SPEECH BY MR. YITZHAK RABIN PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL TO THE PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE

STRASBOURG, WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 26, 1994

Mr. President,
Secretary General,
Members of the Council of Europe,
Members of the Knesset, observers to the Council of Europe,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for the invitation which was extended to me to address today this esteemed forum, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. It gives me much pleasure to be here nearly two years after Chaim Herzog addressed you, while serving as President of the State of Israel.

May I take this opportunity to salute the Council of Europe for the central role it has played in promoting the European integration process based on the values of democracy and freedom, as well as for its present contribution toward the architecture of Europe and the safeguarding of human rights and values.

Israel follows with much interest your efforts to create a stronger and more united continent, and reshaping modern Europe.

Although Israel is not an integral part of your continent, we, as a democratic and Western state, feel a profound and strong affinity for Europe, one which we believe is mutually shared by you. Our longstanding and steadfast commitment to democratic values is illustrated by the fact that the special status of observer in the Council of Europe was given to our members of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.

Israel fully shares the values which this Council represents. Therefore it is incumbent upon all democracies and especially the nations of the Council of Europe to lead the fight and renounce the resurging plague of racism, anti-semitism, and intolerance, in every form, and at every opportunity. In this context Israel cannot but condemn the growth of neo-Nazi movements, and calls upon you, the Council, to vigorously oppose it.

It gives me much satisfaction to praise the ongoing and fruitful dialogue between Israel and the Council of Europe. We are delighted to open the doors of the Knesset to periodic working sessions of various Committees of the Assembly. In March 1992, the Committee on Culture and Education conducted in Jerusalem its hearings on religious tolerance in a democratic society. Later we hosted the Committee on Science and Technology under the same auspices. This year we expect to host yet another two committees: the Committee on Parliamentary and Public Relations and the Agricultural Committee which will discuss the topic of desertification.

Dear Friends,

I come from Jerusalem, the eternal Capital of the Jewish People, the city where the Prophets proclaimed their visions of peace, to tell you that the Government of Israel knows that the eyes of many millions the world over, look toward it in prayer, in great hope, and in the expectation of a new path, a new momentum. I come from Jerusalem to tell you that the Government of Israel yearns for peace and is willing to make peace.

I also want to tell you that we know that obstacles will arise, that crises will erupt, that we will face disappointment, tears, and pain. But in the end, we shall arrive at peace. Supported by your blessings, concern and assistance we will do it.

Dear Friends,

In the last decade of our twentieth century, walls of hatred have fallen, peoples have been liberated, and artificial barriers have disappeared, powers have crumbled and ideologies have collapsed.

It is our sacred duty, to ourselves and to our children, to see the new world as it is now, to note its dangers, explore its prospects, and do everything possible so that the State of Israel will fit into the changing face of this world. I think that in recent years the world has shrunk and no nation can solve its problems alone, and no country should think that it is isolated. Each nation should overcome those feelings and act in world and regional cooperation. We wish that our region will also join this movement towards peace, reconciliation and cooperation that is spreading over the globe these days.

Dear Friends,

I have committed myself and my government to the present peace process, and I have expressed on many occasions my hope that 1994 will be a year during which a peace agreement can be reached with our Arab neighbors. We believe with all our hearts that peace is possible, that it is imperative, and that it will come.

For much of my life I was a soldier. I took part in Israel’s wars, as well as Israel’s march for peace. As one who has been a soldier, I can still see – as though it were just yesterday – the rows of fallen comrades lining the road to Jerusalem in our War of Independence; the skeletons of the burnt-out vehicles; the burning trucks; and the thousands of besieged Jerusalemites coming out towards us to get their sacks of sugar, and rice, and jerry cans of water.

As one who was a commander, I know that before we decided – before I decided – to go into battle, we always saw before us – and will always see – the eyes of the soldiers asking whether this is vital, whether there isn’t some other choice.

Only one who, year after year, stands facing the thousands and tens of thousands of silent mourners in the cemeteries on Memorial Day; only one who has seen worlds destroyed and families devastated knows just how important peace is to us.

Nevertheless, as the son of a people that was exiled from its land and in that exile lost millions of its sons and daughters in pogroms, in Aktionen, in the Holocaust; as the son of a people to whom the picture of the child with raised hands in the Warsaw Ghetto returns at night, I ask for your understanding and undivided attention: For us peace, important as it is, cannot prevail without security. Israel will be very forthcoming in its quest for peace, but it will not compromise on its security.

Israel is ready for peace and is willing to take risks and make dramatic decisions. But any risk or decision should be well calculated, for hasty actions could bring upon us irreversible results.

As Chief of Staff during the Six-Day War, I promised myself that I would be the last commander of the Israel Defence Forces who would have to face untenable borders, unreasonable lines of defence, and the threat of annihilation. The security of our children, our security is essential. If we have security, we will also have peace – for all the inhabitants of our country and for its neighbors.

Distinguished Members of the Council,

The Government of Israel recognizes that in order to put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict and for peace to be real and permanent, it must be inclusive of all the parties to the conflict participating in the present peace process.

The United States has generated a formula which serves both as a procedural and substantive term of reference to the peace process. We believe very firmly that there is no need to alter this formula, for it responds to our long quest to hold direct negotiations with those Arab parties invited to this process according to the Madrid Letter of Invitation. We should not lose precious time.

Our aim is to conclude a set of bilateral peace agreements in each and every track of negotiations in order to meet the objective of establishing a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.

The problem now is one of substance. I am convinced that temporary setbacks and difficulties in our negotiations with the PLO will not stop us from reaching an agreement. The road to peace is irreversible. Therefore, I do believe that we should persevere in our efforts aimed at implementing our agreement with the P.L.O. We don’t have any territorial designs in Lebanon and our problems with Jordan could be solved fairly easily. However, Lebanon will not budge without Syria’s blessing.

As you know, President Clinton met with President Assad in Geneva on January 16th. Out of this event came a hope that we should explore carefully in order to be sure that Syria genuinely means to achieve the kind of peace and security we are looking for, a peace that would last for generations to come, a peace that would put an end to the sufferings, plight and fear of all the peoples in the Middle East, a peace that would fulfill Prophet Isaiah’s vision:

"Nation shall not lift sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more."

Dear Friends,

I must acknowledge that our negotiations with Syria have been since their beginning, serious, open, and progress has even been made. However, I call on President Assad to walk the extra mile in order to meet us in the middle of the road for peace, and assure us a high degree of security about Syria’s long term intentions.

As for the Palestinians, I sincerely believe that we have made important progress in that track. The Self-Governing Authority is meant to be an interim solution for five years enabling the Palestinians to take sole responsibility for their lives while leaving the negotiations on the final status to a later stage.

We have also taken steps intended to create a better atmosphere in the territories and we are willing to make additional steps. However, the blind and indiscriminate terrorism initiated by the Palestinian extremists, religious fanatics, impedes the speed of progress in this area.

Those of you sitting here who regard yourselves and others as friends of the Palestinians and are sincerely concerned should roll up your sleeves and persuade them to take advantage of this historic opportunity. At the same time, there are elements among the Palestinians who are determined to sabotage any steps towards peace. To them I say: No knife, no stone, no firearm, bomb, or land-mine will stop us. We will continue to strike hard, without flinching, at terrorists and those who abet them. There are and will be no compromises in the war against terror. We strive for peace – yet we will continue to fight for our right to live in Israel in peace and tranquility.

My Friends,

We are at the start of a long road. We have halted the settlements, we have changed our order of national priorities, and we have turned onto a new path of economic growth and the creation of jobs for hundreds of thousands of new immigrants and young Israelis. We need Europe to extend a hand, and we need your support for Jews and Arabs alike.

Common interest between Israel and Europe is based on the conviction that there is a linkage between peace in Europe and peace in the Middle East. Yet Israel and Europe do not possess only common values and historic responsibility but also bear joint responsibility for the shaping of their future.

In my view, Europe should increase its involvement in the peace-making process in the Middle East. I believe Europe has a major role to fulfill on the arduous road to peace. It is already part of the multilateral talks intended to back up the bilateral peace negotiations with real substance. Europe has a challenging task: to contribute to the transformation of the region through economic development and cooperation, rehabilitating refugees, developing water and natural resources, solving environmental hazards and regulating arms control.

In short, Europe has the laborious task of bringing rivals from enmity to reconciliation, from boycott to acceptance; Europe has to add its input in order to consolidate peace in its real dimension: open borders, free movement of goods and people, coexistence and cooperation.

Indeed, the road to peace crosses Europe, for without it, it would remain incomplete. Consequently, because of this, I believe that Europe should take a stand which will make it instrumental in the peace process. It should address the parties with an even-handed and fair approach. I feel an ambivalence in the European attitude towards Israel. I would like to see more understanding concerning our political positions, our security concerns and our economic needs.

For years we have heard sermons, advice, endured sanctions, and we have on many occasions voiced our frustrations from these positions and from Europe’s attitude to belittle our fears concerning the transfer of technologies, sensitive fissionable materials and sophisticated weapon systems to states that vowed our destruction.

For over forty years, the Arab boycott has been a tool in the war against Israel, even though it contradicts the fundamental principle of free trade, as espoused in GATT and in our joint free trade agreement. European states have all deplored its existence, though only a small minority have taken concrete steps to eliminate it.

Two years ago when the Madrid Peace Process began, Israel made concessions in return for the abolition of the boycott. No one then would have dreamt that after the progress achieved in recent months, that the boycott would still be used as an illegitimate weapon against Israel. Europe’s resolve and our joint cooperation can halt such actions once and for all.

It is precisely at this juncture, when Israel and the European Union are about to begin official talks to renegotiate our 1975 free trade agreement, that we must bridge the gaps and mend fences between us. In any new agreement we must take account of the constantly changing nature of our relations, so that in twenty years an agreement will be just as relevant then, as when it was agreed upon. Therefore a new agreement must include the potential to evolve and incorporate new dimensions.

Israel’s trade links with Europe have developed greatly, as a result of our trade agreement and through our adoption and adherence to the values of free trade you espoused. However, today we find that the major trading blocs do not always abide by the standards they demand of others.

Our mutual trade links are extensive. Last year over 60% of our imports were from European countries and over 38% of our exports were to you. Moreover, it must not be forgotten that Israel has a large trade deficit with Europe at $7 billion in 1993. This is a clear indicator of Europe’s benefit from our close economic links.

In any final agreement, account must be taken of Israel’s ability to contribute to the economic activity of Europe, as well as our special needs. Our relatively small and dynamic economy complements yours, rather than competes with it. Israeli corporations excel in their ability to innovate, due to our proven R&D capabilities and our highly skilled work force. These abilities will continue to greatly benefit European companies.

Moreover, as the Middle East’s economy develops, Israel’s advance financial services sector will offer important services to European companies seeking to enter and expand in the region. It is precisely because you recognize the importance of the Middle East to Europe, that Israel’s role as a stabilizing factor and locomotive for growth in the region cannot be minimized and it is in an era of peace that European interests require an Israeli economy that is continuing to expand and develop. Israel’s geographical location should not stand in the way of deepened economic ties between Israel and Europe.

We in turn have special needs that we expect you to take into account. Our agricultural sector is very different from the one that existed when the old free trade agreement was agreed upon. We recognize that agriculture is a very sensitive subject for us both. However, just as Israel is expected to be flexible on this subject in its negotiations with the Palestinians, we need similar flexibility on your part.

Similarly, our technological input to products, though often small, nevertheless significantly upgrades their quality. However, rigid rules make it difficult for us to trade in these goods, to our joint loss. You must recognize this problem and jointly we must reach more accommodating solutions.

My Government greatly appreciates the recent decision taken by the Council of Ministers of the European Union to start formal discussions with us in order to arrive at a new Agreement. It is our hope that the new Agreement once signed will deepen the ties between Europe and Israel, and indeed the whole region.

In the light of our historic relationship and the challenges of the present, Europe should enable Israel to take its appropriate place in the new European structure being forged before our very eyes.

Distinguished Members,

I sincerely believe a strong Israel, reassured in its support, will be magnanimous in the negotiations with its Arab partners.

Therefore, Europe has an essential role to play, one that it cannot escape; for it is part of its historical tradition, and thus an irrevocable part of its destiny.

My Friends,

This is our declaration of intent; these are the visions that we wish to transform into reality. Let me share with you the pledge that 1994 be a year of peace, not a year of missed opportunity. I will do my very best in order to reach this ultimate goal.

Everything I have stated here has been said in good faith and emanates from a profound desire to set out upon a new path, to shake off the dust of old conceptions. Our entire policy can be summed up in the verse from the Book of Books: as it is written in Ezekiel, "I will make a covenant of peace with them, it will be an everlasting peace."

Thank you very much.