I arrived here today directly from the meeting of the Government, a meeting in which an historic decision was made to implement the Disengagement Plan.

Address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Mr. Jim Tisch, Chairman of the Conference of Presidents,
Mr. Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents,
Dear Friends,

Good evening. It is my great pleasure to welcome you here to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the united capital of the State of Israel forever.

I arrived here today directly from the meeting of the Government, a meeting in which an historic decision was made to implement the Disengagement Plan. Accordingly, with your permission, I would like to say a few words in Hebrew:

[TRANSLATED FROM HEBREW]

Today, the State of Israel took a decisive step for its future. The Government of Israel approved my proposal, and resolved to relocate the Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip and four communities in northern Samaria.

60 years have passed since I began to serve the people of Israel, beginning when I served as a company commander in B Company of the 32nd Battalion of the Alexandroni Brigade until I gained the trust of the people when I was elected Prime Minister 4 years ago.  During all those years, I made hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions.  Many of them were fateful ones, some were life and death decisions. However, the decision regarding the Disengagement Plan was, for me, the most difficult one of all.

I accompanied the settlers of the Gaza Strip when I served as Head of the Southern Command, and then as a minister in the Governments of Israel. I was privileged to see the first greenhouse erected, the first field planted, homes built and children born. I was with them in their difficult moments, in their daily concerns of security needs, in their courageous stand when faced with mortar fire and terrorist attacks. As Prime Minister, as a citizen of the State of Israel, as a farmer – I am proud of them for their accomplishments, I am proud of them for their courage, I am proud of them for their great love of the land.

However, there are moments which demand leadership, determination and responsibility, even if it does not seem popular, even if the decision is difficult. My task as Prime Minister and our task as a Government is to see the big picture.  In the wider view, the Disengagement Plan ensures the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, fortifies our security, strengthens our economy, improves our international standing and promotes the chance of peace in our region. The decision which the Government of Israel made today was a difficult one – a very difficult one.  However, it is a decision of hope for the citizens of Israel – hope for a better future for all of us.

[CONTINUING IN ENGLISH]

I would like to thank you for being here in Israel and showing your solidarity. We are at a critical hour for Israeli society and its unity. In this sensitive and complicated period, there is great importance to the support and solidarity of the Jewish communities for the State of Israel. Your support of the State of Israel, your standing by our side, is important now, maybe more than ever.

Last Wednesday, the Knesset passed, by a large majority, the law which will allow for the implementation of the Disengagement Plan. And as I stated earlier, today my Government voted in favor of the implementation of the Plan. In light of these two decisions, we are now proceeding forward with preparations to leave the Gaza Strip; a process which will begin five months from today. 

I said before in Hebrew that in all my years of service, I have made hundreds, if not thousands, of decisions, many in regards to life and death. But the decision about the Disengagement Plan is the most difficult of all. However, I am convinced that the step which was taken today is the right one in ensuring the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. It is the correct step to take as we aim to better our economy, strengthen our security and improve our international standing. The Disengagement Plan gives the Israeli people hope for a better future – hope for a better Israel.

We have many dreams and goals. We wish to absorb millions of new immigrants. We wish to be a place where all Jewish youth dream of realizing their future. We wish to stand as a symbol of pride to all Jews around the world. There is much work to be done in reaching these goals, but I am sure that today we took a big step forward in the fulfillment of this dream. 

Two weeks ago, I stood in Sharm el-Sheikh alongside the President of Egypt, Mr. Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah II of Jordan and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. We agreed that there are many steps which we must take to advance the Middle East. In today’s Government decision, Israel proved that it is willing to make painful compromises and take great steps towards achieving peace. I said that many times, and I would like to repeat it today.

For a genuine and real peace, we are willing to make many painful compromises. But there is one thing we are not willing to make any compromise on, not now and not in the future. That is when it comes to the security of Israeli citizens and the security of the State of Israel. I say it there, and I will say it here again – when it comes to security, we are not going to make any compromises whatsoever. Not now, and not in the future. We hope that our neighbors will also have the courage to take bold steps.  If each party takes the necessary steps, then a peaceful Middle East is a real possibility for the future. And I believe that we can realize this future.