In an address that was labelled as the centerpiece of his trip to Israel, U.S. President Barack Obama made a speech in Jerusalem on Thursday afternoon in which he said he was speaking directly to the Israeli people. It had two parts: the first reaffirmed the Israeli narrative*; the second said that the creation of a Palestinian state was necessary, and just.
(1) “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 and 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’s 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”.
(2) “I’m proud that the security relationship between the United States and Israel has never been stronger. Never. (Applause.) More exercises between our militaries; more exchanges among our political and military and intelligence officials than ever before; the largest program to date to help you retain your qualitative military edge. These are the facts. These aren’t my opinions, these are facts. But, to me, this is not simply measured on a balance sheet. I know that here, in Israel, security is something personal … That reality is why we’ve invested in the Iron Dome system to save countless lives…(Applause.)That’s why we’ve made it clear, time and again, that Israel cannot accept rocket attacks from Gaza, and we have stood up for Israel’s right to defend itself. (Applause.) And that’s why Israel has a right to expect Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. (Applause.) … But make no mistake — those who adhere to the ideology of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, they might as well reject the earth beneath them or the sky above, because Israel is not going anywhere. (Applause.) And today, I want to tell you — particularly the young people — so that there’s no mistake here, so long as there is a United States of America — Atem lo levad = You are not alone”. (Applause.)
(3) “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 Iron Dome repels rockets, barriers keep out suicide bombers. There’s so many other pressing issues that demand your attention. And I know that only Israelis can make the fundamental decisions about your country’s future. (Applause.) I recognize that. I also know, by the way, 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, have a different vision for Israel’s future. And that’s part of a democracy. That’s part of the discourse between our two countries. I recognize that. But I also believe it’s important to be open and honest, especially with your friends. I also believe that. (Applause.) Politically, given the strong bipartisan support for Israel in America, the easiest thing for me to do would be to put this issue aside — just express unconditional support for whatever Israel decides to do — that would be the easiest political path. 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:
1) Peace is necessary…
2) Peace is also just … the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to 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 their own. (Applause.) Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. (Applause.) It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displace Palestinian families from their homes. (Applause.) Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. (Applause.) Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land. (Applause.)
3) Peace is possible. It is possible. (Applause.) I’m not saying it’s guaranteed. I can’t even say that it is more likely than not. But it is possible. I know it doesn’t seem that way. There are always going to be reasons to avoid risk. There are costs for failure. There will always be extremists who provide an excuse not to act. I know there must be something exhausting about endless talks about talks, and daily controversies, and just the grinding status quo. And I’m sure there’s a temptation just to say, ‘Ah, enough. Let me focus on my small corner of the world and my family and my job and what I can control’. But it’s possible. Negotiations will be necessary, but there’s little secret about where they must lead — two states for two peoples. Two states for two peoples. (Applause.)
(4) “Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. (Applause.) Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn. (Applause.) I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for these talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and the process. I ask you, instead, to think about what can be done to build trust between people”.
(5) “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, or government corruption or mismanagement — those days need to be over. (Applause.) Now is the time for the Arab world to take steps toward normalizing relations with Israel. (Applause.) Meanwhile, Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security. (Applause.) Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn. (Applause.) I’ve suggested principles on territory and security that I believe can be the basis for these talks. But for the moment, put aside the plans and the 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 what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions and to get an education, get a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married; to raise a family. The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza. That’s where peace begins — not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people. Not just in some carefully designed process, but in the daily connections — that sense of empathy that takes place among those who live together in this land and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. (Applause.) And let me say this as a politician — I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. (Applause.) Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things”.
These excerpts are taken from the White House webpage transcript of Obama’s words, posted here
*Daniel Levy, writing in FP, said that in this speech, Obama “hit all the buttons in endorsing Israel’s own narrative — as one would expect from a visit that has resembled a schmooze-a-thon — but he added a surprising twist. Obama essentially offered Israelis a blank check while attaching a health warning: ‘Use with Caution’ … [Obama] made a powerful case to his mainstream, Zionist audience. It is a case Israelis seldom hear, even from their own supposedly liberal politicians… He was on familiar terrain when making his first point — having made most of the arguments in his AIPAC speech of May 22nd 2011, on the challenges of demography, security, and looming diplomatic isolation. The second and third arguments he made on the case for peace constituted Obama’s new pitch to the Israeli public. He appealed to morality (it’s just) and to hope (it’s possible) — precisely the themes that have been missing from the internal Israeli debate for many years.”
He also wrote that “Obama presumably also knows that making one speech and then hoping that the Israeli public will do the rest of the work is not serious”. Daniel Levy’s take on Obama’s speech is published here.