U.S. Ambassador Daniel B. Shapiro. (photo credit:MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Thank you and also a belated “Mazal Tov” to Yaakov Katz, who recently took over as Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post. I want to thank Yaakov, and also David Brinn, the Managing Editor, and all those who worked on this year’s conference.
I am starting to lose track of how many Jerusalem Post conferences I have addressed. It is a fixture in my calendar, and I could not be more pleased than to return and be with you again. And it is always an honor to appear with so many Israeli public figures and national leaders.
I have also brought along a large delegation from the Embassy and want thank the sponsors for welcoming all of us. We have a dedicated, courageous, and talented team, and I want to particularly highlight our Consular staff who are responsible for American Citizen Services.
Replacing lost passports and issuing birth certificates are just two examples of their large and vital portfolio. In the past year, it has sadly also often involved being the U.S. government’s first responders when terrorism and violence have struck American citizens here in Israel, working closely with both victims and their families. In addition to meeting their needs, we have unstintingly condemned such outrageous acts of terrorism and the incitement that can inspire them, whether their victims are Israeli, American, or any other nationality.
Now, in preparing my remarks for this conference, especially in light of recent events in the United States, I decided to take inspiration from my Israeli friends, who, to be frank, are not known for beating around the bush.
In fact, speaking “doogri” – being direct – is a welcome and essential part of the political culture here.
So let me first address the subject I know is on everyone’s mind: Can the Chicago Cubs win back-to-back World Series championships?
I believe they can.
There is also the question of our presidential transition.
As President Obama emphasized two weeks ago in his post-election meeting with President-elect Trump, our number-one priority in the coming two months is to try to facilitate a smooth transition from the outgoing to the incoming Administration.
“It is important for all of us,” the president said, “regardless of party and regardless of political preferences, to now come together, work together, to deal with the many challenges that we face.”
If the new Administration succeeds, the president added, “then the country succeeds.”
American presidential transitions are short, by design, and we have a lot of experience in how to pass the baton as seamlessly as possible. For months, quietly and out-of-sight, the Obama Administration has been preparing for this hand-off. Transition teams representing the new Administration have begun arriving at various Federal agencies, including the State Department, and the system is working as it was designed.
That said, President Obama and his team continue to remain fully engaged, and will remain committed to carrying out their duties and working to serve our nation and its citizens until their final day in office.
President Obama’s ongoing engagement in foreign affairs was on display last week, as our European, Asian, and Latin American allies and partners witnessed during his travels to Greece, Germany, and the APEC summit in Peru. As he has done since his first days in office, President Obama continues to place enormous value and priority on maintaining and strengthening our alliances.
As you will continue to see, the President, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, and our entire national security team will remain focused on protecting our country, defending our allies, and the pursuit of a more peaceful, prosperous, and healthy global community—objectives that have been pursued by successive Administrations, Democratic and Republican.
You can expect to see this Administration continuing to work hard to ensure Israel’s security, defend its legitimacy, oppose BDS, and support steps to advance Arab-Israeli peace.
As Israelis think about our transition, particularly as it relates to issues that matter most to people here, I want to draw their attention to the continuity and continuous upward trajectory that have characterized this extraordinary alliance.
Look at the continuity and growth in the security, defense, and intelligence realms.
Since the election, we have continued to—and will continue to—welcome high-level American officials and military leaders who have met with their Israeli counterparts and with Israeli leaders.
Perhaps most dramatically, on December 12 the first two F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft will land in Israel at Nevatim Air Force Base—signaling not only the arrival of Israel’s next generation air defense platform, but also the continuity and intensification of our security ties.
We look forward to a large and diverse delegation of senior American representatives for that historic event. Their presence will afford us another opportunity to reaffirm to Israeli leaders and the Israeli public our profound and enduring commitment to Israel’s security and well-being.
And just two months ago we concluded a historic security assistance agreement, known as the “MOU”, or Memorandum of Understanding. It will provide Israel with $38 billion of U.S. assistance over the next decade, the largest military aid package by far that the United States has ever granted any country.
“The continued supply of the world’s most advanced weapons technology,” President Obama said at the time, “will ensure that Israel has the ability to defend itself from all manner of threats.”
Let me repeat: “from ALL manner of threats.” Whether it is conventional threats across borders, missiles coming overhead from rogue actors, subterranean threats like tunnels from Gaza, threats to Israel’s offshore energy resources, or threats by adversaries who are seeking to harm the Jewish state through cyber-attacks, we are committed to helping Israel address them.
The new MOU is specifically designed to help ease the enormous defense burdens Israel has faced its entire history and it reaffirms and strengthens our decades-long commitment to maintaining Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.
For you—for eight million Israelis—this new 10-year aid package is really about one thing and one thing only: security.
It will make you safer; it will help protect your children and grandchildren; it will strengthen your ability to deter your adversaries and it will help you defend yourselves, by yourselves.
“The United States will always be there for the State of Israel and the Israeli people,” said National Security Advisor Susan Rice at September’s MOU signing ceremony, “today, tomorrow, and for many years to come.”
When I visited Dimona earlier this week, I was reminded by residents of the Eastern Negev how much they value our security partnership, whether it is the defense facilities we have helped build and continue to fortify in Israel’s south, or the major American investment in Iron Dome, which protected so many Israelis during the last war.
But our contributions to Israel’s defense cannot be measured simply in terms of dollars and weapons systems.
As Israeli defense leaders will also testify, our security establishments are more deeply intertwined than ever: we train together; we plan together; we share intelligence; and we contribute to each other’s security.
Together, we are addressing the myriad threats from this region: terrorist organizations like Hizballah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, and Da’esh; the instability that has shaken so many of Israel’s neighbors; and an Iran that threatens Israel’s destruction and has sought the capabilities to carry it out.
Even when we have disagreed, such as on the Iranian nuclear deal, we have come together to stress compliance and monitoring of the deal’s provisions that successfully block all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon, while intensifying our joint efforts to confront Iran’s other destabilizing activities, such as its arming and supporting terrorist groups, its intervention in Syria, and its conventional and ballistic missile build-up.
At the same time, we remain committed to advancing the goal of peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors, including a negotiated two-states-for-two-peoples solution to end Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been our shared priority for decades.
Right now, we continue to be guided by last summer’s Quartet Report. It included recommendations for steps the parties can take – from combating Palestinian terror and incitement, to ending Israeli settlement expansion and demolitions of Palestinian homes, to promoting economic development in Area C, to weakening Hamas’ violent rule in Gaza – that will help reverse the negative trends on the ground that are making a negotiated, two-state solution harder to achieve.
As President Obama and the Secretary Kerry have said repeatedly, the status quo is not sustainable, so there is urgency in finding ways to arrest the slide toward a binational reality, which threatens Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and help the parties find their way back to the path of negotiations toward a two-state solution to end the conflict.
There is also continuity and increasing closeness in our deep and expansive civil society partnerships.
In addition to our defense support, I am proud of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging assistance for educators and civil society organizations throughout Israel—and across Israeli and Palestinian communities—who promote tolerance, coexistence, peaceful dialogue, a shared society, and equality and greater opportunity for all.
As just one example, not far from this hall sits the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand school, an extraordinary place where Jews and Arabs not only learn together in Hebrew and Arabic, but entire communities are woven together through their children’s pursuit of academic excellence and mutual understanding.
President Obama welcomed two ninth grade students from the school to the White House two years ago to light the Hanukiah—one Jewish and one Arab—and we have provided generous financial support through our Agency for International Development. Our most senior Executive Branch and Congressional visitors have repeatedly visited this special school—a school, for those who know it, that is also strongly supported by the Jerusalem municipality, the Jerusalem Foundation and key local and national leaders here in Israel.
We are partners in building a better tomorrow.
This civil society partnership extends to the American Jewish community. They are engaged, committed, and generous supporters of a wide range of economic opportunity, education, peacebuilding, and social efforts here in Israel.
It should be noted that the Jerusalem Post is unique among the local media in its longstanding coverage of this intersection.
This extraordinary story of partnership was the centerpiece of a special Knesset ceremony last May marking 100 years of American Jewry’s contributions to the Yishuv and Israel, where I had the chance to reflect on this relationship in greater detail.
Last, but not least, there is continuity in the steady growth of our economic alliance. Two days ago, when I traveled to Dimona and the Eastern Negev, I visited innovative and successful local companies, including one which is creating jobs both here in Israel and in the United States.
Several months ago, I participated in a hi-tech—and high altitude—summit on one of United Airlines’ first non-stop flights from Israel to San Francisco, which brought together innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors from both our countries to explore ways to strengthen and capitalize on the pursuit of our common prosperity. During our visit to Silicon Valley, I saw first-hand how our economic partnership is burgeoning in fields like cyber-security.
Our promotion of economic ties with Israel is also a key element of our vigorous opposition to BDS, which we fight wherever we encounter it. You could call it the United States’ “counter-boycott” —our abiding commitment to deepen, broaden, and celebrate our economic relations with Israel, and encouraging others to follow our lead.
Ours is Israel’s largest bilateral trading relationship, with annual two-way trade reaching almost $50 billion and growing. We continue to be Israel’s largest source of tourists, by a large margin. American companies employ tens of thousands of Israelis here in Israel, and Israel is now a top-20 source of foreign direct investment in the United States, creating jobs for thousands of Americans. Our Embassy’s Commercial section supports a steady stream of trade missions from each of the 50 states, looking to deepen their ties here.
But the economic relationship is so much more than dry numbers. It is dynamic, it is about innovation, it is about education—as reflected in the new partnership between Cornell University and the Technion—and it is about improving the lives of Israelis and Americans.
In my visits across Israel, in the Galilee and the Negev, in Arab towns and Haredi communities and everything in between, I am seeing efforts to move beyond innovation and to realize the benefits of inclusion.
Increasingly, Israel’s leading entrepreneurs are focused on integrating the workplace and ensuring opportunity for all of Israel’s citizens, which is a critical challenge as the Jewish state strives to promote economic development, reduce poverty, and promote a shared society.
Our Embassy is proud to support organizations that do precisely this, including Tsofen and Kamatech, which seek to extend the benefits and opportunities of the Start-up Nation to all of Israel’s citizens.
In conclusion, let me just add that in the midst of a political transition, it is understandable that emotions are strong and the air is filled with anticipation.
But I am quite confident in saying that the close, mutually beneficial ties between our countries, and the United States’ ongoing support for Israel—through our extensive military, intelligence, economic, and political support; our leadership role in peacemaking; and the pursuit of our common values and our common prosperity—will continue to be the defining features of our relationship for many years to come.