Address by Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon* to Conference of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs Marking 50 Years of Israeli Diplomacy

It is a great honor for me to address you, here in Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years and the eternal capital of the State of Israel. The State of Israel and the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs are celebrating 50 years of Israeli diplomacy. Of course, the activities of the "state-in-the-making" began many years before the creation of the state. These activities were conducted through numerous channels and by various bodies, culminating in the UN Resolution of November 29, 1947.

Veterans of the Foreign Ministry who are with us today took part in these efforts. Others who have passed away, and whose memory we cherish, took with them on their last journey fascinating stories of that difficult and stubborn political struggle, which regretfully remain unfamiliar to most.

Today, many things are taken for granted. Not a few "new historians", disregard the situation which existed then, and, whether deliberately or out of lack of knowledge, distort both the historical facts and our legitimate and just struggle which has brought us 50 years of political independence.

Who today, for example, is familiar with the Bernadotte Plan – the effort to deny us the Negev, the Dead Sea and Eilat, broad areas in the south of the country, part of the Galilee, and above all to deny us Jerusalem?

Who is aware today of the proposal which was submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on September 21, 1948? At that time, the US Secretary of State expressed his opinion that the proposals of the mediator Bernadotte represented a "fair basis" for a solution, and British Minister of State McNeil made it clear to Abba Eban, whom I am happy to see here today, that his government supported the adoption of the document by the General Assembly, and would ask for nothing less than a "most forceful" response from the Security Council toward anyone who might try to frustrate the General Assembly decision by military force.

Who today knows of the tough fight put up at the United Nations by Moshe Sharett against the Security Council’s decision of November 4, 1948, demanding that Israel evacuate Beersheba, after we had liberated the city. Two days later, on November 6, Ben-Gurion said: "Even though we are not sure that Beersheba will remain in our hands, we must act as though we are sure of this, otherwise it will certainly not stay in our hands." (On that day it was decided to settle 300 people in Beersheba, which, in fact, represented the beginning of the building of the new city of Beersheba.) On the same day Ben-Gurion said that because of UN pressure, "it is doubtful if even the whole of the coastal plain will remain in our hands."

I have given these examples, but it is important to remember that the entire War of Independence is one long story of combined military and diplomatic operations. I myself, who had the privilege of taking part in the War of Independence, and experienced firsthand the military difficulties, only understood years later how delicate and dangerous our situation was in the international arena and the extent to which military decisions were influenced by the political struggle.

The founders of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were partners in these struggles.

Among the gallery of foreign ministers, I sense the absence of David Ben-Gurion, who, while never officially serving in this position, was deeply involved in foreign affairs throughout the period of Israel’s wars and until his resignation in the 1960’s, and was responsible for taking the most difficult decisions on the gravest affairs of state. I would consider him chief among our policy makers. Those were years of political daring, of vision and imagination, as only those who know what Israel was at that time can properly appreciate. As one who was involved in many military actions — reprisal operations in the 1950s, the Sinai Campaign of 1956, the Six Day War, as OC Southern Command during the War of Attrition on the Suez Canal front and the destruction of the terrorist network in Gaza and the Arava, as commander of the forces that crossed the Suez Canal during the Yom Kippur War of 1973, as charged by the Israeli government with establishing Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria to serve as security areas in any future solution, and as Defense Minister during operation "Peace for Galilee" — I no doubt took up a great deal of the Foreign Ministry’s time. During that period I learned to respect the Foreign Ministry and those within it, even though I had more than a few disagreements with them.

The public is not aware of the activities of the Foreign Ministry. Its employees sometimes seem to be enjoying the high life, wearing evening suits and bow-ties, sipping drinks at cocktail parties in front of the cameras – but this is an inaccurate picture. What is really taking place is a great deal of hard work, undertaken by many conscientious people who have succeeded in making our Foreign Ministry among the best and most experienced in the world.

Israel has many hopes, and faces many dangers. Among the hopes are that of continued Jewish immigration to Israel, which must remain a central objective for Israeli policy makers: to swiftly bring another million Jews to this country. This is our main goal, while capitalizing on the high level of technology, our achievements in the fields of science and research, and the talents of people in all areas of life, and of course achieving peace with the Arab states and the Palestinians.

Fifty years ago, the State of Israel was born in struggle. Since then, until today, it has been in engaged in the search for peace. There has never been a government in Israel which did not want peace. There were those who believed in the possibility of achieving it, and those who were less convinced of this, but all of them sought peace with our neighbors.

Israel also faces many dangers: the Arab hatred that still exists; the arms race in the Arab world; and Palestinian and Arab terrorism, which in our region is not only a source of personal tragedies, but also a strategic factor of primary significance.

Most of the wars in our region began as a result of acts of terror, so let no one say to us, "There is terrorism all over the world." It is an issue of the utmost gravity. Terror must be fought throughout the world, but here it is much more dangerous. Soviet involvement in the region began as a result of acts of terror which we were unable to tolerate, when Arab states, in the face of our reprisal operations, requested help from the Soviet Union; this Soviet involvement led to a war that continued for 20 years. The White Paper of 1939 was the result of the surrender to Palestinian terror (during the riots of 1936-9), passing a death sentence on hundreds of thousands, if not millions of our people. The peace which we have already achieved with Egypt and Jordan is also a hostage in the hands of the terrorists. It is for this reason that the current government is so sensitive to this issue.

The problem of the Palestinian refugees of 1967 and 1948 remains. Israel absorbed nearly a million immigrants from Arab lands, who left their property behind them. The Arab states did not. This is an open wound which requires a solution. The only practical solution is an international effort to solve their problem in the countries in which they are currently resident.

I have touched on the main problems and dangers. There are many others which need to be dealt with. I will, for my part, do all I can to deal with these and other subjects, together with the Foreign Ministry staff.

In my remarks today, I wish to focus primarily on the peace process. The government of Israel has taken a decision to advance along the path of peace. I, too, have decided to make every effort to achieve peace with the Palestinians, and with each Arab state that desires it.

The Wye Agreement, which was so difficult, and the beginning of its implementation are testimony to the seriousness of our intentions. Full Palestinian compliance with their commitments is, of course, required. Both sides must fulfill their commitments fully and continuously. Even those who are willing to hand over everything must insist that all aspects of the agreement — the open parts, the secret parts, those contained in the accompanying letters and those agreed upon verbally — be adhered to. If these are not complied with, no agreement will be kept in the future. This is the government’s position, and it will insist on it, and rightly so.

The time has also come for some of the countries of the world to change their code of behavior, and to allow the process to move forward without Israel being subjected to pressure and attacks, and without the "burden of proof" being constantly placed on our doorstep.

Our readiness to give up parts of our homeland, which were the cradle of the Jewish people, together with our demand for a life free of terrorism and murder — these are the proof.

I cannot think of a similar example, in which a nation gave up areas of such historical significance, where its identity as a nation was formed, out of a desire for peace. With all the dangers, and they are many, we are prepared to do this — all on the basis of reciprocity, and strict compliance with all commitments.

It must also be remembered that against concrete expectations in various areas which Israel is facing, and of which I have no doubt we will hear a great deal more during the final status negotiations, everything which the State of Israel may expect to receive in return remains abstract and ill-defined, even where we are speaking of security arrangements and other specific demands. As for the nature of peace, the quality of peace, these will undoubtedly remain nebulous.

Israel must get its message across, that it also has future expectations regarding the normalization which must come before the final demand will be answered, namely the permanent status arrangement, which will be presented to the State of Israel.

Israel must undertake a diplomatic initiative before we enter the complexities of negotiations on the permanent status arrangement with the Palestinians.

The goals of this initiative must center on the following points:

1. The preparation of an agreed-upon platform defining the nature of the peace which awaits us at the end of a comprehensive peace process.

2. The formulation of the objectives of peace in terms of normalized relations, economic relations, combating terrorism, preventing incitement, people-to-people enterprises, peace education for the younger generation, etc.

3. The obligation of all states involved in the peace process to create a partnership in the age of peace by means of regional development enterprises — particularly in the area of water, by the establishment of desalination plants — for the benefit of the region and the consolidation of peace over time.

4. The adoption of a code of conduct for the continuation of the negotiations, whose purpose is to avoid steps which could harm both the conduct and outcome of these negotiations. The sides should refrain from inflammatory statements and from conducting campaigns of condemnation in various international forums.

The acceptance of such an initiative will facilitate renewed momentum for the peace process. Only through this initiative can a balance be struck between the demands on Israel and Israel’s expectations regarding the peace process and its final goals.

My Foreign Ministry colleagues, there are many tasks before us — both those that I have mentioned, and many more, in all areas of activity in the Ministry.

I wish to thank all of you for your extraordinary efforts during the previous half-century, and call upon you to make an additional effort, undertaken jointly by all of us, which will lead to peace and security for both Israel and its neighbors.