Excerpts from Remarks by Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Israeli Policy Forum Dinner

New York, November 20, 1999

… Four weeks ago I was the first Israeli prime minister to visit Turkey in 40 years since Ben Gurion came there under a full veil of secrecy. Two days ago in Istanbul the president of Turkey sent us his great emotion for our help during the earthquake. Our team — it was the first to arrived — rescued a Turkish woman 130 hours after the earthquake. She was one of the very few survivors. One of our doctors helped deliver a baby among the rubble…

During my 24-hour stay in Istanbul I met with 15 heads of state, including Presidents Clinton and Chirac, the German chancellor and the prime ministers of Canada, Switzerland and others. I was moved by their willingness to offer substantial support to the peace process.

With revived momentum, enhanced international standing and renewed intimacy with the United States, we are at an extremely critical point in time, and the Israeli government is ready to make painful decisions — our partners who might be able to use this opportunity to end the century-long conflict and our American friends who have been the backbone of all agreements and will hopefully continue to be engaged, especially now as we are on the brink of resolution.

We understand that peace cannot occur overnight. Peace is made by leaders with vision. But leaders are not enough. Changing of basic attitudes among people takes time and patience, mutual understanding, education of the youths and the breaking down of barriers. The first step is the joint code of conduct during the negotiations by which both sides refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. Peace-making must be a two-way street. Each side must take into consideration the concerns and sensitivities of the other. At the end of the day we will still be living side by side with the Palestinians between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.

I am proposing separation, but not detachment. I am proposing good fences for good neighbors, and separate economies for separate peoples. We will have a free trade agreement with the Palestinians and broad economic cooperation, the sharing of know-how and raw materials, and some Palestinians working in Israel. The Palestinians too I believe will not want to be fully integrated into our economy, use our currency or accept limitations from access to world markets. They will want to have and control their own economy, value their own currency, and determine their own markets.

I firmly believe that this can be done, just as I believe that Israeli soldiers will be out of Lebanon by July 2000 under an agreement, and the 17-year tragedy there will finally be reaching an end.

I firmly believe that an understanding with President Assad might be possible. If Assad dealt with my predecessors — Shamir, Rabin, Peres, and even indirectly with Mr. Netanyahu — surely a way could be found to resume the negotiations with my government as well.

And let me tell you that a real and lasting peace is not only in the best interests of the Israelis. It will strengthen the moderate regimes and contribute to Middle East stability. It will help to defeat terrorism, which in my judgment is the next major challenge to our own civilization. And it will demonstrate that a small Western-oriented democracy in a not so friendly neighborhood can make a just peace against straight odds, that democracy can and should win.

The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear programs of extremist regimes, and the spread of state-sponsored terrorism are threats directly to Israel, at the United States, indeed all democracies around the world. It is therefore the responsibility of the international community to develop effective security cooperation to confront these threats together. There is no final example in the close strategic ties and intelligence cooperation that flows between the United States and Israel. We can look to the recent successful testing of the Arrow missile just weeks ago. The Arrow was developed by our two countries to counter the ground-to-ground missiles that are in the hands of rogue and extreme regimes. We can look at the unflagging diplomatic efforts made by the United States to help us find our way to peace. And we can look to the strong bipartisan political support in Congress that enables the general economic and military aid needed in order to implement the peace.

Our friends in Washington know that support for Israel is in the American national interests. Ours is a partnership united by a shared appreciation for the fundamental values of freedom and democracy, and the common understanding of the existing threats and challenges to our whole way of life.

Earlier this month Congress approved the critical Wye aid package which is an essential component of the current process triggered at Wye and reaffirm at Sharm. Just a few weeks ago, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Israel and the region and touched so many hearts in our country and encouraged our peace efforts.

Speaking of the Clintons, let me tell you frankly I wish that we Israelis will always have such true friends in the White House. President Clinton, the leaders of Congress, the American people continue to demonstrate their deep commitment to a just and fair peace in the Middle East. We are so very grateful for their ongoing assistance, we could not have come this far on the road to peace without the sustained support. As we get farther along in this complex process and come to the end of the end game, it will involve greater risks on our part, and even greater reliance on the good will and continued support of our American friends. I truly believe we are nearing the time when our homeland will cease to be in a permanent state of emergency, but rather in an exciting state of emergence — emerging from the shadows of war into the light of possibilities. A strong Israel facing imminent war no more will be able to fulfill the Jewish prophetic tradition of justice and fairness for all people.

An Israel increasingly free of existential anxiety will be increasingly liberated to pursue a wide-ranging agenda of human and economic rights, environmental protection, and the difficult questions of religion and state…

Early in 1973 I went to Beirut as an undercover commando. Now in the bright light of day, with no camouflage or disguise, I am fighting for peace. This is the will of my government. This is the will of the Israeli people. If we have serious partners we will make peace. If they are not serious it cannot be made. But it will not be for lack of commitment or perseverance on our part. If our partners will want it, there will be peace in the Middle East…