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U.S. - Israeli Relations in an Era of Change

U.S.-Israeli Relations in an Era of Change

Robert M. Danin, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs
Remarks to the Annual Herzliya Conference
Herzliya, Israel
January 22, 2006

I am honored to be here today to speak about the U.S.-Israeli relationship and the view from Washington. The past few weeks have demonstrated the closeness and intimacy of this relationship. As Prime Minister Sharon remains hospitalized, we have seen a genuine outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel from Washington and from the American people. Allow me here to reiterate, on behalf of President Bush and Secretary of State Rice, our prayers for the Prime Minister's recovery. Our best wishes go out to his family and the people of Israel.

President Bush has strong personal admiration for Prime Minister Sharon's bold and courageous leadership in the face of adversity. But as deep and abiding as is the personal relationship between the leaders of our two countries, the U.S.-Israeli relationship transcends personalities. It is built on a deep and longstanding foundation between our peoples and nations.

I think foundation is the right word, for I would suggest that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is like a building that we have been constantly expanding upward, adding new floors on top of the existing ones. With each new addition, the relationship becomes ever larger, more expansive, and more diverse. Today, our close cooperation extends to nearly every aspect of government and social activity, from national security to cultural ties, from strategic cooperation to joint scientific research.

U.S.-Israeli relations were not always so rich and diverse. The special relationship of today is the result of a profound evolution, hard work, and visionary leadership on both sides over nearly 60 years. Today, we are building a new level. But before I describe the top floor of this building that we are currently working on, let us look down at the foundation and work our way up. As we do, we shall see that each phase in the development and evolution of the bilateral relationship has been strongly shaped and influenced by the larger global and strategic environment of the time.

A Solid Foundation The ground floor for the U.S.-Israeli relationship was developed in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. The American-Israeli friendship was established on a foundation of common humanitarian, moral, and cultural values. From the beginning, Americans saw in Israel a nation sharing its commitment to democracy, basic human freedoms, and the pioneering spirit. The United States was the first nation to recognize the new State of Israel. At the foundation, the relationship was characterized largely by moral conviction and economic support provided by the Americans to a poor Jewish state struggling to survive and absorb a massive wave of Jewish refugees.

We built the second floor of U.S.-Israeli relations against the backdrop of the Cold War. As America developed into a superpower and Israel into a regional power, a strategic alliance was forged. Our strategic cooperation expanded, and we worked to deter and prevent Soviet aggression and radical domination of the Middle East. This strategic relationship thrived and endures today, well beyond the end of the Cold War.

As the Soviet Union collapsed and the world moved into an era of globalization, U.S.-Israeli ties developed into the rich and vibrant alliance we see today. Building on the strategic relationship of the second floor and the shared humanitarian and political values of the first, the building's third floor is a complex and multifaceted relationship of two prosperous and highly technologically advanced societies. It is marked not only by strong government to government relationships, but extensive cooperation across a range of issues between two societies, economies and peoples, from Silicon Valley to Silicon Wadi.

In many ways, the U.S.-Israel relationship has become a "normal" relationship between two Western industrial powers. Over twenty American states have trade representatives in Israel. Second only to Canada, Israel lists the highest number of non-U.S. stocks on Wall Street. Their presence on the American Stock Exchange, NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange is a testament to Israel's growing economic ties with the United States and importance in global trade and business.

The Current Era With the new millennium, however, we have begun to see the elements of a new era, one that will undoubtedly add a new dimension to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. So in the remaining few minutes, I will briefly describe where I believe we are heading, and the implications for the U.S. and Israel.

Today we see liberal democracies fighting to ensure security for their peoples and preserve their values and way of life in an age of global terror. We have witnessed over the past few years, from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to London, Madrid, Bali, New York, and Amman, the scourge of terrorism fueled by a radical messianic ideology on a global scale.

To be sure, terrorism, particularly here in Israel, is not new. But what is new is the emergence of a transnational movement of organizations, networks, and individuals that share an extremist ideology and pursue a common strategy. Following September 11, 2001, when America was attacked and over 3000 people killed, the United States and its allies have been engaged in war against Al Qaida.

>From the beginning, the war on terror has been both a battle of arms and a battle of ideas. In the short run, this has entailed the use of military force and all instruments of national power to protect ourselves, provide our citizens security, fight the terrorists, deny them safe haven, and cut off their sources of support. But to win the war on terror we must also win the battle of ideas. As we make progress in the battle of arms and the terrorist network becomes more decentralized, the need to present an alternative vision becomes even more critical. For what increasingly links these groups is not some central chain of command but their common ideology.

Democracy and the Middle East As a result, President Bush articulated a new policy, a strategy that recognizes that the best way to defeat the ideology that uses terror as a weapon is to spread freedom and democracy. Democracies breed the hope that is a vaccine against the virus of terror. Our goal is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom and make their own way.

The days of thinking that the Middle East is immune to the global spread of democracy and the expansion of freedom are over. Remember, it was not that long ago that people argued that somehow Asian Confucianism, or Latin American authoritarianism, or Africa's legacy of colonialism, rendered these areas inhospitable to the growth and development of democracy. Working with our G-8 partners, in 2004 the United States created the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative to build partnerships with people in the region who are working for greater liberty, and amplify the voices of reform that are redefining the region from within. When we help a women's group organize to lobby their government or work with a parliamentary committee to figure out how to understand and influence the ministries it covers, we are reinforcing change from the ground up. The urgent goals are political and economic reform, educational opportunity and the empowerment of women.

Already, we see people in this region expressing ideas, speaking out. Some states are beginning to answer their people's call for genuine reform. Jordan and Bahrain and Qatar and Morocco are all taking steps to introduce greater openness into their political systems. In Kuwait, the legislature granted its women citizens the right to vote. In Lebanon, hundreds of thousands of citizens demanded and helped bring about an end to the foreign suffocation of their country by neighboring Syria. The Iraqi people recently held an election for a new parliament. When seated, its members will choose a president and prime minister, the first government under the new constitution approved by referendum in October.

I know that there is skepticism and apprehension in some quarters in Israel about the desirability and possibilities for freedom in the Arab world and in the broader Middle East. Some believe that we must support unsavory and repressive regimes because they best help preserve stability. These critics claim that we must choose either freedom or stability, either democracy or security. Skeptics say that the United States should either uphold its principles or advance its policies. Yet in past attempts to purchase stability at the price of liberty, we achieved neither. It is -- we now see -- a false choice, one made at our own peril.

Today, skeptics cannot see a democratic Middle East, so they doubt that it is a realistic goal. Yes, it is hard and progress is uneven. There are violent people who will stop at nothing to prevent democracy's rise. Yet there are people across the Middle East today, talking and demonstrating and sharing a positive vision for a democratic future.

We also see that as the calls for reform and democracy increase and more political space opens up, individuals from across the Middle East begin to re-focus their attention on their own governments and domestic politics, away from the manufactured "football match" that is the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rather than focus on far away causes, people are far more likely to focus on the bread and butter issues of jobs, education and welfare, and on expanding their own freedom and economic opportunity.

We know that freedom and democracy requires more than just elections. It requires a set of institutions, laws, and patterns of accepted behavior. But elections can also play a transformative role and can be a critical instrument for change. As we have seen recently in Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine, and Liberia, elections catalyze change and can accelerate the creation of the institutions, laws, and patterns of behavior on which freedom and democracy ultimately rest. The advent of democracy and freedom alone will not put an end to terrorism for all time. But democracy does seem to weaken the appeal of the terrorist extremists. The democratic world is a more peaceful world. As theorists since Kant have noted, mature democracies tend not to go to war with one another.

To the Future So what does this mean for the U.S. and Israel? In the first instance, our task is to offer the vision of freedom, justice, and democracy as an alternative to extremism, not to impose it. We know that democracy cannot be imposed, it can only be chosen. A people must find their own freedom -- and often they must fight for it. When they do, the result will reflect their own history, culture, and national experience. Not all democracies in the Middle East will look the same -- and none will look exactly like those of the United States or Israel. Liberalization and democratization will happen in differing ways, and at a different pace, in each country.

But we can be advocates for democracy and catalysts for reform. We can help create the conditions that foster, rather than block, change. We still must continue to expand our rich relationship. As the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel shares a special bond with the United States. That bond will only grow stronger. Moreover, together we must work to confront the many problems facing us, such as fighting terrorism, combating nuclear proliferation, and addressing pressing issues such as building a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

But we must recognize that ultimately the survival of liberty in our own lands depends on the spread of freedom across the region. We should also look positively together to a vision of a day when Israel is no longer the sole democracy in the Middle East. The United States and Israel must defend the aspirations of all people who long to be free. And with our unwavering support, we can help to make the promise of democracy a reality for the entire region.


© Scoop Media

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