Obama Speech Makes Clear Israel will have no Security without Peace

March 22, 2013

President says peace is “necessary, just and possible”

In Jerusalem on Thursday, President Barack Obama delivered a historic speech to the young people of Israel that reaffirmed the US commitment to Israel and laid out a compelling case for the pursuit of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream,” he said, “or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.”

The President advanced the argument that Israel’s long-term security depends on achieving peace, and that peace is necessary, just and possible. He also made clear that “neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer.”

On necessity, he said, “No Iron Dome anti-missile system would ever be perfect enough and no separation wall would ever be high enough to ensure Israel’s security if there was no peace.”

He also laid out the moral case for peace with the Palestinians, based on full recognition of their national right to self-determination and their right to build their lives free of the daily humiliations of military occupation.

The President also made it clear that peace is possible and that Israel does have partners in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad Israel who are committed to negotiations and to a peaceful solution.

Without laying out a detailed plan or pressuring the Israeli government to take any particular actions, the President appealed directly to Israelis to press their risk-averse political leaders to take action in pursuit of peace. Change, he said, lies in the hands of the people, especially young people: “Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things,” Obama said.

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami called President Obama’s speech potentially the most powerful moment the region has seen in many years: “He laid out a courageous vision for the future and called on ordinary people to push their political leaders to make it happen,” Ben-Ami said.

“This speech encapsulated everything our organization believes and was founded to achieve. We pledge to work as hard as we can, with all our resources, to mobilize support in the United States to help make the president’s inspiring vision a reality,” he said.

Attention now turns to Secretary of State John Kerry who will return to Jerusalem immediately to begin working for a resumption of peace talks. The goal can’t be simply getting the parties back to the table. We don’t need talks for talk’s sake, or more process.

It is up to Secretary Kerry to follow up the speech with hard diplomacy, possibly through back channels where real business can be done away from the glare of TV lights. We hope he can and will engage European and Arab leaders in a sustained, ongoing effort, recognizing that active U.S. mediation will be essential given the mutual suspicion that has built up between the parties over the years.

Watch or read the full Jerusalem speech here.