Jerusalem October 27, 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Mr. Francois Zimeray, President of MedBridge,
Members of the European Parliament, Distinguished Guests,
I want to welcome you all here to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. It is a great honor and privilege for us to have you all here together with us at the Knesset, the home of Israel’s democracy. You are among friends.
Our bilateral ties with Europe, and with each of your respective countries, are of great importance to us – and we appreciate your work to advance this relationship.
Throughout our history, Israel has remained close to Europe, geographically and culturally. As the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel is a natural partner for Europe. Our common values, our shared respect for freedom and human rights, and our vast cooperation in areas such as science and technology offer the perfect backdrop for expanded interaction between Israel and Europe.
In fact, of late, there has been a noted improvement in our bilateral relations. As part of the European neighborhood, Israel is a natural candidate for the Wider Europe initiative, and discussions on including Israel in the program hold great promise for the future. And in the economic field, the European Union remains our foremost partner, with 20 billion dollars in combined trade between us – making Israel the number one trading partner of Europe in the entire Middle East. Since Israeli imports from the EU total almost twice as much as we export to Europe, I hope that we can achieve greater symmetry in the future.
The relations between Israel and Europe – which are beneficial for both parties – must be promoted, and I am personally committed to doing everything possible to assist in this process. As we move forward, it is important that Europe maintain a balanced approach to the conflict in this region.
Israel is a Jewish state. It is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and the capability to defend themselves by themselves, and our goal is to bring another one million Jews to Israel within the next 10 to 13 years.
These are difficult times for the Jewish people. Both the OSCE and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance have noted the increase in expressions of anti-Semitism across Europe. The spread of ugly anti-Semitism is cause for great concern, and we must unite together to ensure that this phenomenon is eradicated. Anti-Semitism poses a danger to all our democracies, and Europe must fight this evil no less than we do.
Since September 11th, it has become clear to all that terror is not the exclusive problem of Israel, but that it threatens the entire free world. Only the combined action of all our countries can succeed in defeating terror.
Terror is terror. There is no good terror or bad terror, and no distinction can be made between acceptable terror and unacceptable terror. There can be no compromise or negotiations with terror. It must be fought vigorously.
But it must be made clear. Although terror is used mostly by radical Islamic elements, the war against terror is not a war against Islam.
In our region, Israel continues to face Arab and Palestinian terror, as we have for 120 years. Since the current wave of terror began in September 2000, almost 900 Israelis have been killed and 6,000 more have been wounded. In European terms, this would correspond to over 67,000 dead and over 450,000 wounded. No country can be asked to accept such casualties.
Terror has affected almost every family in Israel. Entire families have been wiped out, but our people remain strong and determined, and we have made it clear to the Palestinians that we will not be broken by terror.
Israel is a peace-seeking country. We have accepted both President Bush’s vision and the Road Map, with our 14 comments that are part of the Cabinet decision. The plan and its sequence are sensible and implementable, and can bring a solution to the conflict with the Palestinians. It is the only plan and the only sequence that can succeed, and we will take every possible step to promote it.
The plan calls for progress in stages, and within stages, based upon performance. Progress between stages will be made as previous phases are fully implemented. Past experience has proven that only such a gradual approach has any hope of success.
In the first phase, there must be a complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement, and terrorist infrastructures must be dismantled. Unless this infrastructure is dismantled, the key to progress will lie in the hands of the extremists, who will exploit every opportunity to sabotage the process. Their ideology is to destroy the State of Israel.
The second phase envisions steps by both parties to restore confidence and create the conditions for living together, side-by-side. As I have proposed, in this second phase, Israel would be willing to recognize a Palestinian state with provisional borders.
Finally, the third phase calls for discussions on final status issues.
This plan offers everything – a real war on terror and a political horizon. But it will succeed only if there is performance. Years of speeches and statements have achieved nothing.
To date, the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to fight terror and uproot its infrastructure. In this regard, any Palestinian Prime Minister will be judged only by his actions, not by his words. As long as the Palestinians take no action, Israel will have no choice but to act in their place. We do not want to operate there, but have been left with no choice by the Palestinians.
I am willing to make painful concessions for the sake of peace, but I cannot and will not compromise on the security of our citizens.
At present, there exist two primary obstacles to progress in this process: Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Arafat is an obstacle to peace, and there can be no progress as long as he remains a decision-maker. He continues to control the Palestinian security organizations and to prevent any success of internal reform within the PA. This obstacle – who created so many difficulties for Abu Mazen and caused him to resign, and who is now doing the same thing to Abu Ala – must be removed from any position of influence. Any contact with him delays a solution.
Here, we disagree with Europe, which still maintains contact with Arafat. He must be isolated. Contacts with him only strengthen him at the expense of the Palestinian Prime Minister and do not help the process.
The Palestinian terror organizations must be disarmed and their infrastructure must be dismantled. Otherwise, they will hold the key to any progress in the political process, as they have demonstrated in the past.
Israel distinguishes between terrorists – whom we will pursue relentlessly – and the civilian Palestinian population that is not involved in terror. For these civilians, we are continuing to take a number of steps designed to improve their lives and attend to their humanitarian needs.
After Abu Mazen was appointed, Israel opened roads, lifted closures and curfews, released prisoners, allowed workers to work in Israel and took other measures to facilitate normal life in the PA. We will continue to exercise maximum sensitivity in the future, but at the same time, it must be clear that only an improvement in the security situation will bring a significant change in the situation of the Palestinian population. On the other hand, improved security will allow Israel greater flexibility to take risks and help the Palestinians even more.
There has been a certain amount of criticism in Europe and other places concerning our construction of a security fence. I want to clarify that the Security Fence is not a political border. It is not even a security border. The Fence is an additional means of preventing terror, and blocking people from entering Israel illegally and engaging in criminal activities, and so we will continue building it. If there was no terror, there would be no need for the fence.
At the same time, parallel to building the Fence, we are again taking steps to make things easier for the population. Gates are being built along the Fence, so that local residents will be able to cross over and work their land on the other side. And leasing fees are being paid to all people whose property has been used in the project.
Finally, I want to touch on two issues of regional significance.
Iran constitutes the main strategic threat to Israel. Iran is a hub of international terror and publicly calls for the destruction of the State of Israel. To achieve this end – and now it is clear to everyone – Iran is making efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. We are encouraged by the recent efforts of Europe to ensure that Iran is not permitted to develop nuclear weapons, but the success of these efforts can only be judged by Iranian actions, and we must closely monitor the situation in the weeks and months ahead. Time is not in our favor.
Iran is also sponsoring Palestinian terror by providing training and financing for terrorists. Iran is active among the Israeli Arab population – via the Islamic Movement – and in Lebanon, through Hizbullah and the Revolutionary Guards. Together with Syria, Iran has built an infrastructure of over 11,000 rockets in Lebanon – with a range capable of reaching the entire northern part of Israel.
Syria is host to the headquarters of Palestinian terrorist organizations and terrorist training camps. Syria is responsible for transferring weapons from Iran to Lebanon and for outfitting Hizbullah with over 11,000 rockets. Syria prevented the Lebanese army from deploying along the border with Israel, where the presence of Hizbullah creates daily tensions. Syria, which also encourages the activities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon, is in Lebanon as an occupying force.
As I said earlier, you are among friends here, and we hope to continue strengthening our friendship with Europe. There are a number of things that you can all do at the same time.
We need you to affirm – in a loud and clear voice – Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, at a time when some in the Arab world and beyond would challenge our claim to this land. The foundation for a durable and lasting peace will be laid only when our neighbors come to accept the birthright of the Jewish people to have an independent state in our ancestral homeland.
We need your support in international fora, where attempts are being made to isolate Israel.
We need you to play an active and practical role in the fight against terror and the Palestinian terrorist groups. Their European sources of funding and other assets must be frozen. Taking action means saving innocent lives.
And we need your ongoing pressure on Syria, Iran and the terrorist groups they sponsor, such as Hizbullah. Hizbullah should be added to the EU terrorist list.
In these concrete ways, friends of Israel and supporters of peace can make a genuine contribution to reconciliation between Israel and its neighbors.
For 55 years, we have held the sword in one hand – out of necessity, not choice – and an olive branch in the other, extending our hand in peace. I know that, with your help and support, we can look forward to the future with optimism.
Thank you for visiting Israel and for being here today.