The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
Remarks by the President in a Conversation with the Saban Forum
1:13 P.M. EST
MR. SABAN: Good. Thank you. Should we move to these Israeli-Palestinians —
THE PRESIDENT: We should.
MR. SABAN: Anyway. (Laughter.) First of all, before I ask the first question, I would be remiss if I didn’t, from the bottom of my heart, thank you for your continuous effort to achieve peace in the Middle East. Thank you so very much. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate it. Thank you.
MR. SABAN: So people talk about an imposed American solution. We’ve heard these rumors rumbling around for a while. The U.S. has always said it doesn’t want to impose. What would you propose?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, this is a challenge that we've been wrestling with for 60 years. And what I've consistently said is that the only way this is going to be resolved is if the people of Israel and the Palestinian people make a determination that their futures and the futures of their children and grandchildren will be better off with peace than with conflict. The United States can be an effective facilitator of that negotiation and dialogue; we can help to bridge differences and bridge gaps. But both sides have to want to get there.
And I have to commend Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas for the courageous efforts that have led to very serious conversations over the last several months. They are not easy. But they come down to what we all know are going to be the core issues: territory; security; refugees; Jerusalem.
And there are not a lot of secrets or surprises at this point. We know what the outlines of a potential agreement might look like. And the question then becomes are both sides willing to take the very tough political risks involved if their bottom lines are met.
For the Palestinians, the bottom line is that they have a state of their own that is real and meaningful. For the Israelis, the bottom line is, to a large extent, is the state of Israel as a Jewish state secure. And those issues have been spoken about over the last several months in these negotiations in a very serious way. And I know Tzipi Livni is here and been participating in that, and we're very grateful for her efforts there.
And I think it is possible over the next several months to arrive at a framework that does not address every single detail but gets us to a point where everybody recognizes better to move forward than move backwards. Sometimes when you're climbing up a mountain, even when it’s scary, it’s actually easier to go up than it is to go down. And I think that we're now at a place where we can achieve a two-state solution in which Israelis and Palestinians are living side-by-side in peace and security. But it’s going to require some very tough decisions.
One thing I have to say, though, is we have spent a lot of time working with Prime Minister Netanyahu and his entire team to understand from an Israeli perspective what is required for the security of Israel in such a scenario. And we — going back to what I said earlier — we understand that we can't dictate to Israel what it needs for its security. But what we have done is to try to understand it and then see through a consultative process, are there ways that, through technology, through additional ideas, we can potentially provide for that.
And I assigned one of our top former generals, John Allen, who most recently headed up the entire coalition effort in Afghanistan — he’s retired now, but he was willing to take on this mission — and he’s been working to examine the entire set of challenges around security —
MR. SABAN: Has he concluded anything?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he’s come up to — he has arrived at the conclusion that it is possible to create a two-state solution that preserves Israel’s core security needs.
Now, that's his conclusion, but ultimately he’s not the decision-maker here. Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli military and intelligence folks have to make that determination. And ultimately, the Palestinians have to also recognize that there is going to be a transition period where the Israeli people cannot expect a replica of Gaza in the West Bank. That is unacceptable. And I think we believe that we can arrive at that point where Israel was confident about that, but we're going to have to see whether the Israelis agree and whether President Abbas, then, is willing to understand that this transition period requires some restraint on the part of the Palestinians as well. They don't get everything that they want on day one. And that creates some political problems for President Abbas, as well.
MR. SABAN: Yes. Well, I'd say my next question of what was the reaction of the Prime Minister to General Allen for John Kerry.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ask John Kerry, or ask the Prime Minister.
MR. SABAN: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't want to speak for him. (Laughter.)
MR. SABAN: They won't tell me, but, okay. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's probably true.
MR. SABAN: My last question: The Palestinians are two people — one in the West Bank, led by President Abbas that is negotiating the deal; and one in Gaza, led by Hamas that wants to eradicate Israel from the face of the Earth. President Abbas, as far as I know, says he won't make a deal that doesn’t include Gaza, which he doesn’t control. How do we get out from this labyrinth?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is going to have to happen in stages. But here’s what I know from my visits to Israel, my visits to the West Bank: There are people of goodwill on both sides that recognize the status quo is not sustainable over the long term, and as a consequence, it is in the interests of both the Israelis and Palestinians to resolve this issue.
There are young people, teenagers that I met both in Israel and in the Palestinian Territories that want to get out from under this history and seek a future that is fundamentally different for them. And so if, in fact, we can create a pathway to peace, even if initially it’s restricted to the West Bank, if there is a model where young Palestinians in Gaza are looking and seeing that in the West Bank Palestinians are able to live in dignity, with self-determination, and suddenly their economy is booming and trade is taking place because they have created an environment in which Israel is confident about its security and a lot of the old barriers to commerce and educational exchange and all that has begun to break down, that’s something that the young people of Gaza are going to want. And the pressure that will be placed for the residents of Gaza to experience that same future is something that is going to be I think overwhelmingly appealing.
But that is probably going to take place during the course of some sort of transition period. And the security requirements that Israel requires will have to be met. And I think that is able — that we can accomplish that, but ultimately it’s going to be something that requires everybody to stretch out of their comfort zones.
And the one thing I will say to the people of Israel is that you can be assured whoever is in the office I currently occupy, Democrat or Republican, that your security will be uppermost on our minds. That will not change. And that should not mean you let up on your vigilance in terms of wanting to look out for your own country. It does — it should give you some comfort, though, that you have the most powerful nation on Earth as your closest friend and ally. And that commitment is going to be undiminished.
2:00 P.M. EST