America’s Enduring Investment in Peace
Thank you, Ambassador Brown, my distinguished predecessor. You may have left the Embassy, but you have never left Israel. Ambassador Faaborg-Andersen, Ambassador Moses, my fellow panelist Ambassador Nevo. Members of the Hebrew University Executive Committee and the Truman Institute Board of Governors, Professor Blondheim and Naama Shpeter, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
It is a particular pleasure for me to return to the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace.
President Truman gave his blessing to the establishment of this institute, specifying his name could be attached only to an institution that actively pursued peace, which this institute has done relentlessly. This conference is just the latest manifestation of your commitment. The Truman Institute is a pioneer in efforts to improve relations and advance peacemaking between Israelis and their neighbors, and we, at the Embassy, have been privileged to be a partner in these initiatives for over three decades.
From the dialogue projects in the mid-80s that brought together Israelis and Palestinians, through your conferences, your research projects, and your regional meetings, the work you do complements our own efforts to advance peace.
Despite the complications and challenges of the regional political and security situations, and maybe because of them, your work in the region continues. Currently, the American Embassy is pleased to support the Truman Institute’s Israeli-Jordanian Working Group on the Environment, Water and Energy, which has brought together specialists to plan and advance joint projects in some of the most fruitful areas of Israeli-Jordanian cooperation.
As many of you know, Ambassador Brown is not my only distinguished predecessor who has joined Truman’s leadership cadre. The great Sam Lewis was also deeply involved in your work over many years. We all mourn his passing earlier this year.
This extraordinary university is inseparable from the Zionist idea, and your development has been deeply intertwined with the Zionist movement from its earliest years, and with the establishment and growth of the State of Israel. Similarly, through the founding of the Truman Institute, with its path-breaking work and distinguished leadership, you have done more than shape the university’s ties with America: you have strengthened the unshakeable alliance that binds our two nations.
For me, coming to this campus is always like coming home. I have visited countless times over the last quarter century, including several times as U.S. Ambassador. I continually draw upon my studies here, which helped launch me into a career devoted to a deeper understanding of Israel and the Middle East. It is a well that never runs dry.
The Middle East is notoriously unpredictable. Even so, when the Truman staff initially conceived of this conference, planned around the 20thanniversary of the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, I don’t think any of us expected we would be facing the complex picture we see today: terrorism rearing its ugly head again, right here, in the heart of Jerusalem; provocations seemingly coming from all directions; a complex and multi-front battle in Syria and Iraq; the aftermath of a recent war in Gaza; instability in the Sinai; and growing tension and unrest around the Temple Mount, the Haram al-Sharif, across Jerusalem and beyond.
These events comprise perhaps the most unsettling combination of challenges we have faced in this region in many years. And while regional actors will be called upon to take tough decisions to overcome these trials, it is precisely at times like this that American leadership is so vital.
There is, of course, no substitute for engaged and responsible Israeli and Arab leaders to manage crises such as those we face today. Prime Minister Netanyahu and King Abdullah of Jordan spoke directly to one another in recent days, as they have several times before amidst crises and tensions. They are seeking ways to deescalate the situation. On another front, Israel and Egypt are in close contact about Egyptian military deployments in Sinai, as called for in the peace treaty, reflecting a common interest in preventing terrorist organizations from harming their mutual security. These direct contacts and coordination mechanisms are essential, and they are backed by an enduring American investment in peace.
Just try to imagine what the Middle East would look like today without the decades of American commitment to enlarging possibilities for peace and security in this region: the campaign to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons; efforts to isolate and prosecute Hamas and its supporters; and the ongoing quest for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. All these efforts would suffer if not for what we have achieved so far.
Or, think about the tensions right here in Jerusalem and how much more difficult it would be to unwind what has transpired in recent days without the safety net of American-sponsored Arab-Israeli peace agreements and the prospects of future negotiations, however incomplete and imperfect the results so far.
President Obama and his Administration are constantly striving to identify new opportunities to nurture, sustain and expand peace. You experienced it during President Obama’s historic visit to Israel last year. In his speech in Jerusalem, you heard him make 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 through the president’s personal engagement in the diplomacy to end the Gaza conflicts in 2012 and again this summer, to prevent the firing of terrorist rockets against Israeli civilians, and restore quiet to Israelis and Palestinians. Here in Israel, you have seen this drive up close every time Secretary Kerry visits the region, drawn by his deep commitment to help Israelis and Palestinians resolve their conflict.
As scholars here in Israel have studied so carefully, leadership is a decisive factor in peacemaking. When leaders have stepped forward to make these historic decisions, they have done so with vision, with courage and with trust: the vision to see beyond today’s challenges and imagine the possibilities of a better future; the courage to choose reconciliation and compromise over other policy options; and the mutual trust that makes possible a partnership between one-time adversaries who see each other’s successes as their own.
It was vision, courage and ultimately a deep sense of trust that led Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat to reach across the divide and take such huge risks for peace. Their legacies endure and continue to inspire.
It was also trust that brought together King Hussein and Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin whose ghastly murder we commemorated just last week, and who stood here on this campus after the guns fell silent in 1967 and spoke of his own and his nation’s commitment to peace.
Following the immense achievement of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty, and as the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations struggled forward, the untimely deaths of these two exceptional leaders, King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin, were some of saddest losses President Clinton experienced during his Presidency. I worked in the Clinton White House and can tell you how the legacies of these courageous peacemakers he admired so much loomed large over his Presidency, right up until the very last day.
President Clinton, like so many of us, was particularly struck by the warmth and, yes, the trust these two leaders felt toward one another. It was trust built-up over time, including through quiet diplomacy years earlier, much of which is still shrouded in mystery. It was trust that led King Hussein to eulogize Prime Minister Rabin at his funeral as “my brother.”
And there is a lesson in their example: whenever leaders are ready to overcome obstacles and resolve historic conflicts, building such trust is a basic precondition. Trust alone is not enough. But its absence, and the absence of efforts even to establish trust, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, all but ensure the perpetuation of the conflict.
From outside the region, the United States has long understood that sustaining and deepening peace requires support—support from neighbors and from the international community. My country has poured its support–political, economic and military–into the quest for Israel’s security and a chance to live in peace with its neighbors. Our investment can be measured in the boundless dedication of successive presidents, secretaries of state, and special envoys who have worked tirelessly to advance these goals.
It can be measured through our investment in cutting edge defense systems like Iron Dome and Arrow. It can also be measured through our leveraging of global relationships to generate broader support for a two-states for two peoples resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; through the building of coalitions to confront terrorism and aggression; and through America’s ongoing assistance to Israel, Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority—which we have sustained for years at unprecedented levels.
Our enduring investment in a more secure, more peaceful Middle East is a sacred commitment, affirmed by multiple presidents, supported by the U.S. Congress, and cherished by the American people.
Yet, none of us are naïve. There are many obstacles, and the road we travel has many twists and turns. Just last week, Jordan recalled its outstanding ambassador to Israel, my good friend Walid Obeidat. We hope he returns to Israel soon. His presence here is vital. Neither has the peace between Israel and Egypt been a simple endeavor, as extremists continue to try to undermine it. All across the region, the forces of obstructionism, of extremism, and of rejectionism continue to challenge the forces of moderation.
Even that glorious celebration in the desert 20 years ago was contrasted with protests and terror. Normalization, then as today, faces tremendous challenges. But in the face of challenges, supporters of peace must respond by redoubling their commitment. Israelis and Arabs should know that the United States will never ease up on its enduring investment in peace.
It is precisely because of this enormous investment that we are so concerned about recent events in Jerusalem. Echoing the messages you heard from Secretary Kerry and the White House, I want to restate the United States’ belief in the importance of maintaining the status quo at the city’s holy sites.
As Secretary Kerry said in Paris, the recent “confrontations, including at the al-Aqsa Mosque, are of deep concern to us. Holy sites should not become sites of tension, and concrete steps need to be taken now, by all sides, to de-escalate this situation.”
The Secretary noted that Jordan plays a “special role” at the holy sites, “a role confirmed in the peace treaty, and we hope that all parties will work to reduce these tensions.” My government is in close contact with all parties, and we are exploring a range of ways in which we can support a deescalation.
At a time like this, we must also restate the core principle that violence and terrorism are unacceptable. The United States has repeatedly condemned recent terrorist attacks, including the horrific incidents at the light rail stations, in which innocents were murdered, and the abhorrent attempt to kill Yehuda Glick, and we wish him a refuah shlemah.
Gathering as we are in Jerusalem, there is more than enough going on at the local level to monopolize our attention. But, as we all know, there are other major struggles just over the horizon.
I would like to speak briefly about one of those struggles: the U.S.-led effort to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL. The fight against ISIL is one of our highest priorities. Whether we call it a cancer or a scourge, ISIL—which represents neither Islam nor a state—is carrying out a campaign that is nothing short of an attack on humanity. The brutal murders of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff will not soon be forgotten, nor will the despicable acts of violence against thousands of Iraqi and Syrian civilians. The United States is leading the battle against ISIL because we recognize the threat it poses, to our friends and allies in the region, to civilian populations in its path, and ultimately, to the United States and others beyond the Middle East.
Our strategy stands on four pillars. First, the United States and our coalition partners have launched hundreds of air strikes against key ISIL targets in Iraq and Syria, which are having an impact, destroying ISIL military assets, and supporting local ground forces in their efforts to roll back ISIL’s gains. Second, as President Obama said in September, “we will increase our support to forces fighting these terrorists,” which we are doing in both Iraq and Syria, through military advisers to the Iraqi Security Forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga, and the equipping and training of vetted moderate Syrian opposition elements.
Third, we are drawing upon our existing counterterrorism capabilities to cut off ISIL’s sources of funding and stem the flow of foreign fighters. Fourth, we are continuing to provide humanitarian assistance to the millions of Syrians and Iraqis who are in desperate need. We are the lead donor for an enormous international effort, led by the UN, which aims to reach so many in need, including many vulnerable minorities. The U.S. role reflects our American values and our humanity, as well as our strategic interests. We are prepared for a long fight and understand it is a complex battlefield.
The unprecedented makeup of the anti-ISIL coalition is evidence not only of the international consensus of the need to quickly reverse ISIL’s advances, but also of the unifying threat ISIL poses to a broad array of countries in the Middle East and around the world.
We are also focused on the diplomatic front, where we have gained tremendous support and legitimacy for our actions. Just look at the September meetings of the United Nations Security Council, as chaired by President Obama and Secretary Kerry: the world stood together, alongside the U.S., in expressing support for the campaign against ISIL.
As President Obama said last year in Jerusalem, it was a reminder that American leadership, whether in the pursuit of peace or in confronting threats to our common security, must remain a constant feature in an uncertain world.
My team and I are eager to hear from the many speakers who have gathered here today. I thank you again for inviting me to join this meeting, and on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Israel I wish the leadership, the scholars, and the supporters of the Truman Institute much success in the years ahead.
We look forward to continuing our commitment and partnership in the quest for peace.