President Obama told an audience of Israeli university students, in what is being hailed as a historic speech, that if they want see peace with the Palestinians, they must put more pressure on the Israeli government to act.
While Obama reiterated that Israeli settlement activity “is counterproductive to the cause of peace,” he acknowledged that Israel “has taken risks for peace.”
“You made credible proposals to the Palestinians at Annapolis. You withdrew from Gaza and Lebanon, and then faced terror and rockets,” Obama said, adding, “Across the region, you have extended a hand of friendship, and too often have been confronted with the ugly reality of anti-Semitism.”
But he said that ultimately, achieving peace will mean that they must urge their leaders to move forward to take the risks necessary to achieve an agreement. “You must create the change that you want to see,” he said:
OBAMA: That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections, that sense of empathy, that takes place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. And let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.
Watch the clip:
Indeed, as CAP’s Rudy deLeon, Brian Katulis and Matt Duss observed recently, based on conversations with officials and experts from the Israeli government and Palestinian Authority, “There are few political incentives to tackle the Palestinian issue”:
There is little sense of urgency in Israel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict beyond continued concerns about possible security threats from the Gaza Strip. Israelis seem resigned to the status quo and lack a clear sense of the next possible steps forward. Even among those Israelis who express more concern about the need for a two-state solution to the conflict, there is little clarity about the pathway forward to advance that agenda.
They recommend that Secretary of State Kerry “embark on an active process of listening to both Israelis and Palestinians, quietly encouraging both sides to take steps that build trust and public support for the eventual restart of negotiations in the coming year.”
Transcript from Obama’s speech:
OBAMA: Four years ago, I stood in Cairo in front of an audience of young people. Politically, religiously, they must seem a world away. But the things they want – they’re not so different from what the young people here want. They want the ability to make their own decisions; and to get an education and to get a good job; to worship God in their own way; to get married, to raise a family. The same is true of those young Palestinians that I met with this morning. The same is true for young Palestinians who yearn for a better life in Gaza.
That is where peace begins – not just in the plans of leaders, but in the hearts of people; not just in a carefully designed process, but in the daily connections, that sense of empathy, that takes place among those who live together in this land, and in this sacred city of Jerusalem. And let me say this as a politician, I can promise you this: political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.
I know this is possible. Look to the bridges being built in business and civil society by some of you here today. Look at the young people who have not yet learned a reason to mistrust, and those who have learned to overcome a legacy of mistrust that they inherited from their parents because of they simply recognize that we hold more hopes in common than the fears that drives us apart. Your voices must be louder than the extremists who would drown out hope. Your hopes must light the way forward. Look to a future in which Jews, and Muslims and Christians can all live in peace and greater prosperity in this Holy Land. Believe in that. And most of all, look to the future that you want for your own children – a future in which a Jewish, democratic, vibrant state is protected and accepted, for this time and for all time.
There will be many voices that say this change is not possible. But remember this: Israel is the most powerful country in this region. Israel has the unshakeable support of the most powerful country in the world. Israel is not going anywhere. Israel has the wisdom to see the world as it is, but this is in your nature. Israel also the courage to see the world as it should be. Ben Gurion once said, “In Israel, in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles.” Sometimes, the greatest miracle is recognizing that the world can change. That’s the lesson that the world learned from the Jewish people.