Remarks of Former Ambassador Shapiro Hebrew University Board of Governors Honorary Fellowships Ceremony

Remarks of Ambassador Shapiro Hebrew University Board of Governors Honorary Fellowships Ceremony Monday, June 9th, at 3:30 p.m. – Handler Auditorium, Truman Building, Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem

“Fostering an Environment for the Next Generation of Leaders”

Mr. Michael Federmann, Chairman of the International Board of Governors; President Menachem Ben Sasson; Professor Asher Cohen, Rector; Vice President Aharon (Ronnie) Friedman; Mr. Honig; Ambassador Brown, my distinguished predecessor who has made such a valuable ongoing contribution through his leadership of the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace; Distinguished Honorees; Members of American Friends of Hebrew University, good evening.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this special ceremony.   It is always a great personal pleasure to come to Hebrew University, where I enjoyed my junior year in the one-year program at the Rothberg School for Overseas Students just a few years ago… or so it seems.  One of my first visits on arriving here as the American Ambassador was to Hebrew University for a meeting with President Ben Sasson.  It is wonderful to reacquaint myself with the campus and to see the impressive development.  Anytime I am here, whether it is to walk around campus and see the familiar dorms, engage in discussion with the bright and curious students, attend a memorial ceremony at the Frank Sinatra café, or to be with the Board of Governors, who does the important work as the steward of this fine institution, it always feels a little like coming home.

In a January speech at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor earlier this year, laying out his policy for higher education, President Obama opened by describing his agenda this way: “How can we make sure that everybody is getting the kind of education they need to personally succeed but also to build up this nation—because in this economy, there is no greater predictor of individual success than a good education.” Although the United States still has “the best network of colleges and universities in the world,” he said, “the challenge is it’s getting tougher and tougher to afford it.”

Higher education is a costly enterprise in both our countries.  Maintaining the excellence of faculties, the quality of researchers and research facilities, the physical plants, infrastructure and technology that house and equip our educational institutions – these are huge challenges in an era of accelerating costs and competition for resources.

It is a particular honor for me today to participate in this ceremony which recognizes the exceptional commitment of a group of  special individuals who are dedicated to ensuring the future success of the Hebrew University and the future of Israeli society through its students, researchers and faculty.  They give of themselves and encourage others to do so.  They also demonstrate the active involvement of the Hebrew University and its supporters locally and globally, coming, as they do from different parts of the world.

Promoting that international cooperation and the need for a global approach to education, the United States encourages on-going cultural and educational exchange.  The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.   Each year some 800 faculty and professionals from around the world receive Fulbright Scholar grants for advanced research and university lecturing in the United States.   I recently learned that we have some 225 Israeli Fulbright alumni here on the faculty and research staff of the Hebrew University.  They are at the forefront of their disciplines, pushing the edge in science, technology and medicine from meteorology to neurophysiology, and from medical entomology to astrophysics.  They are also in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies – a subject very near and dear to my heart—education, literature, musicology.  They represent a critical cross-fertilization of U.S. and Israeli educators and researchers who are advancing human knowledge for the benefit of all and creating the “leaders on the world stage” that your meetings this week celebrate.

The Hebrew University can proudly point to eight Nobel Prize winners among its researchers.  The university enjoys international recognition through cooperative programs, international grants, collaborative research and on-going partnerships with leading universities in the U.S. and the world over.

We recently read about the breakthrough in understanding parental imprinting in Prader-Willi Syndrome, in work spearheaded by Fulbright alumnus Prof. Nissim Benvenisty.  Alumnus Professor Uri Banin’s QLight Nanotech Company won the 2014 Best Nanotechnology Company of the Year Award.  In collaboration between a team headed by Professor Raz Yirmiya, a Fulbright alumnus, and researchers at the University of Colorado, scientists found a new mechanism underlying depression that will help sufferers worldwide. The list goes on.

Hebrew University’s educational programs, in cooperation with the Foreign Ministry through MASHAV, address agricultural innovations, combating desertification, and promoting early childhood education, nutrition and public health far beyond Israel’s borders.  Americans have also been the beneficiaries of some of these programs, although their primary focus is addressing the neediest parts of the globe.

Appropriately, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is also a leading center for research in Judaism, Jewish history and society, Islam and the Middle East, and I had the privilege to study with outstanding leaders in these fields: Paul Mendes-Flohr on Jewish thought, Yehuda Bauer on the Holocaust, Galia Golan on Israel’s place in the region, Mordechai Nisan on Middle East history, and Renee Melamed on Jewish communities of Islamic lands; and to read and learn from the work of dozens of other Hebrew University scholars.

Drawing on this expertise, and despite the complications of the regional political and security situation, Hebrew University reaches out to its immediate neighbors too.  My Embassy has been proud to be associated with a program of the Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace promoting contact among Jordanian and Israeli environmental experts.  We all hope and we are working for a time when regional cooperation will be as natural as your on-going cooperation with universities in U.S, Canada, Europe, and the Far East.

To that end, as well as for the many economic, political and security benefits that will accrue, the United States has been engaged in efforts to advance peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians under the leadership of Secretary of State John Kerry. Just before joining you here, I had the chance to talk with over 100 students at the Student Union. They reminded me of my own days as a student here, when my own passion for understanding Israelis and Arabs, and for helping build bridges between them, first took root. Those students are the most important motivation behind this peace effort.  They will be the primary beneficiaries of a two-state solution.  Their questions to me today focused on what happens now that there is a pause in the talks.

I know that those are the questions many Israelis and Americans are asking, and I want to share with you some thoughts on the current situation.

Let me say first, that the United States remains committed to the goal of a negotiated two-state solution – and believe there is no viable, sustainable alternative for the Palestinian or Israeli people to achieve their national aspirations than by doing the hard work leading to that eventuality.

President Obama, during his March 2013 trip to Israel, shared his vision for a peace that is “possible, just, and necessary,” and Secretary Kerry dedicated nine months to trying to bring that vision to life.

The first few months of the negotiations initially mapped out the positions of the Israeli and Palestinian sides on the core issues of the conflict and helped identify the gaps that needed bridging.  The focus then moved towards working on a framework to guide final status negotiations. There was also extensive work done to develop proposals that would help to bridge those gaps.  The framework was based on input from both parties, outlining broad contours for addressing all the core issues – borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem, mutual recognition and an end of claims.  Included in this was the work done by General John Allen and his team on the security parameters, which was an unprecedented effort to help identify in great detail how best to meet Israel’s security requirements, while respecting Palestinian sovereignty in the context of a two state solution.  This extensive analysis broke new ground in developing solutions to these challenging security issues.

The negotiations have been halted, but we have made it clear to both sides that we are ready to reengage if both sides demonstrate a willingness to restart the talks and, more importantly, a willingness to address the difficult issues.  Our assessment is that both parties failed to make hard choices and then took provocative actions that ran out the clock on the process and prevented an extension of the talks.

Both parties bear responsibility for the breakdown.  Both leaders found it difficult to make certain critical decisions needed to achieve peace at this time.

It is safe to say that if the United States is the only party that has a sense of urgency in this effort, then the negotiations will never succeed.  This is why we are now in a period of pause, reassessing our own efforts as well as discussing the situation with the parties to see how to best move forward.

In the meantime we will continue to work to build trust among the parties and hope that both sides will take measures which would build confidence and not create further tension.  And this we hope will then lead to continuing on the path of negotiations toward a final status agreement.  The benefits of that outcome are too important to let go.  For Palestinians: a sovereign state; a dignified future; self-determination.  For Israel: a more secure recognized Jewish and democratic homeland; an opportunity to tap into the potential for a strategic alliance and deep economic relations with its Arab neighbors.  For all: an opportunity for a more prosperous, peaceful, and secure future.

It is also clear that if we are able to succeed in reaching peace, this area can become the economic powerhouse of the entire region.  Our view is that a final status agreement could unlock the enormous potential of the region and allow the combination of Israeli technology, innovation and entrepreneurship to pair with Palestinian and Arab partners in ways that benefit all.

Let me describe for a moment those potential benefits:

Secretary Kerry strongly believes that economic policy is foreign policy, and over the course of these last nine months this point was particularly clear to all of us working in support of the Secretary’s goal to reach an agreement between the sides.  He often says that prosperity is a necessary element of a lasting peace agreement. I don’t believe that the lack of a peace deal has been a drag on the Israeli economy in a significant way.  Israel’s record of economic growth is remarkable and undeniable.  However, a peace agreement would lead to even greater economic opportunities, increased growth and substantial benefits to Israel’s economy.

In increased tourism, foreign investment, new trade routes, new opportunities in energy and water sectors, more fluid labor markets, and major new infrastructure projects, the benefits to both parties could be dramatic, by some estimates leading to up to a 2 percentage point increase in Israel’s GDP growth rate (i.e. from current 3.3% per year growth rate to over 5%).

And there would be another peace dividend: While it is unlikely to happen right away, over time there is the potential that security expectations will drop, enabling more spending on social programs.  As Israel addresses social challenges, the country could funnel more resources to areas such as healthcare and education, including, of course, higher education.

The bottom line is that we remain committed to the goal of a negotiated two-state solution.

We still believe that there is a way back to the negotiating table, if and when the leaders on both sides are ready to come back and work together to go forward in a serious way.  The door is open, but we need to see determination by both parties to take the necessary steps forward before we return to the negotiating table.  To quote Secretary Kerry, “The leaders themselves have to make decisions. It’s up to them.”

In the meantime, we call on both parties to avoid further provocation – for Israel this means restrain on settlements, and avoiding punitive measures against the Palestinians. And for the Palestinians, this means not trying to accede to additional international treaties or UN agencies, and ensuring that any new government that is formed adheres to Quartet principles.

As you know, the Palestinians have just announced the formation of an interim technocratic government. The announcement in late April by President Abbas of an agreement with Hamas on forming this interim government was unhelpful, and undermined efforts at the time to advance the peace process. The United States views on Hamas have not changed.  Hamas is a terrorist organization, dedicated to Israel’s destruction and using violence to kill and harm Israeli civilians.  Under our law and policy, we have no contacts with Hamas and will provide no assistance to it or to any government in which it sits.

That said, after a careful review of our laws and based on the fact that Hamas is not in the government, and based on assurances from President Abbas that the government affirms the Quartet principles – recognition of Israel, adherence to past agreements, and commitment to non-violence – we are willing to work with this interim government at this juncture, but we are not giving them a free pass.

We have stressed to the Palestinians, the Israelis, and other partners that we will be watching this government closely to ensure it upholds the principles President Abbas reaffirmed when swearing in the government on June 2: (1) nonviolence, (2) recognition of the state of Israel, (3) acceptance of all previous agreements, (4) commitment to a two-state solution through negotiations, and (5) continued security coordination with Israel.

President Abbas has made clear publicly that the new government will uphold his political program, including strict adherence to these principles. The Palestinians understand that this is a core expectation of ours, and our international partners have reinforced this at every turn. Prime Minister Hamdallah has also expressed clear support for these principles. So far, we do not see Hamas membership or influence in this government.

Moving forward, we will judge this government by its composition, its policies, and its actions to ensure it adheres to these principles. And if our assessment changes, our position can change.

We hope both parties will take this time to reassess, and reflect on the benefits of peace – security, economic growth, global integration – and on the potential costs of failing to capitalize on this opportunity.

Now, during this period of pause and reflection, the important work of those who promote the two-state vision through economic, business, and community ties will continue, and we will continue to support those efforts. This includes efforts to prepare the Israeli and the Palestinian publics for peace – helping to improve the situation on the ground and helping to increase the quality and quantity of contact between Israelis and Palestinians and amongst Israelis and Palestinians in order to help remove stigmas and increase understanding of “the other.”

It has been clear over the past decade that majorities on both sides support a peace process and a two-state solution.  Unfortunately similar majorities also believe the other side is not capable or serious enough to achieve it.

During his visit here last March, President Obama said, “Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.”

So, these nine months were not a waste of time.  Important work was done to advance planning for Israel’s security and Palestinian economic growth, and this valuable work can be applied in the future once negotiations begin again.

The U.S. and Israel share an unbreakable alliance. Our countries’ partnership is built on shared values, democratic ideals and a strong belief that opportunity and freedom create more just and prosperous societies.  We are proud of our efforts, and our support for peace, prosperity, and justice in the region remains unwavering.

The Jewish people are the inheritors of an ancient wisdom that encourages study and the obligation to pass on knowledge from parents to children.  Here at the Hebrew University you are invested with a very important task of educating the next generation.  But, like peacemaking, it is a task that never ends, and the ultimate obligation is to prepare today’s students to pass it on to the next generation.

In that spirit, let me conclude with a quote from Pirke Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, that applies both to educating our young people and to peacemaking:

Lo aleicha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben horin l’hibatel mimena

You are not required to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.

None of our honorees, nor the University itself, have ever desisted from the important work before them, and we thank them and honor them for their selfless commitment.

Yasher Koach as you continue your marvelous work on behalf of the Hebrew University.