A top adviser to President Obama Monday told a prominent Jewish group that the U.S.-Israeli relationship is “inextricably linked” to peace talks.
Daniel Shapiro, one of the president’s most senior advisers on the Middle East, continued to press Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to work with the U.S. on reaching a peace deal, during a speech to the Anti-Defamation League.
Shapiro said the peace process had been “side-tracked” by the Israeli government’s announcement of new housing in east Jerusalem during a recent visit by Vice President Joe Biden, though he said the process is now back on track.
And Shapiro said, “a pursuit of comprehensive peace in the Middle East is inextricably linked with the U.S.-Israel partnership.”
“There has never been an Israeli government that did not pursue that goal,” Shapiro said.
A few hours after Shapiro’s speech, Obama and Netanyahu spoke for 20 minutes by phone, said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.
Obama reiterated America’s “unshakeable committment to Israel’s security,” Gibbs said.
Shapiro also sought in his speech to reassure the audience that the White House is committed to to Israel’s national security. In particular, he tried to clarify a recent remark by the president that raised new questions about the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Shapiro argued that Obama has “broadened and deepened” the bond between the U.S. and Israel. He pointed to a $3 billion increase in annual military aid, “extraordinary” ties between the two militaries and support for Israeli missile defense systems.
“We’ve redoubled our efforts to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region, which has been publicly recognized and appreciated by numerous senior Israeli security officials,” Shapiro said.
He doubled down on Obama’s recent comment that the decades-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is a “vital national security interest” for the U.S.
“The threats Israel faces are real, and many of the same forces that threaten Israel threaten us and our interests, whether it’s Iran bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, Hezbollah acquiring increasingly sophisticated weaponry from Syria, or Hamas smuggling weapons through the tunnels in Gaza,” Shapiro said.
“Israelis stand on the front lines, often at great cost, against the forces that seek to take the Middle East in a lawless, dangerous and unstable direction, putting our interests at risk. When President Obama wrote that our alliance with Israel serves our national security interest, and that no wedge will be driven between us, this is what he was talking about.”
Obama’s remarks, during a press conference at the U.S.-hosted summit on nuclear weapons proliferation last month, drew attention because he said that “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them.”
“And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure,” Obama said.
The ADL’s national director, Abraham Foxman, was publicly critical of the president for this comment, calling it “deeply distressing.”
“ADL has long expressed its concern from the very beginning of the Obama Administration about advisers to the president who see the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a major impediment to achieving the administration’s foreign policy and military goals in the wider region,” Foxman said.
“The net effect of this dangerous thinking is to shift responsibility for success of American foreign policy away from Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt and directly onto Israel,” he said.
Some questioned whether Obama was blaming the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq, or elsewhere, in part on the destabilizing impact of the ongoing turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as most of the Arab world.
Shapiro said that was not the case.
“We do not believe that this conflict endangers the lives of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. The audience of a few hundred, which clapped only two or three times during Shapiro’s remarks, applauded the line.
At the end of his remarks, Shapiro again returned to the theme that resolving the conflict is in the national security interests of the U.S.
He said that a peace deal would not remove all threats, but that “depriving Iran of a conflict they can exploit … is very much in our national interest.”
“And we do believe that a world in which the story of successful, Palestinian state-building and peace-making in Israel, rather than Palestinian suffering and conflict with Israel, leads the news across the Arab world, would do much to transform attitudes positively and deprive extremists of propaganda.”