President Obama meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, welcome again Prime Minister Netanyahu, who I think has now been here seven times during the course of my presidency. And I want to indicate that the frequency of these meetings is an indication of the extraordinary bonds between our two countries, as is the opportunity for the Prime Minister to address Congress during his visit here. I know that’s an honor that’s reserved for those who have always shown themselves to be a great friend of the United States and is indicative of the friendship between our countries.
We just completed a prolonged and extremely useful conversation touching on a wide range of issues. We discussed, first of all, the changes that are sweeping the region and what has been happening in places like Egypt and Syria and how they affect the interests and security of the United States and Israel, as well as the opportunity for prosperity, growth and development in the Arab world.
We agreed that there is a moment of opportunity that can be seized as a consequence of the Arab Spring, but also acknowledge that there’s significant perils as well, and that it’s going to be important for the United States and Israel to consult closely as we see developments unfold.
I outlined for the Prime Minister some of the issues that I discussed in my speech yesterday — how important it was going to be for the United States to support political reform, support human rights, support freedom of speech, religious tolerance and economic development, particularly in Egypt, as the largest Arab country, as well as Tunisia, the country that first started this revolutionary movement that’s taking place throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
We also discussed the situation in Syria, which is obviously of acute concern to Israel, given its shared border. And I gave more details to the Prime Minister about the significant steps that we are taking to try to pressure Syria and the Assad regime to reform, including the sanctions that we placed directly on President Assad.
We continue to share our deep concerns about Iran, not only the threat that it poses to Israel but also the threat that it poses to the region and the world if it were to develop a nuclear weapon. We updated our strategy to continue to apply pressure, both through sanctions and our other diplomatic work. And I reiterated my belief that it is unacceptable for Iran to possess a nuclear weapon.
We also discussed the hypocrisy of Iran suggesting that it somehow supports democratization in the Middle East when, in fact, they first showed the repressive nature of that regime when they responded to the own peaceful protests that took place inside Iran almost two years ago.
Finally, we discussed the issue of a prospective peace between Israelis and Palestinians. And I reiterated and we discussed in depth the principles that I laid out yesterday — the belief that our ultimate goal has to be a secure Israeli state, a Jewish state, living side by side in peace and security with a contiguous, functioning and effective Palestinian state.
Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that’s going to happen between friends. But what we are in complete accord about is that a true peace can only occur if the ultimate resolution allows Israel to defend itself against threats, and that Israel’s security will remain paramount in U.S. evaluations of any prospective peace deal.
I said that yesterday in the speech, and I continue to believe it. And I think that it is possible for us to shape a deal that allows Israel to secure itself, not to be vulnerable, but also allows it to resolve what has obviously been a wrenching issue for both peoples for decades now.
I also pointed out, as I said in the speech yesterday, that it is very difficult for Israel to be expected to negotiate in a serious way with a party that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist. And so for that reason I think the Palestinians are going to have to answer some very difficult questions about this agreement that’s been made between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas has been and is an organization that has resorted to terror; that has refused to acknowledge Israel’s rights to exist. It is not a partner for a significant, realistic peace process. And so, as I said yesterday during the speech, the Palestinians are going to have to explain how they can credibly engage in serious peace negotiations in the absence of observing the Quartet principles that have been put forward previously.
So, overall, I thought this was an extremely constructive discussion. And coming out of this discussion, I once again can reaffirm that the extraordinarily close relationship between the United States and Israel is sound and will continue, and that together, hopefully we are going to be able to work to usher in a new period of peace and prosperity in a region that is going to be going through some very profound transformations in the coming weeks, months and years.
So, Mr. Prime Minister.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, first I want to thank you and the First Lady for the gracious hospitality that you’ve shown me, my wife, and our entire delegation. We have an enduring bond of friendship between our two countries, and I appreciate the opportunity to have this meeting with you after your important speech yesterday.
We share your hope and your vision for the spread of democracy in the Middle East. I appreciate the fact that you reaffirmed once again now, and in our conversation, and in actual deed the commitment to Israel’s security. We value your efforts to advance the peace process.
This is something that we want to have accomplished. Israel wants peace. I want peace. What we all want is a peace that will be genuine, that will hold, that will endure. And I think that the — we both agree that a peace based on illusions will crash eventually on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality, and that the only peace that will endure is one that is based on reality, on unshakeable facts.
I think for there to be peace, the Palestinians will have to accept some basic realities. The first is that while Israel is prepared to make generous compromises for peace, it cannot go back to the 1967 lines — because these lines are indefensible; because they don’t take into account certain changes that have taken place on the ground, demographic changes that have taken place over the last 44 years.
Remember that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive.
So we can’t go back to those indefensible lines, and we’re going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan. I discussed this with the President and I think that we understand that Israel has certain security requirements that will have to come into place in any deal that we make.
The second is — echoes something the President just said, and that is that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is backed by Hamas. Hamas, as the President said, is a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction. It’s fired thousands of rockets on our cities, on our children. It’s recently fired an anti-tank rocket at a yellow school bus, killing a 16-year-old boy. And Hamas has just attacked you, Mr. President, and the United States for ridding the world of bin Laden.
So Israel obviously cannot be asked to negotiate with a government that is backed by the Palestinian version of al Qaeda.
I think President Abbas has a simple choice. He has to decide if he negotiates or keeps his pact with Hamas, or makes peace with Israel. And I can only express what I said to you just now, that I hope he makes the choice, the right choice, in choosing peace with Israel.
The third reality is that the Palestinian refugee problem will have to be resolved in the context of a Palestinian state, but certainly not in the borders of Israel.
The Arab attack in 1948 on Israel resulted in two refugee problems — Palestinian refugee problem and Jewish refugees, roughly the same number, who were expelled from Arab lands. Now, tiny Israel absorbed the Jewish refugees, but the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees. Now, 63 years later, the Palestinians come to us and they say to Israel, accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of these refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state.
So it’s not going to happen. Everybody knows it’s not going to happen. And I think it’s time to tell the Palestinians forthrightly it’s not going to happen. The Palestinian refugee problem has to be resolved. It can be resolved, and it will be resolved if the Palestinians choose to do so in a Palestinian state. So that’s a real possibility. But it’s not going to be resolved within the Jewish state.
The President and I discussed all these issues and I think we may have differences here and there, but I think there’s an overall direction that we wish to work together to pursue a real, genuine peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors; a peace that is defensible.
Mr. President, you’re the — you’re the leader of a great people, the American people. And I’m the leader of a much smaller people, the –
PRESIDENT OBAMA: A great people.
PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: It’s a great people, too. It’s the ancient nation of Israel. And, you know, we’ve been around for almost 4,000 years. We’ve experienced struggle and suffering like no other people. We’ve gone through expulsions and pogroms and massacres and the murder of millions. But I can say that even at the dearth of — even at the nadir of the valley of death, we never lost hope and we never lost our dream of reestablishing a sovereign state in our ancient homeland, the land of Israel.
And now it falls on my shoulders as the Prime Minister of Israel, at a time of extraordinary instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, to work with you to fashion a peace that will ensure Israel’s security and will not jeopardize its survival. I take this responsibility with pride but with great humility, because, as I told you in our conversation, we don’t have a lot of margin for error. And because, Mr. President, history will not give the Jewish people another chance.
So in the coming days and weeks and months, I intend to work with you to seek a peace that will address our security concerns, seek a genuine recognition that we wish from our Palestinian neighbors to give a better future for Israel and for the entire region.
And I thank you for the opportunity to exchange our views and to work together for this common end. Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you.
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3 Chics would love to read your comments/insights/perspectives on POTUS’ current stance on the USA/Israel/Middle East Policy.
Here’s the full transcript:
Good morning! Thank you, Rosy, for your very kind introduction. But even more, thank you for your many years friendship. Back in Chicago, when I was just getting started in national politics, I reached out to a lot of people for advice and counsel, and Rosy was one of the very first. When I made my first visit to Israel, after entering the Senate, Rosy – you were at my side every step of that very meaningful journey through the Holy Land. And I want to thank you for your enduring friendship, your leadership and for your warm welcome today.
Thank you to David Victor, Howard Kohr and all the Board of Directors. And let me say that it’s wonderful to look out and see so many great friends, including Alan Solow, Howard Green and a very large delegation from Chicago.
I want to thank the members of Congress who are joining you today—who do so much to sustain the bonds between the United States and Israel—including Eric Cantor, Steny Hoyer, and the tireless leader I was proud to appoint as the new chair of the DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
We’re joined by Israel’s representative to the United States, Ambassador Michael Oren. As well as one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years, and who I know is going to be an outstanding ambassador to Israel—Dan Shapiro. Dan has always been a close and trusted advisor, and I know he’ll do a terrific job.
And at a time when so many young people around the world are standing up and making their voices heard, I also want to acknowledge all the college students from across the country who are here today. No one has a greater stake in the outcome of events that are unfolding today than your generation, and it’s inspiring to see you devote your time and energy to help shape the future.
Now, I’m not here to subject you to a long policy speech. I gave one on Thursday in which I said that the United States sees the historic changes sweeping the Middle East and North Africa as a moment of great challenge, but also a moment of opportunity for greater peace and security for the entire region, including the State of Israel.
On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed that fundamental truth that has guided our presidents and prime ministers for more than 60 years—that, even while we may at times disagree, as friends sometimes will, the bonds between the United States and Israel are unbreakable, and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad.
A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and their children can live free from the threat of violence. It’s not simply because we face common dangers, although there can be no denying that terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons are grave threats to both our nations.
America’s commitment to Israel’s security also flows from a deeper place —and that’s the values we share. As two people who struggled to win our freedom against overwhelming odds, we understand that preserving the security for which our forefathers fought must be the work of every generation. As two vibrant democracies, we recognize that the liberties and freedom we cherish must be constantly nurtured. And as the nation that recognized the State of Israel moments after its independence, we have a profound commitment to its survival as a strong, secure homeland of the Jewish people.
We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel in a tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot, I saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket. And when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I grasped the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the map.
Because we understand the challenges Israel faces, I and my administration have made the security of Israel a priority. It’s why we’ve increased cooperation between our militaries to unprecedented levels. It’s why we’re making our most advanced technologies available to our Israeli allies. And it’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels.
That includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. This is a powerful example of American-Israel cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved innocent Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge.
You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Here in the U.S., we’ve imposed the toughest sanctions ever on the Iranian regime. At the United Nations, we’ve secured the most comprehensive international sanctions on the regime, which have been joined by allies and partners around the world. Today, Iran is virtually cut off from large parts of the international financial system, and we are going to keep up the pressure. So let me be absolutely clear – we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Its illicit nuclear program is just one challenge that Iran poses. As I said on Thursday, the Iranian government has shown its hypocrisy by claiming to support the rights of protesters while treating its own people with brutality. Moreover, Iran continues to support terrorism across the region, including providing weapons and funds to terrorist organizations. So we will continue to work to prevent these actions, and will stand up to groups like Hezbollah who exercise political assassination, and seek to impose their will through rockets and car bombs.
You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. As I said at the United Nation’s last year, “Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate,” and “efforts to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy will only be met by the unshakeable opposition of the United States.”
So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it.
And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. And it is precisely because of our commitment to Israel’s long-term security that we have worked to advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. And I indicated on Thursday that the recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace. No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. We will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace: recognizing Israel’s right to exist, rejecting violence, and adhering to all existing agreements. And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years.
And yet, no matter how hard it may be to start meaningful negotiations under the current circumstances, we must acknowledge that a failure to try is not an option. The status quo is unsustainable. That is why, on Thursday, I stated publicly the principles that the United States believes can provide a foundation for negotiations toward an agreement to end the conflict and all claims – the broad outlines of which have been known for many years, and have been the template for discussions between the United States, Israelis, and Palestinians since at least the Clinton Administration.
I know that stating these principles – on the issues of territory and security – generated some controversy over the past few days. I was not entirely surprised. I know very well that the easy thing to do, particularly for a President preparing for reelection, is to avoid any controversy. But as I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. And so I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.
Here are the facts we all must confront. First, the number of Palestinians living west of the Jordan River is growing rapidly and fundamentally reshaping the demographic realities of both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This will make it harder and harder – without a peace deal – to maintain Israel as both a Jewish state and a democratic state.
Second, technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself in the absence of a genuine peace.
And third, a new generation of Arabs is reshaping the region. A just and lasting peace can no longer be forged with one or two Arab leaders. Going forward, millions of Arab citizens have to see that peace is possible for that peace to be sustained.
Just as the context has changed in the Middle East, so too has it been changing in the international community over the last several years. There is a reason why the Palestinians are
pursuing their interests at the United Nations. They recognize that there is an impatience with the peace process – or the absence of one. Not just in the Arab World, but in Latin America, in Europe, and in Asia. That impatience is growing, and is already manifesting itself in capitols around the world.
These are the facts. I firmly believe, and repeated on Thursday, that peace cannot be imposed on the parties to the conflict. No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the UN or in any international forum. Because Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate.
Moreover, we know that peace demands a partner – which is why I said that Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with Palestinians who do not recognize its right to exist, and we will hold the Palestinians accountable for their actions and their rhetoric.
But the march to isolate Israel internationally – and the impulse of the Palestinians to abandon negotiations – will continue to gain momentum in the absence of a credible peace process and alternative. For us to have leverage with the Palestinians, with the Arab States, and with the international community, the basis for negotiations has to hold out the prospect of success. So, in advance of a five day trip to Europe in which the Middle East will be a topic of acute interest, I chose to speak about what peace will require.
There was nothing particularly original in my proposal; this basic framework for negotiations has long been the basis for discussions among the parties, including previous U.S. Administrations. But since questions have been raised, let me repeat what I actually said on Thursday.
I said that the United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine. The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.
As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat. Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism; to stop the infiltration of weapons; and to provide effective border security. The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state. The duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.
That is what I said. Now, it was my reference to the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps that received the lion’s share of the attention. And since my position has been misrepresented several times, let me reaffirm what “1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps” means.
By definition, it means that the parties themselves – Israelis and Palestinians – will negotiate a border that is different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. It is a well known formula to all who have worked on this issue for a generation. It allows the parties themselves to account for the changes that have taken place over the last forty-four years, including the new demographic realities on the ground and the needs of both sides. The ultimate goal is two states for two peoples. Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people; each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
If there’s a controversy, then, it’s not based in substance. What I did on Thursday was to say publicly what has long been acknowledged privately. I have done so because we cannot afford to wait another decade, or another two decades, or another three decades, to achieve peace. The world is moving too fast. The extraordinary challenges facing Israel would only grow. Delay will undermine Israel’s security and the peace that the Israeli people deserve.
I know that some of you will disagree with this assessment. I respect that. And as fellow Americans and friends of Israel, I know that we can have this discussion.
Ultimately, however, it is the right and responsibility of the Israeli government to make the hard choices that are necessary to protect a Jewish and democratic state for which so many generations have sacrificed. And as a friend of Israel, I am committed to doing our part to see that this goal is realized, while calling not just on Israel, but on the Palestinians, the Arab States, and the international community to join us in that effort. Because the burden of making hard choices must not be Israel’s alone.
Even as we do all that’s necessary to ensure Israel’s security; even as we are clear-eyed about the difficult challenges before us; and even as we pledge to stand by Israel through whatever tough days lie ahead – I hope we do not give up on that vision of peace. For if history teaches us anything—if the story of Israel teaches us anything—it is that with courage and resolve, progress is possible. Peace is possible.
The Talmud teaches us that so long as a person still has life, they should never abandon faith. And that lesson seems especially fitting today,
For so long as there are those, across the Middle East and beyond, who are standing up for the legitimate rights and freedoms which have been denied by their governments, the United States will never abandon our support for those rights that are universal.
And so long as there are those who long for a better future, we will never abandon our pursuit of a just and lasting peace that ends this conflict with two states living side by side in peace and security. This is not idealism or naivete. It’s a hard-headed recognition that a genuine peace is the only path that will ultimately provide for a peaceful Palestine as the homeland of the Palestinian people and a Jewish state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless Israel, and God bless the United States of America.
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