My friends, I have been traveling to Israel as Secretary of State now for just the last three months, but I have been involved intimately in these challenges for the last three decades. And as you know, I come to this issue not as a stranger, but as a friend, as a proven friend over 30 years or more. I’ve gotten to know every Israeli prime minister since Shamir, and many of the kings, princes and presidents who have ruled in the Arab world over the last 30 years. In that time, I have heard all of the arguments for why it is too difficult to end this conflict. And I know some of you are skeptical. I understand where that comes from. And some people are beyond skeptical; they’re even cynical. I know it’s hard. After all, there’s a reason why this problem hasn’t been solved yet.
I understand the disappointments that we’ve felt, from Madrid to Oslo to Wye River and Camp David and Annapolis. And I know that many talented leaders have worked tirelessly for peace without realizing the ultimate goal. I remember sitting in Ramallah once, having lunch with Arafat – President Arafat during a major point of conflict, and during the course of the lunch he looked at me as I talked about the Taba negotiations and he said, “You know, that is my great regret. I should have said yes.” Well, I don’t think we can live for regrets now. I don’t think we have that opportunity. I still believe that peace is achievable, and more than ever, I know that it’s worth fighting for. We all know. (Applause.)
We also all know cynicism has never solved anything. It’s never given birth to a state, and it won’t. Challenges are not met by giving in to doubts. Israel has only gotten this far because brave people were willing to defy the odds and ignore the conventional wisdom, and actually overcome obstacles. How else could you make fertile land out of the desert and do what Israel has done? Why should we start – why should any Israeli start – giving in to that cynicism now?
I believe that if we care about the future of Israel – as I do, and I know you do – and if we understand what is at stake, we should recognize that this time is, in fact, a significant opportunity, and it is more than that, it is a responsibility.
Now, some say that in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, it’s too messy, it’s too uncertain. But in reality, the dawn of a new era in the region is exactly the kind of time to recast Israel’s relationships, to change the narrative with a new generation that is starting to make its voice heard.
Now, some are wary because of Israel’s experience following the withdrawal of Gaza and Lebanon. You have no idea how many times I hear people say, “We withdrew from Lebanon, we withdrew from Gaza, and what did we get? We got rockets.” Well, folks, it’s worth remembering these withdrawals were unilateral. They were not part of a negotiated peace treaty that included strong guarantees for Israel’s security, and they certainly weren’t part of a peace agreement that agrees to be a demilitarized state or entity.
We know that peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, on the other hand, which were bilateral, yielded a much better result for Israel. And Egypt today is, in fact, enforcing the Gaza peace agreement to the best of their ability, the Gaza ceasefire, and working diligently on the issue of Sinai security and so forth. We know that any peace agreement with the Palestinians will need to include extensive, mutually agreed security arrangements in order to ensure a Palestinian state that does not become the launching site for future attacks against Israel.
And of course, Israel’s fundamental security concerns have to be answered affirmatively, including the threat of Hezbollah, a dangerous terrorist puppet of Iran that has amassed rockets and attacked Israel – and of course, Iran itself is involved in this. So let me repeat: The United States will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. (Applause.) It is not prevention. It is no weapon, no containment; prevention. (Applause.)