I want to thank the Jerusalem Post for this opportunity to again address the Diplomatic Conference. Thank you, Steve, for the invitation.
It is an honor to join so many public figures, diplomats and community leaders at this year’s meeting. I also want to join in congratulating this year’s winner of the “Start-Up Nation” award.
The Jerusalem Post, not unlike Israel itself, has continuously evolved and adapted. The Post occupies a special, almost revered position in the media landscape, not to mention on my desk. For decades, it was a lifeline for English speakers. For my generation, it is hard to imagine Israel without the Post.
Now, in the midst of a digital revolution, you have diversified your platforms and found new and innovative ways to continue to produce quality, credible and original content. You fill a critical need in the media landscapes of both the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
Kol ha’kavod to the Jerusalem Post; and to its editors, writers and staff. You are deserving of our respect and admiration.
One participant who deserves special acknowledgement is President Reuven Rivlin. This week marks just six months in office, yet President Rivlin can already claim a full term of accomplishments.
President Frank D. Roosevelt famously came to the White House with a 100 day plan. His presidency remains iconic, partly due to his meteoric start. Similar to President Roosevelt, President Rivlin has lost no time in getting to work.
He has stood up for unity, for democracy, for fairness and for peace. He has spoken out against violence and against hate.
Last week, we both had the privilege of learning a few lessons about resilience and brotherly love from the young girls and boys of the Max Rayne Yad b’Yad school in Jerusalem. “You are proof,” President Rivlin told the children, “that we can live side by side in peace.”
The U.S. Embassy is proud to support this school. My visit last week—following the disgraceful attack on the school—left me inspired. These children and their families are following the dictum of “doogma-eesheet”: they are setting a personal example of what is possible and how we can collectively overcome despair.
Similarly, in embracing these children and standing with this school, President Rivlin is also setting a personal example for all Israelis and for leaders around this region and across the world.
He has reached across some of Israel’s most sensitive internal divides. He has connected with Israel’s youth. He has built bridges between sectors. He is continuing a lifetime of public service to the Zionist cause, and now as Israel’s 10th president, Ruby Rivlin has left an indelible impression. On behalf of the American people, we salute you.
Israel is heading into an election season. Just as in the United States, or in any democracy, Israel’s citizens, blessed with the right to vote that the citizens of all democracies cherish, face some critical choices about the future of the nation. Only they can make these choices. We wish them well as this political season unfolds. And when the campaign is over, the United States looks forward to working closely with the government chosen by the Israeli people. We are deeply committed to continuing to find more ways to deepen this already extraordinary partnership.
When I addressed this conference two years ago, I spoke about the unique, unparalleled relationship between the United States and Israel. I stressed that our special ties are anchored by our common strategic interests and our common values.
Under President Obama’s leadership, we have found numerous ways to further deepen our extraordinary ties, including by building up what can now be called the third pillar of our relationship: the pursuit of our common prosperity.
Our partnership now encompasses robust economic and commercial ties that have created jobs for tens of thousands of Israelis and Americans. Other countries look on with envy, as we have transformed what was once purely a political and strategic relationship into a powerful engine for economic growth.
Next year marks the thirtieth anniversary of both the U.S.-Israel Free Trade Agreement and the establishment of the Joint Economic Development Group, our annual economic dialogue.
Since the trade agreement was signed in 1985, trade between our countries has multiplied eightfold to over $45 billion per year. Israel has invested over $10 billion in the American economy, and American companies have done the same here.
Years before the term “Start-up Nation” was coined, the United States and Israel set up a unique binational science and industrial research incubator that has funded hundreds of projects. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but you still need brainpower, collective will and collaboration. Iron Dome may garner the headlines, but this particular joint venture – known by the acronym “BIRD” – is equally results-oriented.
Across the entire high-tech sector, our relationship is booming. American companies account for two-thirds of the roughly 300 international research and development centers in Israel, in which critical components of leading American high-tech products are invented and designed.
During his visit to Israel last year, President Obama said if you want to see the future of the world economy, “look at Tel Aviv, home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers.”
So we want to congratulate the innovators and the leading-edge entrepreneurs who are working to further expand and build economic connections between America and Israel. These are the new pioneers—the halutzim—who are helping to ensure our common prosperity.
As impressive as the last 30 years of accomplishments have been, we need to look to the future and work together to improve the trade and investment climate, harness the untapped potential of our economies, and build new regional partnerships.
American companies are already building natural gas infrastructure and supplying expertise that is helping Israel become more energy independent, and solidifying strategic ties with key neighbors.
I look forward to working together with our Israeli counterparts to ease regulatory challenges and facilitate further American investment, including in the natural gas, independent power and solar energy fields.
Israel’s Security and Middle East Peace
Here, in Israel, I know attention is understandably focused on the challenges of peace and security.
America’s enduring investment in Israel’s security and in the pursuit of peace between Israel and its neighbors is a bedrock commitment. This investment in Israel’s future has been affirmed by multiple presidents, supported by the U.S. Congress, and is cherished by the American people.
American leadership in support of Israel can be measured through the deep ties and joint training between our militaries; our unprecedented intelligence cooperation, which makes both of us safer; our fight to defend Israel from delegitimization in international organizations; and our investment in life-saving, cutting edge defense systems like Iron Dome and Arrow.
When Israel needs America, you can be sure we’ve got your back. We are not only on the frontlines and in the trenches with Israel; America is also here to help on the home-front. Whether it was the challenge of absorbing waves of immigrants, the Carmel fire four years ago or now the catastrophic oil spill in the Arava, you can count on America’s help.
President Obama and his Administration are constantly striving to identify new avenues to nurture and sustain opportunities for peace and security. Israelis experienced it during President Obama’s historic visit to Israel last year. In his speech in Jerusalem, he made the simple but profound argument—that peace is necessary; peace is just; and, most importantly to those who might give in to despair, peace is possible.
I experienced it first-hand. When Israelis were subjected to an onslaught of rockets and terror tunnel attacks, President Obama demonstrated unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself, by itself. His personal engagement in the diplomacy to end the barrage of rocket attacks against Israel during the Gaza conflicts in 2012 again this past summer reflected this resolve.
You have seen America’s commitment up close every time Secretary Kerry visits the region, drawn by his strong desire to help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their conflict, in spite of all the known obstacles to that goal.
Our leadership role was on full display last month when Secretary Kerry made an urgent visit to Amman to meet with Jordanian, Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including a trilateral meeting with King Abdullah and Prime Minister Netanyahu, to work toward restoring calm and de-escalating tensions in Jerusalem.
Echoing the messages you heard from Secretary Kerry and the White House, I want to restate the United States’ firm belief in the importance of maintaining the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
It is also critical to restate our core principle that violence and terrorism, and the incitement that can lead to them, are unacceptable. The United States has repeatedly condemned recent terrorist attacks, including the horrific attacks at the light rail stations, in which innocents were murdered, the abhorrent attempt to kill Yehuda Glick; a spate of recent stabbings; and the brutal murders in the synagogue in Har Nof. There is never a justification for murder and terror.
But in thinking about the value of continuing to pursue an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, consider for a moment how much more difficult it would be to unwind what has transpired in recent weeks without the safety net of longstanding Arab-Israeli peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan. It is in everyone’s interest to try to expand this circle; and it is vital that joint security cooperation continue.
A lasting peace settlement, of course, will only come about through direct negotiations. Palestinian initiatives at the U.N., Israeli settlement activities, or other unilateral measures are counterproductive and only delay a resolution of the conflict.
And while we are realistic and know that peace negotiations cannot resume during an Israeli election campaign, we will continue to explore the most effective way to re-establish a political horizon as soon as possible, without which we believe the current atmosphere could quickly deteriorate.
But the main reason we remain committed to achieving a two-state solution is that we see no alternative that would achieve Israelis’ and Palestinians’ legitimate goals, and that would protect our own interests. Simply put, as Secretary Kerry said on Sunday, “there is no one-state alternative.”
There is no other solution “that is viable or that would preserve Israel’s status as a Jewish state and a democracy.” For all the understandable doubts harbored by Israelis and Palestinians, there is no alternative to two states for two peoples, living in peace, security, and mutual recognition, and we believe it can be done. So we are committed to keeping that hope alive.
As you know, The U.S. also remains intensely focused on the campaign to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. President Obama has stated the objective unequivocally–and he also said it here in Israel in no uncertain terms: the United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period. And we will use all elements of our power to achieve this objective.
This past weekend, addressing the Saban Forum, Vice President Biden said “a diplomatic solution” still represents “the best and most sustainable” path to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. At the same time, we have maintained the toughest regime of sanctions ever assembled—with strong multilateral support—and ensured that we have a credible military option as well.
Throughout these negotiations, we have coordinated extraordinarily closely with our Israeli partners. Have we had our disagreements with Israel on certain tactical questions? At times, yes, but these tactical disagreements come within the broader context of our total alignment on the broader strategic imperative, and our close and intimate dialogue that runs in parallel to the P5+1 process.
In fact, I was in Washington in late October for the latest meeting of the U.S.-Israel Consultative Group—our most senior level coordination mechanism on Iran and other regional issues—and I can tell you first-hand that our dialogue on this question is second to none, and has kept us aligned and informed our negotiating strategy.
And we are both in agreement that no deal is better than a bad deal. The evidence for this is the decision to extend negotiations last month. Iran simply was not prepared to make the necessary concessions to provide certainty that it would never acquire a nuclear weapon. We believe a deal is still possible, and our international partners remain united, so an extension was the right decision. But there will only be a deal, and Iran can only achieve the relief from sanctions it seeks, if it shows more flexibility in the negotiations ahead.
None of these challenges are easy. But one constant that will never change is U.S. leadership; US leadership in the campaign to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; in nurturing the partnerships we established and sustain with the moderate regimes of the region; in the campaign we are leading against violent extremists, including a multinational coalition to degrade and ultimately destroy the brutal terror organization, Daesh; in our constant defense of Israel’s security and legitimacy; and in the ongoing quest for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.
It is not a world any of us want to live in. And with continued American leadership we will not have to.
The United States will continue to lead the way in all these efforts, and we will continue to uphold our ironclad commitment to Israel’s security and strengthen the alliance between our great democracies.