Prime Minister Barak: Remarks to the National Security College

August 17, 2000

(translated from Hebrew)

The National Security College is a multi-system school for integrative strategic thought, with the broad idea of "national security". The rich charge that you carry with you when leaving the college, will enhance your personal experience, and will give you a broad outlook on Israel’s fundamental problems and its place in the region and the world.

Diplomatic relations, economic strength, cultural quality, educational level, scientific output, technological ability, social unity, national ethos and the political arena are all inseparable components of the military balance of power.

The role of responsible national leadership is never to rest, but rather to take the initiative in order to direct and lead historic processes. Its mission is to strengthen national security components by looking toward the future – through consistent efforts to foresee dangers and create a better security situation for the State of Israel.

I say these thing as background for the considerations which underlie the government’s foreign and security policy, following the outcome of the Camp David Summit. Camp David was not forced on Israel, actually it was an Israeli initiative. It was an initiative taken at this time, out of sound judgement and an estimate that we are facing an opportunity to achieve the ultimate goal – an end to the conflict with our Palestinian neighbors, the establishment of peaceful relations and the enhancement of Israel’s national security. We could have chosen an easier and perhaps more popular path – a policy of "sitting and doing nothing", keeping the political security front on a "low flame" and addressing only immediate internal problems. We could have ignored the ticking of the clock which warns of imminent danger and hope that the "twilight" situation with the Palestinians will remain calm for a long time, or we could try to forever hold the lid on the pressure cooker.

I weighed the options and decided differently because the role of leadership is not to deal in illusions or to buy popularity, but to look ahead and seize the opportunity to neutralize the dangers and to strengthen security for the future. Furthermore, I am convinced that the strongest springboard for Israel’s prosperity and ability to successfully confront its internal problems, lies in a solution to the conflict with our neighbors. Such a solution, as difficult and painful as it may be, will eventually bring an end to our malignant internal rift over the future of the territories and borders, and will enable us to invest all our energies and resources in education, development of infrastructure, bridging the gaps and basic social change. Will Rogers once accurately defined the difference between politics and statesmanship: "The politician is concerned with the next election, while the statesman is concerned with the next generation."

I believe that it is indeed the role of responsible leadership to think of the next generation. The public’s vote gives the leadership a mandate, but the duty of elected officials is not necessarily to please the voters or to win them over with populist short-term policy. The mandate is given to the leadership so that they can promote the interests of the entire nation and not those of any one sector. Under the conditions of the State of Israel, most of the mandate given by the people to its elected leadership is for the achievement of peace and security, in order to ensure the future of the country and that of the children – the next generation.

I, as a Prime Minister elected by the people, carry the responsibility for all the citizens of Israel. Above all, I bear a deep sense of commitment toward kindergarten and school children whose future we are now determining; and toward the IDF soldiers, as our policy will determine whether and under what conditions and circumstances they may be sent once again to face danger and warfare. This is the most sacred commitment, the most weighty responsibility and the most supreme mission. 3 major factors motivated me to initiate the current peace steps:
1) the fundamental commitment to make every effort to achieve permanent peace and security for Israel
2) the prevention of deterioration in the short-term and the improvement of Israel’s situation in the event that such deterioration does take place and
3) take advantage of the window of opportunity before it closes.

I have already spoken of the commitment to achieve peace and security for Israel and ensure its future, and I need not elaborate. This is a national need which stands at the top of our agenda. It is also an ethical and moral decree of our Jewish heritage: "bakesh shalom veradfehu" – "seek peace and pursue it".

It is well known that the Palestinians have stated their intention to take a unilateral step and declare a Palestinian state next month. I hope that they will reconsider. I believe that unilateral steps, which would necessitate strong counter-measures on our part, will not serve the interests of peace and will damage the interests of both parties. It should also be known that within such a situation lies the danger of deterioration into violence, the scope of which we cannot predict. Such deterioration will mostly hurt the Palestinians themselves, but I am aware that it could also damage the strategic assets which Israel has achieved – inter-alia, our relations with Jordan, Egypt and other Arab states. We must try to prevent such a scenario, but no less important, we must not confront such a scenario with a deep internal rift. We must not expose our citizens to the dangers of terrorism, or send young soldiers to battle without the backing of a united national consensus. We must not place Israel in a situation of confrontation while one half of its population feels that such confrontation was not unavoidable, and that the government did not exhaust every avenue that would not compromise Israel’s vital national interests. We must not place Israel in confrontation under an international diplomatic disadvantage while the other side enjoys wide international backing.

The Camp David summit prevented exactly such a situation. It may have foiled the Palestinian Authority’s intention to take unilateral steps. It has certainly prevented Palestinian unilateral steps with wide international support, and afforded the State of Israel a vital diplomatic advantage even in the event of such unilateral steps. A strategic power position is not a "given" or necessarily a permanent situation. It is an opportunity which must be seized. It is a springboard which we must use to ensure a future of prosperity, security and peace for Israel in every possible field. From the standpoint of the possibility of a permanent settlement with the Palestinians and an end to the 100-year conflict, conditions were never better and it is doubtful that they will be better in the future.

From Syria, under the leadership of Bashar el-Assad, we are also hearing that peace is recognized as a strategic choice and that there is expectation for a "peace of the brave" that would acknowledge Syria’s honor and interest, and our answer to them is: the door is open. Peace is also a strategic choice for Israel and we also expect that our honor and vital interests will be acknowledged. If Syria demonstrates willingness for a "peace of the brave" it will come, and will benefit the future of all the peoples of the region.

Not only is Israel in a powerful position, but there is a still a President in the White House (and not for long) whose is focused, perhaps more than any other American President, on the issue of peace in the Middle East. The involvement and weight of an American president are vital and necessary for the achievement of peace between Israel and its neighbors, as the peace agreements with Jordan and Egypt, the Wye and Sharm el-Sheikh agreements, and the Geneva Summit have proven.

I am certain that whoever is elected in November will also support the effort to advance peace in our region, but the change-over will require time, and even more time will be required for the new President to formulate his policies and determine priorities. If the Palestinian leadership is indeed ready to grapple with the challenge of the establishment of a Palestinian State and the solution to its peoples’ plight, they must understand that a pre-condition is an end to the conflict with Israel. A Palestinian State can only be established with massive and generous international aid – especially from the G-8 nations under US leadership – which would provide backing for an Israeli/Palestinian permanent settlement. The alternative is violent confrontation (which Israel will undoubtedly win) and a return to exactly the same point, only with the high price of many victims and a long row of new graves on both sides. The window of opportunity is closing, but right now the opportunity to seize the moment still remains. The government of Israel will do its utmost to this end.

As I have already said, the current strategic equation is not permanent. Iraq will not remain besieged and impoverished forever; Iran is already testing its long-range missiles and developing new capabilities. The Middle East is an area which has historically known sharp transformations and tribulations, and under the surface there are dark forces at work which could erupt. Israel is prepared to confront any challenge and has the tools to provide the ultimate answer to any possible combination of aggressive action. However, Israel’s interest lies not in victory in war, but in the prevention of war. Israel’s interest is to gain a peace where there are no losers, but only winners. Israel must minimize the chances and the dangers of a future violent outbreak. An Israel in active conflict with its neighbors is much more exposed to such a threat, than an Israel living in peace and stability, maintaining developed diplomatic and economic relations with all its neighbors, based on strong mutual interests.

My government strives to end the conflict and is prepared to make the difficult and necessary decisions, and to bring the results to the people. A peace agreement (if achieved) will include achievements for both the Israeli and Palestinian people, but will also extract a heavy price for both parties, and entail the sober and painful abandonment of some "dreams". I am certain that the people of Israel are prepared to accept this decision and so I pursue it with a full heart, but I reiterate what I have said many times: just as there is no peace without a price, there is no peace at any price. Compromise is necessary and painful, but compromise stops at the internal nucleus of our national identity, national interests, and the security and unity of the people.

I wish to conclude with a quote from John Kennedy: "With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own."

I believe that at this time, "God’s work" is to achieve peace and security and I am certain that the people of Israel have the courage necessary for peace. I am convinced that even if we encounter obstacles along our way, we will eventually bring peace and security to Israel. God willing!    
 Prime Minister Barak- Remarks to the National Security College-August 2000
 Prime Minister Barak- Remarks to the National Security College-August 2000
The Camp David Summit – July 2000