October 3, 1994
Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, Honorable Knesset,
A blessed new year is upon us and, on behalf of the Government, I want to wish Knesset members and their families, IDF soldiers and members of the security branches who stand on guard, and all citizens of Israel, a good year. A good year of continuity and prosperity, a year of peace, a year of security in which we see the realization of the words: ‘And I will give peace in the land, and you shall rest and not be afraid. And I will make evil beasts extinct from the land, and no sword shall pass through your land.’
We are entering the gates of the new year stronger than ever, more just than ever and, on the threshold of 5755, we hope, pray and say that this be a year of peace with the Arab states and with the Palestinians. In Gaza and Jericho, in Amman, Damascus, and Beirut, and in Cairo and Jerusalem, people will speak peace to each other.
Members of Knesset, Year after year, speech after speech, Prime Ministers of Israel have stood at this podium. The late David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir, Menachem Begin as well as Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir addressed Arab rulers from this dais, called for peace and invited them to this House, to be partners in the journey to peace.
We believe that the Knesset in Jerusalem, which has for generations heard our voices calling for peace, that has seen our hands extended for peace, this House which has seen our greatest hours and our most painful moments will host perhaps this year the King of Jordan, the President of Syria and the Prime Minister of Lebanon, and others, who will come through the gates of Jerusalem, the city of peace.
Members of Knesset, The holiday atmosphere that envelops every Jewish home each year during the month of Tishrei has also been accompanied by much sorrow over the past 21 years. Twenty-one years have passed since that Yom Kippur. We have experienced much since then, both good and bad.
A generation has gone and a generation has come. We have forgotten a great many snapshots of our lives, they have been erased from memory but we do not forget the images of that day, we do not forget the voices resounding in our ears as if it were yesterday. We recall every moment of that day, everything we did and said, the holiday atmosphere and the quiet in the streets, the masses of worshippers praying in the synagogue, the military vehicles violating the sanctity of the holiday, the questions we asked and for which there were no answers, and the alarm siren at two o’clock in the afternoon.
History does not recognize the term ‘what if,’ but within the bitter memory of that Yom Kippur we cannot free ourselves of the thought: What would have happened if…?
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said said: ‘I am prepared to sacrifice the lives of one and one-half million Egyptian soldiers to liberate the lands.’
Defense Minister Moshe Dayan said: ‘We are waiting for a telephone call from the Arabs.’ He also said: ‘I prefer Sharm a-Sheikh over peace, rather than peace without Sharm a-Sheikh.’
We responded to the words of the Egyptian president with mockery and arrogance and the words of Moshe Dayan expressed the opinion of many, and reflected the thoughts which were felt in the hearts of a large, broad public in Israel.
It required a bloody war with Egypt and Syria it required thousands of casualties among the IDF soldiers sod ear to us, and among the soldiers of the armies of Egypt and Syria in order for those in Cairo to reach the correct conclusion that peace is preferable to war, and for those in Jerusalem to reach the correct conclusion that peace is preferable to Sharm a-Sheikh.
Members of Knesset, The current government has decided to do everything that is necessary and possible to save us from wars, bloodshed and tears. This government has decided to pick up the telephone receiver to the Arab states because it is ringing. And this government has decided that, under certain conditions, peace is preferable to Sharm a-Sheikh just as the Likud government, headed by Menachem Begin, bravely decided.
The telephone rang in Cairo years ago, and it is now ringing in Gaza and Jericho, in Amman, in Damascus and in Beirut. And we, gentlemen, are lifting up the receiver and there is someone saying hello on the other side of the line.
Members of Knesset, For a generation, we have known to how assault enemy outposts, to seize control of enemy cities, to strike hard and lethally. We were the best at war. We are now exercising this same determination in another battle. We are again charging this time, to be the best at peace.
We are prepared for any dialogue with the Arab states and with the Palestinians under conditions of real partnership for peace and security. But, at the same time, our eyes have not been become blinded and we do not intend to be an innocent lamb in a world of wolves. We have no intention, for even one moment, to cease strengthening the IDF and increasing its power, but to keep our eyes open and to be prepared. We are prepared for peace. We are also prepared for war, should it be forced upon us.
Members of Knesset, We have already encountered, ad nauseam, the expression ‘window of opportunity’ but, what can we do? This is the correct expression for these times.
In recent years, we have witnessed conflicting trends around the world. On the one hand, a spirit of conciliation and peace has overtaken the world due to, and maybe primarily because of, the collapse of the Soviet empire.
But, on the other hand, there also exists a counter-trend an ugly wave of radical, fanatic Islam that is attempting to engulf many countries. Extremist Islamic terrorist organizations are operating in a number of directions: HAMAS and Islamic Jihad are carrying out most of the terrorist attacks against Israelis in Israel, and in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Hizbullah, part of the same wave, is carrying out most of the attacks against IDF and SLA soldiers in Lebanon. International terrorism, which is also part of the same wave, harms Israelis, Jews and others the world over. There is no need to recall what happened in Buenos Aires and London, and what occurred in 1992 in Buenos Aires and in Istanbul. The extremist Islamic terrorist organizations are trying to strike at moderate Arab regimes that are prepared for peace with Israel.
In recent years, Iranian assistance direct and indirect to this terrorism has been prominent. Iranian involvement has found expression in attacks carried out by radical Islamic terrorist elements, in the Middle East and throughout the world. As members of the Jewish people, we respect the beliefs of all other religions. As Jews, we are sensitive to freedom of worship for members of all religions. We will confront and struggle against ‘Khomeinism without Khomeini,’ which is the central element characterizing the radical-terrorist wave of Islam.
We welcome the trends of peace, and view with concern the ugly wave of extremist Islam. Never has comprehensive peace been closer to us and, at the same time, the danger of extremist Islam hovers above it as a shadow that will not pass.
Many of the Arab states neighboring us are partner to this great fear of the extremist danger and they say, and know, that practically the only way to dry the swamp of radical Islam is through economic development and an improved standard of living. Poverty and deprivation are the stepping-stone of this dangerous wave and only economic growth, and I stress this, growth and improvements in the societies in Egypt and Syria, in Jordan and Lebanon, and among the Palestinians, will strike at these radicals. Such improvements, such economic development, can only be implemented when peace will reign throughout the entire Middle East.
We view ourselves as partners in this important task, and we perceive comprehensive peace as one of the vital tools in helping Arab states to help themselves whereby we will also help ourselves to achieve peace.
Members of Knesset, The past year, 5754, was marked by the beginning of a settlement with the Palestinians, by peace negotiations with Jordan, and by the very beginnings of peace negotiations with Syria and Lebanon.
The current government adopted the Madrid formula, as initiated by the previous government under Yitzhak Shamir, and yet when it became clear to us that the principle was correct, but the method was leading us to an impasse we chose to alter the method and we began separate talks. I never supported the idea of an international peace conference. We succeeded in turning the Madrid Conference into a bilateral conference in the fullest sense of the word. And indeed, this path bore fruit.
Last year, the Government signed a Declaration of Principles with the Palestinians, the Gaza-Jericho First Agreement, and the early transfer of authority in other spheres. In the coming days, negotiations on the next phases will begin.
It is not with an easy heart that we approached the signing with the Palestinians. Bitter memories of the 100 years of bloody conflict weighed, and still weigh, heavy upon complete reconcilation. And yet, we said that we have to make this attempt. We said: we must do this for the generations to come. We said we would try to begin a new chapter in the history of relations between the Palestinians and the State of Israel.
One year ago, after the holiday season, the Palestinian leadership stood before the harsh reality in Gaza in Jabalya and Khan Yunis. The poverty and the hunger the hatcheries of radical terrorist activities were, and are today, the Palestinian leadership’s enemies. In our opinion, they will be tested by [their ability to] improve the economic situation and welfare of the residents. This, in large measure, will determined whether or not peace with the Palestinians will indeed succeed.
After the first completely erroneous steps at least from our point of view; after embarrassments and inconsistencies, we are now seeing the first buds of authority and governance. Many countries have mobilized to render economic assistance to the Palestinians, and we are encouraging this in every way because it is also our interest from the point of view of security and otherwise that the residents of Gaza and Jericho achieve prosperity and a better life.
But we will not conceal and we will not deny: Palestinian terrorism still continues and claims victims among us. Since the Declaration of Principles was signed in Washington, one year ago, 62 IDF soldiers and civilians have been murdered and killed by terrorists in Israel and the territories, most of whom were from the HAMAS and Islamic Jihad. Many have been injured. On your behalf as well, I wish to express that the government shares the grief of the families, and wishes a speedy recovery to the wounded.
Members of Knesset, We will not tire from stating, and emphasizing, that security is the foremost of our concerns and that peace will not come to this country without security. Therefore, we view terrorist activity with the utmost severity. Indeed, it has not escaped us that the Palestinian Authority has made some efforts to prevent terrorism and capture its perpetrators, but we do not feel that enough has been done. From our point of view, results are the sole test, and the results up until now have been far from satisfactory to use an understatement.
In my meetings with the Chairman of the PLO, especially the most recent one, I have made it known as forcefully as possible to him and to the members of the Palestinian Authority that continued progress on the road to peace is very much contingent on his ability, and the ability of his people, to eliminate terrorism emanating from the area under their control. If terrorism continues, it will be difficult for us to continue the peace process with the Palestinians.
Members of Knesset, The signing of the Declaration of Principles with the Palestinians paved the way to negotiations with King Hussein I of the Hashemite Kingdom. During the year, peace negotiations were begun between Israel and Jordan. They are currently in full swing. In recent weeks, Israeli and Jordanian representatives have been meeting daily until late at night, in an attempt to find just solutions to the problems that Jerusalem and Amman have raised.
The major achievement is already behind us. In Washington, we took a big and symbolic step forward, agreeing to put an end to the state of belligerency. An even larger achievement is still before us. In my meeting with them last Thursday in Aqaba, the King and the Crown Prince made it clear that they soon intend to sign a full peace treaty between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. According to the King, he intends to create a ‘warm peace’ between Israel and Jordan. He told me: ‘In our peace, the border between Israel and Jordan will be completely insignificant.’
Several problems regarding borders, water, and security still await solution. Soon, our delegates will soon sit around the negotiating table with Jordanian representatives in order to bring about the signing of another peace treaty for the State of Israel. Therefore, it is with satisfaction, joy, and also pride, that I can say to you today, Members of Knesset, that according to my best estimation it is possible that the signing of a full peace treaty between Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan will take place soon, before the end of this calendar year.
I know that everything I have said is like a dream and that perhaps you are smiling. But this week, while reading the newspaper, among usual advertisements for discounts at hotels in Tiberias and offers to sell apartments, I also saw an advertisement for trips from Israel to Petra, Amman, and Jerash, and nobody in Israel gets excited any more. There it was, an advertisement on page three of a newspaper.
Members of Knesset, More than 27 years ago, when a sharp sword was held over our necks, the IDF went to war to defend our lives. The great victory found us on the banks of the Suez Canal and the banks of the Jordan River, and on the Golan Heights, which were then called ‘the Syrian Heights’. In the 27 years that have passed since the Six-Day War, the Golan Heights have been transformed from a land of boulders into a flourishing garden. On the black basalt rocks, families were established, homes were built, and children were raised.
The State of Israel and Israeli governments all Israeli governments sent the best people to the Golan. There are none better: the pioneers, visionaries, and the fighters who built an honorable and admirable enterprise.
It is no coincidence that the admiration for the people of the Golan Heights crosses party lines and is shared by the broad public. All that is beautiful and good, that we desired and hoped to see in the State of Israel and in its children, is evident in Drora and Yehuda of Merom Golan, in Sami of Katzrin, and in Deganit of Kfar Haruv: the people of the Golan.
We were not mistaken when we sent them to the Golan. We were not mistaken when we encouraged them to build homes, raise children, plant vineyards, and pick fruit. This was the right thing, at the right time, in the right place. With all the respect that we have for the settling of the Golan and I have respect for it this was never the main object. More than anything said here, the Golan Heights are important to the security of the State of Israel, with or without settlements.
Permit me a few personal words. I have spent a large part of my adult life in the IDF. For part of my military service, I served as Commanding Officer of the Northern Command. I know every corner in the north, every community, every stone. It was during my service in the north that the serious incidents with the Syrians began, and names that have been almost forgotten Durijat, Jalbinah, Tewfik, and Tel Azaziat were my daily bread. I witnessed and joined in the suffering of the communities, which determinedly and heroically withstood the shelling. Important scenes in my life are the destroyed childrens’ rooms in Gadot, the blazing dairies of Tel Katzir, the burning fields at Hulata, Gonen, and Lehavot Habashan.
We did not ascend the Golan Heights, and we did not occupy them during the Six-Day War so that these scenes would return and no force in the world will move us on the Golan so much as one centimeter, if there will not be full peace, a true peace, peace with complete security arrangements. Yes, a peace of the brave between Syria and Israel. Only true peace will make us ready for change.
Members of Knesset, For 27 years, we have held fast to our political and security opinions and have not changed them because the world had not changed and the Arab countries had not changed. But, one would have to be an ostrich in order not to distinguish that something has happened in recent years: the world has changed, and the Arab countries too, though not all.
Members of Knesset, As long as Syria did not recognize Israel’s right to live in peace, there was no room for negotiation. As long as Damascus rejected our outstretched hand, we held tight our military and civilian grasp on the Golan, several dozen kilometers from Damascus.
Syria took the first step towards the possibility of peace when the Likud Government headed by Yitzhak Shamir was in power when it agreed to, and participated in, the Madrid Conference. We welcomed this and continued on the difficult journey toward peace.
Gentlemen, the situation has changed. In recent weeks, we have discerned indications of Syria’s willingness to be a partner in the effort for peace. The road is still long; there is much work yet to do. Peace with Syria is distant but we have no intention of ignoring these signs. We will not return to the days of ‘there is no one to talk to,’ we will not return to the days of ‘we are waiting for a phone call,’ and we will not return to the days of ‘the world is against us.’ Gentlemen, we will not return to those days. We are going forward.
And this is what I have to say to the people of the Golan Heights today:
I have accompanied you for many years, during the good times and the painful moments. I have seen you flourish and I have been a loyal partner on your journey. I have always told you my opinions, honestly and faithfully. My opinion was, and is today, that there is a large measure of security risks in any territorial concession to Syria. We are putting much in the balance both peace and security but we will sign no peace agreement with Damascus if we are not convinced that our security is assured. Maximum security as much as is it possible to achieve it.
I appeal to you Drora, to you Yehuda of Merom Hagolan, to you Amitai and Roni of Mevo Hama, to you Sami of Katzrin and Uri of Ortal, residents of the Golan, and say to you: my supreme obligation as Prime Minister, our obligation as a Government to the people of Israel, our obligation is to examine every possibility for peace.
For years we have searched for every crack. We have sought peace. We have pursued peace. And now, for the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, there is a chance for peace with Syria. Peace with Syria is, to a great extent, the key to comprehensive peace. I would like to ask you, my friends on the Golan Heights: What must we do? Not try? Not make an effort to reach peace? Reject out of hand the possibility of putting an end to all the wars?
It is not only I who owe this answer to all citizens of the State of Israel, including the residents of the Golan Heights. You on the Golan, you too, owe an answer. Remember, you know that the Golan is not only the valley of apple orchards. On the Golan Heights there is also the valley of tears, and perhaps your son, Drora, the son about whom you spoke so movingly on television, the son whom you said might have to fight again on the Golan Heights, perhaps your son and thousands of other sons will never have to fight again. Do we have the right to forego this ‘maybe’? My decision, our decision in the government, is to give peace with Syria a chance a chance which never existed before.
If moving towards peace is a change in position, then yes I have changed my position. However, we will not God forbid abandon the security of the State of Israel. We will add peace to it.
Members of Knesset, What is the current situation of the negotiations with the Syrians? In contrast to the good relations which we have with the Palestinians and the Jordanians, we do not have a good dialogue with the Syrians. The contact between Jerusalem and Damascus is being maintained devotedly, loyally, and diligently by our friends the Americans, and this is an opportunity for us to thank the United States, the President of the United States, the Secretary of State and the peace team for their efforts, for the hand which they are extending.
Our intention is to reach the signing of a full peace treaty with Syria. In order to reach a peace treaty with Syria, we must reach agreement with it on four components at the same time and we must not make any distinction between them: it is all or nothing.
The first component is the peace border in the peace treaty. As of today, there is no agreement between the Syrians and us about the location of this border.
The second component is the timetable for implementing the components of the peace treaty. In other words, how many years will it take to carry out the withdrawal to the peace border, the stages of withdrawal, the complete implementation of normalization, and the implementation of the security arrangements.
The third component is the test of complete normalization, following the first stage of an extremely limited withdrawal, which will not necessitate the dismantling of settlements on the Golan Heights. The intention is that complete implementation of normalization will be tested over a three-year period, during which we will hold onto most of the Golan Heights area.
Behind the word ‘normalization’ lies an entire realm. That is life itself. This is the peace which we have dreamed of, peace in its daily embodiment: an Israeli embassy in Damascus, a Syrian embassy in Israel; an Egged bus which travels to Aleppo, Israeli tourists in Homs, Israeli ships in Tartus, El Al planes, commercial and cultural ties. Everything and of course this would work the other way around as well.
The fourth, but not least, component the most important in any peace treaty with Syria is security: by this I mean the security arrangements. Here, too, this dry term includes a whole range of aspects: beginning with a mutual reduction of regular forces, demilitarizing areas on an geographical asymmetrical basis, deploying multinational forces in a manner like the one which currently exists in the Sinai Desert. More than 1,000 US soldiers have for the past 15 and one-half years been located in the Sinai. Their mission there is to observe not within the framework of a UN resolution, but as the result of a Egyptian-Israeli-American decision. In the first stage, there were over 1,000. Today, 980 American soldiers are stationed in Sinai to oversee the military annex of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. We will ask nothing else of the Americans when we achieve a peace agreement with Syria on the Golan Heights the same thing. It will also include early warning stations, periodic inspections and the like. I would like to emphasize this once again: only security arrangements which we find to be reasonable will enable us to undertake the risk which a withdrawal on the Golan contains.
Members of Knesset, I must say to you again that, at this stage, in all four of the components which I have outlined to you, there exists today a dispute between Israel and Syria; wide and deep rifts still exist.
I am aware of the accusations against us: they say ‘This is not what you told us before the elections.’ They say: ‘We did not think that it would be like this.’ In the Labor Party platform for the elections to the current Knesset, we explicitly stated that we favor territorial compromise for peace, including with Syria, and therefore a withdrawal on the Golan Heights is part of the Government’s declared policy. Despite this, in the event of any significant withdrawal we are firm in our determination to bring the decision on this subject to a referendum. What is more democratic than that? What is fairer than a referendum?
I repeat my promise that in any event in which we need to pay for a peace treaty by making a significant withdrawal, which would be acceptable to the Government, we will then present it, in all of its details, to every citizen of Israel and ask for the people’s decision: Are you for this peace or not? We will not sign a peace treaty with Syria before asking the will of the people in a referendum.
Members of Knesset, Even before comprehensive peace, still in the midst of discussions and agreements, we are witnessing a new wind blowing throughout the world regarding in its relationship with the State of Israel: the claim that the ‘whole world is against us’ has dissipated in the spirit of peace. The world is not against us. The world is with us.
Even now, we are reaping the fruits of peace: dozens of important personages are coming to us and want our friendship. Yesterday, we hosted the Prime Minister of Lithuania; today, the Defense Minister of Chile. Tomorrow, the Vice-Premier of China. Thirty high-level guests will arrive in Israel in the coming weeks, and this is only the beginning.
The gates of hostile countries have opened wide: today, Israelis wander through Oman and Qatar, in Amman and Tunis. Citizens of hostile Arab states are coming to us, establishing initial contacts, economic, commercial and cultural ties and this is just the beginning.
Only recently we announced the opening of an liaison office in Morocco, and this week began with a further announcement: the opening of an interest section in Tunis. And thanks to the efforts of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and the people in his ministry, we will hopefully see more and more such offices being opened in the near future.
And just as all of this is happening, this week the Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia announced the end of the decades-long secondary and tertiary Arab boycott of Israel, thereby blazing a new path, a new world for Israel’s economic and trade ties. This gives me an opportunity to thank the United States, and the Secretary of State, for their decisive contribution to this important political achievement.
Peace is not blinding us. We are keeping our eyes open and closely examining what is happening around us. We know that, along with the readiness for peace, Arab armies, including that of Syria, are building up their strength. We have not for a moment stopped training and increasing the IDF’s capability in various spheres.
American aid has not stopped for a moment, and the past year witnessed the regular continuation of defense aid from the United States, to the tune of $1.8 billion of which $500 million are actively utilized by the defense industries and research institutes.
In the framework of the American aid, huge contracts were signed this year: more than 20 F-15I aircraft were procured, at a cost of about $2 billion. Artillery rocket launchers were procured, and the first of three Saar-5 boats arrived, in the framework of our efforts to increase the navy’s capabilities.
The American administration, under Bill Clinton’s presidency, has understood that Israel must be strengthened militarily in order to ensure peace as we are convinced. The United States has placed at our disposal 24 Apache helicopters, 10 Blackhawk helicopters, 50 F-16 aircraft, anti-aircraft missiles, sea-to-sea missiles and sophisticated air-to-surface bombs. All this is new; it was a contribution made by Clinton in talks with me.
Members of Knesset, This is the political situation as is appears today, with all of its shadows and lights and there are many lights, many more than there are shadows. We are continuing on the journey to peace so that during next year’s holiday month, we will be able to come before you, the representatives of the people of Israel, and the entire people of Israel, and say: ‘Hevaynu Shalom Aleichem’ [We bring peace unto you].