History Podcasts



10:53 A. M. EST

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I want to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu and the entire Israeli delegation back to the White House, back to the Oval Office.

This visit obviously comes at a critical time. We are seeing incredible changes that are taking place in the Middle East and in North Africa. We have seen the terrible bloodshed that's going on in Syria, the democratic transition that's taking place in Egypt. And in the midst of this, we have an island of democracy and one of our greatest allies in Israel.

As I've said repeatedly, the bond between our two countries is unbreakable. My personal commitment -- a commitment that is consistent with the history of other occupants of this Oval Office -- our commitment to the security of Israel is rock solid. And as I've said to the Prime Minister in every single one of our meetings, the United States will always have Israel's back when it comes to Israel's security. This is a bond that is based not only on our mutual security interests and economic interests, but is also based on common values and the incredible people-to-people contacts that we have between our two countries.

During the course of this meeting, we'll talk about the regional issues that are taking place, and I look forward to the Prime Minister sharing with me his ideas about how we can increase the prospects of peace and security in the region. We will discuss the issues that continue to be a focus of not only our foreign policy but also the Prime Minister's -- how we can, potentially, bring about a calmer set of discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians and arrive at a peaceful resolution to that longstanding conflict. It is a very difficult thing to do in light of the context right now, but I know that the Prime Minister remains committed to trying to achieve that.

And obviously a large topic of conversation will be Iran, which I devoted a lot of time to in my speech to AIPAC yesterday, and I know that the Prime Minister has been focused on for a long period of time. Let me just reiterate a couple of points on that.

Number one, we all know that it's unacceptable from Israel's perspective to have a country with a nuclear weapon that has called for the destruction of Israel. But as I emphasized yesterday, it is profoundly in the United States' interest as well to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power.

That's why we have worked so diligently to set up the most crippling sanctions ever with respect to Iran. We do believe that there is still a window that allows for a diplomatic resolution to this issue, but ultimately the Iranians' regime has to make a decision to move in that direction, a decision that they have not made thus far.

And as I emphasized, even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions, I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it.

Having said that, I know that both the Prime Minister and I prefer to resolve this diplomatically. We understand the costs of any military action. And I want to assure both the American people and the Israeli people that we are in constant and close consultation. I think the levels of coordination and consultation between our militaries and our intelligence not just on this issue but on a broad range of issues has been unprecedented. And I intend to make sure that that continues during what will be a series of difficult months, I suspect, in 2012.

So, Prime Minister, we welcome you and we appreciate very much the friendship of the Israeli people. You can count on that friendship always being reciprocated from the United States.



PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Mr. President, thank you for those kind words. And thank you, too, for that strong speech yesterday. And I want to thank you also for the warm hospitality that you've shown me and my delegation.

The alliance between our two countries is deeply appreciated by me and by everyone in Israel. And I think that, as you said, when Americans look around the Middle East today, they see one reliable, stable, faithful ally of the United States, and that's the democracy of Israel.

Americans know that Israel and the United States share common values, that we defend common interests, that we face common enemies. Iran's leaders know that, too. For them, you're the Great Satan, we're the Little Satan. For them, we are you and you're us. And you know something, Mr. President -- at least on this last point, I think they're right. We are you, and you are us. We're together. So if there's one thing that stands out clearly in the Middle East today, it's that Israel and America stand together.

I think that above and beyond that are two principles, longstanding principles of American policy that you reiterated yesterday in your speech -- that Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat; and that when it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the right, the sovereign right to make its own decisions. I believe that's why you appreciate, Mr. President, that Israel must reserve the right to defend itself.

And after all, that's the very purpose of the Jewish state -- to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny. And that's why my supreme responsibility as Prime Minister of Israel is to ensure that Israel remains the master of its fate.

So I thank you very much, Mr. President, for your friendship, and I look forward to our discussions. Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much.

Thank you, everybody.

Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of the State of Israel Upon Arrival

Q Mr. President, what’s your response to the Bolton manuscript? And does this increase the chances he could be called to testify?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I haven’t seen a manuscript, but I can tell you: Nothing was ever said to John Bolton. But I have not seen a manuscript. I guess he’s writing a book. I have not seen it.

Q Well, you know what the allegation is.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We’ll talk inside.

Q Do you expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to implement the plan right away in the coming six weeks?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think he’s here for a reason. And, hopefully, that it will be “yes.” And peace in the Middle East has been long sought for many, many, many years and decades and centuries. And this is an opportunity we’ll see what happens. Whatever it is, it is. But he’s here for a reason.

Q Would you give a green light for annexation of the Jordan Valley within the coming months?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We’re going to see. We’re going to announce tomorrow at 12 o’clock. We’re going to show a plan that’s been worked on by everybody, and we’ll see whether or not it catches hold. If it does, that’d be great. And if doesn’t, we can live with it, too. But I think it might have a chance.

Q Do you expect Benny Gantz to agree to the plan?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Do I expect what?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: He’s coming here today. He’ll be here also. And, as you know, they are two good competitors. They’re fighting it out.

I’ve been waiting now — this is my third election. We keep waiting, and waiting, and waiting. So, let’s go. What kind of a system is that? That’s a very strange system you have over there. Wouldn’t you say that?

Because we have been. We’ve been waiting — we’ve been talking about this for many months and we keep waiting for the election. So that system has to be looked at.

Q But what about the allegations that this is an interference with internal politics in Israel? The fact that —

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think what’s happening is — one of the reasons that Mr. Gantz is here is for that reason. He’s coming, too. So I’m going to speak to him right after this.

Q What is your message to the residents of Judea and Samaria at this point?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: May I — may I say something?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think — first of all, I’m very honored to be here with you —

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you. It’s my honor.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: — here today, Mr. President. And I look forward to making history with you tomorrow. And I think we’ll talk about the plan I’ll talk about the plan — of vision of peace, which is historic — the President has put forward tomorrow.

Today, I just want to say two words: Thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel, everything you’ve done for Israel — for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for moving your embassy there for recognizing our sovereignty in the Golan Heights for recognizing our rights in Judea and Samaria, the heartland of our biblical homeland for the unprecedented security and intelligence cooperation between our two countries.

I think, Mr. President, that the list of your support for Israel, the things you’ve done for Israel since you’ve become President, is very long. But the bottom line is short: You have made our alliance stronger than ever. And I look forward, in the coming years, to make it even stronger with a historic defense treaty that will anchor our alliance for generations.

One last thing — one last thing, which I think is important: This is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And on this day, I’m proud to stand here, as the Prime Minister of the one and only Jewish State, and thank you for confronting the most anti-Semitic regime on the planet. When you came into office, Iran was on the march. Because of your leadership, Iran is now on the run.

You’ve withdrawn from the dangerous nuclear — the nuclear deal. You slapped on tremendous sanctions. You have — two weeks ago, you’ve taken out the most dangerous terrorist on the planet. All those who seek peace, all those who want to fight terrorism should thank you, Mr. President, for your bold decisions and your bold actions.

And on behalf of the State of Israel, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for Israel, for confronting Iran, and for your extraordinary decisions, your friendship, and your leadership.

That’s the end of my speech.

Q President Trump, last time, I asked you if you were for a two-state solution. Are you going to say, tomorrow, “two-state and a Palestinian State”?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: You’re going to see very, very quickly. We’re going to release a plan tomorrow at 12 o’clock. You’re going to see for yourself.

Remarks by President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu of the State of Israel Before Bilateral Meeting

PRESIDENT TRUMP: (A ceremonial gold key is presented.) This was a special token of affection, given by myself and the First Lady to the Prime Minister and the First Lady of Israel. And it’s a key — we call it a key to the White House. And it’s a key to our country and to our hearts. And you’ve been an amazing leader for a long period of time. And this is — this is, in many respects, the big day, because this is something that’s very special.

We just left UAE and Bahrain. We’re going to meet outside in a ceremony. And it’s just a very important event. And it’s an honor to have you with us, Bibi. Thank you very much.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President. And I have said — and this is true — that you have the key to the hearts of the people of Israel because of all the great things you’ve done for the Jewish State and the Jewish people. So, thank you. Thank you.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Thank you very much. Fantastic. And we look forward to being outside.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yes, please. Anybody?

Q Mr. President, this is a great event — this is a great event and these are tremendous achievements. Can you — we know that Israel is getting a lot. What is Israel giving back for this —

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: This is the Israeli press that wants to chip away at this.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think what, really, Israel is getting — I think what Israel is getting and what we’re all getting, but what Israel is getting more than anything else is peace. They’re going to have peace. As you know, UAE — United Arab Emirates — is a great warring nation, a very powerful nation in the region. And they very much wanted to do this. Mohammed is a tremendous leader, like Bibi is a tremendous leader. And it was important to have them first very early.

And, you know, the relationship is fantastic. And a lot of people are surprised to see it. And, as you know, we have Bahrain and we have many nations ready to follow. Many nations.

Q Is Saudi Arabia going to be next?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I can’t — no, not now, I won’t. But you’ll see. We’ll be signing up other nations. And these are very strong agreements. These are very strong. This is really peace. This is serious peace. And so I think what Israel gets — the most important thing that they’re getting, by far, is peace.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Excuse me, one at a time, please.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: Who? Which one?

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: See the woman in the white? The woman in the white.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: In the white. Go ahead.

Q Yes. Thank you. Lital from Channel 20. Is it possible to know which countries will be following the Emirates?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we’ll be announce- —

Q Will it be Saudi? Maybe Oman?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah, we’re very far down the road with about five countries, five additional countries. Frankly, I think we could have had them here today. We thought, out of respect, UAE — they deserved it. And Bahrain came immediately after. They really wanted to do it. But we’ll have at least five or six countries coming along very quickly, and we’re already talking to them.

And they want to see peace. You know, they’ve been fighting for a long time. They’re tired. They’re warring countries, but they’re tired. They’re tired of fighting. And so you’re going to be seeing further announcements.

This is a — you know, it’s a very big day. I guess they said — so there were two countries, over a 72-year period, and we did an additional two. And these are great countries. We did an additional two in one month.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: But you’ll — but you’re going to see — you’re going to see a lot of very great activity. It’s going to be peace in the Middle East.

Q Mr. President, will you promote the F-35 deal even if Israel objected?

Q Will you promote the F-35 deal even if Israel objected?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah, we going — we’re going to work that out. We’ll work that out. That’s — that’s going to be an easy thing.

And, you know, we’ve fought with UAE four times — four different wars. They’ve been very, very loyal to us. And we have a better relationship with them now than we ever had in the past. In fact, in the past, it was very strained. We have a very good relationship with them. Yeah, we’ll — all of that works out. That’s going to be very easy to work out.

Q Mr. President, should Israel feel less isolated today than they were this last week? And, Mr. Prime Minister, maybe you can answer that question, as well.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, I think Israel is not isolated anymore because, I can tell you, we have the two countries, plus you had an additional two, as you know, from many, many years ago. And now you have a situation where many of the countries — and I can actually say “most” of the countries, but many of the countries in the Middle East want to sign this deal.

And I think when that happens, hopefully after the election — because I really believe Iran wants to make a deal. They’ve had a very tough time. Their GDP is down 27 percent because of the sanctions and all of the other things. And I don’t want that to happen. I don’t want — I want Iran to be a great country, a great nation. I think that would be a wonderful thing.

But I think — and I’ve even said that. I’ve said that the representatives of them: “You should wait to see the election, first.” There is nothing they or China or, probably, Russia would like better than to have Sleepy Joe Biden become the President, because if Sleepy Joe won, they would own the United States, all of them. China would own the United States.

So I told all of them, I said, “Wait until after the election.” But after the election, we have to make a better deal. I do say that. We’re going to make a better deal than we would have.

But, with Iran, they certainly should wait until after the election because, frankly, if Biden wins, they’ll make a much better deal. But I’m going to make a good deal with Iran. I’m going to make a deal that’s great for Iran. It’s going to get them back. We’re going to help them in every way possible. And Iran will be very happy. Iran will be very rich and very quickly. But I think they should wait until after the election. You understand what I mean by that. Because a dream for those countries would be Sleepy Joe.

Q Do you believe you will also broker a deal with the Palestinians?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah, I think they’d come along, and they’re already — obviously, we speak to them. They’ve come a long way. We used to pay them $750 million a year when I got here.

And I said to people that negotiated with them before, “Why did you pay when they treat the United States with such disrespect?” They speak so badly. “Death to America. Death to Israel.” I said, “We give them $750 million a year.” I said, “Why didn’t somebody cut off those payments?” “Well, we didn’t think it would be appropriate.” I said, “Well, I do.” And I cut off the payments to them, as you know.

But other countries give them money. You’re dealing with very rich countries. And these countries are now all signing with us. They’re all be signed with us — all of them.

I spoke with the King of Saudi Arabia. We had a great conversation, and I think positive things will happen there, too. He’s a great gentleman. And the Crown Prince — we spoke with the Crown Prince.

So we’ve made tremendous strides. And this is peace in the Middle East without blood all over the sand. I say it: Right now, it’s been blood all over the sand for — for decades and decades and decades. That’s all they do, is they fight and kill people, and nobody gets anything.

And this is — this is strong peace, really strong peace, far — and it’s a different way. We went in the back door, but I call it going in the very smart door. We went in the smart door, and we’re getting people. And the Palestinians will absolutely be a member. I don’t say that with any bravado. I just tell you the Palestinians will be a member at the right time. At the right time.

Q Will they have a state of their selves in your peace?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We’re — we’re working a deal. We’re talking — we are talking to the Palestinians. At the right time, they’ll be joining, too.

Q And as long as you’re President, is annexation off the table? Is that something the Emirates know?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: We don’t want to talk about that right now, but that’s working out very well and very fair and very good for the people that are coming in and for Israel.

And again, Israel wants peace, and they’re a great warring nation if they have to be. You see that. They have the best equipment they have the best of everything, but they don’t want this. After all of these years, even Bibi gets tired of war. (Laughter.)

But they’ve been, you know — look, they’re a strong nation, a strong power, a strong military nation, but they want to get on with their lives. Israel wants peace. They really want peace. And I give this gentleman a great deal of credit. He’s done a great job.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you. Mr. President, I heard a question from one of the people here: “Does Israel feel isolated?” Heck no. We’re breaking out to the entire world because we have a strong, free economy, because we have a strong military, and because we have a strong relationship with the President of the United States and the American people.

And I can tell you that we have a strong relationship throughout the Middle East. The President intimated how many countries are waiting to join the circle of peace. You know, Israel doesn’t feel isolated at all. It’s enjoying the greatest diplomatic triumph of its history.

I think the people who feel isolated are the tyrants of Tehran because of the pressure that the President has applied on them, because of the resistance to this bad Iran deal. They are under pressure. And, you know, I hope they’ll all come around. I hope everyone will come around to the circle of peace.

But, no, we don’t feel isolated at all quite the contrary.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I would say this: There’s less isolation right now for Israel than there’s ever been. I mean, today, they would be less isolated than ever been.

I want to just thank your great Ambassador. Ron, thank you very much.


PRESIDENT TRUMP: How do you feel about isolation? I think you’re starting to see the light, huh?

AMBASSADOR DERMER: I can imagine what will happen when everyone is courting Israel, if this is what isolation looks like. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Yeah. No, it’s good. We — we love Israel. And I’ll tell you what: I have great respect for the countries that have stepped up so beautifully. And you’re going to see that in a little while. We’re having a ceremony.

Benjamin Netanyahu Ousted as Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett Sworn In

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was officially voted out of office by a diverse coalition of left, right, and center parties in the Israeli Government. Netanyahu has had the longest tenure of any Prime Minister in Israel’s history serving a total of 15 years in office. Though the former Prime Minister has been hailed for his achievements with the economy, national security, and the international stage, he’s also currently facing three separate investigations for bribery and fraud. The Israeli Government, or the Knesset, functions as a parliamentary democracy with 120 seats. To become a majority party in the Knesset, one must win at least 61 seats in an election, and the majority leader is then granted the right to become Prime Minister.

Unlike the traditional two-party system in the U.S., Israel has multiple parties and factions that hold power within its government, such as left, right, center, religious, and secular parties. No party has ever outright won 61 seats in an Israeli election, so different factions must band together to create a majority bloc or coalition. Unfortunately this system has been proven to have a major drawback, as in the last two years, four Israeli elections have seen no party being able to establish a majority coalition. The gridlock in Israel has resulted in an inability by the government to pass legislation.

In recent years, the Israeli left and right have been essentially shaped by anti and pro Netanyahu factions. Netanyahu’s opponents argued that the end of his tenure was long overdue, and that a government official under criminal investigation shouldn’t be allowed to remain in office. Most recently, the majority coalition led by centrist Yair Lapid and right-winger Naftali Bennet, consists of parties with a wide range of political issues. Though some members of the coalition have completely different views on political issues, they united under the common goal of getting Netanyahu out of office. Bennett and Lapid struck a deal where each will serve two years as Prime Minister. The current Prime Minister Bennett was sworn in on Sunday, while Lapid will begin his tenure in 2023 .



Ussishkin Hall
Jerusalem Convention Center

6:38 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me begin by thanking thePrime Minister forhis leadership for peace and his leadership of Israel -- (applause) -- Mrs. Netanyahu, members ofthe Israeli government to the distinguished American delegation here. Iwant to say a special wordof appreciation to the young man who spoke first -- Ben Mayoft -- didn't he do a good job?(Applause.)

This is my third trip to Jerusalem as President, my third time in this magnificent hall, and theyoung woman who was with me here last time on the stage, Liad Mudrick(phonetic), is also here.Thank you, I'm really glad to see you. (Applause.)

I'd like to also thank this magnificent choir, the Ankor Choir.Didn't they do a good job -- theyleft, but they were great. (Applause.) I understand we have students from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Akko and other cities. Welcome to you all. (Applause.)

We come here today to speak about the future of Israel and the MiddleEast -- your future.Six weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the United States to seek a new understandingwith the Palestinian Authority on the best way to achieve peace withsecurity. Today I come to Israelto fulfill a pledge I made to the Prime Minister and to Chairman Arafat atWye River -- to speak toIsraelis and Palestinians about the benefits of peace, and to reaffirmAmerica's determination tostand with you as you take risks for peace. (Applause.)

The United States will always stand with Israel, always remember thatonly a strong Israelcan make peace. That is why --(applause.) We were, after all, yourpartners in security before wewere partners for peace our commitment to your security is ironclad -- itwill not ever change.(Applause.)

The United States stood with Israel at the birth of your nation, atyour darkest hour in 1973, through the long battle against terror, against Saddam Hussein's Scuds in1991. And today,American Marines and Patriot missiles are here in Israel exercising withthe IDF. We have alsostood with you as you reached out to your neighbors, always recognizingthat only Israelis can makefinal decisions about your own future. (Applause.)

And as the Prime Minister said in his remarks about education forpeace, we agree thatpeace must begin with a genuine transformation in attitudes. Despite allthe difficulties, I believe thattransformation has begun. Palestinians are recognizing that rejection ofIsrael will not bring themfreedom, just as Israelis recognize that control over Palestinians will not bring you security.(Applause.)

As a result, in just the last few years you have achieved peace withJordan and the Arabworld has accepted the idea of peace with Israel. The boycotts of the past are giving way to a future in which goods move across frontiers while soldiers are able to stay athome. The pursuit of peacehas withstood the gravest doubts it has survived terrorist bombs andassassins bullets.

Just a short while ago, this afternoon, Hillary and I visited thegravesite of Prime MinisterRabin with Mrs. Rabin, her daughter and granddaughter. He was killed byone who hoped to kill the peace he worked so hard to advance. But the Wye memorandum is proof thatpeace is still alive,and it will live as long as the parties believe in it and work for it.

Of course, there have been setbacks more misunderstandings, moredisagreements, more provocations, more acts of violence. You feel Palestinians should provein word and deed that theirintentions have actually changed, as you redeploy from land on which tearsand blood have beenshed, and you are right to feel that.

Palestinians feel you should acknowledge they too have suffered andthey, too, havelegitimate expectations that should be met and, like Israel, internalpolitical pressure that must beovercome. And they are right, too. (Applause.)

Because of all that has happened and the mountain of memories that has not yet beenwashed away, the road ahead will be hard. Already, every step forward hasbeen tempered withpain. Each time the forces of reconciliation on each side have reachedout, the forces of destructionhave lashed out. The leaders at Wye knew that. The people of Israel knowthat.

Israel is full of good people today who do not hate, but who haveexperienced too muchsorrow and too much loss, to embrace with joy each new agreement the peaceprocess brings. Asalways, we must approach the task ahead without illusions -- but notwithout hope -- for hope is not an illusion. (Applause.)

Every advance in human history, every victory for the human spirit,every victory in your ownindividual lives begins with hope -- the capacity to imagine a betterfuture and the conviction that itcan be achieved. The people of Israel, after all, have beaten the mostimpossible odds, overcomethe most terrible evils on the way to the Promised Land. The idea of thePromised Land kept hopealive. In the remaining work to be done, the idea of peace and security in the Promised Land must keep hope alive. (Applause.)

For all you young people today, under all the complexities andfrustrations of this moment,there lies a simple question: What is your vision for your future? Therecan be only two ways toanswer that question. You could say that the only possible future forIsrael is one of permanentsiege, in which the ramparts hold and people stay alive, but the nationremains preoccupied with itsvery survival, subject to gnawing anxiety, limited in future achievement by the absence of realpartnerships with your neighbors.

Perhaps you can live with that kind of future, but you should notaccept it unless you arewilling to say -- and I will try to say properly -- ein breirah -- there is no alternative. (Applause.) But ifyou are not willing to say that, not willing to give up on hope with noreal gain in security, you mustsay, yesh, breirah, there is an alternative. (Applause.)

If you are to build a future together, hard realities cannot beignored. Reconciliation after allthis trouble is not natural. The differences among you are not trivial.There is a history of heartbreakand loss. But the violent past and the difficult present do not have to be repeated forever.(Applause.)

In the historical relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, onething, and only one thing, is predestined: you are bound to be neighbors. The question is notwhether you will live side byside, but how you will live side by side. (Applause.)

Will both sides recognize there can be no security for either untilboth have security? Thatthere will be no peace for either until both have peace? Will both sidesseize this opportunity to build a future in which preoccupation with security, struggle and survival canfinally give way to a commoncommitment to keep all our young minds strong and unleash all your humanpotential?

Surely, the answer must be, yes. Israelis and Palestinians can reachthat conclusion sooner, reducing the pain and violence they endure, or they can wait until later-- more and more victimssuffer more loss -- and, ultimately, the conclusion must be the same.

Your leaders came to an agreement at Wye because a majority of peopleon both sideshave already said, now is the time to change. (Applause.)

I want to talk just a little bit about this agreement at Wye. It does not, by itself, resolve thefundamental problems that divide Israelis and Palestinians. It is a meansto an end, not the end itself. But it does restore life to a process that was stalled for 18 months, and it will bring benefits that meetthe requirements of both sides if both sides meet their obligations. Wyeis an opportunity for boththat must not be lost. Let me try to explain why.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Wye, rightly determined to ensurethat the security ofIsraeli citizens is protected as the peace process moves forward. Hefought hard -- not to kill thepeace, but to make it real for all those Israelis who only want to livenormal lives in their own country. And he succeeded in obtaining a set of systematic Palestinian securitycommitments and a structure for carrying them out.

The Palestinian Authority agreed to a comprehensive and continuousbattle against terror.It pledged to combat terrorist organizations, to crack down on unlicensedweapons, to take actionagainst incitement to terror. U.S.-Palestinian committees will be set upto review specific actions thePalestinians are taking in each of these areas and to recommend furthersteps. We also will submitto our Congress a $1.2 billion package to help Israel meet its futuresecurity needs, including thosegrowing out of the redeployments agreed to at Wye. (Applause.)

The agreement can benefit Israel in another way. It offers theprospect of continuing aprocess that is changing how most Palestinians define their interests andtheir relationship with you.More and more, Palestinians have begun to see that they have done more torealize their aspirations in five years of making peace than in 45 years of making war. They arebeginning to see thatIsrael's mortal enemies are, in fact, their enemies, too, and that it is in their interests to help to defeatthe forces of terror.

This transformation, however, is clearly unfinished. It will nothappen overnight. There will be bumps in the road and there have been some already. The Palestinianleaders must work harder to keep the agreement and avoid the impression that unilateral actions canreplace agreed-uponnegotiations. But it is vital that you, too, recognize the validity ofthis agreement and work to sustain itand all other aspects of the peace process.

Tomorrow, I go to Gaza to address the members of the PalestinianNational Council andother Palestinian organizations. I will witness the reaffirmation of their commitment to foreswear fully, finally and forever, all the provisions in their Charter that called forthe destruction of Israel.(Applause.)

I will also make it clear that with rights come responsibilities,reminding people there thatviolence never was and never can be a legitimate tool that it would bewrong and utterly self-defeating to resume a struggle that has taken Palestinians from one tragedy to another. I will ask the Palestinian leaders to join me in reaffirming what the vast majorityof Muslims the world overbelieved -- that tolerance is an article of faith and terrorism a travestyof faith. (Applause.)

And I will emphasize that this conviction should echo from everyPalestinian schoolhouse andmosque and television tower.

I will point out, of course, all the ways in which this Wye Agreementbenefits Palestinians -- itprovides for the transfer of more territory, the redeployment of moreIsraeli troops, safe passagebetween Gaza and the West Bank, the opening of the airport in Gaza, otherinitiatives to lift theireconomic condition, and new commitments of international assistance toimprove the lives of thePalestinian people.

In doing these things, this agreement benefits Israelis as well, forit is in Israelis interest togive the Palestine economy space to breathe and the Palestinian people achance to defeat thehopelessness that extremists exploit to unleash their terror. And it issurely in Israel's interest to deal with Palestinians in a way that permits them to feel a sense of dignityinstead of despair. (Applause.)

The peace process will succeed if it comes with a recognition that the fulfillment of one side's aspirations must come with -- not at the expense of -- the fulfillment ofthe other side's dreams.(Applause.) It will succeed when we understand that it is not just aboutmutual obligations, but mutual interest, mutual recognition, mutualrespect when all agree there is no sense in a tug-of-war over commonground.

It will succeed when we all recognize, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat didat Wye, that ultimately this can and must be a partnership between Israelis and Palestinians. It willsucceed if both sides continue the work that Wye makes possible -- if theyface the hard decisionsahead so that the future continues to be shaped at the negotiating table,rather than by unilateral acts or declarations.

We cannot, of course, expect everyone to see that. There are stillpeople in this region,indeed in every region, who believe that their unique cultures can thriveonly behind walls that keepout those who are different, even if the price is mutual mistrust andhatred. There are some who stilltalk openly about the "threat" of peace because peacemaking requires making contact with theother side, recognizing the legitimacy of different faiths and differentpoints of view, and openness toa world of competing ideas and values.

But I don't think that's the majority view in the Middle East anylonger. What once was aconflict among mainstreams is evolving into a mainstream seeking peace. We must not let theconflict invade the mainstream of Israel or of the Palestinians, or of anyother group in this regionagain.

I believe you can not only imagine, you young people, but actuallyshape the kind ofpartnership that will give you the future you want. I think you can do itwhile protecting Israel'sfundamental interests. To anyone who thinks that is impossible, I wouldask you this: How manypeople thought Israel was possible when your grandparents were just peoplesearching for a land?Who would have imagined the marvel Israel has become?

For decades you lived in a neighborhood which rejected you. Yet, younot only survivedand thrived, but held fast to the traditions of tolerance and openness upon which this nation wasfounded. You were forced to become warriors, yet you never lost the thirst to make peace. Youturned weakness into strength, and along the way you built a partnershipwith the United States that is enduring and unassailable.

Now Israel enters its second half-century. You have nourished anancient culture you havebuilt from the desert a modern nation. You stand on the edge of a newcentury prepared to make the very most of it. You have given your children a chance to grow up andlearn who they are, not justfrom stories of wandering and martyrdom, but from the happy memories ofpeople living good livesin a natural way.

You have proven again and again that you are powerful enough to defeat those who woulddestroy you, but strong and wise enough to make peace with those who areready to accept you.(Applause.) You have given us every reason to believe that you can build a future on hope that is different from the past.

This morning the Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu and Hillary and Ihad breakfasttogether, and he said something to me I'd like to repeat to you to makethis point to all of you youngpeople. He said, you know, there are three great ancient civilizations inthe world -- the Chinesecivilization, the Indian civilization, and the Jewish civilization -- allgoing back 4,000 years or more.The Chinese are 1.2 billion people, the Indians are nearly a billionpeople. To be sure, they havesuffered invasion, loss in war in the Indian case, colonization. But they have always had their land and they have grown.

There are 12 million Jews in the world, driven from their homeland,subject to Holocaust,subject to centuries of prejudice -- and yet, here you are. Here you are. (Applause.)If you can do this after 4000 years, you can make this peace. Believe me,you can do this.(Applause.)

Years ago, before the foundation of Israel, Golda Meir said of herpeople -- and I quote --"We only want that which is given naturally to all people of the world, tobe masters of our own fate --only our fate, not the destiny of others. To live as a right and not onsufferance to have the chance tobring the surviving Jewish children, of whom not so many are left in theworld now, to this country, sothat they may grow up like our youngsters who were born here, free of fearwith heads high."

This hope that all of us can live a life of dignity when respectingthe dignity of others is part ofthe heritage of values Israel shares with the United States. On this, thefirst day of Hanukkah, maythis hope be the candle that lights Israel's path into the new century,into a century of peace andsecurity, with America always at your side.

Thank you and God bless.

Middle East Trip: Remarks by the President to the People of Israel

Iran Watch

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, listen, I first of all want to thank Prime Minister Netanyahu for making this visit. I think we had a extraordinarily productive series of conversations, not only between the two of us but also at the staff and agency levels.

Obviously this reflects the extraordinary relationship, the special relationship between the United States and Israel. It is a stalwart ally of the United States. We have historical ties, emotional ties. As the only true democracy of the Middle East it is a source of admiration and inspiration for the American people.

I have said from the outset that when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East that Israel's security is paramount, and I repeated that to Prime Minister Netanyahu. It is in U.S. national security interests to assure that Israel's security as an independent Jewish state is maintained.

One of the areas that we discussed is the deepening concern around the potential pursuit of a nuclear weapon by Iran. It's something the Prime Minister has been very vocal in his concerns about, but is a concern that is shared by his countrymen and women across the political spectrum.

I indicated to him the view of our administration, that Iran is a country of extraordinary history and extraordinary potential, that we want them to be a full-fledged member of the international community and be in a position to provide opportunities and prosperity for their people, but that the way to achieve those goals is not through the pursuit of a nuclear weapon. And I indicated to Prime Minister Netanyahu in private what I have said publicly, which is that Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon would not only be a threat to Israel and a threat to the United States, but would be profoundly destabilizing in the international community as a whole and could set off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that would be extraordinarily dangerous for all concerned, including for Iran.

We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. But I assured the Prime Minister that we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious. And obviously the Prime Minister emphasized his seriousness around this issue as well -- I'll allow him to speak for himself on that subject.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: President Obama, thank you. Thank you for your friendship to Israel and your friendship to me. You're a great leader -- a great leader of the United States, a great leader of the world, a great friend of Israel, and someone who is acutely cognizant of our security concerns. And the entire people of Israel appreciate it, and I speak on their behalf.

We met before, but this is the first time that we're meeting as President and Prime Minister. So I was particularly pleased at your reaffirmation of the special relationship between Israel and the United States. We share the same goals and we face the same threats. The common goal is peace. Everybody in Israel, as in the United States, wants peace. The common threat we face are terrorist regimes and organizations that seek to undermine the peace and endanger both our peoples.

In this context, the worst danger we face is that Iran would develop nuclear military capabilities. Iran openly calls for our destruction, which is unacceptable by any standard. It threatens the moderate Arab regimes in the Middle East. It threatens U.S. interests worldwide. But if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could give a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, or worse, it could actually give terrorists nuclear weapons. And that would put us all in great peril.

So in that context, I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability, and also your statement that you're leaving all options on the table.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. We're going to take a couple of questions. We're going to start with Steve.

Q Mr. President, you spoke at length, as did the Prime Minister, about Iran's nuclear program. Your program of engagement, policy of engagement, how long is that going to last? Is there a deadline?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I don't want to set an artificial deadline. I think it's important to recognize that Iran is in the midst of its own elections. As I think all of you, since you're all political reporters, are familiar with, election time is not always the best time to get business done.

Their elections will be completed in June, and we are hopeful that, at that point, there is going to be a serious process of engagement, first through the P5-plus-one process that's already in place, potentially through additional direct talks between the United States and Iran.

I want to reemphasize what I said earlier, that I believe it is not only in the interest of the international community that Iran not develop nuclear weapons, I firmly believe it is in Iran's interest not to develop nuclear weapons, because it would trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and be profoundly destabilizing in all sorts of ways. Iran can achieve its interests of security and international respect and prosperity for its people through other means, and I am prepared to make what I believe will be a persuasive argument, that there should be a different course to be taken.

The one thing we're also aware of is the fact that the history, of least, of negotiation with Iran is that there is a lot of talk but not always action and follow-through. And that's why it is important for us, I think, without having set an artificial deadline, to be mindful of the fact that we're not going to have talks forever. We're not going to create a situation in which talks become an excuse for inaction while Iran proceeds with developing a nuclear -- and deploying a nuclear weapon. That's something, obviously, Israel is concerned about, but it's also an issue of concern for the United States and for the international community as a whole.

My expectation would be that if we can begin discussions soon, shortly after the Iranian elections, we should have a fairly good sense by the end of the year as to whether they are moving in the right direction and whether the parties involved are making progress and that there's a good faith effort to resolve differences. That doesn't mean every issue would be resolved by that point, but it does mean that we'll probably be able to gauge and do a reassessment by the end of the year of this approach.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. Aren't you concerned that your outstretched hand has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, Meshal, as weakness? And since my colleague already asked about the deadline, if engagement fails, what then, Mr. President?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, it's not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness.

Q The example of Qatar. They would have preferred to be on your side and then moved to the extremists, to Iran.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh, I think -- yes, I'm not sure about that interpretation. Look, we've been in office a little over a hundred days now -- close to four months. We have put forward a clear principle that where we can resolve issues through negotiations and diplomacy, we should. We didn't expect -- and I don't think anybody in the international community or anybody in the Middle East, for that matter -- would expect that 30 years of antagonism and suspicion between Iran and the United States would be resolved in four months. So we think it's very important for us to give this a chance.

Now, understand that part of the reason that it's so important for us to take a diplomatic approach is that the approach that we've been taking, which is no diplomacy, obviously has not worked. Nobody disagrees with that. Hamas and Hezbollah have gotten stronger. Iran has been pursuing its nuclear capabilities undiminished. And so not talking -- that clearly hasn't worked. That's what's been tried. And so what we're going to do is try something new, which is actually engaging and reaching out to the Iranians.

The important thing is to make sure that there is a clear timetable of -- at which point we say these talks don't seem to be making any serious progress. It hasn't been tried before so we don't want to prejudge that, but as I said, by the end of the year I think we should have some sense as to whether or not these discussions are starting to yield significant benefits, whether we're starting to see serious movement on the part of the Iranians.

If that hasn't taken place, then I think the international community will see that it's not the United States or Israel or other countries that are seeking to isolate or victimize Iran rather, it is Iran itself which is isolating itself by willing to -- being unwilling to engage in serious discussions about how they can preserve their security without threatening other people's security -- which ultimately is what we want to achieve.

We want to achieve a situation where all countries in the region can pursue economic development and commercial ties and trade and do so without the threat that their populations are going to be subject to bombs and destruction.

That's what I think the Prime Minister is interested in, that's what I'm interested in, and I hope that ends up being what the ruling officials in Iran are interested in, as well.

Q Mr. President, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli administration have said on many occasions -- on some occasions that only if the Iranian threat will be solved, they can achieve real progress on the Palestinian threat. Do you agree with that kind of linkage?

And to the Israeli Prime Minister, you were speaking about the political track. Are you willing to get into final status issues/negotiations like borders, like Jerusalem in the near future, based on the two-state solution? And do you still hold this opinion about the linkage between the Iranian threat and your ability to achieve any progress on the Palestinian threat?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me say this. There's no doubt that it is difficult for any Israeli government to negotiate in a situation in which they feel under immediate threat. That's not conducive to negotiations. And as I've said before, I recognize Israel's legitimate concerns about the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon when they have a president who has in the past said that Israel should not exist. That would give any leader of any country pause.

Having said that, if there is a linkage between Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, I personally believe it actually runs the other way. To the extent that we can make peace with the Palestinians -- between the Palestinians and the Israelis, then I actually think it strengthens our hand in the international community in dealing with a potential Iranian threat.

Having said that, I think that dealing with Iran's potential nuclear capacity is something that we should be doing even if there already was peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. And I think that pursuing Israeli-Palestinian peace is something that is in Israeli's security interests and the United States' national security interests, even if Iran was not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They're both important.

And we have to move aggressively on both fronts. And I think that based on my conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, he agrees with me that they're both important. That's not to say that he's not making a calculation, as he should, about what are some of the most immediate threats to Israeli's security, and I understand that.

But, look, imagine how much less mischief a Hezbollah or a Hamas could do if in fact we had moved a Palestinian-Israeli track in a direction that gave the Palestinian people hope. And if Hezbollah and Hamas is weakened, imagine how that impacts Iran's ability to make mischief, and vice versa.

I mean, so obviously these things are related, but they are important separately. And I'm confident that the United States, working with Israel, can make progress on both fronts.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: We've had extraordinarily friendly and constructive talks here today, and I'm very grateful to the President for that. We want to move peace forward, and we want to ward off the great threats.

There isn't a policy linkage, and that's what I hear the President saying, and that's what I'm saying too. And I've always said there's not a policy linkage between pursuing simultaneously peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, and to trying to deal with removing the threat of a nuclear bomb.

There are causal links. The President talked about one of them. It would help, obviously, unite a broad front against Iran if we had peace between Israel and the Palestinians. And conversely, if Iran went nuclear, it would threaten the progress towards peace and destabilize the entire area, and threaten existing peace agreement.

So it's very clear to us. I think we actually -- we don't see closely on it, we see exactly eye to eye on this -- that we want to move simultaneously and then parallel on two fronts: the front of peace, and the front of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capability.

On the front of peace, the important thing for me is to resume negotiations as rapidly as possible, and to -- and my view is less one of terminology, but one of substance. And I ask myself, what do we end up with? If we end up with another Gaza -- the President has described to you there's rockets falling out of Gaza -- that is something we don't want to happen, because a terror base next to our cities that doesn't call -- recognize Israel's existence and calls for our destruction and asks for our destruction is not arguing peace.

If, however, the Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state, if they -- if they fight terror, if they educate their children for peace and to a better future, then I think we can come at a substantive solution that allows the two people to live side by side in security and peace and I add prosperity, because I'm a great believer in this.

So I think the terminology will take care of itself if we have the substantive understanding. And I think we can move forward on this. I have great confidence in your leadership, Mr. President, and in your friendship to my country, and in your championing of peace and security. And the answer is, both come together -- peace and security are intertwined. They're inseparable.

Transcript of remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I just completed an excellent one-on-one discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and I want to welcome him back to the White House.

I want to, first of all, thank him for the wonderful statement that he made in honor of the Fourth of July, our Independence Day, when he was still in Israel. And it marked just one more chapter in the extraordinary friendship between our two countries.

As Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated in his speech, the bond between the United States and Israel is unbreakable. It encompasses our national security interests, our strategic interests, but most importantly, the bond of two democracies who share a common set of values and whose people have grown closer and closer as time goes on.

Story continues after the break.

During our discussions in our private meeting we covered a wide range of issues. We discussed the issue of Gaza, and I commended Prime Minister Netanyahu on the progress that’s been made in allowing more goods into Gaza. We’ve seen real progress on the ground. I think it’s been acknowledged that it has moved more quickly and more effectively than many people anticipated.

Obviously there’s still tensions and issues there that have to be resolved, but our two countries are working cooperatively together to deal with these issues. The Quartet has been, I think, very helpful as well. And we believe that there is a way to make sure that the people of Gaza are able to prosper economically, while Israel is able to maintain its legitimate security needs in not allowing missiles and weapons to get to Hamas.

We discussed the issue of Iran, and we pointed out that as a consequence of some hard work internationally, we have instituted through the U.N. Security Council the toughest sanctions ever directed at an Iranian government. In addition, last week I signed our own set of sanctions, coming out of the United States Congress, as robust as any that we’ve ever seen. Other countries are following suit. And so we intend to continue to put pressure on Iran to meet its international obligations and to cease the kinds of provocative behavior that has made it a threat to its neighbors and the international community.

We had a extensive discussion about the prospects for Middle East peace. I believe that Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I think he’s willing to take risks for peace. And during our conversation, he once again reaffirmed his willingness to engage in serious negotiations with the Palestinians around what I think should be the goal not just of the two principals involved, but the entire world, and that is two states living side by side in peace and security.

Israel’s security needs met, the Palestinians having a sovereign state that they call their own—those are goals that have obviously escaped our grasp for decades now. But now more than ever I think is the time for us to seize on that vision. And I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu is prepared to do so. It’s going to be difficult it’s going to be hard work. But we’ve seen already proximity talks taking place. My envoy, George Mitchell, has helped to organize five of them so far. We expect those proximity talks to lead to direct talks, and I believe that the government of Israel is prepared to engage in such direct talks, and I commend the Prime Minister for that.

There are going to need to be a whole set of confidence-building measures to make sure that people are serious and that we’re sending a signal to the region that this isn’t just more talk and more process without action. I think it is also important to recognize that the Arab states have to be supportive of peace, because, although ultimately this is going to be determined by the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, they can’t succeed unless you have the surrounding states having as—a greater investment in the process than we’ve seen so far.

Finally, we discussed issues that arose out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference. And I reiterated to the Prime Minister that there is no change in U.S. policy when it comes to these issues. We strongly believe that, given its size, its history, the region that it’s in, and the threats that are leveled against us—against it, that Israel has unique security requirements. It’s got to be able to respond to threats or any combination of threats in the region. And that’s why we remain unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security. And the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine their security interests.

So I just want to say once again that I thought the discussion that we had was excellent. We’ve seen over the last year how our relationship has broadened. Sometimes it doesn’t get publicized, but on a whole range of issues—economic, military-to-military, issues related to Israel maintaining its qualitative military edge, intelligence-sharing, how we are able to work together effectively on the international front—that in fact our relationship is continuing to improve. And I think a lot of that has to do with the excellent work that the Prime Minister has done. So I’m grateful.

And welcome, once again, to the White House.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: Thank you, Mr. President.

The President and I had an extensive, excellent discussion in which we discussed a broad range of issues. These include of course our own cooperation in the fields of intelligence and security. And exactly as the President said, it is extensive. Not everything is seen by the public, but it is seen and appreciated by us.

We understand fully that we will work together in the coming months and years to protect our common interests, our countries, our peoples, against new threats. And at the same time, we want to explore the possibility of peace.

The greatest new threat on the horizon, the single most dominant issue for many of us, is the prospect that Iran would acquire nuclear weapons. Iran is brutally terrorizing its people, spreading terrorism far and wide. And I very much appreciate the President’s statement that he is determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

That has been translated by the President through his leadership at the Security Council, which passed sanctions against Iran by the U.S. bill that the President signed just a few days ago. And I urge other leaders to follow the President’s lead, and other countries to follow the U.S. lead, to adopt much tougher sanctions against Iran, primarily those directed against its energy sector.

As the President said, we discussed a great deal about activating, moving forward the quest for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We’re committed to that peace. I’m committed to that peace. And this peace I think will better the lives of Israelis, of Palestinians, and it certainly would change our region.

Israelis are prepared to do a lot to get that peace in place, but they want to make sure that after all the steps they take, that what we get is a secure peace. We don’t want a repeat of the situation where we vacate territories and those are overtaken by Iran’s proxies and used as a launching ground for terrorist attacks or rocket attacks.

I think there are solutions that we can adopt. But in order to proceed to the solutions, we need to begin negotiations in order to end them. We’ve begun proximity talks. I think it’s high time to begin direct talks. I think with the help of President Obama, President Abbas and myself should engage in direct talks to reach a political settlement of peace, coupled with security and prosperity.

This requires that the Palestinian Authority prepare its people for peace—schools, textbooks, and so on. But I think at the end of the day, peace is the best option for all of us, and I think we have a unique opportunity and a unique time to do it.

The President says that he has a habit of confounding all the cynics and all the naysayers and all those who preclude possibility, and he’s shown it time and time again. I think I’ve had my opportunity to confound some cynics myself, and I think if we work together, with President Abbas, then we can bring a great message of hope to our peoples, to the region, and to the world.

One final point, Mr. President—I want to thank you for reaffirming to me in private and now in public as you did the longstanding U.S. commitments to Israel on matters of vital strategic importance. I want to thank you, too, for the great hospitality you and the First Lady have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. And I think we have to redress the balance—you know, I’ve been coming here a lot. It’s about time—

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: —you and the First Lady came to Israel, sir.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: We look forward to it. Thank you.


PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

All right, we’ve got time for one question each. I’m going to call on Stephen Collinson, AFP.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As part of the steps which need to be taken to move proximity talks on to direct talks, do you think it would be helpful for Israel to extend the partial settlement moratorium, which is set to expire in September?

And if I could just briefly ask the Prime Minister, with regards to the sanctions you mentioned, do you think that these measures will contain or halt Iran’s nuclear program where others have failed?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Let me—let me, first of all, say that I think the Israeli government, working through layers of various governmental entities and jurisdictions, has shown restraint over the last several months that I think has been conducive to the prospects of us getting into direct talks.

And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in success. Not every action by one party or the other is taken as a reason for not engaging in talks. So there ends up being more room created by more trust. And so I want to just make sure that we sustain that over the next—over the next several weeks.

I do think that there are a range of confidence-building measures that can be taken by all sides that improve the prospects of a successful negotiation. And I’ve discussed some of those privately with the Prime Minister. When President Abbas was here, I discussed some of those same issues with him.

I think it’s very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement, that they are not engaging in provocative language that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive tone, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.

At the same time, I’ve said to Prime Minister Netanyahu—I don’t think he minds me sharing it publicly—that Abu Mazen working with Fayyad have done some very significant things when it comes to the security front. And so us being able to widen the scope of their responsibilities in the West Bank is something that I think would be very meaningful to the Palestinian people.
I think that some of the steps that have already been taken in Gaza help to build confidence. And if we continue to make progress on that front, then Palestinians can see in very concrete terms what peace can bring that rhetoric and violence cannot bring—and that is people actually having an opportunity to raise their children, and make a living, and buy and sell goods, and build a life for themselves, which is ultimately what people in both Israel and the Palestinian Territories want.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the latest sanctions adopted by the U.N. create illegitimacy or create
de-legitimization for Iran’s nuclear program, and that is important. I think the sanctions the President signed the other day actually have teeth. They bite.

The question is—how much do you need to bite is something I cannot answer now. But if other nations adopted similar sanctions, that would increase the effect. The more like-minded countries join in the American-led effort that President Obama has signed into act, into law, I think the better we’ll be able to give you an answer to your question.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Is there somebody you want to ask here?

Q Mr. President, in the past year, you distanced yourself from Israel and gave a cold shoulder to the Prime Minister. Do you think this policy was a mistake? Do you think it contributes to the bashing of Israel by others? And is that—you change it now, and do you trust now Prime Minister Netanyahu?

And if I may, Mr. Prime Minister, specifically, did you discuss with the President the continuing of the freezing of settlements after September? And did you tell him that you’re going to keep on building after this period is over?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me, first of all, say that the premise of your question was wrong and I entirely disagree with it. If you look at every public statement that I’ve made over the last year and a half, it has been a constant reaffirmation of the special relationship between the United States and Israel, that our commitment to Israel’s security has been unwavering. And, in fact, there aren’t any concrete policies that you could point to that would contradict that.

And in terms of my relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, I know the press, both in Israel and stateside, enjoys seeing if there’s news there. But the fact of the matter is that I’ve trusted Prime Minister Netanyahu since I met him before I was elected President, and have said so both publicly and privately.

I think that he is dealing with a very complex situation in a very tough neighborhood. And what I have consistently shared with him is my interest in working with him—not at cross-purposes—so that we can achieve the kind of peace that will ensure Israel’s security for decades to come.

And that’s going to mean some tough choices. And there are going to be times where he and I are having robust discussions about what kind of choices need to be made. But the underlying approach never changes, and that is the United States is committed to Israel’s security we are committed to that special bond and we are going to do what’s required to back that up, not just with words but with actions.

We are going to continually work with the Prime Minister and the entire Israeli government, as well as the Israeli people, so that we can achieve what I think has to be everybody’s goal, which is that people feel secure. They don’t feel like a rocket is going to be landing on their head sometime. They don’t feel as if there’s a growing population that wants to direct violence against Israel.

That requires work and that requires some difficult choices—both at the strategic level and the tactical level. And this is something that the Prime Minister understands, and why I think that we’re going to be able to work together not just over the next few months but hopefully over the next several years.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: The President and I discussed concrete steps that could be done now, in the coming days and the coming weeks, to move the peace process further along in a very robust way. This is what we focused our conversation on. And when I say the next few weeks, that’s what I mean. The President means that, too.

Let me make a general observation about the question you posed to the President. And here I’ll have to paraphrase Mark Twain, that the reports about the demise of the special U.S.-Israel relations—relationship aren’t just premature, they’re just flat wrong. There’s a depth and richness of this relationship that is expressed every day. Our teams talk. We don’t make it public. The only thing that’s public is that you can have differences on occasion in the best of families and the closest of families that comes out public—and sometimes in a twisted way, too.

What is not told is the fact that we have an enduring bond of values, interests, beginning with security and the way that we share both information and other things to help the common defense of our common interests—and many others in the region who don’t often admit to the beneficial effect of this cooperation.

So I think there’s—the President said it best in his speech in Cairo. He said in front of the entire Islamic world, he said, the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable. And I can affirm that to you today.

Text: Obama Remarks to People of Israel

President Obama spoke to the people of Israel in Jerusalem.

Obama Faces Heckler, Gets Standing Ovation

March 21, 2013 -- Text as prepared for delivery of President Obama's address to the Israeli people at the Jersualem Convention Center–

Shalom. It is an honor to be here with you in Jerusalem, and I am so grateful for the welcome that I have received from the people of Israel. I bring with me the support of the American people, and the friendship that binds us together.

Over the last two days, I have reaffirmed the bonds between our countries with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Peres. I have borne witness to the ancient history of the Jewish people at the Shrine of the Book, and I have seen Israel's shining future in your scientists and entrepreneurs. This is a nation of museums and patents, timeless holy sites and ground-breaking innovation. Only in Israel could you see the Dead Sea Scrolls and the place where the technology on board the Mars Rover originated. But what I've looked forward to the most is the ability to speak directly to you, the Israeli people – especially so many young people – about the history that brought us here today, and the future that you will make in the years to come.

Now I know that in Israel's vibrant democracy, every word and gesture is carefully scrutinized. But just so you know, any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet.

I also know that I come to Israel on the eve of a sacred holiday – the celebration of Passover. And that is where I would like to begin today. Just a few days from now, Jews here in Israel and around the world will sit with family and friends at the Seder table, and celebrate with songs, wine and symbolic foods. After enjoying Seders with family and friends in Chicago and on the campaign trail, I'm proud to have brought this tradition into the White House. I did so because I wanted my daughters to experience the Haggadah, and the story at the center of Passover that makes this time of year so powerful.

It is a story of centuries of slavery, and years of wandering in the desert a story of perseverance amidst persecution, and faith in God and the Torah. It is a story about finding freedom in your own land. For the Jewish people, this story is central to who you have become. But it is also a story that holds within it the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and salvation. It is a part of the three great religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that trace their origins to Abraham, and see Jerusalem as sacred. And it is a story that has inspired communities around the globe, including me and my fellow Americans.

In the United States – a nation made up of people who crossed oceans to start anew – we are naturally drawn to the idea of finding freedom in our land. To African-Americans, the story of the Exodus told a powerful tale about emerging from the grip of bondage to reach for liberty and human dignity – a tale that was carried from slavery through the civil rights movement. For generations, this promise helped people weather poverty and persecution, while holding on to the hope that a better day was on the horizon. For me personally, growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home. Of course, even as we draw strength from the story of God's will and His gift of freedom expressed on Passover, we know that here on Earth we must bear our responsibilities in an imperfect world. That means accepting our measure of sacrifice and struggle, and working – through generation after generation – on behalf of that ideal of freedom. As Dr. Martin Luther King said on the day before he was killed – "I may not get there with you. But I want you to know that… we, as a people, will get to the promised land." So just as Joshua carried on after Moses, the work goes on – for justice and dignity for opportunity and freedom.

For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.

That is why I believe that Israel is rooted not just in history and tradition, but also in a simple and profound idea: the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own. And over the last 65 years, when Israel has been at its best, Israelis have demonstrated that responsibility does not end when you reach the promised land, it only begins.

And so Israel has been a refuge for the diaspora – welcoming Jews from Europe to the former Soviet Union from Ethiopia to North Africa.

Israel has built a prosperous nation – through kibbutzeem that made the desert bloom, business that broadened the middle class, and innovators who reached new frontiers – from the smallest microchip to the orbits of space.

Israel has established a thriving democracy – with a spirited civil society, proud political parties, a tireless free press, and a lively public debate – lively may even be an understatement.

And Israel has achieved this even as it has overcome relentless threats to its security – through the courage of the Israel Defense Forces, and a citizenry that is resilient in the face of terror.

This is the story of Israel. This is the work that has brought the dreams of so many generations to life. And every step of the way, Israel has built unbreakable bonds of friendship with the United States of America.

Those ties began only eleven minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel. As President Truman said in explaining his decision to recognize Israel, "I believe it has a glorious future before it not just as another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization"

Since then, we have built a friendship that advances our shared interests. Together, we share a commitment to security for our citizens and the stability of the Middle East and North Africa. Together, we share a focus on advancing economic growth around the globe, and strengthening the middle class within our countries. Together, we share a stake in the success of democracy.

But the source of our friendship extends beyond interests, just as it has transcended political parties and individual leaders. America is a nation of immigrants. We are strengthened by diversity. We are enriched by faith. We are governed not simply by men and women, but by laws. We are fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation. And we are defined by a democratic discourse that allows each generation to reimagine and renew our union once more. So in Israel, we see values that we share, even as we recognize what makes us different.

Yet I stand here today mindful that for both our nations, these are complicated times. We have difficult issues to work through within our own countries, and we face danger and upheaval in the world. When I look at young people within the United States, I think about the choices that they must make in their lives to define who we will be as a nation in this 21st century, particularly as we emerge from two wars and a painful recession. No matter how great the challenges are, their idealism, their energy, and their ambition always gives me hope.

I see the same spirit in the young people here today. And given the ties between our countries, I believe your future is bound to ours. So I'd like to focus on how we can work together to make progress in three areas that will define our times: security, peace, and prosperity.

I will begin with security. I am proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger: more exercises between our militaries, and more exchanges among our political, military and intelligence officials than ever before the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. Those are the facts. But to me, this is not simply measured on the balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal. So let me tell you what I think about when I consider these issues.

When I consider Israel's security, I think about children like Osher Twito, who I met in Sderot – children, the same age as my own daughters, who went to bed at night fearful that a rocket would land in their bedroom simply because of who they are and where they live. That's why we've invested in the Iron Dome system to save countless lives – because those children deserve to sleep better at night. That's why we have made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and have stood up for Israel's right to defend itself. And that's why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.

I think about five Israelis who boarded a bus in Bulgaria, who were blown up because of where they came from who were robbed of the ability to live, and love, and raise families. That's why every country that values justice should call Hizbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization. Because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men, women and children in Syria.

The fact that Hizbollah's ally – the Assad regime – has stockpiles of chemical weapons only heightens the urgency. We will continue to cooperate closely to guard against that danger. And I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of these weapons to terrorists. The world is watching, and we will hold you accountable.

America will also insist that the Syrian people have the right to be freed from the grip of a dictator who would rather kill his own people than relinquish power. Assad must go so that Syria's future can begin. Because true stability in Syria depends upon establishing a government that is responsive to its people – one that protects all communities within its borders, while making peace with countries beyond them.

When I consider Israel's security, I also think about a people who have a living memory of the Holocaust, faced with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian government that has called for Israel's destruction. It's no wonder Israelis view this as an existential threat. But this is not simply a challenge for Israel – it is a danger for the entire world, including the United States. It would raise the risk of nuclear terrorism, undermine the non-proliferation regime, spark an arms race in a volatile region, and embolden a government that has shown no respect for the rights of its own people or the responsibilities of nations.

That is why America has built a coalition to increase the cost to Iran of failing to meet their obligations. The Iranian government is now under more pressure than ever before, and that pressure is increasing. It is isolated. Its economy is in a dire condition. Its leadership is divided. And its position – in the region, and the world – has only grown weaker.

All of us have an interest in resolving this issue peacefully. Strong and principled diplomacy is the best way to ensure that the Iranian government forsakes nuclear weapons. Moreover, peace is far more preferable to war, and the inevitable costs – and unintended consequences – that would come with it. Because of the cooperation between our governments, we know that there remains time to pursue a diplomatic resolution. That is what America will do – with clear eyes – working with a world that is united, and with the sense of urgency that is required.

But Iran must know this time is not unlimited. And I have made the position of the United States of America clear: Iran must not get a nuclear weapon. This is not a danger that can be contained. As President, I have said to the world that all options are on the table for achieving our objectives. America will do what we must to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.

For young Israelis, I know that these issues of security are rooted in an experience that is even more fundamental than the pressing threat of the day. You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected your right to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all they had to make a place for themselves in this world. Your parents lived through war after war to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Your children grow up knowing that people they have never met hate them because of who they are, in a region that is changing underneath your feet.

So that is what I think about when Israel is faced with these challenges – that sense of an Israel that is surrounded by many in this region who reject it, and many in the world who refuse to accept it. That is why the security of the Jewish people in Israel is so important – because it can never be taken for granted. But make no mistake: those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel's right to exist might as well reject the earth beneath them and the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. Today, I want to tell you – particularly the young people – that so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo lah-vahd.

The question, then, is what kind of future Israel will look forward to. And that brings me to the subject of peace.

I know Israel has taken risks for peace. Brave leaders – Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin –reached treaties with two of your neighbors. You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets. Across the region, you have extended a hand of friendship, and too often have been confronted with the ugly reality of anti-Semitism. So I believe that the Israeli people do want peace, and you have every right to be skeptical that it can be achieved.

But today, Israel is at a crossroads. It can be tempting to put aside the frustrations and sacrifices that come with the pursuit of peace – particularly when an Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers, and so many other pressing issues demand your attention. And I know that only Israelis can make the fundamental decisions about your country's future.

I also know that not everyone in this hall will agree with what I have to say about peace. I recognize that there are those who are not simply skeptical about peace, but question its underlying premise, and that's a part of democracy and the discourse between our two countries. But it is important to be open and honest with one another. Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside, and express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do. But I want you to know that I speak to you as a friend who is deeply concerned and committed to your future, and I ask you to consider three points.

First, peace is necessary. Indeed, it is the only path to true security. You can be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, 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. Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation. And given the march of technology, the only way to truly protect the Israeli people is through the absence of war – because no wall is high enough, and no Iron Dome is strong enough, to stop every enemy from inflicting harm.

This truth is more pronounced given the changes sweeping the Arab World. I recognize that with the uncertainty in the region – people in the streets, changes in leadership, the rise of non-secular parties in politics –it is tempting to turn inward. But this is precisely the time to respond to the wave of revolution with a resolve for peace. As more governments respond to popular will, the days when Israel could seek peace with a handful of autocratic leaders are over. Peace must be made among peoples, not just governments. No one step can change overnight what lies in the hearts and minds of millions. But progress with the Palestinians is a powerful way to begin, while sidelining extremists who thrive on conflict and division.

Second, peace is just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, and leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiation. That is why, despite the criticism we've received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations.

But the Palestinian people's right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes – look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands to restrict a student's ability to move around the West Bank or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

Only you can determine what kind of democracy you will have. But remember that as you make these decisions, you will define not simply the future of your relationship with the Palestinians – you will define the future of Israel as well. As Ariel Sharon said, "It is impossible to have a Jewish, democratic state and at the same time to control all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all." Or, from a different perspective, think of what David Grossman said shortly after losing his son, as he described the necessity of peace – "a peace of no choice" he said, "must be approached with the same determination and creativity as one approaches a war of no choice."

Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Over the last few years, they have built institutions and maintained security on the West Bank in ways that few would have imagined a decade ago. So many Palestinians – including young people – have rejected violence as a means of achieving their aspirations.

Which leads to my third point: peace is possible. I know it doesn't seem that way. There will always be a reason to avoid risk, and there's a cost for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse to not act. And there is something exhausting about endless talks about talks the daily controversies, and grinding status quo.

Negotiations will be necessary, but there is little secret about where they must lead – two states for two peoples. There will be differences about how to get there, and hard choices along the way. Arab States must adapt to a world that has changed. The days when they could condemn Israel to distract their people from a lack of opportunity are over. Now is the time for the Arab World to take steps toward normalized relations with Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state, and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable– that real borders will have to be drawn. I've suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people.

Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they're not so different from you. The ability to make their own decisions to get an education and a good job to worship God in their own way to get married and have a family. The same is true of the young Palestinians that I met in Ramallah this morning, and of young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.

That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections that take place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. Speaking as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will not take risks if the people do not demand that they do. You must create the change that you want to see.

I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at young people who have not yet learned a reason to mistrust, and those who have learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents because of the simple recognition that we hold more hopes in common than the fear that drives us apart. Your voices must be louder than the extremists who would drown them out. Your hopes must light the way forward. Look to a future in which Jews, Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Look to the future that you want for your own children – a future in which a Jewish, democratic state is protected and accepted, for this time and for all time.

There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but also the courage to see the world as it should be. Ben Gurion once said, "In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles." Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. After all, that is a lesson that the world learned from the Jewish people.

That brings me to the final area I will focus on: prosperity, and Israel's broader role in the world. I know that all the talk about security and peace can seem distant from other concerns that you have in your daily lives. And every day, even amidst the threats you face, Israelis are defining themselves by the opportunities you create.

Through talent and hard work, Israelis have put this small country at the forefront of the global economy. Israelis understand the value of education, and have produced 10 Nobel laureates. Israelis understand the power of invention, and your universities educate engineers and inventors. That spirit has led to economic growth and human progress: solar power and electric cars bandages and prosthetic limbs that save lives stem cell research and new drugs that treat disease cell phones and computer technology that change the way we live. If people want to see the future of the world economy, they should look at Tel Aviv: home to hundreds of start-ups and research centers. And Israelis are so active on social media that every day seemed to bring a different Facebook campaign about where I should give this speech.

That innovation is just as important to the relationship between the United States and Israel as our security cooperation. Our first free trade agreement in the world was reached with Israel nearly three decades ago, and today the trade between our two countries is at 40 billion dollars each year. More importantly, that partnership is creating new products and medical treatments, and pushing new frontiers of science and exploration.

That is the kind of relationship that Israel should have – and could have – with every country in the world. Already, we see how that innovation could reshape this region. One program here in Jerusalem brings together young Israelis and Palestinians to learn vital skills in technology and business. An Israeli and Palestinian have started a venture capital fund to finance Palestinian start-ups. Over 100 high-tech companies have found a home on the West Bank, which speaks to the talent and entrepreneurial spirit of the Palestinian people.

One of the great ironies of what is happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for – education and entrepreneurship the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, to connect to the global economy – those things can be found in Israel. This should be a hub for thriving regional trade, and an engine of opportunity. And this is already a center for innovation that helps power the global economy. I believe that all of that potential for prosperity can be enhanced with greater security, and a lasting peace.

Here, in this small strip of land that has been the center of so much tragedy and triumph, Israelis have built something that few could imagine sixty-five years ago. Tomorrow, I will pay tribute to that history – at the grave of Herzl, a man who had the foresight to see that the future of the Jewish people had to be reconnected to their past at the grave of Rabin, who understood that Israel's victories in war had to be followed by battles for peace and at Yad Vashem, where the world is reminded of the cloud of evil that can descend on the Jewish people and all of humanity if we fail to remain ever vigilant.

We bear that history on our shoulders, and we carry it in our hearts. Today, as we face the twilight of Israel's founding generation, you – the young people of Israel – must now claim the future. It falls to you to write the next chapter in the story of this great nation.

As the President of a country that you can count on as your greatest friend, I am confident that you can help us find the promise in the days that lie ahead. And as a man who has been inspired in my own life by that timeless calling within the Jewish experience – tikkun olam – I am hopeful that we can draw upon what's best in ourselves to meet the challenges that will come to win the battles for peace in the wake of so much war and to do the work of repairing this world. May God bless you, and may God bless Israel and the United States of America. Toda raba.

Daniel Lubetzky

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Zvia, Yoni, Chemi and generations of the Peres family President Rivlin Prime Minister Netanyahu members of the Israeli government and the Knesset heads of state and the government and guests from around the world, including President Abbas, whose presence here is a gesture and a reminder of the unfinished business of peace to the people of Israel: I could not be more honored to be in Jerusalem to say farewell to my friend Shimon Peres, who showed us that justice and hope are at the heart of the Zionist idea.

A free life, in a homeland regained. A secure life, in a nation that can defend itself, by itself. A full life, in friendship with nations who can be counted on as allies, always. A bountiful life, driven by simple pleasures of family and by big dreams. This was Shimon Peres’s life. This is the State of Israel. This is the story of the Jewish people over the last century, and it was made possible by a founding generation that counts Shimon as one of its own.

Shimon once said, “The message of the Jewish people to mankind is that faith and moral vision can triumph over all adversity.” For Shimon, that moral vision was rooted in an honest reckoning of the world as it is. Born in the shtetl, he said he felt, “surrounded by a sea of thick and threatening forests.” When his family got the chance to go to Palestine, his beloved grandfather’s parting words were simple: “Shimon, stay a Jew.” Propelled with that faith, he found his home. He found his purpose. He found his life’s work. But he was still a teenager when his grandfather was burned alive by the Nazis in the town where Shimon was born. The synagogue in which he prayed became an inferno. The railroad tracks that had carried him toward the Promised Land also delivered so many of his people to death camps.

And so from an early age, Shimon bore witness to the cruelty that human beings could inflict on each other, the ways that one group of people could dehumanize another the particular madness of anti-Semitism, which has run like a stain through history. That understanding of man’s ever-present sinfulness would steel him against hardship and make him vigilant against threats to Jewry around the world.

But that understanding would never harden his heart. It would never extinguish his faith. Instead, it broadened his moral imagination, and gave him the capacity to see all people as deserving of dignity and respect. It helped him see not just the world as it is, but the world as it should be.

What Shimon did to shape the story of Israel is well-chronicled. Starting on the kibbutz he founded with his love Sonya, he began the work of building a model community. Ben Gurion called him to serve the Haganah at headquarters to make sure that the Jewish people had the armaments and the organization to secure their freedom. After independence, surrounded by enemies who denied Israel’s existence and sought to drive it into the sea, the child who had wanted to be a “poet of stars” became a man who built Israel’s defense industry, who laid the foundation for the formidable armed forces that won Israel’s wars. His skill secured Israel’s strategic position. His boldness sent Israeli commandos to Entebbe, and rescued Jews from Ethiopia. His statesmanship built an unbreakable bond with the United States of America and so many other countries.

His contributions didn’t end there. Shimon also showed what people can do when they harness reason and science to a common cause. He understood that a country without many natural resources could more than make up for it with the talents of its people. He made hard choices to roll back inflation and climb up from a terrible economic crisis. He championed the promise of science and technology to make the desert bloom, and turned this tiny country into a central hub of the digital age, making life better not just for people here, but for people around the world.

Indeed, Shimon’s contribution to this nation is so fundamental, so pervasive, that perhaps sometimes they can be overlooked. For a younger generation, Shimon was probably remembered more for a peace process that never reached its endpoint. They would listen to critics on the left who might argue that Shimon did not fully acknowledge the failings of his nation, or perhaps more numerous critics on the right who argued that he refused to see the true wickedness of the world, and called him naïve.

But whatever he shared with his family or his closest friends, to the world he brushed off the critics. And I know from my conversations with him that his pursuit of peace was never naïve. Every Yom HaShoah, he read the names of the family that he lost. As a young man, he had fed his village by working in the fields during the day, but then defending it by carrying a rifle at night. He understood, in this war-torn region, where too often Arab youth are taught to hate Israel from an early age — he understood just how hard peace would be. I’m sure he was alternatively angry and bemused to hear the same critics, who called him hopelessly naïve, depend on the defense architecture that he himself had helped to build.

I don’t believe he was naïve. But he understood from hard-earned experience that true security comes through making peace with your neighbors. “We won them all,” he said of Israel’s wars. “But we did not win the greatest victory that we aspired to: release from the need to win victories.”

And just as he understood the practical necessity of peace, Shimon believed that Israel’s exceptionalism was rooted not only in fidelity to the Jewish people, but to the moral and ethical vision, the precepts of his Jewish faith. “The Jewish people weren’t born to rule another people,” he would say. “From the very first day we are against slaves and masters.”

Out of the hardships of the diaspora, he found room in his heart for others who suffered. He came to hate prejudice with the passion of one who knows how it feels to be its target. Even in the face of terrorist attacks, even after repeated disappointments at the negotiation table, he insisted that as human beings, Palestinians must be seen as equal in dignity to Jews, and must therefore be equal in self-determination. Because of his sense of justice, his analysis of Israel’s security, his understanding of Israel’s meaning, he believed that the Zionist idea would be best protected when Palestinians, too, had a state of their own.

Of course, we gather here in the knowledge that Shimon never saw his dream of peace fulfilled. The region is going through a chaotic time. Threats are ever present. And yet, he did not stop dreaming, and he did not stop working. By the time that I came to work with Shimon, he was in the twilight of his years — although he might not admit it. I would be the 10th U.S. President since John F. Kennedy to sit down with Shimon the 10th to fall prey to his charms. I think of him sitting in the Oval Office, this final member of Israel’s founding generation, under the portrait of George Washington, telling me stories from the past, but more often talking with enthusiasm of the present — his most recent lecture, his next project, his plans for the future, the wonders of his grandchildren.

In many ways, he reminded me of some other giants of the 20th century that I’ve had the honor to meet — men like Nelson Mandela women like Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth — leaders who have seen so much, whose lives span such momentous epochs, that they find no need to posture or traffic in what’s popular in the moment people who speak with depth and knowledge, not in sound bites. They find no interest in polls or fads.

And like these leaders, Shimon could be true to his convictions even if they cut against the grain of current opinion. He knew, better than the cynic, that if you look out over the arc of history, human beings should be filled not with fear but with hope. I’m sure that’s why he was so excited about technology — because for him, it symbolized the march of human progress. And it’s why he loved so much to talk about young people — because he saw young people unburdened by the prejudices of the past. It’s why he believed in miracles — because in Israel, he saw a miracle come true.

As Americans and Israelis, we often talk about the unbreakable bonds between our nations. And, yes, these bonds encompass common interests — vital cooperation that makes both our nations more secure. But today we are reminded that the bonds which matter most run deeper. Anchored in a Judeo-Christian tradition, we believe in the irreducible value of every human being. Our nations were built on that idea. They were built in large part by stubborn idealists and striving immigrants, including those who had fled war and fled oppression. Both our nations have flaws that we have not always fixed, corners of our history which date back to our founding that we do not always squarely address. But because our founders planted not just flags in the eternal soil, but also planted the seeds of democracy, we have the ability to always pursue a better world. We have the capacity to do what is right.

As an American, as a Christian, a person partly of African descent, born in Hawaii — a place that could not be further than where Shimon spent his youth — I took great pleasure in my friendship with this older, wiser man. We shared a love of words and books and history. And perhaps, like most politicians, we shared too great a joy in hearing ourselves talk. But beyond that, I think our friendship was rooted in the fact that I could somehow see myself in his story, and maybe he could see himself in mine. Because for all of our differences, both of us had lived such unlikely lives. It was so surprising to see the two of us where we had started, talking together in the White House, meeting here in Israel. And I think both of us understood that we were here only because in some way we reflected the magnificent story of our nations.

Shimon’s story, the story of Israel, the experience of the Jewish people, I believe it is universal. It’s the story of a people who, over so many centuries in the wilderness, never gave up on that basic human longing to return home. It’s the story of a people who suffered the boot of oppression and the shutting of the gas chamber’s door, and yet never gave up on a belief in goodness. And it’s the story of a man who was counted on, and then often counted out, again and again, and who never lost hope.

Shimon Peres reminds us that the State of Israel, like the United States of America, was not built by cynics. We exist because people before us refused to be constrained by the past or the difficulties of the present. And Shimon Peres was never cynical. It is that faith, that optimism, that belief — even when all the evidence is to the contrary — that tomorrow can be better, that makes us not just honor Shimon Peres, but love him.

The last of the founding generation is now gone. Shimon accomplished enough things in his life for a thousand men. But he understood that it is better to live to the very end of his time on Earth with a longing not for the past but for the dreams that have not yet come true — an Israel that is secure in a just and lasting peace with its neighbors. And so now this work is in the hand of Israel’s next generation, in the hands of Israel’s next generation and its friends.

Like Joshua, we feel the weight of responsibility that Shimon seemed to wear so lightly. But we draw strength from his example and the fact that he believed in us — even when we doubted ourselves.

Scripture tells us that before his death, Moses said, “I call upon heaven and earth to bear witness this day that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.”

Uvacharta Bachayim. Choose life. For Shimon, let us choose life, as he always did. Let us make his work our own. May God bless his memory. And may God bless this country, and this world, that he loved so dearly.

List of site sources >>>