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The New Zealand flag is lowered to half mast in memory of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela during day five of the first international cricket Test match between New Zealand and the West Indies at the University Oval in Dunedin on December 6, 2013. Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
Schoolchildren hold candles and portraits of former South African President Nelson Mandela during a prayer ceremony at a school in the southern Indian city of Chennai December 6, 2013. South African anti-apartheid hero Mandela died peacefully at home at the age of 95 on Thursday after months fighting a lung infection, leaving his nation and the world in mourning for a man revered as a moral giant. (Reuters/Babu)
We’re here this morning just outside of Tel Aviv, but our hearts are in Johannesburg with all the millions of people who loved Nelson Mandela. Madiba’s long walk to freedom gave new meaning to character and to courage, to forgiveness, and to human dignity. And now that his long walk has ended, the example that he set for all of humanity lives on. He will be remembered as a pioneer for peace, and there are some people, I think, in the course of life who truly – you meet and you are touched by them, and you’re forever changed by the experience. Nelson Mandela is one of those people.Teresa and I had the honor of sitting with Mandela over the Thanksgiving holidays of 2007, and – that and several other times. And I also stood in his tiny cell on Robben Island, a room with barely enough space to be able to lie down in or stand up in. I learned that the glare of the white rock quarry on the island permanently damaged his eyesight, and it hit home even more how remarkable it was that after spending 27 years locked up, locked away, and having his own vision impaired by that condition, that this man was still able to see the best interests of his country, the best interests of humanity, and embrace even the very guards who kept him prisoner. That is the story of a man whose ability to see resided not just in his eyes but in his conscience. He was a stranger to hate. He rejected recrimination in favor of reconciliation, and he knew the future demands required that we move beyond the place that he had been, beyond the past.
So we just think of the lessons that he taught the world which have special significance at this moment in history. He said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.” I think it’s appropriate for us to think about that in the context of the work that I’ve been doing here in the last couple of days and over these last months, and of the hopes and aspirations of the people of this region. That example of Nelson Mandela is an example that we all need to take to heart as we face the challenge of trying to reach a two-state solution.
Over the past two days, I had the opportunity to meet with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas. And despite the fact that we are discussing really difficult, complicated issues, I am encouraged by the continued commitment of both leaders to the pursuit of peace. And they both underscored their commitment to continue to work through these difficult issues in the days ahead. As we look to the challenges that we face in the coming months, we need to all be not just reminded of the example of Nelson Mandela’s words, but by his actions. The naysayers are wrong to call peace in this region an impossible goal. It always seems impossible until it’s done.
Since the two parties first agreed to resume talks four months ago, they have held regular discussions and the United States has remained in close contact with both sides. It hasn’t been easy; I won’t pretend that. But none of the parties embarked on this path with the expectation that it was going to be a simple or easy process. We all knew upfront that it would be a long, arduous, and complicated journey.
Nonetheless, it is absolutely clear to me through the discussions that we had – and believe me, I wouldn’t spend these hours and I wouldn’t come back here given the agenda that we face on a global basis if I didn’t think it was worthwhile, if President Obama didn’t believe it was worth pursuing. And it is quite clear that both President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu remain as determined as ever to continue down this path and to explore these possibilities. Because both parties have the same endpoint in their sights: Two nations for two peoples living side by side in peace and prosperity.
But neither peace nor prosperity are possible without security, and the United States will only support a final status agreement that makes both Israelis and Palestinians more secure than they are today. As I made clear yesterday, the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is ironclad. It is a commitment that spans decades. It is permanent. In 1973, that commitment was the driving force behind the 32-day airlift the United States conducted to deliver military assistance to Israeli forces during the Yom Kippur War. More than 20 years ago, that commitment was the reason we began work with Israel to develop ballistic missile defense technologies that continue to protect the Israeli people from the range of threats that they face every day. And at this moment, our commitment to Israel’s security – a central issue as we work towards a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and as we work towards the creation of a viable, independent, Palestinian state.
That’s why President Obama and I have been working very closely with General John Allen, who is one of the United States’ most experienced military leaders, and a team with him of American defense experts – so that we can anticipate all of the threats to Israel’s security at every step of the final status negotiations process and work out ways to address those threats as well as to address the complicated questions of security within a new state of Palestine and to deal with the issues of a viable independent Palestinian state and the security challenges that that presents. Together, there is no doubt in my mind we can reach an agreement that will support the peaceful and promising Palestine that the Palestinian people deserve alongside a prosperous and a more secure Israel.
There’s another issue at the heart of Israel’s security that’s also been a key focus of all of our discussions, and that is the P5+1 negotiations with respect to Iran. Throughout these negotiations, our commitment to Israel’s security is paramount. The fact remains that both the United States and Israel have the same priority with respect to Iran. We are laser-focused on preventing the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The United States firmly believes that the P5+1 first-step agreement not only makes Israel more secure than it was the day before that agreement, but we believe it will take us closer to a lasting, peaceful, and comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear program. It is the best opportunity we have to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
I pledge this, as President Obama has: As we proceed forward in this negotiation, we will continue to consult very closely with Israel as the negotiations resume as well as with our other friends and allies in the region and around the world, because that input is critical to us in the process. And as is known, Security Advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu Yossi Cohen will travel to the United States next week. We will be engaging in very direct conversations so that we are on the same track going forward. I look forward to speaking in greater detail about the United States partnership with Israel tomorrow when I address the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C.
For now, let me just now reiterate how grateful I am for the courage that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas both continue to display against naysayers, against opponents, as they pursue a full exploration of the possibilities of peace. I believe we are closer than we have been in years to bringing about the peace and the prosperity and the security that all of the people of this region deserve and yearn for.
South Africans united in mourning for Nelson Mandela on Friday, but while some celebrated his remarkable life with dance and song, others fretted that the anti-apartheid hero's death would make the nation vulnerable again to racial and social tensions.
South Africans had heard from President Jacob Zuma late on Thursday that the statesman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate died peacefully at his Johannesburg home in the company of his family after a long illness.
On Friday, the country's 52 million people absorbed the news that their most revered statesman, a global symbol of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence, had departed forever.
Zuma also announced the former president would be honoured with a December 10 memorial service at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium - the site of the 2010 World Cup final.
"We will spend the week mourning his passing. We will also spend it celebrating a life well lived," Zuma said.