at Meeting with the Scientific Club of The Association of the Friends of the Weizmann Institute
January 15, 2003
I wish to thank you for inviting me here this evening. The large assembly gathered here shares the formidable vision which is embodied in the Weizmann Institute of Science. A vision of the State of Israel at the forefront of scientific and technological progress. A vision of Israel exploring bold horizons of thought, research and insight which enrich human knowledge and forge a path to man’s welfare and the future of mankind. The Weizmann Institute of Science is an expression of Israel’s uniqueness and glory, which is, sadly, often forgotten in times of routine.
Therefore, there is no place more appropriate than this to send our greetings to Col. Ilan Ramon, our Israeli Air Force pilot, who will be the first Israeli to fly into space aboard the American space shuttle Columbia. On my way here, together with the Minister of Education, the Minister received a call from our astronaut and we had a long conversation with him. I was excited, the Minister was excited and I believe that the pilot was the most excited. We had a long talk and I can tell you that Col. Ramon is a man busting with national pride. Col. Ramon’s flight and his mission into space are a source of honor to us all, and his success is yet another step in Israel’s integration into the space age.
We wish him and the entire crew of the Columbia space shuttle success in their mission and a safe return home.
I wish to focus my statements this evening mainly on our conflict with our Palestinian neighbors and the path which I believe we must follow – with patience and responsibility – in order to lead the State of Israel from the abyss of a violent conflict to a different reality of stability, security and peace.
It is important to say, based on experience, that there are some things that a leadership must avoid in days like these, even if the temptation is great. We must not mislead or create illusions. We must not exploit the tremendous emotional burden involved in the difficult confrontation with violence and terrorism, in order to offer the public magic and instant solutions, or get caught in a fool’s trap. We must not underestimate the public’s wisdom. For two and a half years, the people of Israel have borne this struggle with courage and stamina, our spirit has not broken and the terrorists’ schemes have come up and been shattered against our strength and our fortitude. Despite its desire for peace and tranquility, our people know the truth: that there is no recipe or magic wand for ending the conflict in a flash. The safe path to peace is long and arduous. We are marching along this path and making progress on both the military and political fronts, and this is the path which will lead us safely to our destination. Let us not be tempted to take "short-cuts" – either from the left or the right – because there are none.
There is a well known Talmudic story of Rabbi Yehoshua who sought to reach a certain destination and arrived at a crossroads. There he met a wise little boy. The Rabbi asked him: "which of the two paths should I choose?" The boy replied: "this one is long and short, and that one is short and long." Rabbi Yehoshua opted for the "short and long" way, only to quickly discover that it was blocked and that it did not lead to the destination. He returned to the crossroads, took the "long and short" path and safely reached his destination.
The lesson is clear: there were those who tried the short path to achieve a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. Unfortunately, we are paying a costly price for that experiment. Again we returned to the crossroads and there is no escape from taking the path that we should have chosen in the first place: the long and safe one, which is ultimately the quickest and only way to lead us to our goal of peace and security.
We must not provide free gifts. We must not unilaterally withdraw without political rewards or the absence of an agreement. And here we must emphasize:
Beyond the detrimental interpretation that the Palestinians and the Arab states will apply to the vision of deserted and ruined communities, and the fact that this will be construed as an Israeli defeat and will encourage terrorism, there is another grave danger: withdrawal without agreement relieves the Palestinians of all responsibility. The Palestinians will continue to maintain large military forces uninterrupted and to manufacture weapons. They have already established a military industry, and they will be free to enter into alliances with Israel’s enemies and continue the path of terror. Above all, the United States will be relieved of any of the commitments taken when we arrived at an agreed-upon plan. We have arrived at an agreed-upon plan with the United States, and once we deviate from it, the United States will also deviate from it, despite the great efforts invested in a long and difficult negotiation process. My seven visits to Washington during the last eighteen months have not been easy, and they have certainly not been in vain.
Therefore, we must continue fighting terrorism relentlessly, determinedly and stubbornly, using every scheme and means at our disposal. The IDF, the General Security Service and the Israel Police are engaged in the most thorough, courageous and sophisticated work, with exceptional success. In this kind of warfare, there is obviously no chance of a hundred percent success in thwarting and prevention. Unfortunately, most successes remain unpublished, while the few instances where terrorist attacks do occur naturally receive comprehensive media coverage. I take this opportunity also to send my personal greetings and gratitude to the IDF soldiers and commanders, the Israel police, the border police and all members of the security and intelligence community who carry their duties day and night, even as we speak.
In the framework of our fight against terrorism, we must continue the construction of the security separation fence, in order to create a continuous physical buffer zone between the population centers of the State of Israel and the terror centers. The fence is currently being constructed, with tremendous investment and at full speed. I want to tell you that this is the greatest work that has ever been carried out in Israel. 400 pieces of heavy machinery are currently operating, many of which were brought from abroad, as we do not have this amount of machinery in Israel. The fence’s main section – from Salem to the Cross Samaria road – will be completed by summer. At the same time, I must emphasize: the significance of the security fence should not be magnified beyond what it is – another important obstacle to terrorism and a vital cornerstone in the comprehensive battle against the terrorist organizations, but not beyond that. It is not a magic drug and is certainly no substitute for the continuation of the IDF activity in the terror centers and against the terrorists, their abettors and dispatchers.
Simultaneously, we must constantly strive toward real peace, demonstrate initiative and maximum flexibility, but without compromising our security and Israel’s vital interests.
There is no doubt that the main partner to any feasible political initiative for peace in the Middle East is Washington. During the past two years, I have nurtured our ties with the United States and cemented Israel’s status in the White House and on Capitol Hill. We have, as you know, true friends there, and the understanding, cooperation and coordination with them have reached an unprecedented level. These relations are a primary political and strategic asset to the State of Israel. They yield invaluable security benefits (but this is not the place to detail them). They also yield significant economic fruits, as proven in the past few days in the valuable contacts of the delegation headed by the Chief of my bureau, Dov Weissglas, regarding the guarantees and the special security grant.
The foundation for a political settlement in our region was anchored approximately six months ago, on June 24, 2002, in President Bush’s speech on the Middle East. I have said before, and I reiterate, that the President’s peace plan is a reasonable, realistic and feasible one.
The underlying principle of this plan – which is acceptable to Israel – is progress in phases, with the first phase being a complete cessation of Palestinian terrorism. The transition from one phase to a more advanced one is not defined according to a pre-determined timetable, but on the basis of performance. Each transition to the next phase is conditional on complete fulfillment of the commitments in the phase preceding it.
Israel should obviously not be expected to make political concessions prior to a proven state of calm and Palestinian governmental reforms. The reform process is necessary in order to remove Arafat from the reins of power and decision-making and to establish a more proper government, which will lead the security, economic and democratic reforms. In this context it should be emphasized that one of the most important tests of the new regime will be not only the prevention and dismantling of terrorism, but also a complete cessation of incitement and the nurturing of an education system that teaches the values of peace and coexistence.
Israel will never again place their trust in someone who has proven time and again that he is not worthy of trust. Yasser Arafat is not, never has been and never will be a leader of peace. His path is rife with destruction and terror. He is to be counted among the leaders who brought disaster upon disaster on the Palestinian people. Arafat abused his position and the recognition he was granted to build a murderous terrorist regime to continue the armed struggle against Israel. Instead, he has wreaked havoc on his people. The Israelis are not breaking, but there are cracks in the Palestinian facade, and more and more people understand the disaster, but they are ruled by a regime of terror, and their voices are silenced.
I am not only talking about Arafat’s missed opportunity at Camp David, where he was presented with an offer which, in my opinion, went far beyond what any responsible government in Israel was permitted to offer. I am mainly referring to his treacherous betrayal of his essential commitment: the very essence of the agreement he signed with the late Yitzhak Rabin: the literal and absolute commitment to abandon the path of violence and terrorism and to solve our differences at the negotiation table. Arafat’s personal history is filled with violent violations of signed agreements, with us and with leaders of the Arab world. As far as he is concerned the written word is worthless and there is no connection between commitments made at formal ceremonies and practical intent.
After over 700 Israelis were killed and more than 5000 wounded since the Camp David Conference, I cannot fathom that anyone in Israel would trust this man again, negotiate with him, or view him as a reliable partner to any kind of agreement. Is it even conceivable to shake the hand of the man responsible for the evil system of savage, violent and anti-Semitic incitement in educational institutions and in the P.A. media which has bred a culture of murder and suicide to slaughter Israeli citizens?
During the past two years, my government has managed, in a successful political effort, to increase international awareness of the fact that Arafat constitutes an obstacle to peace and he must step down. This political accomplishment must not be undermined by irresponsible statements granting the isolated and besieged arch-terrorist even a spark of false hope. The statements made by the failed Palestinian leader regarding the need to cease terrorist attacks until after elections in Israel proves yet again the issues emphasized by Israel over the past two years – that Yasser Arafat, leading the coalition of terror he has established, is responsible for terror, controls the "flames", and manipulates them at his will.
Israel’s voice must be heard loud and clear, and so it shall: he who seeks peace must encourage the Palestinians to replace their leadership. There is no other way.
I have said more than once that if these conditions are met, I will be prepared to go far and agree to painful concessions. Only he who is prepared to make painful concessions can make genuine peace, a peace which will last for generations. It is only he, who is willing to suffer pain as the price for these concessions, who is able to do whatever is necessary to preserve the peace and to ensure that his concessions will not be in vain. I will only be prepared to do so, when it is proven beyond any doubt that we are offered true peace, and that Israel has a partner who genuinely seeks peace and coexistence for the benefit of both peoples.
One of the essential mitzvahs which we must undertake at this time is national unity. Regrettably, the National Unity Government was dissolved due to narrow political considerations and not because of essential disagreements – there was no essential disagreement. The State of Israel was plunged into early and, I would say, unnecessary elections. Despite our disagreements, the day after the elections we will again be faced with the same basic security, political, economic and social problems which need to be resolved. We are all in the same boat, and the public dislikes the artificial polarization. The people want us to unite and face the country’s problems together.
Immediately following the elections I will make every effort to find a common denominator which will allow us to re-establish a National Unity Government based on the common guidelines which will show us the path supported by the majority of Israeli citizens. Unity is the decree of the hour. I call on all heads of parties to not bind themselves knowingly, because of mistaken and short-sighted political considerations or inexperience, by making needless declarations. There is no need to make this necessary effort more difficult. This effort will be demanded of us the day after the elections, to rise above our differences and define our common goals, in order to stand united and face the critical decisions in the years to come.
The final subject which I would like to address briefly is Iraq. The war which the United States is planning to wage in order to drive out Saddam Hussein’s cruel and dictatorial regime is a war in which Israel is not involved in. We wholeheartedly support U.S. efforts to free Iraq and the entire area from the threat of Baghdad’s evil regime. Saddam Hussein is already responsible for the deaths of over one million people, including hundreds of thousands of his own people, in wars he instigated against his neighbors (the war with Iran which lasted eight long years, the invasion of Kuwait and the slaughter of thousands of Kurds, citizens of his own country). This unrestrained tyrant who has used all the vast resources of his oil-rich country to build his military strength, wage war and produce weapons of mass destruction while sacrificing the well-being of his own people, must be stopped.
The late Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s courageous deed must be extolled and mentioned again in this context. Twenty-two years ago, in a brave and far-sighted decision, he thwarted the Iraqi dictator’s plan to produce nuclear weapons. The entire world, and not just Israel, owes Menachem Begin and the pilots of the Israeli Air Force a debt of gratitude for this successful deed.
It goes without saying that there were those who denounced Begin at the time for his decision, and even interpreted the destruction of the Iraqi reactor as a politically motivated maneuver for election purposes.
It is important for the Israeli people to know that the emergency preparations are an appropriate precautionary measure. The preparations are no indication that the State of Israel will necessarily be a target for Iraqi aggression in the case of war. It is my duty as a Prime Minister, and the duty of the Government, the
IDF, and the security forces to ensure that the State of Israel is prepared for any scenario. However, I can, with full knowledge and confidence, declare that the Israeli public has no need to alter their daily lives or lose any sleep.
In the existence of any nation, there are times of difficulty and trial. This is true in Israel’s case as well. I am proud of the Israeli people’s strength and of their tenacity in withstanding prolonged, difficult conditions. Our enemies misjudged us, and not for the first time. I fought as a soldier and as a young commander in the War of Independence, and I stood in the battlefields and faced the moments of decision in the long years that have passed. The State of Israel has become stronger and more powerful despite all the obstacles, wars and challenges.
I am proud of the great privilege I have been given to be the Prime Minister of Israel at this time, and am well aware of the full historic responsibility I hold for the fate and future of the State of Israel. There are many positive aspects to our national and social lives, but there are also shadows. There are urgent tasks and goals to be met in all fields – security, politics, society and economics.
I believe that we have the ability to renew the National Unity Government immediately following the elections, and to bring about – God willing – security and peace for the Israeli people, employment and economic growth, large numbers of olim, and a promising future for the State of Israel. These are certainly the great accomplishments in all fields of research at the Weizmann Institute.