to the 58th Session of the United Nations General Assembly
New York, September 25, 2003
Mr. Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to congratulate His Excellency, the Foreign Minister of St. Lucia, upon his assumption of the presidency of the General Assembly, and wish him much success.
Until just one month ago, every person in this hall and every member of this organization joined us in the hope that the Middle East peace process might finally be back on track, and that a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be on the horizon.
The establishment of a new Palestinian government promised an end to terror and a new beginning.
This glimmer of hope was darkened on August 19th by the extremists who blew up a bus full of Jewish families on their way home from prayers at the Western Wall, the holiest site in the Jewish religion. Twenty-three people, young and old, mothers and babies in their cradles, were slaughtered in this attack. This attack was carried out by Hamas, a terrorist organization, which under the Roadmap should have been dismantled by the Palestinian Authority.
Failure to dismantle Hamas and other extremist organizaitons has brought our diplomatic efforts to a standstill. Rather than acting to fulfill its obligation, the Palestinian Authority has chosen the route of inaction, and complicity in terror.
We cannot allow this to continue. We must bring back the hope that we can build a better future for our children. The infrastructure of terror must be dismantled so that we can put our peace efforts back on track. There is no other time. There is no other way.
For many years it was thought that terrorism in the Middle East was Israel’s problem, not the world’s. Today, the world knows otherwise.
Today, it is not only Israel which mourns the loss of its loved ones, women and children and babies, at the hands of the terrorists. We have sadly been joined by peoples from across the globe – from Mombasa to Casablanca, Moscow to Bali.
Even the United Nations, that for so many is a symbol of peace and goodwill, is not immune.
Standing here today in New York, just two short years after September 11th, the community of nations knows – that those who seek to advance their political agendas through killing innocents, are ready to strike at anyone or anything that represents the values of freedom and human life.
Terrorism has declared war on us all.
Israel has often stood alone in this battle. A country which has suffered more than any other from terrorism, we have always understood the danger it poses to democracy and freedom everywhere, even when others refused to see, and condemned us for our actions. We have always understood that terrorism – no matter what cause it claims to serve – seeks only to destroy, not to build.
There can be no neutrality in the war against terrorism and there can be no immunity for those who engage in it. Abstaining is not an option.
This is not a war of choice. Terrorism will not be eliminated until the world unites against it. Our only choice is to win. Every member of the international community must take concrete and proactive measures to cut off all channels of financial, moral and political support to this common enemy.
States – members of this institution – that sponsor terrorists and give them shelter, are accomplices in the acts of terror themselves. They must be held accountable for their crimes. It is no coincidence that states that sponsor terrorism, like Iran and Syria, are also striving to acquire weapons of mass destruction. Their hostility to freedom and the rule of law puts the very future of humanity in jeopardy.
I know that for many in this place Yasser Arafat is seen as the symbol of the Palestinian struggle. Tragically – for his people and for ours – he is one of the world’s icons of terror.
In the ten years since Arafat declared his commitment to Israel – and the world – that he would no longer use terror, 1,126 Israelis have been killed and thousands wounded in 19,000 separate Palestinian terrorist attacks.
In relative numbers, this would be the same as 11,000 French or 56,000 Americans dying from terrorism in the same period of time.
This carnage must stop. Its impact on both societies is devastating.
Yasser Arafat bears direct responsibility for this terrible suffering. He has led his people on the path of terror – from hijackings to suicide bombings – for more than thirty years, always preferring Israeli pain over Palestinian gain.
He has been – and he remains – the greatest obstacle to peace between our peoples. For as long as he controls the levers of power, no moderate leadership can emerge.
To vote for Arafat – like we saw in this Assembly just last week – is to vote against the Palestinian people. When Arafat wins – terrorism wins, and we all lose.
Instead of rallying around Arafat, the international community must rally around the genuine interests of the Palestinian people. They must do so now, before he leads them even further down the path of terror and destruction.
When a responsible and empowered Palestinian leadership finally emerges – a leadership ready to join the war on terror – it will find us a willing partner for peace.
Israel is committed to the vision for Middle East peace laid out by US President George Bush on June 24th, 2002.
Israel will not compromise on the safety of its citizens. But we will go the extra mile – as we have proven before – to bring peace and security to both our peoples.
We are ready to work with the Palestinians and the international community to make this vision a reality. For this to happen, the Palestinian leadership must take the moral and strategic decision to abandon terrorism once and for all, and make peacemaking possible.
They must guide their people to build their own society, rather than seeking to destroy ours. They, too, must understand that it is not poverty that breeds terror but terror that breeds poverty.
We cannot stop only at dismantling the infrastructure of terror. We must also build an infrastructure of peace. It is up to political and moral leaders everywhere to foster an environment which rejects extremism and empowers the peacemakers.
This is particularly so in the Arab and Muslim world, where incitement against Israel closes hearts and minds to the possibility of peace.
Leaders must guide their people away from the culture of hate, and replace it with a culture of tolerance. Concrete expressions of cooperation and exchange must be built – in media and government, education, science and business – to reinforce the message of tolerance and acceptance.
For the sake of our collective future, voices of moderation must be heard. For the sake of our collective future, Israel and the Arab nations must learn to live together side by side, to overcome our conflicts – just as the nations of Europe have learned to overcome theirs.
Israel is living among its Arab neighbors. We believe in a common future of peace and prosperity with them. My many meetings with Arab leaders over the last few days have encouraged me to believe that together we can make our region a better place.
This culture of peace must permeate not only the borders of the Middle East. It must permeate the walls of the United Nations as well. In the past, the United Nations has shown that it can play a positive role. This Assembly was key in the founding of the State of Israel 55 years ago. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 are our guideposts to negotiations and peace.
To play such a constructive role in the future, the UN must reform. It must move away from the partisan hostility that has taken over its Middle East agenda.
For more than three decades, this Assembly has passed every year a litany of resolutions designed to discredit Israel, challenge its interests, and promote the will of its greatest enemies.
In my hand, I am holding a collection of the decisions of the 57th General Assembly on the Middle East. One hundred and seventy five pages filled not with hope, but with the negative agendas of the past.
No other country has suffered such unjustified attack and consistent discrimination within the UN system. The time has come to end this campaign of diplomatic incitement.
For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians – for the sake of the UN and peace itself – I call on this body to rise above the tired politics of yesterday, and adopt a new, courageous agenda for tomorrow.
I call on the General Assembly to abandon the automatic adoption of anti-Israel resolutions, and to find ways of making itself relevant once again to the interests of the people it claims to serve. I call on this Assembly to fulfill its historic mission and help promote what unites us, not what divides us.
On the morning of February 1st of this year, Israel lost its first astronaut in the Columbia space-shuttle disaster – a skilled and courageous pilot whom I knew personally, a child of Holocaust survivors, a national hero.
Colonel Ilan Ramon embodied the spirit of our nation. A man of courage and action, dedicated to the well-being of his people, just as he sought to contribute to the advancement of his fellow man.
He met his death together with colleagues from the United States and India, on a scientific mission in the name of humanity as a whole.
Israel’s place in such endeavors of international cooperation and accomplishment is no coincidence. In the 55 years since the State of Israel was established, recognized, and welcomed into the family of nations, our achievements in the fields of science and technology, the arts and literature, agriculture and medicine, have come to rank with the best in the world. Our international cooperation program is celebrated in over a hundred countries around the globe – sharing skills, experience and knowledge to the benefit of millions of people.
We extend this hand of friendship to all the nations of the world. We welcome our improving relations with Europe, just as we remain committed to promoting closer ties with the nations of Africa, Asia and the Americas.
The Zionist vision of Israel’s founders was to bring into the world a state in our ancient homeland to serve as a haven for our people from persecution. A place where the Jewish people could fulfill its right to self-determination in the modern era. A bastion of democracy and opportunity for all its citizens.
Our founders also made a promise not just to the people of Israel, but to the people of the Middle East as a whole – to pursue peace and to work for the common advancement of our region.
I know personally the profound meaning of this historic undertaking. I came to Israel as a young refugee from Tunisia. I serve as one of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to whom Israel has granted promise and protection, freedom and opportunity, through the values and institutions of democracy.
I stand here today to reaffirm, before the nations of the world, the commitment of my country to peace.
Peace for the people of Israel is both a moral and historic imperative. "Shalom" – the word for peace in Hebrew – is central to our language and our heritage. It is how we say hello and it is how we say goodbye. It is a name we give to our children. It is my own family name.
It was our prophet Isaiah, who brought this message of peace to the world already centuries ago, when he said: "And they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."
Israel’s historic record is clear. Whenever a true partner for peace emerged, he was met with Israel’s extended hand.
This was true when President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Jerusalem in 1977 and it was true when King Hussein of Jordan signed the peace treaty with us in 1994. The same is true today.
Israel stands ready to complete the circle of peace with all its neighbors. Real peace. Not just peace for the headlines, but peace which brings an end to violence and hostility, and positive change for the citizens of our region.
From this great podium – a podium shared by all humanity – I call on the leaders of Syria and Lebanon, of Iran and of the Palestinian people – to abandon once and for all their hostility towards us, and join us in building a better future for our children.
This evening I shall return to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people, to join with them in celebrating Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. According to our tradition, this is a time when God determines the fate of each and every individual for the coming year.
These are days of reflection and prayer. May all our prayers for peace and for life be answered.
And may the actions and deeds of all the states and peoples represented here in this hall, bring to mankind peace and security, and all the blessings that life can offer.
Shana tova le-kol bet Israel. Thank you very much.