from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

What President Obama Should Say in Israel

March 18, 2013

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The President leaves for Israel tomorrow. Here are eight suggestions for what he should say when there. No doubt his speechwriters could improve on the language, but these are thoughts it would be very useful for him to express. Such statements would have a serious impact in Israel and in the entire Middle East. Of course, it would be even better if these thoughts really reflected the President’s views and policies.

  1. Appreciating Israel: This is not my first trip to Israel nor is it my last. I look forward to the day when, as a former President, I can come here with my children to show them the land of the Bible—and show them the miracles that have been created here by your hands since 1948.
  2. Getting the History Right: The ties of the Jewish people to this land go back thousands of years, and on Monday millions of Jews in Israel and out will repeat at Passover seders what their forbears said while living in exile century after century: “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
  3. Understanding and Standing by Israel: I understand that, of all the nations of the earth, only Israel faces threats to its very existence and still faces neighbors who refuse to recognize its existence. That is why my administration has maintained with Israel the closest intelligence and military cooperation ever. And only one nation faces an unending barrage of one-sided, unfair attacks in the United Nations system month after month. As long as I am president, we will consider standing by Israel to fight off military and diplomatic attacks not as a burden but as an honor.
  4. Noting the Neighborhood: The United States will use its all influence to maintain the peace treaties you have with Jordan and Egypt. And we will work together closely with you to prevent the carnage in Syria, and the assembly of terrorists gathering there, from flowing over your border or from destabilizing Lebanon or Jordan.
  5. Crediting Israel: I know that Israelis long for peace, and have made effort after effort to achieve it—most recently in the offers your leaders made to the Palestinians in 2000 and 2008. I regret that those offers were rejected and I understand that Israel does not share the blame for this.
  6. Resuming Pragmatic Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations: Nothing should be allowed to prevent Israeli and Palestinian negotiators from resuming their work. Even if a comprehensive peace is not possible during my period as president, progress is: an improvement in the way Israelis and Palestinians share this land between the Jordan River and the Sea, and work together to provide prosperity and security for both populations.
  7. Warning Iran: Let me say to the rulers of Iran what I have said in Washington, and now repeat from Jerusalem: while I am president you will never get a nuclear weapon. All the sacrifices you are making will be in vain, because the United States will prevent you from reaching that goal. What lies ahead for Iran may be an agreement, or other, much worse alternatives—but not possession of a nuclear weapon.
  8. Remaining in the Fight Against Terrorism: The United States is withdrawing forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, but we are not withdrawing from the ideological and the military battle against Islamic extremists and terrorists. In this you and we are the closest of allies and will remain so. Our enemy is not a religion, but extremists who would use violence to impose their rule and their religious views on others. Together we will remain in this struggle, for as many years as it takes.

The President should read the George W. Bush speech to the Knesset in 2008; that is the competition he is up against. But I believe these eight points would take him very far toward persuading many Israelis that he wants bilateral relations to be vastly better in his second term than they were in his first.