In widely anticipated remarks to the Israeli people today in Jerusalem, President Obama reaffirmed the long-standing bond between America and the Jewish state in stronger and more emotional terms than ever before, and addressed the security challenges facing the two nations and his vision for combating them.
The president recalled the historical relationship between America and Israel, which began, he said, “only eleven minutes after Israeli independence, when the United States was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel,” and is the fruit both of shared interests and shared values — a belief in the rule of law, entrepreneurship and innovation, and democratic discourse.
Vowing to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Obama endorsed “strong and principled diplomacy” as the most effective means of doing so, though he reiterated that the regime could not be contained. He also acknowledged Israel’s unique security challenges. “It’s no wonder Israelis view [Iran] as an existential threat,” he told the audience. “You live in a neighborhood where many of your neighbors have rejected your right to exist. Your grandparents had to risk their lives and all they had [sic] to make a place for themselves in this world.”
He also re-affirmed the U.S.’s position on the Syria situation, saying, “I have made it clear to Bashar al-Assad and all who follow his orders: We will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people or the transfer of these weapons to terrorists.” He linked the terrorist threats facing Israel to the crisis in Syria, declaring that “every country that values justice should call Hezbollah what it truly is – a terrorist organization, because the world cannot tolerate an organization that murders innocent civilians, stockpiles rockets to shoot at cities, and supports the massacre of men, women and children in Syria.”
Obama urged Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians, though he acknowledged that Israel cannot and should not negotiate with parties committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. Toward the Palestinians, though, he pressed for compassion. “Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day.”
Days before the Jewish celebration of Passover, which marks the Jewish people’s exodus from Egypt, the president discussed the universal resonance of that story and of “the idea that people deserve to be free in a land of their own.” “For me personally,” he recalled, “growing up in far-flung parts of the world and without firm roots, it spoke to a yearning within every human being for a home.”