REMARKS BY FOREIGN MINISTER SHIMON PERES IN THE KNESSET IN HONOR OF THE VISIT BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY COUNCIL OF EUROPE

JANUARY 25, 1993

Mr. President, Sr. Miguel Angel Martinez:

We are pleased to welcome you here, as the president of the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe, as an uncompromising fighter for human rights, and as a faithful friend of our people and our country.

To us, Europe is not only a geographic concept or an economic space. It bears a tremendous historical load. Many of our parents are buried in its soil; streams of our civilization flow in its veins.

However, Europe fascinates us not only for what it was and is, but also for its ability to bring about massive changes.

In the Middle Ages, Europe evolved from a patchwork of separate cities into a continent composed of states that had come together. And in our time, it is again evolving from a partitioned continent of states into a community unified by political and economic ties.

Five hundred years ago, a Spaniard discovered the American continent, and more than two hundred years ago Europeans brought about, on this new continent, one of the greatest political revolutions in history: they established the United States of America.

Many of us regard the writing of the United States Constitution as an event no less important than the discovery of the new continent. The continent was discovered by mistake, but the Constitution was meant to correct the errors of Europe itself. The American experiment transformed the world and awakened in Europe itself the desire to establish the United States of Europe, as it is indeed being established today.

In this century, Europe was forced to confront the Nazi beast. To extirpate this horrific terror, it paid a heavy price in the blood of its own sons and, in particular, of our nation.

It also had to confront the Soviet military threat and the ideological appeal of Communism. Fortunately for all of us, Communism has collapsed. Europe has lost an enemy but discovered a problem. It is sometimes easier to face an enemy than a problem, for after the downfall of Communism, millions of people who had lived under the Communist yoke began to discover freedom and seek affluence. These millions are educated, intelligent people, beset with unemployment and famine, left with missiles and nuclear weapons. They are pounding at the European Affluence Curtain that has replaced the Iron Curtain a "curtain" that has partitioned Europe, and an affluence that may weld Europe into a single unit.

We observe these momentous changes and ask what force is propelling them. The answer is: it is the great engine of democracy, which was born in the soil of Europe and was repressed relentlessly, sometimes taking a beating, but never vanishing and never perishing. As Albert Camus said, the essence of freedom is the chance to attain improvement.

Indeed, we have learned that there is no long-term economic success unless it rests on democratic governance. We have learned that there is no stable peace unless it is based on relations between democratic states.

This is the lesson that we need to learn for our region: to harness our experiment in democracy to the success of democracy in Europe, in order to breathe new life into this ancient region, which has experienced much prophecy but little democracy.

We wish to construct a new framework in which individual freedom, political pluralism, and free-market economics will be honored a framework that will fight natural constraints and utilize technological advantages.

Let us begin to build a Middle East that will exist for its residents, not a Middle East that exists solely for its leaders.

A Middle East where, as in Europe, every nationality may maintain its own identity, every religion its holy canon, and a unified community of peoples that will prevent the menace of famine and the threat of war. In order to bring this about, one must operate on the regional, not only the national, level.

For in order to defend the civilian population from missile attack and non-conventional weapons, regional agreement is needed.

For in order to prevent desertification and mass famine, one must organize the sources, production, and distribution of water on a regional scale. Water does not heed political boundaries; it requires a policy that will cross them.

To assure our children’s future, let us build a new Middle East, one which drives the desert away from the soil, one which dilutes the salt content of water, one which repudiates violence in relations between peoples.

You are visiting our region at a time when this great march has begun. A march in which, by means of bilateral negotiations, we are seeking to resolve border disputes with our neighbors the Jordanians and the Palestinians, and with our neighbors the Syrians and the Lebanese. And in which, by means of multilateral negotiations, we seek to reach new horizons of modern market economy; of regional water planning; of serious attention to environmental problems; of a solution to the refugee problems, and of essential control of destructive weapons that are liable to overwhelm the logic of the resident peoples.

We wish to attain these goals in concert with you. We propose a new rapprochement, one not achieved at the price of a schism with the Arab world. On the contrary: we offer to build new bridges, not deepen existing abysses.

Today we wage a double struggle: to pay the price of defense and to pay the price of peace. Both are threatened by enemies, whom we must deter in advance or vanquish when they next erupt.

We hope to attain a correct position in the new economic region of Europe, as a post-industrial state that has not yet been granted peace.

We hope Europe will play a genuine role in this historic attempt to construct a new Middle East. This would be consistent with its destiny; it would be an outgrowth of its historical commitments.

We would like Europe to be not only a historical memory but also a beacon of new hope for all the peoples that it has encountered in its annals, and which it encounters today in attempt to shape a new world.

In this spirit, we grant you a sincere welcome.