Obama’s AIPAC speech — Déjà entendu?
Some of those listening to President Obama’s AIPAC speech could be forgiven for thinking they had heard it all before — especially if they had been in attendance at the Anti-Defamation League’s 2010 National Leadership Conference to hear the remarks of Daniel B. Shapiro, senior director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council. Shapiro, whom Obama referred to at AIPAC as “one of my top advisors on Israel and the Middle East for the past four years” and “a close and trusted advisor and friend,” would appear to have had a significant input into the president’s address to the pro-Israel lobby (see below). According to Ha’aretz, the fluent Hebrew speaker and regular synagogue attendee maintains “close relations with the Israeli prime minister and his close advisers and senior defense ministry officials” — presumably close enough to ensure that Obama’s Israel policy doesn’t stray too far from what is acceptable to Tel Aviv.
Shapiro: President Obama’s approach towards Israel is grounded above all in the unbreakable bond between our two countries, our common values, the deep and interwoven connections between our peoples, and our shared interests…. But we do believe that ensuring Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state is very much in our national interests.
Obama: On Friday, I was joined at the White House by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and we reaffirmed — (applause) — 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 — (applause) — and the commitment of the United States to the security of Israel is ironclad. (Applause.)
A strong and secure Israel is in the national security interest of the United States not simply because we share strategic interests, although we do both seek a region where families and 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 flows from a deeper place — and that’s the values we share.
Shapiro: We take inspiration from the remarkable story of Israel: the Zionist dream first voiced by Theodor Herzl, whose 150th birthday we celebrate this week; the painstaking struggle to build a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people, despite threats from all directions… President Obama has made ensuring Israel’s security a key pillar of our Middle East policy. We do it because it is the right thing to do, standing by a key partner, whom the President has called “more than a strategic ally”, in the face of numerous threats to its citizens and even to its existence.
Obama: We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very 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 and 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 was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.
Shapiro: This commitment to Israel’s security is not a slogan for us. We live it every day in the policies we carry out. Since taking office, President Obama has taken what was already a strong U.S.-Israel defense relationship, and broadened and deepened it across the board. Our annual military assistance to Israel has increased to nearly $3 billion. We have reinvigorated defense cooperation, including on missile defense, highlighted by the 1,000 U.S. servicemembers who traveled to Israel to participate in the Juniper Cobra military exercises last fall. We have intensive dialogues and exchanges with Israel — in political, military, and intelligence channels — on regional security issues and counter-terrorism, from which we both benefit, and which enable us to coordinate our strategies whenever possible. We have redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge in the region, which has been publicly recognized and appreciated by numerous senior Israeli security officials. And we continue to support the development of Israeli missile defense systems, such as Arrow and David’s Sling, to upgrade Patriot missile defense systems first deployed during the Gulf War, and to work cooperatively with Israel on an advanced radar system to provide early warning of incoming missiles.
Obama: 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. (Applause.) It’s why, despite tough fiscal times, we’ve increased foreign military financing to record levels. (Applause.) And that includes additional support – beyond regular military aid – for the Iron Dome anti-rocket system. (Applause.) A powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation — a powerful example of American-Israeli cooperation which has already intercepted rockets from Gaza and helped saved Israeli lives. So make no mistake, we will maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge. (Applause.)
Shapiro: We take these steps because the threats Israel faces are real, and because many of the same forces threaten us and our interests. Whether it is an Iran bent on acquiring nuclear weapons…
Obama: You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. (Applause.)
Shapiro: President Obama has also steadfastly defended Israel against attempts to de-legitimize it, whether at the UN or other international bodies….These are commitments that will not change.
Obama: You also see our commitment to Israel’s security in our steadfast opposition to any attempt to de-legitimize the State of Israel. (Applause.) As I said at the United Nations 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.” (Applause.)
Shapiro: When it became clear that the Durban II Conference would unfairly and unreasonably single out Israel for criticism, we did not hesitate to pull out of the conference and lead many of our allies to do the same. We have repeatedly and vigorously voted against and spoken out against the Goldstone Report.
Obama: 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. (Applause.)
Shapiro: Our pursuit of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East is inextricably linked to the U.S.-Israeli partnership, as there has never been an Israeli government that did not pursue this goal fervently. The President made this a top priority from Day One because he knew that achieving peace would take time, and that neglecting this issue for several years only increased the danger Israel faces from Hizballah, Hamas, and Iran.
Obama: And so, in both word and deed, we have been unwavering in our support of Israel’s security. (Applause.) 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. (Applause.)
Shapiro: Today, Hamas continues to rule harshly in Gaza, rejecting any compromise with Israel, smuggling weapons, and cruelly holding Gilad Shalit in captivity. He should be released to his family without delay. Our policy on Hamas has not changed: to gain the legitimacy it seeks, Hamas must comply with the conditions set down by the Quartet — recognizing the State of Israel, renouncing violence, and abiding by past agreements.
Obama: No country can be expected to negotiate with a terrorist organization sworn to its destruction. (Applause.) And we will continue to demand that Hamas accept the basic responsibilities of peace, including recognizing Israel’s right to exist and rejecting violence and adhering to all existing agreements. (Applause.) And we once again call on Hamas to release Gilad Shalit, who has been kept from his family for five long years. (Applause.)
Shapiro: But we also know that the status quo is not sustainable.
Obama: The status quo is unsustainable.
Shapiro: Demography makes it unsustainable: Israel cannot remain a secure, Jewish, democratic state without the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Obama: … 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.
Shapiro: He also knew that achieving a two-state solution is the only way to guarantee Israel’s future as a secure, Jewish, democratic state, which is in Israeli and American interests.
Obama: 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.
Shapiro: This goal, this requirement to fulfill the needs of all parties, can only be achieved through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Obama: Now, I have said repeatedly that core issues can only be negotiated in direct talks between the parties. (Applause.)
Shapiro: We believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.
Obama: The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps — (applause) — so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states…. 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. (Applause.) That’s what mutually agreed-upon swaps means. 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 44 years. (Applause.) It allows the parties themselves to take account of those changes, including the new demographic realities on the ground, and the needs of both sides.
Shapiro: Palestinian and other Arab leaders must also prepare their populations for peace, by ending all acts and statements of incitement, educating for coexistence, reaching out to the Israeli public, and beginning the process of normalization with Israel.
Obama: Arab governments, too, have responsibilities we will expect them to fulfill. Their support for proximity talks is welcome, but our expectations do not end there. We need them to … reach out to the Israeli public and resume exchanges of various kinds with Israel to demonstrate that Israel’s isolation in the region is ending.