We share President Obama’s preference to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program end through diplomacy. But for diplomacy to succeed, it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat. Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs.
I am pleased to be joining you today, even if I’m doing it by remote satellite.
I remember the Willard Hotel when I came to Washington the first time in 1982; 30 years or more have passed and we know how the world has changed, but throughout that I think there’s been this strong U.S.-Israel relationship that taken on these complex issues that we face, and Haim, I want to express to you my personal appreciation for the fact that you are sponsoring the forum to address this complexity. And it is legion, because the Middle East is undergoing great turmoil, great violence, great instability. But in this turbulence, the special bond between Israel and the United States is the crucial anchor of stability.
I didn’t say just a crucial anchor; I think it is the crucial anchor, and I want to thank President Obama for his commitment to our strong alliance. He has repeatedly said that Israel must have the right to defend itself, by itself against all threats. I think that’s a very important statement. It will follow us 360 degrees. And on President Obama’s watch, defense, security and intelligence cooperation between the United States and Israel – this cooperation has reached new heights.
I want you to know that we can have different perspectives. I understand that the United States is a global power with global responsibilities. And President Obama understands that the Jewish state is a beleaguered democracy in a hostile region, threatened like no other country on earth. And though we have the different perspectives of a superpower and a regional power, most of the time and on most things, if not the major things, we see eye-to-eye because we share common values, because we’re anchored in deeply democratic societies, because there is a special bond between the people of Israel and the people of the United States of America. Sometimes we differ because we have these different perspectives. But we always share our views honestly, sincerely and respectfully. That’s what good friends do, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.
Since President Obama’s historic visit to Israel, we have often spoken at length about the pressing issues of our times. I don’t know if there are any other two leaders in the world today who speak more frequently and more openly on such crucial matters. This communication serves both our countries well. I also want to take this opportunity to praise Secretary John Kerry for his tireless efforts for peace. John, you have my thanks and the thanks of the people of Israel for your dedication and your commitment to peace.
A moment ago I mentioned that the Middle East is going through unprecedented volatility, violence and instability. Out of all this uncertainty, one thing has become absolutely clear: The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the source of the region’s problems. Today, for all but a few diehards, that reality has finally debunked that myth. The tragedy in Syria, the terrorism in Iraq, the nuclear weapons program in Iran, the instability in North Africa, the Shi’ite-Sunni conflict, the scourge of violent Islamic radicalism – none of these is rooted in our dispute with the Palestinians.
This is not to say that peace with the Palestinians is not important. It’s vital – first and foremost for Israel and the Palestinians. Achieving a genuine and enduring peace between us is a strategic goal of the State of Israel and of my government. I’ve made hard decisions to further peace negotiations. I’m willing to make even harder decisions to achieve peace.
I hope President Abbas also is willing to do so because peace can only be and must be a two-way street. I am ready for a historic compromise that ends the conflict between us once and for all. My willingness to make peace flies in the face of a second persistent myth – that peace has eluded us because Israel is not willing to demonstrate the necessary flexibility. That is not true. Under successive governments, Israel has demonstrated the flexibility and the willingness to make painful concessions. These will require discussing the issues of territory and settlements.
But the core of this conflict has never been borders and settlements. It is about one thing: The persistent refusal to accept the Jewish state in any border. The real key to peace is Palestinian recognition of the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination in this part of the world. This conflict didn’t begin because we denied the right of the Palestinian people to a state of their own. We agreed to that in 1937 in the Zionist movement’s response to the Peel Commission’s partition proposal. The Palestinians refused. We agreed to that again when we accepted the UN partition proposal in 1947 for a Jewish state next to a Palestinian state. The Palestinians again refused.
And in the 20 years since the Oslo accords, every time we’ve offered a historic peace with a Palestinian state next to a Jewish state, the Palestinians still refused. Six successive Israeli prime ministers, myself included, have been ready for a historic compromise with the Palestinians. But it was never enough. Because all the Israeli proposals, all the Israeli concessions, were based on one premise: That the conflict would be over, that it would end and that there would be no further Palestinian national claims on the Jewish state. No right of return. No irredentist claims. No residual claims of any kind. And that the Palestinians have so far been unwilling to give.
So the question shouldn’t be, why does Israel make this demand? The question should be: why do the Palestinians consistently refuse to accept it? After all, we recognize that in peace there will be a nation-state for the Palestinian people. And surely we are entitled to expect them to do the same: to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.
And my friends, we’ve only been around here for 4,000 years – well, a little less, 3,700 years. We have to have the Palestinians come to grips with the fact that there is going to be a Jewish state, a Jewish nation-state here next to their state. It’s not too much to ask. It’s the minimal requirement for peace.
But it’s not the only requirement, because I don’t delude myself. I think that any kind of peace we’ll have is likely, initially at least, to be a cold peace. And it must withstand the forces of terrorism and the ravaging forces of radicalism and all the forces backed by Iran and others that will try to unravel the peace. And therefore any agreement that we make must enable us to protect the peace or conversely to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. That often happens in our region. So there must be iron-clad security arrangements to protect the peace, arrangements that allow Israel to defend itself by itself against any possible threats. And those security arrangements must be based on Israel’s own forces. There is no substitute for that.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Our best efforts to reach Palestinian-Israeli peace will come to nothing if Iran succeeds in building atomic bombs. A nuclear-armed Iran would give even greater backing to the radical and terrorist elements in the region. It would undermine the chances of arriving at a negotiated peace. I would say it would undermine those peace agreements that we have already reached with two of our neighbors.
Just three days ago Iran’s representative to the U.N. reiterated the regime’s refusal to even recognize Israel. This came a fortnight after the ruler of Iran referred to Israel as a "rabid dog" and to us as not worthy of being called human. He said we were doomed to "failure and annihilation". And earlier in November, Khamenei called Israel "an illegitimate and bastard regime". So the Iranian regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons makes these remarks more than a simple matter of "sticks and stones". People tend to discount rhetoric from rogue regimes, from radical regimes. They said, well, it’s just talk, but talk has consequences. We’ve learned that in history, especially when the regime that makes these statements is actually building the capability to carry it out.
This same regime supplies its terrorist proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, with thousands of rockets, rockets that are aimed at Israeli civilians, rockets that are precision-guided munitions that are increasingly lethal and deadly. This is a regime committed to our destruction. And I believe there must be an unequivocal demand alongside the negotiations in Geneva for a change in Iranian policy. This must be part and parcel of the negotiations. In other words, I’m saying that what is required is not merely a shift and a diminution of Iran’s capability and elimination of its capability to produce nuclear weapons, but also a demand to change its genocidal policy. That is the minimal thing that the international community must do when it’s negotiating with Iran.
And as you all know, it’s not just about Israel. Iran continues to trample the rights of its own people, to participate in the mass slaughter in Syria, to engage in terrorism across five continents and to destabilize regimes throughout the Middle East.
I don’t think I can overstate, I don’t think any of us can overstate the Iranian danger. So for the peace and security of the world, Iran must not be allowed to maintain the capability to produce nuclear weapons – not today and not tomorrow. The world must not allow Iran to be a threshold nuclear weapons state with the option to cross that threshold at a time of its choosing. Therefore, unlike the recent interim deal, any final deal must bring about the termination of Iran’s military nuclear capability.
I have expressed my concern since before Geneva that the sanctions would begin to unravel. I heard today that Iran’s president said that in fact the situation in Iran economically is already markedly improved since the accords were announced. They haven’t even been put in place yet. So steps must be taken to prevent further erosion of the sanctions. Because ultimately, the sanctions remain an essential element of the international effort to compel Iran to dismantle its nuclear military infrastructure: to take apart the centrifuges; to tear down the heavy water reactor; to eliminate the current stockpiles of enriched uranium; to cease the development of ballistic missiles and the work on weaponization, which by the way the Geneva agreement does not address. None of these things that Iran insists it must have – none of them is necessary for a peaceful nuclear program.
So while Israel is prepared to do what is necessary to defend itself, we share President Obama’s preference to see Iran’s nuclear weapons program end through diplomacy. But for diplomacy to succeed, it must be coupled with powerful sanctions and a credible military threat.
Now let me repeat that: A diplomatic solution is better than a military option. But a military option is necessary for diplomacy to succeed, as are powerful sanctions.
We all agree that after a couple of years of tough sanctions, Iran finally began to negotiate seriously. Because of the pressure, what seemed impossible yesterday became possible today. We should not assume that more and tougher sanctions won’t lead to a better deal. What seems impossible today could become possible tomorrow.
Preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability is the paramount challenge of our generation because a nuclear-armed Iran would literally change the course of history. It would threaten the peace and security of us all by arming the world’s most dangerous regime with the world’s most dangerous weapons. I think we’ve learned from history that regimes with unlimited appetites act out their fantasies and their made ideologies when they think they have the weapons of mass death or at least incalculable power. That’s what usually happens.
Such power in the hands of such regimes unleashes the worst ambitions. It’s not that they don’t have diplomats – they do. They have diplomats, some of them even wear ties. They might speak English and they might make PowerPoint presentations where in the past they just spoke English and they spoke reasonably well. But when the powers behind the throne, the power on the throne is committed to a radical ideology and pursues it and talks about it again and again and again, then I say: Beware.
We’ve learned in our experience, the experience of the Jewish people, to take seriously those who speak about our annihilation, and we will do and I will do what is necessary to protect the Jewish state and the future of the Jewish people.
Our best efforts, mine and those of President Obama, have yet to achieve the desired results. The jury is still out. Iran is perilously close to crossing the nuclear threshold. History will judge all of us on whether we succeed or not in rising to meet this greatest of all challenges.
President Obama and others have called the United States the "indispensable nation". I agree. I believe though that in meeting this supreme challenge, Israel and the United States form the indispensable alliance. We will continue to work together to strengthen that indispensable alliance for the sake of peace, security and our common future.
Thank you all and good luck.