Welcome to all, and it is a great pleasure to be here at the Globes Conference, Israel’s most important conference focused on economics and business. I do thank again, my dear friend Dr. Uzi Arad, Globes and all the organizers of the conference.
Years from now, when historians analyze the changes in the region we’ve witnessed in 2011, they will undoubtedly draw parallels – as some already have – indeed the Prime Minister has already drawn parallels to the period nearly one hundred years ago, immediately following the end of World War I in 1918 and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Even in real time today, we can observe that, like then, old certainties are being turned upside down, and a new order is being shaped, although it will take years until its true form becomes clear.
Systems of governance and leaders are being swept away at a dizzying rate. Crowds of people in the street have been vocal about wanting change in their day to day lives. And while they have produced change – with long-standing non-democratic governments falling in Tunisia, in Egypt, in Libya, in Yemen and soon in Syria – for reasons that are easy to understand, those same crowds have been less monolithic, less articulate about what structures they would like to see built in the place of the old ones.
Also today there is in the Middle East some question, concern about the American role in and the American view of these transitions in the Arab world, including here in Israel.
So, I’d like to speak about the U.S. view of these transitions.
The bottom line is that the changes underway in the Middle East and North Africa contain within them both risk and opportunity. If the changes lead to true democracy taking hold in the region, they can be very much in America’s national interest. But political transitions can be chaotic, unstable, even violent. They can be hijacked by extremists and produce new dictatorships. So the main task for U.S. diplomacy in the region, working with our allies and partners, is to help manage these transitions in a way that maximizes the chance that they will lead to stable, democratic governments. That is, we must try to seize the opportunity. But we must undertake this task with all due humility about our inability to control the outcomes. The Arabs’ future will be defined by Arabs, not by outsiders. And so, we must at the same time work to mitigate the risks and prepare for them to be realized.
President Obama said in May, “It will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region and to support transitions to democracy.” We believe that real democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa is attainable, and if it can be secured, is certainly in the national interest of the United States.
We begin by rejecting the false choice between progress and stability. For years, dictators told their people they had to accept the autocrats they knew to avoid the extremists they feared. America did push for reform, but often not hard enough or publicly enough. And as Secretary Clinton said, “today, we recognize that the real choice is between reform and unrest.” That is why we have consistently encouraged governments in the region – some that have already fallen, and some that remain – to undertake a meaningful process of political reform that is responsive to the legitimate aspirations of their people. That is, to get in front of the wave before it pulls you under.
Democracies make for stronger and more stable partners. They trade more, they innovate more, and they fight less. Democracies almost never to go war against other democracies. They help divided societies to air and hopefully resolve their differences through dialogue rather than violence. They hold inept and corrupt leaders accountable at the polls. They produce peaceful political change. They channel people’s energies away from extremism and toward political and civic engagement.
Now, democracies do not always agree with us, and in the Middle East and North Africa democracies that emerge may well disagree strongly with US policies. But at the end of the day, it is no coincidence that our closest allies around the world, including the State of Israel, are those members of the democratic community of nations.
The enduring cooperation we seek in the Middle East will be difficult to sustain without democratic legitimacy and public consent. We cannot have one set of policies to advance security in the here-and-now and another to promote democracy in a long run that never quite arrives.
For all these reasons opening political systems, societies, and economies is not simply a matter of idealism. It is a strategic necessity.
We are at the beginning of a period of transition that may take years to play out. But over time, a more democratic Middle East and North Africa can provide a more sustainable basis for America’s fight against Islamic extremism, for the defense of our allies, and for a secure supply of energy.
In Israel and throughout the world there is a good deal of concern, and with legitimate reasons. Some see democratic elections leading to the Islamization of regional governments, and then to a deterioration of Israel’s security with new threats emerging. This opinion has been heightened by the the October elections in Tunisia and the ongoing elections in Egypt on the future role of Islamist parties, so I’d like to discuss that issue.
As I’ve said, we are not blind to the risks inherent in these transitions. So we have made clear that we will evaluate these changes, and our relationships with the governments that emerge will depend on several principles which we are stressing with all of our interlocutors in the Arab world: parties committed to democracy must reject violence; they must abide by the rule of law and respect the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and assembly; they must respect the rights of women and minorities; they must let go of power if defeated in the polls; and in a region with deep divisions within and between religions, they cannot be the spark that starts a conflagration. Finally, we will judge the political actors in these countries not by what they say but rather by what they do. This goes for political parties across the region – in Tunisia, in Libya, in Egypt and everywhere else.
For these transitions to succeed, they must result in the empowerment of individuals to make their own economic as well as political choices, and allow a real middle class to develop. The revolutions in countries like Egypt and Tunisia were driven by a firm rejection of a past where prosperity was confined to a narrow segment of society. As we saw in Egypt, economic liberalization that fails to achieve inclusive growth is a false path to prosperity.
To support the democratic transitions underway in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya the United States is deploying both diplomatic and economic tools. The newly-appointed Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions and the Secretary of State are working with Congress to ensure that, even in difficult times at home, we get the resources we need to seize the strategic opportunity these transitions represent. We are working with Congress to establish Enterprise Funds for Egypt and Tunisia. These funds, together with the ongoing work of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, which provides political risk insurance, we hope to spark private sector investment that will help people in the region gain access to the capital they need to start and grow their own businesses, providing hope for a better economic future.
We are also working with the world’s leading economies and international lending institutions to support the transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as well as the major reforms underway in Jordan and Morocco. The IMF and the World Bank have pending proposals which we helped develop for Egypt of 3 and 4 billion dollars respectively. As President of the G-8 in 2012, the United States will keep high-level attention on these transitions, and the imperative of regional economic integration across the Middle East and North Africa.
Israel also can play a role in building this integration by vigorously pursuing expanded trade opportunities with Egypt and Jordan. These relationships were nurtured and developed through U.S. sponsored Qualified Industrial Zones but now they must evolve into partnerships. We share the Israeli government’s commitment to these initiatives.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that Israel faces real risks in a changing region. The United States’ commitment to Israel’s security is unwavering. So it will remain an American priority to ensure that all parties honor the peace treaties they have signed and the commitments they have made. And the United States’ relationship with those countries will very much depend on those decisions. And we will always help ensure that Israel has the means and ability to defend itself.
It is easy to understand why Israel watches the historic changes in the neighborhood with some concern. The US has responded to this concern of its close friend ally Israel – by increasing security cooperation and joint strategic planning.
The bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. Because we understand the challenges Israel faces in the current environment, President Obama has made the security of Israel a top priority – indeed he has done so since the beginning of his presidency, and has taken concrete steps to increase that cooperation. Funding Iron Dome tactical missile defense system, as well as more longer-range strategic missile defense initiatives in addition to the regular defense support of $3 billion per year, is but one example of that cooperation. The cooperation between our militaries, from research and technological development and joint exercises, has never been closer. It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.
In addition, President Obama has always been clear about the danger represented by Iran’s nuclear program: It is a grave threat to the security of the United States and the world, and we are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The United States is not sitting idly by as Iran threatens the security of Israel, schemes to acquire nuclear weapons, suppresses its own people, and spreads terror in the region. With the broad support of the international community, we have increased the pressure on the Iranian regime and sharply raised the price of its intransigence. And the President is considering all options to ensure Iran does not acquire nuclear weapons. Nothing is off the table.
We will address threats to regional peace whether they come from dictatorships or democracies. At the same time, we cannot simply put peacemaking on hold until the current upheaval is done – as I’ve said, it may take years. The truth is, the stalemate in the Arab-Israeli conflict is one more status quo in the Middle East that cannot be sustained.
A peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians would not be a remedy to all of Israel’s security challenges. It is not a silver bullet that will lead to a resolution of regional disputes. However, an agreement that leads to two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security would, however, fundamentally alter Israel’s strategic picture for the better. It would secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and it can open the door to engaging with Arab publics, who will now have a greater say in their governance and foreign policy. And as David Brodet discussed, it could bring important economic benefits to Israel as well.
The United States continues to work vigorously with our parties and our international partners to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions. These negotiations would provide the most credible and clear path back to the negotiating table, which is the only path to achieve the two-state solution we seek.
A critical test of every policy the Administration develops in the Middle East is whether it is consistent with the goal of ensuring Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state. And that is because Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state is in the United Sates’ national interest. That is a commitment that runs as a common thread through our entire government, even as it approaches the U.S.-Israel relationship and regional challenges from a variety of perspectives.
This test explains our extraordinary security cooperation, our stand against the de-legitimization of Israel in the international community, our efforts on Iran, our response to the Arab transitions, and our efforts on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
As the United States responds to the momentous events of 2011, we will continue our strong support for Israel’s security, our commitment to regional peace and our promotion of the democratic values that the U.S. and Israel both share.
Thank you very much.