Remarks by Former Ambassador Daniel Shapiro at the JFNA GA Plenary

President Shimon Peres, Michael Siegel, Jerry Silverman, Michael and Susie Gelman, Ronnie Douek, Natan Sharansky, William Daroff, Didi Feinberg, Jay and Shira Ruderman, Richard Sandler, Ladies and Gentlemen. On behalf of the United States Embassy, and on behalf of my wife Julie and myself, Welcome to Israel!

As the person charged with stewarding the U.S.-Israel relationship here on the ground in Israel, I see the meeting of the GA in Israel as a profound event. That’s not only because I’m a former beneficiary of the Champaign-Urbana Jewish Federation’s grants to attend summer camp and study in Israel, and not only because Julie and I are longtime supporters of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, which so generously supported our daughters’ Jewish day school. This gathering is not only where the Jewish Federations of North America come together to coordinate their efforts and themes and programming for the year ahead. It is not only a conference where the great issues of Jewish education, renewal, and continuity are debated and discussed. It is not just where you chart the course of your life-changing philanthropic efforts in Jewish communities in the United States and here in Israel.

It is all those things, of course. But when you hold the GA in Israel, it is something more. It is an investment – a personal investment by each one of you – in the U.S.-Israel relationship.

In my time as U.S. Ambassador, I have focused intensively on the people-to-people bonds that undergird our bilateral relationship. In our embassy, we spend as much time as we can getting to know Israelis of all backgrounds, in all parts of the country, and building opportunities for exchanges between them and Americans of all backgrounds.

So nothing makes the American Ambassador happier than to see a hall full of American citizens who have come to Israel to invest their time, their energy, and their passion in deepening and strengthening this relationship, so it is even stronger a decade from now than it is today. And you know what? I feel the same way about Canadians. So thank you all for being here.

Let me make three quick points about the U.S.-Israel relationship. First, it is as close as it has ever been, and at its heart is an ironclad American commitment to Israel’s security.

President Obama underscored this fact during his historic visit to Israel last March, highlighting the joint training by the IDF and the U.S. military, the coordination and sharing between our intelligence services, our annual military assistance package that enables Israel to acquire the most sophisticated American military technology, such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, and our work together on life-saving missile defense programs like Arrow, David’s Sling, and Iron Dome.

The United States is proud to stand with Israel, and we know that in doing so, because we face common threats in the Middle East – from terrorism, to proliferation, to instability – it means that we are enhancing our own security as well.

Second, the United States firmly believes that it is a fundamental U.S. national interest to support Israel as a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic state here in the historic homeland of the Jewish people. That commitment includes strongly supporting Israel’s goal, as the Prime Minister spoke of last night, to achieve a two-states for two-peoples solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Secretary of State Kerry, in nine visits to the region this year, helped Israel and the Palestinians launch and sustain direct peace negotiations, and has made clear that the United States will use all its diplomatic creativity to help them succeed.

We have no illusions about the challenges, but we will not be daunted in our pursuit of this goal. A sustainable peace will, and must, provide Israel with the security and recognition that it deserves, it will enable Palestinians to achieve their legitimate aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own, and it will serve U.S. interests as well.

Finally, there is no greater priority for the United States and for Israel than preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. On this crucial issue, the United States and Israel share an identical objective. President Obama has been crystal clear in stating that he will not permit Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period. And he is prepared to use all elements of our national power to ensure that we are successful.

Our coordination with Israel in support of this shared goal has been intensive, continuous, and highly effective. Together with many other nations, we have put in place the strongest sanctions regime in history, which has brought Iran to the negotiating table. In these negotiations in Geneva, we will not squander the leverage that sanctions have given us. No deal is better than a bad deal, and we will not agree to a bad deal.

We are seeking, with our P5 + 1 partners, to test whether Iran is prepared to ensure that its nuclear program can be used only for peaceful purposes. We are trying to first reach agreement on an initial six-month phase that freezes and rolls back the Iranian nuclear program. Iran could get very limited sanctions relief during this period, while the main oil and banking sanctions that would remain in place and the pressure would increase. With the time that gives us, we will seek to negotiate a comprehensive agreement that ensures that Iran cannot acquire a nuclear weapon.

Our goal is clear: to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, through diplomacy and sanctions if possible, but using other means, including a military option if necessary. We will not fail to achieve this goal.

Congratulations once again on holding the GA in Israel. I wish you all a successful and fulfilling conference. B’hatzlacha!