US President Barack Obama is Israel's "closest friend," contrary to what many Israelis seem to believe in recent polls, US Ambassador James Cunningham told a Tel Aviv audience on Wednesday.
Exactly one year after Obama was elected president, Cunningham's own election-day prediction that the new president would be "a good friend to Israel" faced skepticism among the Israeli public, the ambassador said.
"According to the polls, there is doubt [about Obama's friendship]. Now it's true that we have some differences to resolve, as even the closest of friends among nations always have. [But] in word and deed, the president stands by Israel as its closest friend and will continue to do so," Cunningham insisted.
He offered examples of this friendship, foremost among them the American administration's opposition to the Goldstone Report.
"From the inception of the Goldstone Commission we objected to its flawed mandate," Cunningham told the Israeli audience at a lecture under the auspices of Tel Aviv University.
"We have stated our concerns about the Goldstone Report - after it was issued - clearly and repeatedly, including the overly-broad scope of its recommendations, its failure to address the asymmetrical nature of the conflict and its sweeping conclusions of law."
Cunningham noted that the US "led the opposition to [the report's] endorsement by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and will continue to reject efforts to use the report to undercut Israel's right to self defense. Israel is a strong democracy with independent institutions capable of addressing allegations [through] credible domestic processes, and we have encouraged it to do so," he said.
America's bond with Israel had been clearly demonstrated by its "opposition to delegitimizing [of] Israel internationally" and its efforts to ensure "Israel is treated fairly in the United Nations."
In his comments on the status of negotiations, Cunningham again raised the
Goldstone Report as one of the factors that have set back the start of peace discussions between Israel and the Palestinians.
"In the past several weeks, the impact of the Goldstone Report has made itself felt in this complicated context," he said, adding that it was harmful to "the prospects for negotiations."
Cunningham used the speech to urge Israel and the Palestinians "to relaunch negotiations without preconditions on the core issues of the conflict: security for both Israelis and Palestinians, borders, refugees and Jerusalem."
He insisted the US was "eager to support the difficult decisions that must be made and the risks that must be run if peace is to come."
Asked by an audience member if the US had reexamined its initial assumptions about the conflict when it took office some 10 months earlier - including a demand for an Israeli settlement freeze widely seen as contributing to a short-lived diplomatic rift between the two countries - Cunningham admitted that American efforts to jumpstart negotiations through "finding the right context" had yet to bear fruit.
The administration "started out with several factors that were new and [which] we thought provided a different kind of opportunity to move rapidly into negotiations," Cunningham said of the American demand for a settlement freeze and the parallel call on Arab states to offer normalization gestures toward Israel.
That opportunity had not materialized, he admitted.
"We have sought over the past few months to find the right context for the resumption of negotiations. Progress has been made but the issues are difficult, and the history and mistrust is exceedingly hard to overcome. We persist in that effort because it's our strong and unequivocal view that we must move beyond talking about talks and get to the hard work of talking about the core issues that separate Israelis and Palestinians."