December 6, 2016, New York
As Prepared for Delivery
And thank you for that generous introduction—and for this most generous honor.
I also want to thank you on behalf of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Kerry, and the entire National Security team.
I am here tonight largely for the work I have done for this president and for this Administration—and I humbly accept your honor tonight also on behalf of my colleagues, including the many civil servants, military officers, and foreign service professionals I have been privileged to work with in recent years.
I also want to acknowledge my dear friend General John Allen, who is sharing the program with me tonight.
He is one of our finest military leaders and we are lucky he brought his sharp mind, strategic vision, and commitment to excellence to our diplomatic pursuits, including our pursuit of Middle East peace.
I consider it a blessing to have had the opportunity to work with him on this mission and to call him my friend.
Now, as this audience knows, Israelis are not known for beating around the bush. In fact, speaking “doogri” – being direct – is a welcome and essential part of Israeli political culture.
So, following the dramatic events that unfolded here in the United States in early November, 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.
Now on the other subjects that bring us together tonight—the Israel Policy Forum and its esteemed Chair Emeritus Peter Joseph—let me get straight to the point.
No one is a bigger fan of Peter than I am.
And few can compete with me in terms of the sheer span of years for which I have turned to IPF—many of these years with Peter at the helm—in search of sage advice, ideas on peacemaking, inclusive dialogue, and for galvanizing community and political support to help Israelis and their neighbors achieve the peace and security they deserve.
IPF was established almost at exactly the same time I began my career in public service as a Middle East analyst and foreign policy advisor.
I read the Peace Pulse before I was reading Haaretz or Ynet; I sat at IPF roundtables with legends like Sam Lewis—z”l—and brainstormed how to strengthen American leadership; and on Capitol Hill, at the White House and then as Ambassador to Israel, I have met with countless IPF delegations and been enriched by their ideas and reflections.
I have had the good fortune of meeting many of IPF’s supporters and leaders over the years, including current President Susie Gelman, Peter’s close friends and partners Jack Bendheim and Michael Sonnenfeld, as well as longtime supporters like Seymour Reich, Karen Adler, Robert Goodkind, Bob Sugarman, Alan Solow, Susie Stern, Charles Bronfman, Michael Young and many, many others, including top-notch staff like our colleague David Halperin.
Throughout over two decades of engagement, especially these past eight years serving President Obama, I have been truly fortunate to be able to work with Peter Joseph and with IPF.
I have always come away from my conversations with Peter richer and wiser. Just as important, I have taken inspiration from his unceasing dedication to the cause—a great gift whenever frustration rose and hopes flagged.
As everyone in this hall knows well, Peter is well-informed, thoughtful, and full of wisdom. Few can match his steadfast commitment—through thick and thin—to the cause of peace and securing for Israel and its neighbors a brighter future.
Something Peter and I have in common—which Peter himself may not know—is that our first experiences living in Israel coincided. We were both living in Israel in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur war. We both saw up close—Peter as a young adult and myself as a child—the cataclysm of war, the heartbreak of an entire nation, and the deep sense of vulnerability that Israelis have had to live with for the country’s entire existence.
For me, and I am sure for him, it was a foundational experience that helped forge our lifelong connections to, and concern for, the Jewish state.
And to state the obvious, Peter and I both share a deep commitment to securing Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace with its neighbors.
Peter has been such an extraordinary leader in pursuing this Avodat Kodesh, this holy work. So tonight I join everyone here in saluting Peter.
With the remainder of my remarks, I want to make a few observations drawn from my years in public service, particularly these past eight years.
The first and most important observation I would make is about security—about how central security is if peace is to take hold and endure. No Israeli prime minister could, would, or should sign onto a peace agreement that does not meet Israel’s security needs and ensure Israel’s ability to defend itself. The Israeli public would never accept it. The experience of Gaza must never be replicated in the West Bank.
Any effort to promote a two state solution and end the conflict must ensure that Israel emerges safer, not more vulnerable.
President Obama and Secretary Kerry understood this reality which is why they asked General Allen to get involved in our peacemaking efforts and to study the problem and craft security solutions that could address Israel’s security needs.
General Allen tackled this challenge with his usual gusto.
As Secretary Kerry described on Sunday at the Saban Forum, it constituted the most extensive work our government has ever done on this issue. General Allen recruited a large and diverse team of American defense professionals, who studied the security issues in depth, and engaged intensively with the IDF and other Israeli security services to understand Israel’s security requirements in the context of a two-state solution.
Even the most creative formulas about where to draw boundaries, or how to develop “terms of reference,” or how to best engage the wider set of neighbors and stakeholders, none of it will succeed without addressing security.
And the challenges are some of the most complex diplomats have faced, including how to ensure Israel can defend itself against the very real threats of terrorism, of rockets, of tunnels, and of unstable neighbors, while also ensuring a peaceful Palestinian state that meets Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for independence, sovereignty, and security.
General Allen and his team, consulting closely with the IDF, developed a number of innovative ideas to address each and every security requirement. Some involved adopting technology-based solutions; some involved U.S. assistance and training; some addressed enhancing security cooperation between Israelis, Palestinians, and other countries; and others touched on those needs that only Israel can address by itself.
During these efforts, we learned that there are solutions to even the thorniest security questions. And I am certain that when a two-state solution is achieved, the security arrangements will be heavily influenced by General Allen’s work. It is already influencing outside policy and academic work on the subject.
And I want to applaud IPF for its most recent initiative to advance the discussion on the security features of a two-state solution. You could not be doing more relevant work.
I am proud that under President Obama, not only has defense and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel risen to unprecedented levels, our defense support has now also risen to its highest level in history.
With the signing in September of the MOU, the United States has pledged $38 billion in military assistance to Israel over the next decade—the single largest package of assistance we have ever granted to any country—and a further guarantor that Israel will be able to maintain its Qualitative Military Edge.
This MOU’s effect is already being felt, against the backdrop of the arrival in Israel next week of Israel’s first F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, with a new order for 17 additional F-35s, and further investments in Israel’s lifesaving missile defense technologies—Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow III.
We want our assistance and our commitment to Israel’s security to also give Israelis the reassurance and the confidence they need to make peace, as it has done in past decades.
On these questions of security and peace, I know General Allen will have much more to add.
A second observation is about the importance of engaging Israel’s neighbors and key regional stakeholders.
Palestinians need Arab political support, and at times their help during negotiations.
Israelis seek assurance that the prospect of broader and full normalization and integration into the region, in the context of an Israeli-Palestinian peace, is real and irrevocable. The Arab Peace Initiative, while not a blueprint for a final agreement, made an important contribution in this regard.
Only Israeli and Palestinian leaders can make the necessary decisions to reach a peace agreement. But when we limit the solution set to Israelis and Palestinians, on their own—as was the case, for example, at Camp David II—we often miss out on the tremendous upside of having neighbors and other third parties more closely, even intimately involved.
Secretary Kerry understands this better than anyone and was adept during the 2013-2014 negotiations in drawing regional stakeholders more deeply into our efforts.
There are many examples I could highlight, including the numerous meetings Secretary Kerry held with delegations of Arab League foreign ministers, including in Washington with the participation of Vice President Biden, producing important conceptual shifts, such as on the viability of territorial swaps, and positive signals related to the Arab Peace Initiative. He continues to consult widely on this issue across the region.
Now recent trends in the region have even improved prospects for a positive role by Arab states. It is absolutely true, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and others have observed, that the alignment of interests between Israel and its Sunni Arab neighbors, with regard to the threats of Iran and ISIL, creates new opportunities for Israel to work with regional parties, including on the Palestinian issue.
At the same time, as Secretary Kerry emphasized on Sunday, “there will be no advance and separate peace with the Arab world” without progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. These two goals are much more likely to advance in parallel than in sequence.
While the hardest decisions are up to Israelis and Palestinians, we should never lose sight of the fact that it will take engaged and supportive regional parties to achieve and sustain progress toward peace.
Third, we believe there is also a role for plain talk when it comes to obstacles to peacemaking. I speak specifically here about actions the parties take that make it harder to achieve our shared goal, actions that push the conflict toward a one-state reality and dim prospects for a negotiated two-state solution.
We believe the steady drift away from a two-state solution, as documented most recently in the Quartet report released on July 1, must be arrested and reversed if we are ever to break out of the current, dangerous stalemate.
And in this regard, we believe it is best to speak clearly, as the Quartet Report and our statements do.
We have been outspoken in condemning terrorism, and the incitement that often inspires terrorism, and the failure to condemn terrorism, from the Palestinian side. Tragically, we have had to do so far too often in these past two years.
We speak clearly about the risks posed by settlement expansion, home demolitions, or the constriction of Palestinian development in Area C from the Israeli side.
We make no bones about condemning Hamas’ terrorism, its illegal weapons smuggling and stockpiling, its violent rule, and its rejectionism.
Each of these trends are harming the prospects of a two state solution, and making a one state reality, which serves no one’s interest, more likely.
That is why we are deeply concerned about the advancement of proposed legislation that would allow for the legalization of Israeli settlement outposts in the West Bank. And it is also why I have engaged Israeli political figures, for some time now, privately, respectfully and behind the scenes, on this important issue.
Fourth, I want to talk about the critical role played by Israel’s vibrant civil society—and the importance of the United States continuing to invest in, and nurture this necessary part of ending the conflict.
On this score, I am speaking broadly.
There is a need to deepen and broaden our dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of a two-state solution with every segment of Israeli society.
I have sought to do just that during my nearly six years as Ambassador, including engaging previously neglected segments, like the ultra-Orthodox, national religious, and Arab communities. There is no doubt in my mind we need to do more.
Israeli society is dynamic and changing, and if we fail to fully engage and nurture a dialogue with all segments, we may miss future opportunities to both hear and address their concerns, and to help ensure their support for a two-state solution.
We also should continue, and perhaps even increase, our financial support for educators and civil society organizations throughout Israel—and across Israeli and Palestinian communities—that promote tolerance, coexistence, peaceful dialogue, a shared society, and equality and greater opportunity for all.
Take, for example, the Max Rayne Hand-in-Hand school in Jerusalem. It is an extraordinary place where Jewish and Arab students not only learn together in each other’s languages, but entire communities are woven together through their children’s pursuit of academic excellence. It is a school and community environment that is infused with the values of acceptance and understanding.
President Obama welcomed two ninth grade students from the school to the White House two years ago—one Jewish and one Arab—and we have provided generous financial support through our Agency for International Development for Hand-in-Hand to expand their network around the country.
This school, together with the dozens of other local programs supported by the U.S. Government, and hundreds of other efforts supported by our international partners and by so many American communities and philanthropists—all of these help to create a safety net during times of worsening political stalemate, as we have experienced these past two years.
They are equally as important for ensuring that future generations will be steered away from conflict, rejectionism and demonizing the “other,” and instead nurtured on models that help each side understand the other’s needs and find compromises that meet the requirements of both sides.
These are just a few observations, and there are others, yet I also wanted to make the general point that at a time of transition, it is a particularly ripe moment for reflection. We need to think about what works and what does not work. And we need to approach the task with humility.
Our diplomacy must adapt to changing circumstances and political realities.
And to do so requires political will, but also a willingness to take stock and shift approaches when needed.
But what has not changed over time is America’s bedrock commitment to a two state solution.
At the moment, as Secretary Kerry said Sunday, this may continue to be an “uphill” struggle. But our goal remains a strong, secure, Jewish, democratic Israel at peace with its Palestinian neighbor.
It is in our national interest.
It is important for regional stability, though far from a panacea.
And, perhaps most of all, it is vital for our ally Israel’s future.
For the remaining weeks of President Obama’s Administration, we will continue to work hard to promote Israel’s security, defend its legitimacy, oppose boycotts against Israel, and strongly support steps that will further the chances of Arab-Israeli peace.
And that is another reason why I want to conclude by again thanking IPF and congratulating Peter Joseph.
Peter, may you go from strength to strength. Thank you.