Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, released the following statement in response to President Obama’s speech delivered earlier today on the Middle East and North Africa.

“President Obama’s speech is an eloquent and inspiring affirmation of American values as applied to the movements for sweeping transformation of the Middle East. In particular, he has given Syrian President Asad a stark choice, reform or go. Now we must find an effective way to press President Asad to make that choice.

“The peace process dimension of the speech puts the ball squarely in the Palestinian court. The Palestinians must resolve their Hamas problem once and for all: either jettison Hamas or do the seemingly impossible and change them into a respectable, anti-violence organization that recognizes Israel and accepts all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements as the basis for going forward.

“The Palestinians must show they’re serious about peace-making. That means no games at the UN, no partnership with terrorists, no threats to take Israel to the International Criminal Court, and no boycott of negotiations. When the current phase of Palestinian posturing ends, we can begin to address some of the serious issues the President and others have raised. That is my major take away from the President’s speech.

“Also important was the President’s pledge regarding Israeli security – that Israel must have the ability to “defend itself – by itself – against any threat.” His insistence that any final settlement ensure Israel’s “right to oppose terrorism and prevent the infiltration of weapons” sets down critical parameters for negotiations.

“It has been my expectation for many years, dating to the end of the Clinton Administration, that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would involve a border that is close to that of 1967 but with agreed upon land swaps. That is fully consistent with Israel’s right to have defensible borders and to retain its settlement blocs, positions for which there is overwhelming support in Washington. It is critical as we go forward, however, that we consult closely with both parties but especially with our friend and ally Israel, starting with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s trip this week. Without such close consultation, no formulation we propose will be successful.

“This speech will be – and already has been – subject to criticism by various parties regarding this point or that. In my view, this speech was not intended to be a comprehensive statement on all aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations or US relations with both parties. For example, I have full confidence that the Administration would veto a unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN Security Council.

“What was important was for the President to underscore the basics: our support for Israeli security, our rejection of Palestinian terrorism, and the need for the parties to commit to negotiations as the means of resolving this problem. With this speech, he has done all these things.”