeit of Prime Minister Rabin on the anniversary of his horrific murder. That is an important and necessary occasion, but I prefer to celebrate his life and achievements, as this great Center does. None are more important than the peace between Israel and Jordan.
King Hussein, who made the pursuit of peace the great cause of his later years, until his final days remained a partner in trying to facilitate peace, bravely pulling his cancer-ridden body from his sick bed to join the Israeli-Palestinian talks at Wye Plantation and spur them to completion.
The untimely deaths of King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin were some of the saddest losses that President Clinton experienced during his Presidency. I worked in the Clinton White House and can tell you as a personal witness how the legacies of these courageous leaders loomed large over his Presidency, right up until the very last day.
Of course, peace between Israel and Jordan seemed out of reach for half a century. For a certain generation of Israelis, Arik Lavie’s “Ha’Sela Ha’Adom” was a stark reminder of dreams deferred by war, enmity and seemingly impenetrable borders. Not a few Israelis gave their lives for a glimpse of the wonders of Petra that lay just across what is now a peaceful frontier.
And then, on that blindingly bright day in the desert twenty years ago, President Clinton was able to declare that “peace between Jordan and Israel is no longer a mirage.” Speaking that same day before the Jordanian parliament, Clinton praised His Majesty, saying the King “sent a signal to the entire Arab world that peace is unstoppable.” Those are words that deserve repeating today.
Amidst our nostalgia, none of us are naïve.
Even on that very first day, the forces of obstructionism, of extremism, of rejectionism were on display. The celebration in the desert was contrasted with protests and terror. Normalization, then as today, faced tremendous challenges. There have been moments that have pushed this peace to the very edge, as with the tragic murder of seven young Israeli schoolgirls at Naharayim.
The pain of such a loss is unfathomable. Yet, in the midst of this personal and national tragedy for Israel, King Hussein came to this country. He knelt down; he held the hands of the grieving parents and a heartbroken nation; he reached across a chasm that seemed unbridgeable.
Both King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin, at the twilight of their lives, lit a torch for peace that still shines brightly. For those who knew them well, and I know there are many here today, you know there was something else they liked to light together. In fact, those iconic images of the two leaders lighting each other’s cigarettes may be even more cherished than the formal photos from the White House lawn or Wadi Araba. They are images of friendship, of partnership, and above all, of trust.
Simply put, these leaders trusted one another. That basic element of trust was the critical factor that allowed them to make such bold decisions. It was trust built-up over time, including through quiet diplomacy years earlier, that made these breakthroughs possible, and it was trust that led King Hussein to eulogize Prime Minister Rabin at his funeral as “my brother”.
Whenever leaders are ready to overcome obstacles and resolve historic conflicts, that is the trust they must summon.
Let me just briefly mention some of the dividends that this historic treaty continues to pay for all of us.
In the area of security, the United States, Israel and Jordan share the mutual goals of a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East and an end to violent extremism that threatens the security of our three countries, and of the region, and the entire world. The stability provided by Israeli-Jordanian peace enables the United States to work closely with our regional partners to address all of the challenges and threats emerging from the violence and instability in neighboring Syria, including the ongoing civil war, the rise of ISIL and other terrorist groups, and the flow of refugees, which has strained Jordan’s economy and society.
Jordan is integrally involved in and has high stakes in the achievement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thinking of Jordan’s unique relationships with all sides and its impressive security capabilities, Secretary Kerry has said, “Whatever resolution there is with respect to the issue of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, Jordan will be a partner in that process.” Neither Israel nor the Palestinians would have it any other way.
Let me also take this opportunity to make reference to recent and ongoing events in Jerusalem. On the occasion of this anniversary, we are reminded of the importance of maintaining the status quo at the city’s holy sites, where, according to the treaty, Jordan retains a special role. We are further reminded of the importance of all sides taking whatever measures they can to preserve peace, and to avoid actions that increase tensions, in a city as cherished as Jerusalem.
In the area of energy, the discoveries of major natural gas deposits off the coast of Israel hold the promise, if managed wisely, of providing Israel with energy independence and greater security and furthering regional development, especially between Israel and Jordan.
These gas fields create tremendous opportunities for regional cooperation. Partnerships in energy could bind countries in the region together in new and meaningful ways.
An American company, Noble Energy, is leading the way in developing Israel’s natural gas resources. Noble and its partners have signed agreements to sell gas to the Arab Potash Company in Jordan and a Palestinian Authority power plant that will be constructed in Jenin, and recently signed non-binding Letters of Intent to sell gas to Jordan’s state-owned National Electric Power Company, as well as liquified natural gas (LNG) facilities in Egypt. None of this would have been possible without our shared investment in peace.
The drafters of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty understood that ensuring affordable access to water resources could contribute greatly to political stability, and that work continues to this day.
In December 2013, Israel and Jordan, along with the Palestinian Authority, signed an historic agreement known as the Red-Dead agreement which sets up a mechanism for Israel to buy desalinated water from Aqaba in the south and sell additional quantities of water to Jordan in the north, and could pave the way for a Red-Dead pipeline can provide a potential path to stabilizing the Dead Sea. An equally ambitious project of global significance is the shared effort by Israel and Jordan to help rehabilitate the Jordan River, on which significant progress has been made.
Israel and Jordan are both free trade partners of the United States. We signed our first Free Trade Agreement with Israel in 1985, and our first FTA with an Arab country was with Jordan in 2000.
I want to close by emphasizing that the peace treaty between the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the State of Israel is a vital American interest and a durable keystone of security and stability in the Middle East.
This treaty stands as a model of how courageous, visionary leaders – leaders committed to peace and to pursuing the interests of their peoples – can create a better future.
The United States stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the sons and daughters of peace. My country has made a sacred commitment to peace between Israel and Jordan, a commitment affirmed by three presidents, supported by the U.S. Congress, and cherished by the American people.
Thank you for coming together to celebrate this great achievement tonight.