Remarks by General James Jones, National Security Advisor to President Barack Obama, at J Street’s first national conference. October 27, 2009.
Thank you, Congressman Wexler, for the generous introduction, and thanks to Richard Wolfe and all of you for the warm welcome. I’d like to take a moment to commend Congressman Wexler for his outstanding public service during seven terms in the United States House of Representatives. Congressman, you have been an ardent supporter of Israel and a steadfast advocate for peace in the Middle East. You will be missed in the Congress, but we all look forward to continuing to work with you in your new role at the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation.
I’d like to begin by recognizing the leadership of J Street including Board President Davidi Gilo and Knesset members Yuli Tamir, Shlomo Molla, Nitzan Horowitz, Meir Sheetrit and Amir Peretz who are here with us today.
I’d also like to congratulate J Street’s Executive Director Jeremy Ben-Ami and the rest of the staff on this impressive conference and J Street’s first year. I am honored to represent President Obama at the first national J Street conference.
For more than six decades, the abiding friendship between the United States and Israel and our peoples has been based on a deep foundation of common interests and values, shared experiences, and deep cultural ties. Indeed, it is a relationship founded as much on personal experience as geopolitics. Through countless interactions with Israelis in government, the military and private life, I have been blessed with many Israeli friends and colleagues. My own first exposure to Israel came as a younger Marine when I trained there in the early 1990s. I came away amazed by the hospitality and resilience of the Israeli people. Later on in my career, including my last job as a Marine, as SACEUR, a position in which I was responsible for overseeing military-to-military relations between the U.S. and Israel, I developed a deep understanding of Israel’s security situation and appreciation of the Israeli-American partnership. And it was with this in mind that I approached my work last year pursuing peace between Israel and the Palestinians as Special Envoy for Middle East Regional Security. Despite the challenges and frustrations we encountered last year in pursuit of peace, my work last year was some of the most professionally rewarding and personally fulfilling of my life. To see Israelis and Palestinians seriously engaged in finding a solution to their decades-long conflict; to see Jenin, a city formerly overrun with terrorists and criminals, reborn as a city in which people could walk the streets safely and shops were humming with business, was a truly humbling experience. And now, as President Obama’s National Security Advisor, and with the benefit of this accumulated experience, I am here to tell you that Israel’s security and peace in the Middle East are inseparable. Neither can exist without the other. As I learned last year, neither can exist without the other. And only a two-state solution can provide the lasting security and dignity to both Israelis and Palestinians that both peoples deserve. But time is not on our side. The imperative for peace is now.
Let me be clear: America’s commitment to Israel’s security is not just a slogan, but rather a pillar of our foreign policy. Time and again, the United States has given meaning to this commitment by working to advance regional stability, by standing up for Israel’s right to self-defense, and by pursuing peace between Israel and her neighbors. Under President Obama, this commitment – to Israel and to peace — is as strong as ever, as is our coordination with the Israeli Government, in the face of the many challenges we both face in the region.
One common challenge that I know is on everyone’s mind is our effort to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. So let me say a few words about our current efforts in this regard. As you know, early this month our senior diplomat Under Secretary of State Bill Burns and his counterparts in the P5-plus-1 — which is the permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany — met with the Iranian representatives in Geneva. As the President said, it was a constructive beginning. But we also have a long, long way to go. Iran now needs to follow through on its commitments.
Iran’s agreement to export low-enriched uranium to third parties for further enrichment and fuel fabrication would be a good first step towards reducing Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. If implemented, this arrangement would set back the clock on Iran’s breakout capability because it would reduce Iran’s stockpile far below the amount needed for a weapon — and it would take time to reconstitute the amount needed for a breakout. But there should be no doubt: suspension of Iran’s enrichment program remains our goal, as called for in the five U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The President has repeatedly said that Iran has a choice: It can live up to its international obligations and enjoy all the benefits that come with being a responsible member of the international community, or it can face increased isolation and pressure. It’s our job to clarify that choice for Iran, to make clear that it cannot escape making a choice. So we will see if engagement is able to produce the concrete results we need, and we’ll be prepared if it does not. Nothing is off the table. Throughout the last several months, we have consulted closely with Israel on this issue, which is of such vital importance to both our nations.
Our unshakeable bond with Israel has also been clearly demonstrated in our opposition to efforts to delegitimize Israel internationally and to ensure that Israel is treated fairly at the U.N., as we did recently with regard to the Goldstone report.
We outlined our concern about the Goldstone report clearly and repeatedly, including the overly broad scope of its recommendations, its failure to address the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, and its sweeping conclusions of law. Israel is a strong democracy with independent institutions capable of addressing allegations through credible domestic processes, and we have encouraged it to do so.
Lastly, and I know this is a matter of great importance to this audience, being a good friend to Israel also means working hard for peace in the region. President Obama is committed to achieving two states, a secure Jewish state of Israel and a viable, independent, and contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace in security, that ends the occupation that began in 1967 and unleashes the full potential of the Palestinian people. He is committed to this goal because he believes, fundamentally that it is in America’s interest, just as it is in the interest of the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. He knows it will be a difficult task, but he has emphasized that he will pursue it with the patience and the dedication that it requires. There is nothing more important the United States can do to safeguard Israel’s future than to walk the path to peace right beside her, in friendship.
We have called on all parties to meet their responsibilities and take steps to create an environment in which negotiations can succeed. For the Palestinians, this means continuing efforts on security, combating incitement, and reforming the institutions of governance. For the Arab states, it means reaching out to Israel to show that they are prepared to live in peace and demonstrate the benefits of the Arab Peace Initiative. And for Israel, these steps have included stopping settlement growth, dismantling outposts, and improving access and movement and economic conditions in the West Bank.
But our approach has not focused only on resolving the political issues that separate Israelis and Palestinians. It is also based on building an infrastructure for peace through bottom-up efforts to help the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to ensure security, develop its institutions, and provide for the Palestinian people.
As the President said a few weeks ago in New York when he brought Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas together, we’ve made some progress towards the goals we set out earlier this year, but we must do much, much more. The time has come to relaunch negotiations, without preconditions, on the core issues of this conflict — security for both Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees, and Jerusalem. Our special envoy, George Mitchell, is in active discussions with the Israeli government and with the Palestinian Authority to help bring this about, so we can make progress towards the shared goal of peace and security, via a two-state solution that Prime Minister Netanyahu articulated in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June. Senator Mitchell is traveling again to the region this week to continue these efforts. The President and Secretary Clinton remain personally engaged.
As we do so, we cannot forget the people of Gaza and southern Israel. Just as we will defend Israel’s right to self defense, we cannot accept the humanitarian situation in Gaza, because progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be part of the road to peace. We also continue to call for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit.
The task ahead will be difficult. There will be setbacks and challenges and false starts. But the people of this region have suffered for too long for this conflict to be neglected once more. The President has reminded us that what’s at stake in this conflict is nothing less than the dignity and the security of all human beings. So as we meet here today, we know that there are Palestinian children who lack the hope and the opportunity that is their right, just as there are Israeli children who lack the security they deserve.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we look around this troubled world full of challenges to peace, security, and our way of life as free people, no challenge is greater nor the rewards more substantial than a just and secure solution to the conflict in the Middle East. The global ripples emanating from such a solution would enhance the prospects for progress in other conflicts that are underway and still others that are in their infancy.
We now face a moment in time which is ripe with opportunities for attaining a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians alike. Courage is required on the part of those entrusted with the responsibility of leadership to forge the path to two states living side by side in peace and security.
The rewards of peace are great. But so, too, are the consequences of failing to seize the the moment to walk down the path together towards a better and brighter future.
And make no mistake: as we advance the cause of peace togetehr, we will strengthen the unshakeable bond between the United States and Israel that has endured for more than 60 years.
Ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the honor of addressing your conference on behalf of President Obama.