Israel knows that when it is in need, America “has its back,” US Ambassador Dan Shapiro said Thursday at the annual Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
Speaking shortly after Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of significantly damaging relations between Israel and Europe, Shapiro said the US is not only on the front lines with Israel, “we are in the trenches.”
America, Shapiro said, has also proven that it is with Israel on the home front, whether in helping it absorb waves of immigrants, responding to the 2010 Carmel forest fire, or dealing with the current oil spill in the Arava.
On the stalled peace talks, Shapiro said that while Washington is “realistic” and knows negotiations will not likely resume during Israel’s election campaign, “we will continue to explore the most effective way to re-establish a political horizon as soon as possible, without which we believe the current atmosphere could quickly deteriorate.”
The main reason the US is committed to pursuing a two-state solution, he said, “is that frankly we see no alternative.”
Shapiro said that a lasting agreement will come only through direct negotiations and that “Palestinian initiatives at the United Nations, Israeli settlement activities, or other unilateral actions by either party are simply counterproductive and only delay a resolution.”
Turning to Iran, Shapiro deflected the notion that the US and Israel differ fundamentally.
“President Obama has stated the objective unequivocally – and he also said it here in Israel in no uncertain terms: The United States will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapon, period,” he said. “And the United States is prepared to use all elements of its national power to achieve this objective.”
Shapiro said that while at times there have been “tactical disagreements with Israel about the correct approach to the negotiations, I want to emphasize that these are tactical disagreements, and they come within the broader context of our total alignment on the broader strategic imperative or preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon.”
The ambassador said that both Washington and Jerusalem agree that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” and the proof that the US abides by this principle was the decision to extend negotiations last month, rather signing an accord.
While the security and diplomatic issues between Israel and the US understandably get most of the attention, Shapiro said that under the Obama administration a third pillar to the relationship is “the pursuit of our common prosperity.”
The ambassador noted that the two countries will soon mark 30 years to the Free Trade Agreement, and that annual trade today stands at $45 billion a year, or eight times what it was in 1985.
In addition, he pointed out that Israelis have invested some $10 billion in the US economy, while American firms have done the same in Israel, setting up research and development centers. Of the 300 foreign firms with R&D centers in Israel, two-thirds are American.
The robust economic relationship has created tens of thousands of jobs for both Americans and Israelis, he said, adding that other countries are “looking on with some envy as we’ve transformed what was once a purely political and strategic relationship into a powerful engine of economic growth for both of us.”