I want to welcome all of you. My friend Efi Shtentzler, Chairman of the World Keren Hakayemet, JNF, Ms. Yael Shaltieli, the CEO, the board of directors, the JNF presidents worldwide, and distinguished ambassadors who are with us today.
We had a forest fire a few months ago in the Carmel and I knew I could rely on JNF to shoulder its part of the burden. Congratulations for the great project of reforestation. I also saw JNF volunteers during the fire itself, and this is one of the activities that JNF has been doing for so many decades, before the State of Israel and after the State of Israel, before the forest fires, during the forest fires and after the forest fires.
Now, we face other conflagrations and other convulsions. In fact, we’re going through a period of turmoil that can only be called historic. It is akin to the great revolutions that have taken place in modern times, but the question is which revolution is it. Is it 1989 in Europe? Or is it 1979 in Tehran? Or is it 2005, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon?
Remember, there were great hopes. A million people went into the streets of Beirut. A million people. That’s equivalent to 20 million Egyptians, it’s a fourth of Lebanon’s population, and there were great hopes for a modern, progressive, liberal and tolerant state, Lebanese state. Now, five years later, we find Hizbullah and Iran have taken over Lebanon. So which is it to be? Is it going to be 1989, the great revolution that unleashed the forces of liberalism and freedom in Central and Eastern Europe? Or will it be 1979, the revolution that brought the night of darkness, of Iranian militant Islamic darkness over the people of Tehran and then their proxies elsewhere who deny freedom and trample human rights, trample the rights of women and hang gays in public squares. Which is to be? Well, that’s not clear yet. We’re still in the midst of things, and of course we know which outcome we want, but we can’t be sure that we will have it.
We can’t be sure that we will have it because the traditions of liberal democracy have not been prevalent, to put it mildly, in the great swath of land from Afghanistan to Morocco. It’s only been prevalent there in one place. You know which place that is. Right here, that’s right, in Israel. There is no turbulence, there is no instability because we’re a free, prosperous democratic country. But we’re the only one. And so the turmoil and the convulsion hit everybody else, deprived of political and economic enfranchisement. The 20th century really skipped over the peoples of all these areas, this vast area, and now the 21st century information technology is telling all these people what they’ve missed out on. But can they cut the time? Can they shortcut the process to modernity and progress and pluralism? We don’t know. We hope so.
Now it seems to me that there are three things that we have to do. The first thing is to advance as quickly as possible – economic progress in the pivotal countries. The two pivotal countries that I think are important are those that have created the anchor of peace in the heart of the Middle East, and that’s Egypt and Jordan.
I think what is required is a Marshall Plan by the concerned international powers, and also the public sector, to assist in the concrete development of these two economies. Their per capita income was small – it’s not high – and their growth rates for such a low per capita income are not high enough. Israel has been growing roughly the same rate that they’re growing, sometimes a little more. We grow at 5% a year, but we’re a $30,000 dollar per capita income economy. Not for long, we’ll get higher and higher. We’re not $2,000 or $3,000 per capita economy. We have to lift these economies to give economic opportunity to the peoples there.
That means not giving out cash handouts. That’s not going to do it. It’s to build roads, electricity, sewage, communications, health clinics. These are the things that build up a society. And that’s the first thing that should be done.
The second thing is to avoid the worst pitfall imaginable. Now, where did this convulsion begin? Can you tell me? In Tunisia? No, it didn’t. It didn’t begin in Tunis; it began a year and a half ago in Tehran. There the multitudes – just endless number of people – stormed the streets protesting, demanding freedom after a fake election, after the election was stolen from them. They wanted basic human rights; they wanted freedom from tyranny and from corruption. That’s where it began. Then it bounced to Tunis; and then it bounced to Egypt; and then it bounced to other parts: Yemen, Libya, Syria and so on, Bahrain. But it began in Tehran.
What happened in Tehran is that the Ayatollah regime used brutal suppression to squelch the protests. The same is true of its proxies in Lebanon and in Gaza. They use brutal powers to squelch protest, to prevent it from materializing or expanding. So what is happening, what could happen, is that all the other countries are going through this process of turmoil and change, but the one stable power will be the place where it all began, which is meddling in all the other places, because that is what Tehran is doing now.
One of the things that we have to assure is that Iran is not immune to the international pressures for change, and that could be done more effectively by still stronger sanctions, and especially those measures that prevent the worst outcome of all – a turbulent, unstable Middle East, an Iran that exports revolutions and subversion, seeking to form militant Islamic regimes in all these countries, or in as many as they can. That’s what they’re doing. But the worst outcome of all is that Iran would be doing this with a nuclear umbrella, with nuclear weapons.
So the second thing that has to be done is to put maximum pressure on the main engine that drives Islamic militancy in this region, and that is pressure on Iran, and above all, to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. That should be a main goal for all civilized society.
Now, the third thing is the pursuit of peace, which means first of all, strengthening the peace between Israel and its neighbors, the existing peace treaties – the peace treaty with Egypt, the peace treaty with Jordan. The first order of peace-making is to make sure that the existing peace treaties are safeguarded.
I think the international community should be very clear to the new government of Egypt that it expects all future governments to abide by the peace treaty. It’s been the anchor of stability. It’s been the anchor of peace, really, in the Middle East for more than three decades. No people is more grateful for it that the people of Israel. I’m very grateful for it because I remember as a soldier what it was like to fight along the Suez Canal, in fact to fight inside the Suez Canal. We remember what war was like. I remember it, and it’s not something we want to come back to. But two-thirds of Egypt’s population today is young enough not to have experienced war, not to know the horrors of war and the blessings of peace.
I remember what it was like to fight along the Jordan Valley, on both sides of that divide. I remember very well, and we lost good friends on both sides, on both fronts. Those two war fronts have been converted to two peace fronts, so the first order of the day is to make sure in peace-making to secure, stabilize, cement the two existing peace treaties – the peace treaty with Egypt and the peace treaty with Jordan.
The second order of the day is to advance the peace with the Palestinians. What is it that we must do to advance that peace in light of what is happening? I think the first recognition is to understand that in shifting sands and moving grounds, we have to ensure security more than ever. This is a prerequisite. You cannot have peace without security at any time in this neighborhood, but especially in these times. You must anchor the peace and security. That means that we have to assure that Iran does not penetrate into areas that we are asked to vacate a third time.
It happened to us the first time in Lebanon. It happened to us the second time in Gaza. It cannot happen a third time. We left every square inch of Lebanon – Iran walked in with its proxy Hizbullah and fired thousands of rockets into Israel. We left every square inch of Gaza – Iran walked in with its proxy Hamas and fired thousands of rockets into Israel. We can’t afford to have it happen a third time.
Under any arrangement for peace, Israel must retain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. There are other security arrangements that we need – I won’t go into detail here, but I will say this: we need them to protect the peace and we need them to protect Israel if peace unravels.
This is something that I said before this convulsion, and people looked at me and they said: "Wait a minute. If you have a peace treaty, if you have a piece of paper, that will protect the peace." No, it won’t. What protects the peace in this part of the world is security. The only peace that holds is a peace you can defend. A peace you cannot defend will not last two days. We’ll be left without peace and without security. This is, I think, the most important lesson that we can glean from the ongoing events. We cannot stick our head in the sand. We cannot say, let’s just get an agreement at any price, and skip the details. No, we cannot skip the details. The most important detail, the most important principle, the first principle is security. We will never compromise on Israel’s security.
Here’s the second principle for peace with the Palestinians: its recognition, mutual recognition. Yes, we expect the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish State of Israel, the nation-state of the Jewish people. After all, we’ve been around here for a long time, close to 4,000 years. We have an intense connection to this land. We’ve been here. We’re not strange interlopers. We’re not crusaders or neo-crusaders. This is our home. We’re prepared to make peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but we expect them to recognize the fact that we’ve been here for thousands of years, and that every Jew has a right to come to the Jewish state, just as Palestinians could go to the Palestinian state, the demilitarized state.
This is something we expect, rightfully so. This is something the international community should demand, rightfully so. And yet we haven’t seen this readiness to come forward and say something so simple: "Yes, we recognize the Jewish state." The Palestinians are loath to do that. I’m not talking about Hamas that openly declares its intention to wipe us off the map. I’m talking about the Palestinian Authority.
But here’s something equally troubling: we hear in recent days that that Palestinian Authority is thinking of uniting with Hamas. It’s thinking of effecting peace not with Israel, but with Hamas. Well, I say to them something very simple: you can’t have peace with Israel and Hamas. It’s one or the other, but not both. Choose peace with Israel. Abandon unity with Hamas because Hamas is the antithesis of peace. Hamas doesn’t recognize the State of Israel. Hamas calls for the liquidation of Israel. Hamas is firing rockets as we speak, or at least in the last two weeks, on Israel’s cities. This is criminal, terrorist action.
And they don’t deny what they seek to do: to kill as many Israelis as possible, to get more and more weapons to kill even more Israelis, ultimately to kill the State of Israel itself. The Palestinian Authority must choose: it’s either Israel or Hamas, but you can’t have both.
We want a genuine peace. We want peace with security. We want peace with recognition. We think this is the way to go. These are the three things that the international community should subscribe to. It should have a Marshall Plan for the most needy and most important Arab economies; it should do its utmost to make sure that this great revolution does not pass over Iran and, of course, it must do everything in its power to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; and third, it must support a peace based on security and recognition with Israel. It should call for the PA to enter negotiations with Israel and not with Hamas.
That’s my simple message for tonight. It’s very good to see you all. It’s very good to see your contributions over the years, and especially this year, for the State of Israel. I want to thank you for what you’ve been doing. I want to thank you for what you are doing. I want to thank you for what you will do, and that’s a great deal. Thank you very much on behalf of the State of Israel.