SECRETARY BLINKEN: Thank you. Thank you. Good morning. Please, take a seat.
Wonderful to be with all of you today. Michael, my friend, thank you for that introduction. I’m grateful to you and grateful to my longtime friend, Howard Kohr, for inviting me back to AIPAC.
Now, I have to admit – (applause) – thank you. As I was talking with Michael and Howard and the other senior leadership of AIPAC a moment ago, I said my lifelong ambition has already been fulfilled by AIPAC because a few years ago – some of you may have been there – I got to appear in the Dallas Cowboys football stadium on a jumbotron. (Laughter.) Never thought that would happen. It’s thanks to you.
So I am honored to be here with hundreds of fellow friends of Israel from across our country.
It’s great to be with colleagues from the Hill. I know that it’s – during the course of the day and maybe even this morning, Chairman Menendez, Senator Barrasso, Chairman Diaz-Balart, Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz, among others – representing the continued bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Last month, we marked 75 years since the founding of the State of Israel.
Today – today – we celebrate 75 years of the U.S.-Israeli partnership.
Now, you all know this very well. That partnership touches on every aspect of our lives, from security to business, from energy to public health. Our ties have not only delivered for one another but for countries around the world – making deserts bloom, developing the clean energy technologies of the future, producing vaccines, charting the future of space exploration, and so much more. And the depth and breadth of that partnership between our governments is matched only by the strength of the ties between our peoples.
This partnership between the United States and Israel is indispensable. But it was not inevitable. As Israel prepared to declare its independence, many members of President Truman’s cabinet, including the secretary of state, counseled against recognizing Israel, convinced that an independent Jewish state could not survive – that it wasn’t economically viable, that it lacked the natural resources to serve as the Jewish homeland, that it couldn’t bear an influx of immigrants, that it simply faced too many security threats.
Not everyone thought that way. My grandfather, Maurice Blinken, who founded the American Palestine Institute after the Second World War, initiated a report before independence that argued that a Jewish state was indeed possible – that it would in fact be easier to “support two million Jews than the present 600,000.” That report helped convince many skeptics, including within the United States Government.
Others in the country similarly had faith in Israel’s future and found the courage to speak out against the prevailing wisdom – public servants like White House Counsel Clark Clifford, who argued that Israel could be the first democratic government in the Middle East; everyday Americans like Missouri businessman Eddie Jacobson, who convinced the President to meet with Chaim Weizmann; and, of course, President Truman himself.
President Truman never wavered in his decision to extend recognition to the new Jewish state. He said, and I quote, “I had faith in Israel even before it was established. I knew it was based on the love of freedom, which has been the guiding star of the Jewish people since the days of Moses…I believe that it had a glorious future before it, not just as a sovereign nation but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”
Today, our partnership remains rooted in those shared ideals and that shared history. But its success depends on our commitment, not just to tending it, but renewing that bond – and recommitting to the democratic values that are at its heart – and to do that each and every day.
So today what I’d like to do is talk to you a little bit about what our administration is doing to strengthen the relationship between our countries at what is a historic moment for both of our countries and the world. And it’s easy to throw about words like “historic” and “unprecedented,” but as President Biden says, we are genuinely living through an inflection point, a point that comes around every six or seven generations, where the changes are so profound around the world that we have to find ways to navigate those changes together, and to do it effectively.
Now, we have to start from this. The U.S.-Israel relationship is underwritten by the United States’ commitment to Israel’s security. That commitment is non-negotiable; it is ironclad.
We are – we are providing $3.3 billion in foreign military financing to Israel each year. On top of that, Israel receives $500 million in funding for missile defense. Tens of millions more for new counter-drone and anti-tunneling technologies. That is in keeping with the 2016 memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama-Biden administration – and it is more than at any point in the history of our relationship. We’re also delivering an additional $1 billion in funding to replenish supplies for Israel’s Iron Dome, the missile defense system that we developed together and that has saved countless lives.
All of this – all of this has been secured in partnership with our Congress, with bipartisan support.
We’re also expanding our joint military exercises that improve how our forces work together seamlessly. This year, we have more joint exercises scheduled than at any point in our history. We’re also conducting joint research and development on advanced military capabilities, working together on cutting-edge defense systems, including Israel’s new laser-focused Iron Beam.
This robust support continues to be critical in maintaining Israel’s qualitative military edge, buttressing its ability to defend itself, and to advancing our national interests. America is more secure when Israel is strong.
As we support Israel’s defense, we are also pushing back, as you’ve heard, on the consistent, constant efforts to delegitimize Israel – which are aimed at undermining or isolating Israel’s rightful place on the international stage. Now, we fully, deeply respect the right of all to freedom of expression – and indeed, every single day, we are actively defending that and promoting that around the world.
At the same time, we continue to reject the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement for unfairly singling out Israel.
We are vigorously pushing back against anti-Israel efforts to exclude and target it at the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council, and other forums around the world.
And we’re combatting antisemitism, which we know fuels and intersects with hatred towards Israel. It is one of the oldest and worst scourges in our societies. It needs to be called out, it needs to be condemned, and it needs to be defeated everywhere in the world.
Last month, together with Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting Antisemitism Deborah Lipstadt, the President released the first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism, to beat back the rising tide of hate that we see around the world and, yes, in our own country.
Now, we’re clear-eyed about the many dangers that Israel faces in all of their forms. But there is no danger that Israel faces that is graver than the one posed by the Iranian regime.
That regime routinely threatens to wipe Israel off the map. It continues to provide weapons to terrorists and proxies like Hizballah and Hamas, who reject Israel’s right to exist. It exports its aggression throughout – and even beyond – the region, including by arming Russian forces with drones that are being used to kill Ukrainian civilians and destroy its infrastructure. And in turn, Russia is providing sophisticated weaponry to Iran.
The pattern of hostile behavior underscores a clear imperative, which you heard from Michael: Iran cannot and will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon.
We continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably, effectively, and sustainably prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. In parallel, economic pressure and deterrence reinforce our diplomacy. If Iran rejects the path of diplomacy, then – as President Biden has repeatedly made clear – all options are on the table to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.
This three-pronged approach – diplomacy, economic pressure, deterrence, which also includes strengthening Israel’s miliary capabilities – has bipartisan support, and it puts us in the strongest possible position to address the Iranian nuclear threat, just as we take on the many other challenges posed by the Iranian regime.
The United States is advancing Israel’s security – and our own – in another critical way: by working to deepen Israel’s relationships with its neighbors, to advance our goal of regional integration and de-escalation.
Israel’s further integration in the region contributes to a more stable, a more secure, and more prosperous region – and a more secure Israel. That’s why President Biden has made it a cornerstone of his Middle East policy.
We will soon create a new position to further our diplomacy and engagement with governments, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, all working toward a more peaceful and a more connected region in order to achieve significant historic progress to deepen and broaden the Abraham Accords, building on the work of the Trump administration.
Last year I joined foreign ministers from Israel, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates in Sde Boker, the home of David Ben-Gurion. That summit led to the creation of, as you’ve heard, the Negev Forum, building again on the Abraham Accords and building on existing relationships between Israel and some of its neighbors. That forum is a regional framework that facilitates cooperation not only between governments but also with businesses, with entrepreneurs, civil society, young people, on key issues that actually matter in the lives of people throughout the Middle East – food security, water technology, clean energy, tourism, health care, education, regional security.
Earlier this year the working groups from that forum convened for the first time in Abu Dhabi, and that proved to be the largest gathering of Israeli and Arab governmental officials since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, all of this unthinkable just a few years ago. And we are now working hard behind the scenes, leading with diplomacy to continue the momentum.
There’s also been concrete progress elsewhere in the region. If you look back just over the past year, Saudi Arabia and Oman unlocked their airspace to civilian flights to and from Israel.
Following intense mediation by the United States, Israel and Lebanon completed a historic agreement last fall to establish their permanent maritime boundary, something that had been long in the works. That in turn lowered the prospect of conflict and also created a greater path for greater energy security in the region.
We’re helping Israel and Jordan, together with the UAE, implement Project Prosperity, to collaborate on water and energy security, which is on track to launch by this year’s COP28.
And we convened new coalitions like I2U2, which brings together India, Israel, the UAE, the United States to solve fundamental challenges facing our people, starting with food and energy security. That initiative is literally the product of a dinner conversation between my Israeli and Emirati counterparts. We had this idea. We got on the phone. We had the idea on a Friday; by Tuesday, we were on a videoconference with our Indian counterpart. This project was launched, and ultimately the leaders of all the countries worked together to move it forward.
We’re also supporting Israel in its work to deepen relations beyond the region, including in the Eastern Mediterranean and with the 3.1 grouping of Israel, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus, focused on intensifying cooperation in energy, economic growth, climate action, emergency preparedness, counterterrorism. And we are working to accelerate all of this progress.
The United States has a real national security interest in promoting normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
We believe that we can and indeed we must play an integral role in advancing it. Now, we have no illusions that this can be done quickly or easily. But we remain committed to working toward this outcome, including on the trip I’m about to take this week to Jeddah and Riyadh for engagements with our Saudi and Gulf counterparts.
A more integrated, prosperous, stable region serves the interests of Israel. It serves the interests of our regional partners. It serves the United States. But integration and normalization efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians, nor should they come at its expense. Israel’s deepened relationships with its partners can and should advance the well-being of the Palestinian people and the prospects for a two-state solution.
As the President said on his recent trip to Israel and the West Bank last summer, a two-state solution – based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps – remains the best way to achieve our goal of Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace, with equal measures of security, freedom, justice, opportunity, and dignity.
Israel was founded – our partnership was built – on democratic values, which include equal access by all people to their rights. And a two-state solution is vital to preserving Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state.
Now, it’s no secret that, today, the prospects of a two-state solution can feel remote. But we are committed to working with partners and with the parties to at least maintain a horizon of hope.
In the immediate term, that means de-escalation, refraining from unilateral measures that increase tensions, that strengthen security cooperation to counter violence, and that improve daily life for the Palestinian people.
That’s what our diplomacy has been about at regional meetings in Aqaba and Sharm El-Sheikh, and with the help and support of Israel’s longstanding partners, Jordan and Egypt. This work requires both parties to uphold commitments that they’ve made, including at those recent meetings.
These talks represent critical steps to try to stem the violence, and hopefully to rebuild frayed ties and begin the real diplomatic work necessary to resolve this conflict.
Preserving a horizon of hope also means that we have to continue to reject – unequivocally – any actions taken by any party that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution. That includes acts of terrorism, payments to terrorists in prison, violence against civilians, incitement to violence.
Over the past several years, we’ve seen a rising tide of horrific violence that’s tragically and senselessly resulted in the loss of life of scores of civilians on both sides. That violence must end; its perpetrators must face equal justice under the law. The recent acts of terrorism – including nearly 1,000 rocket attacks launched toward Israel over just three days, some of them targeting Jerusalem – demonstrate the daily threat under which Israelis are forced to live. The fatal event at the border with Egypt – which resulted in the deaths of three Israeli soldiers – is another tragic reminder of these daily dangers.
Settlement expansion clearly presents an obstacle to the horizon of hope that we seek. Likewise, any move toward annexation of the West Bank, de facto or de jure, disruption of the historic status quo at the holy sites, the continuing demolitions of homes and the evictions of families that have lived in those homes for generations damage prospects for two states. They also undermine the basic daily dignity to which all people are entitled.
It’s not enough, of course, to simply discourage sides from taking steps that set back the prospect of two states. We need to show people what the future we’re working toward actually looks like.
That’s why, since day one, we have focused on re-engaging the Palestinian people and working to rebuild trust.
We’re investing more resources in building understanding between the two sides at the grassroots level to help build peace from the bottom up, including through the Nita M. Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace Act.
We’re also working with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority to encourage political, economic, and security reforms that can lay the foundation for a stable, democratic Palestinian state alongside a State of Israel with secure, recognized borders. Ultimately, a two-state solution can only be achieved through direct negotiation between the parties.
Preserving a horizon of hope also means holding firm to the values that have anchored the friendship between the United States and Israel across countless administrations in both of our countries.
We’ll continue to work with the Israeli Government to advance our shared values. We’ll continue to express our support for core democratic principles, including a separation of powers, checks and balances, and the equal administration of justice for all citizens of Israel. We will speak honestly and respectfully with our Israeli friends, as partners always should and as we always do. As Israeli leaders and citizens debate these issues, we welcome efforts to find consensus on any reforms. That’s simply the best way to make sure that they’re embraced and that they endure.
At the end of his presidency, Harry Truman set out his vision for Israel. And he said, and I quote, “I hope that we shall soon see the day when Israel and her neighbors will sit down at the peace table and will reach a full settlement of all [of] their differences so that our friends in the Near East, Arabs and Israelis alike, may enter together upon a new partnership” for their mutual advantage and the advantage of all people.
Today, our commitment to that future endures. It’s reinforced every day by men and women who believe in it, who are willing to do the hard work to make it a reality, who look at the future that others believe is impossible, and instead see something that they believe is inevitable.
I’m grateful to AIPAC, to each and every one of you, who are working to make real this better future. And I’m grateful, as always, for the opportunity to speak to you today. Thank you very much. Thank you.