FOREIGN MINISTER EHUD BARAK: REPLY TO NO-CONFIDENCE MOTION ON THE NEGOTIATIONS WITH SYRIA

KNESSET, December 25, 1995

Mr. Speaker, Honorable Knesset,

From a position of inner strength, against the backdrop of the achievements of the State of Israel over the course of more than 47 years, we are now seeking to try and resolve the conflict with Syria and to bring Israel to a reality of peace and cooperation, stability and economic development in almost the entire region.

I say from a position of strength and self-confidence, because Israel today, and in the foreseeable future, enjoys an overall strategic position of supremacy. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the defeat of Iraq in the Gulf War, Israel’s special relationship with the United States, the IDF’s confident advancement to the weapons and modes of warfare of the future, and above all the perception of Israel in the Arab consciousness as possessing nuclear capability all these give rise to a position of overall strategic supremacy.

This is true not only of Israel’s military and strategic strength, but in the economic sphere as well: 5.5 million Israelis produce 85 billion dollars annually more than the 75 million Arabs in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians combined.

This is not only a transient situation, accurate in December 1995, but an ongoing phenomenon. The rate of growth of the Israeli economy 5.5, 6 or perhaps even 6.5 percent this year exceeds the rate of growth of all the economies of the 75 million Arabs living around us.

The absorption of immigrants is perceived by the Arab world as one of the most important things that the State of Israel has experienced since its establishment. Six hundred thousand people, the elite of a disintegrating superpower, have brought us human knowledge, strength, and an immediate contribution to our economic development, both as partners in production and as consumers. All these Israel’s political strength, its strategic military strength, its economic strength and its social strength combine to create the reality of Israeli supremacy; and it is this position of strength which allows Israel to coolly consider the advantages of peace in the Middle East peace with Syria, peace with Lebanon, seeking to establish relations with the countries of the Persian Gulf, the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa along with the considered risks that should be weighed in order to achieve this peace.

This, from a position of strength and self-confidence, not from a position of self-intimidation or pipe dreams. We have no illusions. Peace agreements are important, the reality of peace is important. It is these which shape the outlook and consciousness of the Arab nations.

Let us consider Egypt. What wasn’t said when we signed the peace treaty with Egypt! Some of the criticism voiced then against the agreement achieved under the leadership of the late Prime Minister Menahem Begin is amazingly similar to the criticism being voiced today against the opening of negotiations with Syria, which have not yet begun, which have not yet reached the substantive stage. And what in fact happened to Egypt? The Suez Canal was opened, bringing Egypt revenues of more than one billion dollars annually, with a million Egyptians living alongside the canal; tourism, which earns the Egyptian treasury another 1.5 billion dollars annually; American aid in the amount of 2 billion dollars annually; multinational companies investing in infrastructure in Cairo and throughout Egypt. Each year, 1.2 million Egyptians are born, who must be provided for. Peace is growing stronger, not weaker. What the pessimists foretold 17 and 18 years ago, has not come about.

Just imagine what would have happened had we listened to them, had we heeded their criticism. Just imagine that for the last 15 years we would have continued to maintain two and a half divisions on the Egyptian border; imagine that we would have had to build the country with an additional defense burden of 13 or 14 percent of the GNP, with a burden of 25 or 28 percent on the budget where would we be today?

We do not deceive ourselves that all the hearts, dreams and desires of the Arab world have changed, nor do we have the means to verify this. What is changing in the eyes of their leaders is the recognition of the reality, the recognition of our strength, and the recognition of the fact that we cannot be erased from the map. We shall continue to maintain a strong IDF and to protect Israel’s strategic strength, throughout the negotiations and many years after their conclusion if and when all the agreements are achieved.

Peace agreements, as can be achieved while protecting vital interests, contribute to security; they do not impede it or diminish it. The peace process is a supreme national effort which calls for responsibility, discretion, sharp and sober judgment not slogans or headlines, certainly not self-intimidation. At such a crucial time, we need the kind of responsibility displayed by the Labor Party during the Camp David talks Camp David, which is the "grandfather" of the interim agreement with the Palestinians and that same sense of responsibility displayed during the debate on the Madrid conference which, in my eyes, is the "father" of the current negotiations with both the Syrians and the Palestinians.

The Israel Labor Party stood behind the peace initiative of the Likud government, even when this initiative included a painful relinquishment of all of Sinai, even when it included the dismantling of all the settlements, even when it included no proviso regarding the Egyptian army. This was the greatest, historic achievement of the late Prime Minister Menahem Begin a historic act that will ultimately be remembered more than anything he did before or after. Who opposed it then, and for what reasons? And I ask you, members of the opposition: What would Assad have received had he joined Sadat and come here, to the Knesset, together with him then? What would he have received from the late Menahem Begin?

To the best of my understanding, Israel has a vital strategic interest in achieving peace with Syria and Lebanon, insofar as it can be achieved with suitable arrangements for security and early warning. To the best of my understanding, Syria shares this strategic interest, and both sides despite the suspicions of the past and despite the fact that we have met on the battlefield must develop the ability to truly listen to the perspective of the other side, to each other’s sensitivities and interests, without forgetting our own sensitivities, perspective and interests.

The components of peace, security, timetable and depth of withdrawal are closely linked. I believe that the correct equation is: the depth of withdrawal shall be equal to the quality of peace and the strength of the security and early warning arrangements. We seek full normalization, with embassies, open borders crossed freely by people, goods and services. We seek foreign tourism and Israeli tourism where tourists can travel from Israel to Antalya in Turkey and to Europe in their own cars; economic cooperation; the linking of infrastructure grids. We seek an end to terrorism in southern Lebanon, a separate peace agreement with Lebanon, the restraint of Hizbullah, and a solution to terrorist attacks set in motion by headquarters in Lebanon and in Damascus. We seek to invite other moderate Arab states in the Gulf and in North Africa to participate in this effort.

If we will encounter a readiness to accept these elements, the government of Israel is prepared to examine the security arrangements and the depth of withdrawal to be considered in this context. If we will encounter readiness for less than this, we shall require more complex arrangements for security and early warning, and we shall in this context also weigh the possible depth of withdrawal.

The security arrangements are designed to achieve three goals:

1. To make a surprise attack impossible in practical terms. 2. To reduce the incentive for an overall attack militarily, physically, and through the fostering of cooperation. 3. To create a reality that will prevent day-to-day incidents from deteriorating into an overall clash, as has happened in the past.

The security arrangements to be examined include mutual demilitarization zones, thinning of forces, changes in the deployment and structure of forces, whether by agreement or voluntarily, the gathering of intelligence by aerial and satellite photography, technological means of early warning from stations to be operated in places and in a manner to be agreed upon, open phone lines between officers and personnel on both sides, mutual visits, regular and unexpected inspections by methods to be agreed upon, and of course peace, with the accompanying tourism and cooperation, which as we all know places certain limitations on freedom of military action in general and surprise attack in particular. It is pointless to try and determine before the talks even begin which of these, in what combination and precise dosage, will eventually be adopted.

The various components of peace are interrelated, and I shall cite examples from other parts of the world. There is a difference between peace as it prevails between India and Pakistan, and peace between Holland and Belgium. Peace between Holland and Belgium does not require the kinds of security and early warning arrangements as are needed in the peace between India and Pakistan. Tourism, the linking of communication networks or electricity grids, tens of thousands of daily border crossings do not dictate and do not require the same timetable. The timetable is designed ultimately to meet two purposes: to provide the technical feasibility to build what is needed from what we will be forced to move, and to build trust. We believe that once trust will be created as a result of what is implemented in practice, this will also affect the timetable. We must examine all this from a position of strength.

The Syrians are afraid that we will maneuver them around the negotiating table; we are afraid that they will maneuver us. The cat and mouse game has been going on for two years. Now we must see whether or not there is a real option for peace, in all aspects, which deserves examination. If not, we should know this; if so, we should pursue it, bring it before the people for approval, and begin to implement it. We must clarify this, because the failure to achieve peace with Syria may continue to burn as a coal in a fire which is all but extinguished; we shall have to maintain greater and constant alert, at a greater cost and investment of means, at this fire which we mistakenly thought extinguished.

We have not yet reached the crucial test. The opposition has the legitimate right to oppose. The proper time for this is if and when an agreement is reached, and will be brought, as promised, before the people for their decision.

There are no perfect processes. Perfection can be sought elsewhere not in real life. But we are talking about an important chance to alter a reality whose continuation may prove costly; a chance to change it responsibly, carefully and calmly. We must examine this possibility with courage and with a readiness to consider the necessary risks in achieving it the necessary risks on the road to peace, and the prospects inherent in its fruits.

This is our position, and since the entire Knesset supports negotiations with Syria, the entire Knesset wants security, and the entire Knesset should know to distinguish what is vital from what is less vital, the differences between us are over details, not over principle. I therefore appeal to all factions to join the effort to achieve comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East peace from strength, peace with security.

I ask that the no-confidence motion be removed from the Knesset agenda.