AIPAC Policy Conference
Washington D.C., March 19, 2001
"Towards a National Agenda of Peace and Security"
Distinguished Members of Congress, the leadership of AIPAC, Tim Willigur, Lonny Kaplan, Howard Kohr, dear friends and supporters of Israel.
I bring you greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years, and of the State of Israel for the past 52 years and forever. Jerusalem belongs to all the Jewish people – we in Israel are only custodians of the city. Only under the sovereignty of Israel has Jerusalem been open to all faiths. Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, the holiest site to the Jewish people, is something you should stand up and speak out about. Jerusalem will remain united under the sovereignty of Israel – forever.
I stand before you today, first and foremost as a Jew. This strong Jewish identity is a central theme in my life and will be in carrying out my responsibilities as Prime Minister. I want to work to strengthen the relationship between Israel and Jews all over the world. I have established a National Unity Government to unite the people of Israel, but unity among Jews is vital worldwide. Unity is our source of strength. The Jewish people have one small, tiny country; it is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and capability to defend themselves by themselves. For 2000 years we had to rely on others for our defense, now we control our own destiny. Exercising this right strengthens the security of Jews everywhere.
Although I am 6000 miles from home, I feel that tonight, I am among friends. I would like to recognize the long-standing bipartisan support of the U.S. Congress for the State of Israel. I have come to Washington to deepen and strengthen the special relationship between our peoples. I wish to start by developing a close relationship with President Bush and his Administration, enhance our ties with both houses of Congress, and with the American people as a whole. Ten years ago, under the leadership of President George Bush, Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Colin Powell, the United States won a great military victory in the Gulf War, that changed the face of the Middle East.
An entirely new situation emerged that opened a ‘window of opportunity’ leading to the Madrid Peace Conference in the fall of 1991.
The clear lesson of this period was that if there is a secure Middle East, there can be a peaceful Middle East. Regional security proved to be a pre-requisite for peacemaking: face to face negotiations without the threat of aggression, violence or terrorism. This became the underlying principle of the Madrid Conference and subsequent Israeli-Arab negotiations.
In the years that followed Madrid, every Israeli Prime Minister sought to advance the peace process in his own way. All of Israel seeks peace. Based on my personal experiences in all of Israel’s wars, I am committed to achieving peace. But Israel needs peace with security, a peace that will last for generations.
Unfortunately, the situation in the Middle East in 2001 is no longer the same as it was in 1991, the security of the region as a whole has eroded.
A new wave of international terrorism is on the rise from Afghanistan to Lebanon – some of it state-sponsored. Most recently, acts of terror instigated by the Palestinian Authority, coupled with deliberate incitement, have become one of the primary sources of instability in the Middle East.
Terrorism as a form of warfare is a strategic issue in our region: Most of the past wars in the region were instigated by acts of terrorism. Therefore, on the basis of past experience, even today international terrorism can still threaten regional and global stability.
Terrorism thrives when international norms and principles are ignored; when the peaceful resolution of disputes is displaced by violence and intimidation. Therefore, strengthening cooperation among all western nations including Israel, and concerted efforts led by the United States are the only way to contain this dangerous trend.
Regional security is eroding in the wider Middle East, as well. Iraq has not been under UN monitoring for more than two years and sanctions have been increasingly ignored. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein is seeking to restore his mass destruction weapons capability and his quest for long-range missiles.
Iran today is providing unprecedented support for terrorism. It not only backs Hizbullah, but also seeks to arm and train Palestinian organizations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad that are planning attacks within Israel and against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad. Today, Iran is continuing its effort to export fundamentalism, converting Lebanon into one of the main centers of international terrorism that will inevitably undermine the stability of the entire Middle East.
Iran is already testing missiles that can strike Israel. But it is planning to produce significantly longer-range missiles that will put the Middle East, Western Europe, Russia and even parts of the U.S. itself at risk.
Much of this ballistic missile technology comes from North Korea, but it is also emanating from the Russian Federation.
In the Middle East today, the forces of instability feel they are gaining momentum. In this new environment, it is not surprising that the Arab-Israeli peace process has reached a stalemate.
Syria is looking east to its ties with a resurgent Iraq and Iran, instead of better relations with the West. The Palestinians are waving the flags of Iraq and Hizbullah. Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority are returning to the belief that they can defeat Israel by means of armed struggle. They feel that violence will produce further Israeli concessions. Arafat is willing to destabilize the entire Middle East, including moderate Arab regimes, in order to achieve his goals.
The current situation in the Middle East can be reversed. Strong democracies determined to protect themselves can restore stability and build the foundations for a lasting peace.
First, I believe that Israel can reach an agreement with the Palestinians and I will make every effort to reach such an agreement. This agreement will be based on two basic stages.
In the first stage, which we have begun, we are already taking immediate steps to ease up restrictions and improve the economic situation of the Palestinian population. At the same time, we will maintain a relentless fight against terrorists and their supporters with an effort to prevent escalation. Steps and measures to stop the violence and restore stability must be taken by the Palestinian Authority as well as the Israeli security forces. Let me emphasize that I draw a clear distinction between terrorists and their supporters, on the one hand, and the general population on the other.
That’s what I said before the elections, immediately after the elections, and that’s what I started to do, with all the risks. And we have already today paid the first casualty, a father of six children, as a result of the fact that we removed our barriers and removed our checkpoints. But I know that patience is needed, and we are going to continue in our effort to fight terrorists, on one hand, and to try and help the population on the other hand. That will be our policy.
Despite intense diplomatic efforts of the last nine months, it is clear that conditions are not yet ripe to conclude a permanent status agreement. However, Israel remains committed to agreements that previous governments have signed, that were ratified by the Knesset, and also implemented by the other side. But Israel will not be bound by the record of past negotiations that failed.
It is for this reason that I have called in the second stage for a new, more realistic approach of non-belligerency and a long-term interim agreement. More than ever, Israel needs security zones to protect it from the growing dangers in the Middle East; the Palestinians need contiguity and a better economic future. And time is needed to make sure that incitement and hatred are removed from the Palestinian media and from school textbooks and that children are taught the language of peace, so that we can achieve real reconciliation and a true end to the conflict.
For this to occur, Arafat must understand, first and foremost, that he will gain nothing from violence. Israel will not negotiate while Israeli civilians and soldiers are under fire, under threat of terror.
Regrettably, just last week, we received a definite intelligence warning that Yasser Arafat’s own Presidential Guard, known as Force-17, was planning a car bomb attack in the heart of Jerusalem. Many Israeli lives were at stake. The Force-17 unit was located in Palestinian-controlled Ramallah, but Arafat was not prepared to stop this threat against Israel by himself. Israel placed a ring of checkpoints around Ramallah in order to catch the Force-17 unit. The PLO tried to create an international uproar about our actions, saying that we wanted to strangle Ramallah. We do not want to create barriers for the Palestinians, but I will do what is necessary to protect the people of Israel.
Second, it is not enough to address the Palestinian issue alone. For two decades many believed that if Israel would only make diplomatic progress with the Palestinians, the rest of the Middle East would fall into place. That has not happened over the last ten years. The wider sources of regional instability must be neutralized. It is imperative that Iraq be placed under strict inspection and monitoring. Iran’s backing of international terrorism must be stopped. The proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and missile delivery systems to both Iran and Iraq must be halted.
Third, in order to assure for both the security of Israel and the United States, we must provide an answer to the emerging threat that both Iran and Iraq pose to our future security; namely, long-range ballistic missiles. Missile defense is an absolute imperative for our countries today. Israel is proud to be one of America’s major international partners in missile defense development. It is our hope that Israel’s own experiences in missile defense can help the US and its allies in protecting their future security. In sum, restoring regional stability requires both diplomacy and deterrence.
Let me close, however, with the following observation. The future of Israel is not just a matter for the Israelis that live there. Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people. And Israel would not be what it is today if it were not for the efforts of all Jews worldwide, as well as of our friends, many of whom I see here tonight. Our destinies tie us together and remain firmly bound.
Now I turn to your generation to stand by Israel at this critical hour. We have three main goals on our shared agenda; aliya – immigration to Israel, then a Zionist-Jewish education, and continuing to build the foundations of the State of Israel.
Now is the time to make aliya and join us in building the country. But if you cannot, it is also the time to visit. You have to come and visit, and you will find there is a normal life in Israel. And send your children to learn and study. A Jewish and Zionist education is the key to Jewish survival. We can meet these challenges and make all our dreams come true.
Together we can make the Jewish people secure, make Israel safe, and assure for generations an Israel which is a true island of democracy at peace, with a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital.
Today I feel the heavy responsibility of being Prime Minister. I am ready to face the challenges and hopes that lie ahead. I am hopeful that if we work together, we can live to see Israel reach its potential and take its place as a true light unto the nations.
I would like to end with a quotation I used in my opening speech to the Knesset two weeks ago. It is taken from President Abraham Lincoln’s presidential address on March 4, 1865 and reflects my own feelings and aspirations upon assuming office:
"With malice towards none, with charity for all; for firmness in the right, as God gives to us to see the right, let us strive to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds;. to do all which may achieve and cherish a just, and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."