September 15, 2003
At the outset allow me congratulate you on your assumption of the Presidency for the month of September.
Three days ago on September 13th we commemorated the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Principles on the White House lawn. That was a time of hope for the people of the region and of the world, that the leadership on both sides was committed to a peaceful and negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At that time, and despite well-founded reservations, Israel was willing to believe that Yasser Arafat had abandoned the path of terrorism and embarked on the road to true reconciliation and mutual recognition. It was on the basis of that commitment, that Mr. Arafat entered Palestinian Authority territory to implement his obligations under signed agreements.
Unfortunately, as we have all known for some time, Mr. Arafat lied. Israel, like other members of the international community, has come to this conclusion reluctantly and painfully. More than any other state we invested a great deal in Mr. Arafat’s word, and were willing, against our better judgment, to heed calls from other states to forgo or forgive Mr. Arafat’s failures even at the earliest stages of the peace process.
As much as we all hoped for the opposite result, it is abundantly clear that the person with the standing to deliver a fair and genuine peace on the Palestinian side has done the most to bury its chances. We cannot ignore the facts. His continuing rejection of Israel’s right to exist, his denial of the ancient ties of the Jewish people to its homeland, and his support of terrorists and their tactics has brought untold suffering to the region, and denied the promise of peace and prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians, alike. He has sought to turn a political and resolvable conflict into a seemingly intractable religious and cross-cultural struggle. Among the litany of deliberately missed opportunities, the Palestinian leadership, under Mr. Arafat’s control, rejected at Camp David the opportunity for the establishment of a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, in favor of the path of terrorism that he, as one of its masterminds, has never really abandoned.
Since September 2000, 869 Israeli citizens have been killed, and nearly 6000 wounded in suicide bombings and terrorist attacks that deliberately targeted the innocent. There is hardly a single Israeli citizen today who has not been affected, directly or indirectly, by Palestinian terrorism. The equivalent number of casualties in a country with a population of that of the UK, Mr. President, would be 84,609 citizens. This figure may give us all some pause in comprehending the devastating impact that the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to confront the terrorists in its midst has had on the people of the region.
Tragically, Mr. Arafat’s rule has brought considerable pain and havoc to Palestinian society as well. The brazen refusal of the Palestinian leadership to fulfill its obligations to dismantle terrorist organizations, and join the global campaign against terrorism has exacted a heavy toll on Palestinian society. By allowing terrorists to set-up shop in the heart of Palestinian civilian areas, in grave violation of international humanitarian law, Mr. Arafat has seriously endangered the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians. By stifling dissent, preventing the emergence of democratic institutions and violating the human rights of Palestinians, including the Palestinian Christian community, he has set back the development of a vibrant and responsible Palestinian society. By allowing only one voice while nurturing a myriad of competing security and terrorist organizations, he has succeeded in perpetuating his own corrupt rule at the expense of the welfare of Palestinian civilians.
Events of recent days have proven again that Mr. Arafat is determined to prevent any process of genuine reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. I dare say, there is hardly a diplomat in this room who would not admit privately that Mr. Arafat represents a significant obstacle to this process. He has shunned every outstretched hand, while placating the international community with pathetic rhetoric that has been belied almost daily by his actions. The result has been paid in the blood of Israelis and Palestinians.
He is amongst a select group of terrorist entrepreneurs who have brought airplane hijackings, massacres of Olympic athletes, the killing of children sleeping in the shelter of their own beds, and suicide terrorism, to a region that yearns for peace and stability. And he is at the helm of those who have been supporting mega-terror attacks, in the style of the bombing of the twin towers, to bring the region to the brink of catastrophe. Today such immoral tactics, stamped with Mr. Arafat’s label of origin, are callously and indiscriminately exported beyond our region.
Knowing all this, for how long will there be states among us who are willing to continue the charade of touting Mr. Arafat as a legitimate leader committed to the welfare of his people and peaceful relations with his neighbors. The ruin that Mr. Arafat has left behind in Jordan, in Lebanon, and in the West Bank testify that he has brought nothing but despair and devastation to his own people and to other people in the region.
One need not rely on Israeli declarations to come to this conclusion. Courageous members of Palestinian society and responsible Palestinian and world leaders have themselves admitted that Mr. Arafat’s cruel, authoritarian and corrupt rule is designed to perpetuate his own power – not to benefit his people.
Since efforts have been underway to restart the peace process through the Road Map, Mr. Arafat has played a wholly destructive role at every step of the way. He has actively sought to prevent the Palestinian Prime Minister from fulfilling the Palestinian obligations under the Road Map. He has sabotaged attempts to establish and new and different leadership in the Palestinian Authority, which stood at the basis of President Bush’s vision.
He has refused to allow the consolidation of security forces under the control of an empowered minister for internal security, so that finally, responsible Palestinians can act to completely dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, as they are morally and legally obligated to do. After voicing his active objection to the appointment of Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, Mr. Arafat pressured members of the Palestinian legislative council to narrow Mr. Abbas’ control. He has acted to undermine Mr. Abbas from the beginning of his tenure to the very end, until Mr. Abbas was compelled to resign and admit publicly that Mr. Arafat had not given him the authority to fulfill the obligations that the Palestinians had taken upon themselves.
He has continued to encourage acts of terrorism and violence, and kept renegade terrorist groups like the Tanzim under his direct control so that at any given moment he could scuttle efforts to renew dialogue by directing the murder of innocent civilians. And he has worked to prevent efforts made to introduce transparency and accountability in Palestinian Authority finances, so that money can continue to be funneled into his private accounts. He has signed peace agreements with one hand, and signed checks to terrorists and suicide bombers with the other.
The decision of the Israeli cabinet last Thursday merely states the obvious – that Mr. Arafat is an obstacle to peace. This realization was a driving force in the call for reform in the context of the Road Map, and it is even more relevant today as the prospects for restarting the peace process risk being doomed to failure.
In other instances, members of the international community have recognized that certain leaders are so destructive to the rights of their own people and to the security and stability of their region, that their legitimacy must be questioned. Mr. Arafat is no exception.
How many more children have to die? How many more concerted peace efforts need to be scuttled before the world is willing to denounce Mr. Arafat’s role in a clear voice?
And yet, Mr. President, when is the Security Council galvanized into action? Was it galvanized to act after the horrific suicide bombings which killed twenty-two and injured 135 on a crowded bus in downtown Jerusalem filled with orthodox Jewish families and children returning from prayers at the Western Wall? Was it galvanized to act this past Tuesday when two suicide bombings, at a cafe in Jerusalem and a bus stop in central Israel, killed a total of fifteen and injured more than seventy Israelis, just hours apart.
The Council may have already heard that these latest attacks were perpetrated by terrorists recently released by Israel as part of a goodwill gesture towards the Palestinian leadership. They are further evidence that every gesture made by Israel, and every risk taken for the sake of peace has been answered with criminal action and inaction on the part of the Palestinian leadership, under Mr. Arafat’s control.
Let us take a moment to consider the price of Israel’s goodwill gestures made at the behest of the international community in the hope that Mr. Arafat’s leadership will respond in kind. It is the price paid by Dr. David Applebaum and his daughter Nava who were among those murdered in the terrorist attack in Jerusalem this past Tuesday. Dr. Applebaum, a renowned specialist in emergency medicine and the head of the emergency room at Shaare Zedek Hospital, who himself had treated countless terror victims, had brought his daughter to the Jerusalem caf for a heart-to-heart talk on the very eve of her wedding. It is the price paid in lives because ambulances carrying the injured from a terrorist attack must slow down so that they can be checked as a result of intelligence reports indicating that terrorists are attempting to booby-trap ambulances to explode upon arrival at hospitals. It is the price paid in fear by courageous Israeli civilians who do not know when or where the next attack, resulting from Mr. Arafat’s encouragement or acquiescence, will come.
It would be a grave error if the Council were to come to the aid not of the victims of terrorism, but of their sponsor and perpetrator. The Council’s focus should be directed first and foremost at terrorism and at its facilitators, and not at the response to terrorism. Pressure should be directed against the problem and not against those who are its victims.
The efforts of the Palestinian representative in this chamber do not advance the interests of the Palestinian people, but the personal interest and corrupt rule of Mr. Arafat himself. High-minded rhetoric about the so-called legitimacy of Mr. Arafat’s leadership and the illegitimacy of Israel’s interference, are meaningless and hypocritical in the face of the hundreds of dead and injured innocent civilians killed with the direct approval or acquiescence of Mr. Arafat himself. What country, faced with terrorism of this unprecedented magnitude and duration, would not hold the person who has both orchestrated the terror and refused to suppress it, directly and criminally responsible?
In perpetuating this game of legitimizing Mr. Arafat, we fundamentally undermine our efforts to allow an empowered Palestinian Prime Minister to work to implement the Road Map and reach a peaceful solution. Such a policy serves the interests of no one other than the terrorists that Mr. Arafat continues to support. It is time we expressly admitted that he is part of the problem and not part of the solution.
Israel holds out hope that a new and different Palestinian leadership that categorically abandons the ways of Mr. Arafat, will be ready to fully and responsibly implement its obligations to fight terrorism and incitement. If it does so, it will find in Israel a willing partner ready to make painful compromises, as it has proven before, to realize President Bush’s vision. Our discussions today take place on the tails of September 11th, the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack in history, and the signing of the Declaration of Principles in Washington on 13 September 1993. These two events are a haunting and vivid illustration of the devastating effects of terrorism and of the promise and possibility of peace if terrorism is abandoned and the vision of peace between Israelis and Palestinians is vigorously pursued.
Time and again, the world has held out hope that Mr. Arafat has rejected the path of terrorism for the path of peace; the hope that he has become a responsible statesman and not remained a professional terrorist. In the two years following September 11th, Mr. Arafat has continued to demonstrate that he is on the wrong side of history and that he refuses to learn any lessons about the effects of terrorism for both Israelis and Palestinians. Rather than taking responsibility to build a genuine, democratic Palestinian society that can live in peace with its neighbors, he has turned Palestinian victim-hood into a professional enterprise and Palestinian suffering into a source of power and personal prosperity. We will bring no benefit today to the cause of peace, or to the legitimate rights of Palestinians and Israelis, if we come to the defense of someone who has brought only suffering and the promise of further bloodshed.
Thank you, Mr. President.