Over the weekend, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy honored Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for her efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East. During her remarks, Clinton went into depth about her most recent experiences in the region, including the fighting between Israel and Hamas during operation Pillar of Defense. She also touched on a broad range of subjects including the deep cooperation between Israeli and American leaders, preventing a nuclear-armed Iran, and the potential for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Below are some highlights of her full speech.
Clinton said regarding Operation Pillar of Defense:
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. 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….
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.
Clinton said regarding strategic cooperation between the U.S. and Israel:
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.’
Clinton said regarding the effort to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran:
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.
Clinton said regarding the pursuit of peace:
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.
Clinton said regarding her connection to Israel:
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.
For the Secretary’s full speech, including the Q&A session and video, please click here.
Secretary Clinton with Tamara Wittes, Director of the Saban Center. Photo Credit: Saban Center