For a quick summary of recent Middle East events: the UN vote on a Palestinian state; Iran, Israel, the rockets hitting Israel and the Iron Dome defenses--Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton comments on them all at a recent speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, including her own shuttle diplomacy between Egypt, Israel and the West Bank. Madame Secretary also looks ahead to returning to private life and tells the audience, "one day, I hope to take my grandchildren to visit Israel."
No pressure, Chelsea....
Click below for the transcript
Remarks at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy 2012 Saban Forum Opening Gala Dinner
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
The Willard Hotel
November 30, 2012
SECRETARY CLINTON: I am somewhat overwhelmed, but I'm obviously thinking I should sit down. (Laughter.) I prepared some remarks for tonight, but then I thought maybe we could just watch that video a few more times. (Laughter.) And then the next time, I could count the hairstyles, which is one of my favorite pastimes. (Laughter.) I think I now know what it feels like to be one of Haim's Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. (Laughter.)
Well, I guess we should expect nothing less from Haim Saban, who's a friend, a colleague, a mentor, an inspiration to so many of us here tonight. He certainly has always challenged me to make the most of America's place in the world and especially our close friendship with Israel. And it is extremely humbling to be honored by the Saban Forum in front of so many Americans and Israelis whom I know and respect so greatly. And I am so appreciative of all those very much too kind words. I can't wait to show my husband. (Laughter and applause.) And speaking of spouses, I want to acknowledge my dear friend, Cheryl Saban - (applause) - who's being doing heroic work as a public delegate with our team at the United Nations.
There are so many friends here, and it's always a little dangerous - in fact, a lot dangerous - to acknowledge or point out any. But obviously, I want to thank Martin Indyk and Tamara Wittes and all the thinkers and scholars whose insights help us navigate this very difficult, challenging time.
I also want to say a special word to two friends who are retiring. One, Senator Joe Lieberman, - (applause) - who is leaving the Senate and going into standup comedy, I'm told. (Laughter.) He's got a lot of good lines; I've heard many of them over the years. But he and Hadassah deserve some very well merited time for themselves. And of course, Ehud Barak, who's announced his retirement. And so we want to wish you very much happiness in the future as well.
Let me also acknowledge the Chairman of my authorizing and oversight committee, Senator John Kerry. (Applause.) Thank you, John. And Teresa Heinz, it's wonderful seeing you here as well. (Applause.) My Congresswoman, Nita Lowey - (applause) - who does such a great job in every way and is, as they say, moving on up, which we're happy to hear. I saw Howard Berman here, and I think we all want to pay a great acknowledgment - (applause) - and gratitude to Howard. There are some others that I just want briefly to mention, other members of Congress. I know there are some here, but I can't see everyone.
I want to also acknowledge Foreign Minister Lieberman, Deputy Prime Minister Meridor, Ambassador Oren, our Ambassador Dan Shapiro, my former Deputy Secretary Jim Steinberg, everyone who's made this journey to be with us tonight.
And I think that we have a lot to celebrate, because for years we have told you, our Israeli friends, that America has Israel's back. And this month, we proved it again. (Applause.) When Israel responded to a rain of rockets, when sirens sounded and schools emptied and air raid shelters filled, America's next move was never in question. President Obama and I stood before the international community and supported Israel's right to defend itself from a threat no country would tolerate. The Iron Dome system - invented by Israel, underwritten by America - knocked rockets out of the sky like never before.
We supported regional and international efforts to de-escalate the conflict and then seized on a diplomatic opening when it came. Working closely with President Obama from halfway around the world, I left the East Asia Summit in Cambodia to fly to Tel Aviv, to drive to Jerusalem, to meet with the Prime Minister and members of the inner cabinet, to go the next day to Ramallah, then back to the Prime Minister's office, and then to Cairo, and we were able to play a role in enabling the ceasefire to occur. That fragile ceasefire is holding. The skies above Israel are clear. And we are beginning to see the efforts to rebuild and resume daily life. But the world knows - and always will know - that whenever Israel is threatened, the United States will be there.
Now, that's a good thing, because we believe in our shared values. We understand we both live in a complicated and dangerous world. We're in the midst of a transformative moment in the Middle East, one that offers as many questions - in fact more questions than answers - and one that poses new challenges to Israel's place in the emerging regional order. As the story unfolds, all of us must work together to seize the promise and meet these challenges of this dynamic, changing Middle East.
In the past month alone, we've seen both the promise and those challenges. We've seen post-revolutionary Egypt work with the United States to help Israel broker a ceasefire and protect Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. We have seen cutting-edge defenses protect Israel, cities and rural areas. We have seen Israel fight for and win a stop to rocket fire from Gaza. But we've also seen the challenge of turning a ceasefire into a lasting calm; of helping Palestinians committed to peace find a more constructive path to pursue it; of putting Israel's peace with Egypt on a stronger foundation; of making sure that Iran can never acquire a nuclear weapon. And just yesterday, as you know, the United Nations General Assembly voted to grant the Palestinian Authority non-member observer state status, a step that will not bring us any closer to peace.
When it comes to a region full of uncertainty, upheaval, revolution, this much is constant and clear: America and Israel are in it together. This is a friendship that comes naturally to us. Americans honor Israel as a homeland dreamed of for generations and finally achieved by pioneering men and women in my lifetime. We share bedrock beliefs in freedom, equality, democracy, and the right to live without fear. What threatens Israel threatens America, and what strengthens Israel strengthens us. Our two governments maintain not just the formal U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue, but a daily dialogue, sometimes an hourly dialogue, at every level.
In a season of tight budgets, U.S. assistance to Israel is at a record high. And over the past few weeks, I have heard from Israelis the gratitude they felt when, after hearing the sirens, they saw a second rocket launch, and knew that was Iron Dome, making them safer. America has helped keep Israel's Qualitative Military Edge as strong as ever. And Prime Minister Netanyahu has described our security cooperation and overall partnership with Israel as "unprecedented."
Our shared obsession with innovation is also bringing us closer together. Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently called Israel "the most important high tech center in the world, after the United States." So it is no surprise that our diplomatic challenge is not only about a dialogue of strategic and political interests, including not just our soldiers and our politicians, but increasingly including our techies and our venture capitalists and our entrepreneurs. And it's no surprise that since Israel signed America's first-ever Free Trade Agreement back in 1985, trade between us has increased from 5 billion to more than 35 billion.
But all that we hope to accomplish together depends on keeping Israelis safe to pursue their passions in peace and security. It depends on ensuring Israel's future as a secure, democratic, Jewish state. So tonight I want to speak about four of the goals that our countries must pursue together to make that happen in a new Middle East.
First, Iranian-made missiles and rockets launched from Gaza at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem only drove home what we already know: America, Israel, and the entire international community must prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) This is a commitment that President Obama has made and repeated, because we know very well the Iranian regime already exports terrorism, not only to Israel's doorstep, but across the world. If we had a map I could put up there, I could show you what we track and plot on that map - the evidence of terrorism - mostly, thankfully, plots foiled or unsuccessful. Unfortunately, as in Bulgaria, some that succeeded. But those plots, those activities of Iran directly and through their agents, stretches from Mexico to Thailand.
We see Iran bringing repression to Syria. We see Iran brutalizing their own people. So a nuclear Iran is not simply a threat to Israel. It is a threat to all nations and risks opening the floodgates on nuclear proliferation around the world. When it comes to Iran's nuclear threat, the United States does not have a policy of containment. We have a policy of prevention, built on the dual tracks of pressure and engagement, while keeping all options on the table.
The United States is ratcheting up the pressure to sharpen the choices facing Iran's leadership. We've had our own sanctions in place for many years. But we never had a coalition like the one we have built over the last four years. We convinced all 27 nations of the European Union to stop importing Iranian oil and all 20 major global importers of Iranian oil - including Japan, India, China, and Turkey - to make significant cuts. Iran today exports more than one million fewer barrels of crude each day than it did just last year. Iran's currency is worth less than half of what it was last November. The pressure is real and it is growing.
And let me add, we take pride in the coalition we have assembled, but no pleasure in the hardship that Iran's choices have caused its own people to endure. We are making every effort to ensure that sanctions don't deprive Iranians of food, medicines, and other humanitarian goods. I travel the world working to help people everywhere take part in the global economy, and we never lose sight of the fact that Iranians deserve this no less than any other people.
America's goal is to change the Iranian leadership's calculus. We have worked with the P-5+1 to put a credible offer on the table. If there is a viable diplomatic deal to be had, we will pursue it. And should Iran finally be ready to engage in serious negotiations, we are ready. When Iran is prepared to take confidence-building measures that are verifiable, we are prepared to reciprocate. What we will not do is talk indefinitely. The window for negotiation will not stay open forever. President Obama has made that clear, and by now I think it should be clear this is a President who does not bluff. He says what he means, and he means what he says.
The second shared goal I want to discuss is this: Now that rocket fire from Gaza has stopped, America and Israel have to work together with partners in the region to turn the ceasefire into a lasting calm. Now, we have no illusions about those who launched the rockets. They had every intention of hiding behind civilians in Gaza and killing civilians in Israel. And they would have killed more of each if they could have. They even fired poorly aimed rockets at Jerusalem, endangering Palestinians as well as Israelis, Muslim holy sites as well as those of Christians and Jews. As we said throughout the crisis, Israel retains every right to defend itself against such attacks.
But a lasting ceasefire is essential for the people of Israel, whose communities lie in the path of these rockets. The people of Gaza deserve better, too. Half the Gaza population are under the age of 18. These children, who didn't choose where they were born, have now seen two military conflicts in the last four years. Like all children, our children, they deserve better. Just as Israel cannot accept the threat of rockets, none of us can be satisfied with a situation that condemns people on both sides to conflict every few years.
Those who fire the rockets are responsible for the violence that follows, but everyone, all parties in the region, and people of good faith outside of the region, have a role to play in keeping or making peace. Israel can keep working energetically with Egypt to implement the ceasefire to keep the rockets out but also work to try to advance the needs of the people of Gaza. For its part, Egypt can use its unique relationship with Hamas and the other Palestinian factions in Gaza to make clear that it opposes provocation and escalation on its borders. And we look to Egypt to intensify its efforts to crack down on weapon smuggling from Libya and Sudan into Gaza. I am convinced that if more rockets are allowed to enter Gaza through the tunnels, that will certainly pave the way for more fighting again soon. We are ready to help and to support Egyptian efforts to bring security and economic development to the Sinai.
Others who are close to Hamas and the other factions in Gaza, including Turkey and Qatar, can and should make clear that another violent confrontation is in no one's interest. Hamas itself, which has condemned those it rules to violence and misery, faces a choice between the future of Gaza and its fight with Israel. America has shown that we are willing to work with Islamists who reject violence and work toward real democracy. But we will not, we will never, work with terrorists. Hamas knows what it needs to do if it wishes to reunite the Palestinians and rejoin the international community. It must reject violence, honor past agreements with Israel, and recognize Israel's right to exist.
Of course, the most lasting solution to the stalemate in Gaza would be a comprehensive peace between Israel and all Palestinians, led by their legitimate representative, the Palestinian Authority. Which brings me to the third goal we must pursue together: At a time when violence commands attention, America and Israel must do better at demonstrating not just the costs of extremism but the benefits of cooperation and coexistence.
For example, we have to convince Palestinians that direct negotiations with Israel represent not just the best but the only path to the independent state they deserve. America supports the goal of a Palestinian state, living side by side in peace and security with Israel. But this week's vote at the UN won't bring Palestinians any closer to that goal. It may bring new challenges to the United Nations system and for Israel.
But this week's vote should give all of us pause. All sides need to consider carefully the path ahead. Palestinian leaders need to ask themselves what unilateral action can really accomplish for their people. President Abbas took a step in the wrong direction this week. We opposed his resolution. But we also need to see that the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank still offers the most compelling alternative to rockets and permanent resistance.
At a time when religious extremists claim to offer rewards in the hereafter, Israel needs to help those committed to peace deliver for their people in the here and now. The leaders of the West Bank - President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad - deserve credit for their real achievements on the ground. They made their streets safe again; they brought a measure of peace; they overhauled governing institutions. They have cooperated with Israel to help enhance Israel's security. And we have to be honest with ourselves that, right now, all of this needs our political and economic support to be sustainable. It also needs a political horizon.
So particularly in light of today's announcement, let me reiterate that this Administration - like previous administrations - has been very clear with Israel that these activities set back the cause of a negotiated peace. We all need to work together to find a path forward in negotiations that can finally deliver on a two-state solution. That must remain our goal. And if and when the parties are ready to enter into direct negotiations to solve the conflict, President Obama will be a full partner.
Now, some will say that, given the disappointments of the past and the uncertainties of today, now is not the time even to contemplate a return to serious negotiations, that it should be enough for Israel just to muddle through dealing with whatever crisis arises. But the dynamics of ideology and religion, of technology and demography, conspire to make that impossible. Without progress toward peace, extremists will grow stronger, and moderates will be weakened and pushed away.
Without peace, Israel will be forced to build ever more powerful defenses against ever more dangerous rockets. And without peace, the inexorable math of demographics will, one day, force Israelis to choose between preserving their democracy and remaining a Jewish homeland. A strong Israeli military is always essential, but no defense is perfect. And over the long run, nothing would do more to secure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state than a comprehensive peace.
And that leads me to my fourth goal. At a time when the Arab world is remaking itself right before our eyes, America and Israel have to work together to do what we can to ensure that democratic change brings the region closer to peace and security, not farther away. But there is no going back to the way things were. We are not naive about the risks these changes are bringing. And we recognize that for Israel, they hit close to home.
And so, even as the United States supports democratic transitions in Egypt and Tunisia, in Libya and Yemen, we are also making clear that rights and freedoms come with responsibilities. All states must address threats arising from inside their borders; fight terrorism and extremism; and honor their international commitments. And working closely with them on these critical issues does not mean we seek a return to the old bargain. Honoring obligations abroad does not lessen the need for these governments to respect fundamental rights, build strong checks and balances, and seek inclusive dialogue at home.
Egypt's recent declarations and the decision to hold a vote on the constitution, despite social unrest and a lack of consensus across Egypt's political spectrum, raise concerns for the United States, the international community, and most importantly for Egyptians. To redeem the promise of their revolution, Egypt will need a constitution that protects the rights of all, creates strong institutions, and reflects an inclusive process. Egypt will be strongest - and so will our partnership - if Egypt is democratic and united behind a common understanding of what democracy means. Democracy is not one election one time. Democracy is respecting minority rights; democracy is a free and independent media; democracy is an independent judiciary. Democracy requires hard work, and it only begins, not ends, with elections. And let me add that the work of building consensus does not belong to new democracies alone. America will need broad-based support to end our impasse over our budget. Israel will need the same to solve your challenges.
Next door, the Syrian people are fighting for their rights and freedoms. A violent struggle against a tyrant is unfolding so close to Israel you can see it from the hilltops of the Golan Heights. Instability in Syria threatens all of us. But the safest and best path forward for Syria and its neighbors is to help the opposition build on its current momentum and bring about a political transition within Syria. The United States is using humanitarian aid, non-lethal assistance to the opposition, intensive diplomatic engagement, working with the Syrian people to try to bring about that political transition.
So there's a lot on our plates. And for me, this is a remarkable moment in history, if we were just to step back for a time and look at what is happening around the world. But it is also a time that is fraught with anxiety and insecurity, uncertainty, and danger. So we need to strengthen our consultations and collaboration on all of the issues that we face together. And we need to support the men and women in our militaries, in our diplomacy, who represent the United States and Israel at every turn so well. There is a lot of hard work ahead of us. But for me, there is no doubt that, working together, we are up to whatever task confronts us.
Protecting Israel's future is not simply a question of policy for me, it's personal. I've talked with some of you I've know for a while about the first trip Bill and I took to Israel so many years ago, shortly after our daughter was born. And I have seen the great accomplishments, the pride of the desert blooming and the start-ups springing up. I've held hands with the victims of terrorism in their hospital rooms, visited a bombed-out pizzeria in Jerusalem, walked along the fence near Gilo. And I know with all my heart how important it is that our relationship go from strength to strength.
As I prepare to trade in my post as Secretary of State for a little more rest and relaxation, I look forward to returning to Israel as a private citizen on a commercial plane - (laughter) - walking the streets of the Old City, sitting in a cafe in Tel Aviv, visiting the many Israelis and Palestinians I've gotten to know over the years. And of course, it is no state secret that I hope to become a grandmother someday. (Laughter.) And one day, I hope to take my grandchildren - (laughter) - to visit Israel, to see this country that I care so much about. And when I do, I hope we will find a thriving Israel, secure and finally at peace alongside a Palestinian state, in a region where more people than ever before, men and women, have the opportunity to live up to their God-given potential. That, and nothing less, is the future we must never stop working to deliver.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)