WASHINGTON – US National Security Adviser Susan Rice and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini gave lengthy addresses on Israel and the Middle East here on Monday but barely mentioned the French initiative, a sign it failed to gain significant traction since being launched Friday at an international meeting in Paris.
Speaking for some 30 minutes at the AJC Global Forum, Rice mentioned the initiative only once, saying US Secretary of State John Kerry attended the Paris parley to underscore that a negotiated two-state solution is the only pathway to peace. In the very next breath, however, she stressed that “a solution cannot be imposed on the parties” – something Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said on numerable occasions.
The US, she said, “strongly” opposes Israeli settlement activity, “just as we oppose counterproductive Palestinian actions and strongly condemn incitement and violence.”
Mogherini, in her address, did not mention the French initiative even once. She said that, while “it would be great” for new and meaningful negotiations to start immediately, “we should all recognize that the conditions for this to happen are simply not there.“ What was needed, she said, was a “tunnel” or “entry point” into negotiations, something she said was behind the report by the Middle East Quartet – the US, EU, UN and Russia – due out in the next several weeks.
“We will describe very frankly, as friends do, the immediate obstacles to direct talks, and the policies that threaten the viability of a two-state solution,” she said of the report.
“We believe our recommendations will be a contribution to recreate the conditions for the two sides to get back to meaningful negotiations. With some degree of confidence. With the united support of the key regional players, starting with the Arab countries and the key international players.”
The report is expected to deal with Israel’s settlement activities, as well as with Palestinian terrorism and incitement and the situation in Gaza. The reason it has not been released yet is because of the need to come up with wording that all members of the Quartet can agree on, which has not proven an easy task.
Like Rice, Mogherini also said peace cannot be imposed on the sides.
Yet, she said, “the region and the world cannot shy away from their responsibilities. Our European Union pushed to re-launch the Quartet’s initiative – and the Quartet is indeed back to work.”
She said the “whole world” is “throwing its weight behind a new peace process. We have also decided to work hand in hand with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia – with the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis.
Because – for the first time ever – the Arab countries can represent an opportunity, rather than a threat, to Israel’s security.”
Much of the rest of the words in Mogherini’s friendly speech were devoted to decrying anti-Semitism, stressing the importance of Jews to European civilization and culture, and giving reassurances about the Iran deal.
Rice, too, defended the Iran deal, saying that whether one supported or opposed it, the positive results were, so far, undeniable.
“They’ve shipped 98 percent of their enriched uranium stockpile out of the country – enough for about 10 nuclear bombs,” she said. “The Arak reactor core is now filled with concrete, never to be used again. Before this deal, Iran’s breakout time to gain enough material to build a nuclear weapon was two or three months. Today, it would take about a year – and if they cheat, we’ll know.”
Rice spoke warmly to the audience about growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Washington, DC, in a home with a mezuza on the door. She remembered watching people walk to synagogue on Saturday, reading from a Maxwell House Haggada at her friends’ Passover seders, and attending more bat mitzvas “than most girls at the National Cathedral School.”
“All my life, I’ve been inspired by the deep morality of the Jewish faith. By the simplicity and urgency of the command in Deuteronomy: zedek tzedek tirdof. ‘Justice, justice you shall pursue,’” she said.
Rice turned to the Book of Ruth, which will be read on Sunday in synagogues around the world on the occasion of Shavuot, to describe Israel-US ties. Quoting from Ruth, she said the following verses animate the relationship between the people of Israel and the American people: “Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”
She stressed that this does not mean that Israel and the US will agree on everything.
“Like all of us, I’m sure the biblical Ruth sometimes didn’t see eye-to-eye with her in-laws,” she quipped. “But, as President [Barack] Obama told the people of Israel when he visited Jerusalem, ‘So long as there is a United States of America… you are not alone.’” Rice said Israel is not alone when Hamas digs tunnels to kidnap and kill Israelis; when it is singled out at the UN; and when voices attack Israel’s right to exist.
“And, by the same token, when Palestinians are attacked by mobs shouting ‘Death to Arabs’ and Palestinian homes, mosques and churches are vandalized, the Palestinian people are not alone,” she said to applause.
Amid concern of a growing partisan divide over Israel, Rice assured the crowd that the US commitment to Israel “transcends partisanship.”
“Israel’s security isn’t a Democratic interest or a Republican interest – it’s an enduring American interest,” she said.
Underlining the Obama administration’s commitment to Israel’s security, Rice said Israel currently receives more than half of the US’s entire foreign military assistance budget And, of the new Memorandum of Understanding being negotiated that is to provide the framework of the next decade of military aid to Israel, she said: “Even in these days of belt tightening, we are prepared to sign the single largest military assistance package – with any country – in American history. It would constitute a significant increase in support, and provide Israel the funding to update much of its fighter aircraft fleet, substantially enhance the mobility of its ground forces and continue to strengthen its missile defense capabilities.”