Remarks at the Dedication of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace
Secretary of State
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SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I should just quit while I’m ahead at least. (Laughter.) My goodness, those were wonderful words from my dear friend Danny and from the former congressman but certainly now the president of this extraordinary center, and bringing so much energy and commitment to this cause. There are so many longtime friends and people whom I admire here in this audience that I can’t possibly go down the line. I know that Sara Ehrman acknowledged so many of the members of the Diplomatic Corps and other distinguished participants, and I echo everything that Sara said. Sara has been a friend of mine for a very considerable length of time. (Laughter.) And Sara, you don’t know this, but when you were standing up here, it was one of those Queen Elizabeth moments, because from where I was sitting, we could only see your eyes. (Laughter.) It was a priceless –
MS. EHRMAN: No respect. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s wonderful being with Sara and Danny because they always put you in your place. (Laughter.)
I am very pleased to have this occasion. Danny has not only written a book called Peace is Possible, he wrote his autobiography which is titled Everything is Possible. I know Danny spent a number of years living in Israel and there wasn’t a more enthusiastic, dedicated citizen of Israel during the time that Danny was there. And he’s often talked to many of us how his passion for Middle East peace is rooted, as Robert said, in his devotion to Israel and in his commitment to Israel’s future and Israel’s security.
And if you read his autobiography, you can’t bet against Danny Abraham. And I am one of those people who does believe that peace is possible, not out of any misplaced idealism or whatever remnants of naiveté may still pulse somewhere in one or two cells left in my body – (laughter) – but because it has to happen. It has to happen. And I think it’s that meeting of the passion and the love and the devotion with the hard-headed reality and clear-eyed view of the future that Danny Abraham so well embodies.
He has worked for decades along with his great friend, the late Congressman Wayne Owens, and I am so pleased that his son and granddaughter are here, because Danny and Wayne started on a journey long before many people even anticipated that such a moment could ever be a reality. And whether you’re in Washington or Jerusalem or Cairo or Riyadh, people call Danny a friend, they call him a confidante, and they do call him a visionary.
Now, this is the second time Danny has asked me to help dedicate a new center. And the last time was at Princeton, which I deeply enjoyed, and I’m pleased that the dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, my friend and great colleague at the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is here, because that was a memorable event as well. But I love the way Danny does these things. He came to see me at the State Department and he goes, you know, we’re going to have this little thing, you just come, cut a ribbon – (laughter) – and we’ll have a new center with a new president.
Well, this is a testament to the cause of his life and the cause of the lives of so many of you here, Arab and Israeli, Palestinian, American – everyone in this room shares this cause. And the United States and President Obama share it as well. We have long recognized that a strong, secure, and successful Israel is our common goal, but it is also vital to America’s strategic interests. Our countries and our peoples are bound together by our shared values: freedom, equality, democracy, the right to live free from fear, and our common aspirations for a future of peace, security, and prosperity.
This week we are commemorating the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps. Rob mentioned that in addition to everything else, Danny is a World War II veteran. And with every passing year, fewer survivors and fewer liberators are still with us, but their stories remain as powerful and compelling as ever. Each one is a reminder of why a secure homeland for the Jewish people is not an abstraction, not a wish, but a necessity. And next week will be Israel’s Independence Day, when once again Israelis and those who support Israel will renew our commitment to ensure that Israel will always remain independent, secure, free, and flourishing.
Now, for President Obama, whose grandfather marched in Patton’s Army – and I sometimes look at the President when I’m with him and talking about some issue or another, and think about a grandfather who marched in Patton’s Army and a great-uncle who helped to liberate Buchenwald. And I know how rock solid and unwavering his commitment is to Israel’s security and Israel’s future. And from our first day in office, we have made the pursuit of a comprehensive peace a top priority because we are convinced that Israel’s long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state depends upon it.
The lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians threatens that future, holds back the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and destabilizes the region and beyond.
I told some of you this, that one of the striking experiences that I had becoming Secretary of State and now having traveled something on the order of 300,000 miles in the last 15 months and going to dozens and dozens of countries, is that when I compare that to my experience as First Lady, where I was also privileged to travel around the world, back in the ‘90s when I went to Asia or Africa or Europe or Latin America, it was rare that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was raised. Now it is the first, second, or third item on nearly every agenda of every country I visit.
What does that mean? Well, it means that this conflict has assumed a role in the global geostrategic environment that carries great weight. And it also means that there is a yearning on the part of people who have never been to Israel and never met a Palestinian that somehow, some way, we create the circumstances for this to finally be resolved.
As Rob said, last month at AIPAC’s national conference, I spoke about the challenge that Israel faces. And tonight I want to focus on how a struggle despite the difficulty to achieve comprehensive peace is critical, not just to Israel and not just to the Palestinians and not just to the United States, but to the future of this world we share.
And what I worry about is that a failure to act now when there are changed circumstances, including the Arab Peace Initiative, including the very broadly shared fear of Iran’s intentions and actions, will not just set us back, but may irreversibly prevent us from going forward. The failure to pursue a comprehensive peace takes place in an ideological struggle for the future of the Middle East. Because make no mistake about it: Those in the region most hostile to peace, those in the region most opposed to compromise and coexistence, are those who do not have Israel’s best interests at heart and do not have the Palestinians’ best interests at heart.
There are so many actors right now who are willing to make commitments and take actions that would have been unthinkable one, two, three, four years ago. I see my friend the foreign minister of Jordan, Nasser Judeh. He and I talk all the time about the imperative of moving this forward. And yet we know that those who benefit from our failure of leadership traffic in hate and violence, and give strength to Iran’s anti-Semitic president and extremists like Hamas and Hezbollah.
Every step back from the peace table and every flare-up in violence undermines the positive players across the region who seek to turn the page and focus on building a more hopeful and prosperous Middle East. It undercuts the reformers attempting to develop functioning institutions and accountable governments, the entrepreneurs and economists trying to foster broad-based growth, the civil society organizers and activists working for common ground and mutual understanding, and all the mothers and fathers who hope for peace for their children and grandchildren.
So all of us do have a stake in the outcome, but there are only two peoples who can make the decisions. Danny Abraham can’t want this more than the leaders of Israel and of the Palestinians. President Obama can’t work harder than the people of Israel and the Palestinian territories. The goal of a comprehensive peace and all the benefits that we believe that would bring hangs in the balance. Because peace and progress must be driven from both above and below. They require leaders – yes – willing to take risks, populations that demand results, and institutions that can deliver tangible benefits for people’s lives. That is why the United States supports two tracks in the Middle East – negotiations between the parties aimed at reaching a two-state solution and institution building that lays the necessary foundation for a future state for the Palestinians and security guarantees that provide for the security of the state of Israel. But none of these efforts, no matter how sincerely pursued, can be successful if extremists win the argument.
Now, this struggle plays out starkly among the Palestinians themselves. For nearly 20 years, Fatah and Hamas have vied for the right to chart the future for the Palestinian people. And today they articulate opposing arguments for how best to realize Palestinians aspirations. To those disillusioned by a peace process that has delivered too little, Hamas peddles the false hope that a Palestinian state can somehow be achieved through violence and uncompromising resistance. And across the divide, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad and the Palestinian Authority argue for the two-track approach of pursuing a political settlement and institution building.
Hamas claims any failure of the peace process as vindication of their rejectionist view. The Palestinian Authority has the harder job: to convince a skeptical people that peace is not just possible, but the surest route to bettering their lives and achieving their aspirations.
And the results of these competing approaches can be seen every day in Palestinian streets and neighborhoods, sharpening the choices that confronts the Palestinian people and answering those who suggest there is little difference between the two.
In Gaza, Hamas presides over a crumbling enclave of terror and despair. It stockpiles rockets intended for Israeli cities while the people of Gaza fall deeper into poverty.
Unemployment runs as high as 38 percent – and even higher among young people – yet Hamas impedes international assistance and the work of humanitarian NGOs, and does little to promote sustainable economic growth. Hamas has revealed itself as uninterested in development, institution building, peace, or progress.
Hamas claims to seek peace, prosperity, and a state for its people, but it refuses to take the first necessary steps: renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements. Those are the building blocks for a viable, independent, and contiguous Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel – and we urge Hamas to embrace those steps. And I will repeat what I have said many times before: Gilad Shalit must be released immediately and returned to his family. That is unfinished business that must be accomplished.
But unfortunately, Hamas appears set on continued conflict with Israel with little regard for what that will mean for the Palestinian people. Only by exploiting the frustration and hostility created by the conflict can Hamas hope to distract its people from its failure to govern.
President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have produced very different results in a relatively short period of time.
The PLO has emerged as a credible partner for peace. It has rejected violence, improved security, made progress on combating incitement, and accepted Israel’s right to exist.
The Palestinian Authority’s two-year plan envisions a state that is based on pluralism, equality, religious tolerance, and the rule of law, created through a negotiated settlement with Israel, and capable of meeting the needs of its citizens and supporting a lasting peace. Under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, the PA is addressing a history of corruption and building transparent and accountable institutions. The United States has partnered with the PA to improve the effectiveness of its security forces, and General Dayton is here this evening and I want personally and publicly to thank him for his efforts. (Applause.)
Reforms have increased public confidence in the courts – last year they handled 67 percent more cases than in 2008. The PA is building schools and hospitals and training teachers and medical staff, and even developing a national health insurance program. (Laughter.)
Sound fiscal policies, support from the international community – including hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone from the United States, which continues to be the PA’s largest bilateral donor – and improving security and rule of law have led to significant economic growth. More and more Palestinians in the West Bank are finding jobs, starting businesses, and reversing the economic stagnation that followed the outbreak of the Intifada in 2000. The number of new business licenses issued in the West Bank in the fourth quarter of 2009 was 50 percent higher than in the same period in 2008. And three new venture capital funds are set to launch this year with the support of American, Arab, and European investors.
Now, considerable work remains. The PA must redouble its efforts to put an end to incitement and violence, crack down on corruption, and ingrain a culture of peace and tolerance among Palestinians. The leadership should refrain from using international organizations, particularly the United Nations, as platforms for inflammatory rhetoric. And we strongly encourage President Abbas and his government to join negotiations with Israel now. Because Israelis must see as well, that pursuing the path of progress and diplomacy can and will lead to peace and security. But there is no doubt that, so far, the progress we are seeing in the West Bank is encouraging.
Last year I visited a classroom in Ramallah where Palestinian students were learning English through a U.S.-sponsored program that has taught thousands of Palestinian young people. I happened to be there when they were studying Women’s History Month and Sally Ride, the first woman astronaut, was the subject. The students, especially the girls, were captivated by her story. And when I asked for a single word to describe Sally and her accomplishments, one student responded: “hopeful.”
Well, today hope is stirring in the West Bank because of strong leadership and hard work. And people are beginning to see differences in their daily lives which enables them then to imagine a different future for their children.
But this progress is tenuous. Without increased support from the international community, including from the Arab states, without larger, steadier, and more predictable financial support, the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to build institutions and spur growth could run out of steam. Because if the PA cannot overcome corruption and smuggling, development will fall short. And if it fails to control violence, progress will slow to a halt.
Extending and sustaining this positive development also requires Israel to be a partner. The Netanyahu government has lifted roadblocks and eased movements throughout the West Bank. These also are encouraging moves that will improve the quality of life, but Israel can and should do more to support the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to build credible institutions and deliver results. Both sides would benefit from a real partnership that fosters long-term growth and opportunity.
Because ultimately the fate of these efforts hinges on the peace process. In contrast to Hamas, the Palestinian Authority has staked its credibility on a path of peaceful coexistence. Even more than economic opportunities, that path for the Palestinians must lead to a state of their own, for the dignity that all people deserve, and the right to chart their own destiny. If President Abbas cannot deliver on those aspirations, there’s no doubt his support will fade and Palestinians will turn to alternatives – including Hamas. And that way leads only to more conflict.
Now, I’ve had friends of mine – Israelis – say, but you know we can’t determine what happens and we just have to hold firm to the positions we hold. As I said in my AIPAC speech, there are three problems with that position: demography, ideology, and technology.
So for Israel, accepting concrete steps toward peace – both through the peace process and in the bottoms-up institutions building I have described – are the best weapons against Hamas and other extremists. Prime Minister Netanyahu has embraced the vision of the two-state solution. But easing up on access and movement in the West Bank, in response to credible Palestinian security performance, is not sufficient to prove to the Palestinians that this embrace is sincere. So we encourage Israel to continue building momentum toward a comprehensive peace by demonstrating respect for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians, stopping settlement activity, and addressing the humanitarian needs in Gaza, and to refrain from unilateral statements and actions that could undermine trust or risk prejudicing the outcome of talks.
Now, Israel has worked hard to improve security. And along with the increased capacity and commitment of Palestinian security forces and the construction of the wall, which I have defended as a senator and I defend as the Secretary of State, the number of suicide bombings – thankfully – has dropped significantly. And as a result, some in Israel have come to believe that they are protected by walls, buoyed by a dynamic economy, and can avoid having to do anything right now. Because these are hard choices that they are confronting.
But that would mean continuing an impasse that not only carries tragic human costs and denies Palestinians their legitimate aspirations, but which threatens Israel’s long-term future as a secure and democratic Jewish state. Israelis and Palestinians alike must confront the reality that the status quo has not produced long-term security or served their interests, and accept their share of responsibility for reaching a comprehensive peace that will benefit both sides.
So too must the Arab states, many of whom are represented here tonight, who worry about the destabilizing impact of extremists like Hamas but don’t do enough to bolster the efforts of the Palestinian Authority. It is also in the interest of Arab states to advance the Arab Peace Initiative with actions, not just rhetoric, make it easier for the Palestinians to pursue negotiations and achieve an agreement. If the Arab Peace Initiative is indeed, as Rob said, the genuine offer it appears to be, we should not face threats by certain Arab states that it will be "taken off the table" each time there is a setback. We look forward to a deeper conversation about implementing the Initiative and the concrete results it would bring to the people of the region. And we are very encouraged by the work of a number of NGOs and civil society groups, including some who are represented here, to articulate a more complete vision of those benefits of peace.
Now, for our part, the United States understands the need to support the reforms of the Palestinian Authority and continue efforts to restart substantive negotiations. We not only know we cannot force a solution, we have no interest in forcing a solution. The parties themselves are the only ones who can resolve their differences. (Applause.) But as a good friend, we believe that through good-faith negotiations, the parties can mutually agree to an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the ‘67 lines, with agreed swaps, and Israel’s goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israel’s security requirements.
This will require all parties to make difficult but necessary choices. And it will take leadership. Now, we’ve seen this before. We’ve seen it over the last years from the time when Sadat and Begin extended a hand of peace because they knew it would make their people stronger.
Reflecting on one of his many conversations with Egyptian President Mubarak, Danny once observed that, “There is no question that… many of the leading figures in the Arab world know what benefits a full peace with Israel will bring to their countries, but they also know that in the prevailing political climate it is dangerous to state such a truth.”
Changing that climate is up to each and every one of us. And it requires the mobilizing of a broad constituency for peace that provides a political counterweight to the forces of division and destruction. There is an ever-more pressing imperative to make the case for peace clearly and publicly. And the most compelling arguments are the benefits that Israelis and Palestinians will see.
I often think about a friend to many of us, Yitzhak Rabin. He wondered how deeply the support for peace ran among his people, because he understood that agreements between leaders are the beginning, not the end of anything. Whether peace takes hold depends upon it becoming a habit of the heart. In order for it to be real, people have to learn to live and work and go to school together. Peace must grow in homes and communities, not just in national capitals. It needs to be nurtured and then passed on to the next generation.
So, Danny, you’re right; peace is possible in the Middle East. But whether it comes to pass depends on us. This center is so well-named today for you, because despite the setbacks, the twists and the turns, you have never given up on your belief and conviction in peace. The worst thing can happen and the phone will ring, Rob. We are all familiar with that. (Laughter.) I don’t know how many times Danny called my husband in the 1990s or how many times he called and said he had to come see me in the Senate or come see me in the State Department. But the message is always the same: You must persist; peace requires you to persist.
And so, Danny, we are here to say we do believe with you that peace is possible. And like you, we will do everything we can to see it happen. And we want you to know that when it finally does come kicking and screaming across the finish line, it’s going to be because you never gave up. And for that, we love you. (Applause.)