We attach great importance to the strategic and friendly relationship we have with the United States, especially the current Administration. I want to thank AIPAC for contributing to this.
I came here from Jerusalem, the eternal, united and undivided capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people forever and ever. And I would like to use the term "netzach netzachim" – more than forever and ever. I congratulate AIPAC for arranging this successful Policy Conference. It is my pleasure to join you in person and to close this incredible event at such a crucial time for the State of Israel.
Since its founding fifty-five years ago, AIPAC has proven a close friend to Israel. You actively promote issues that improve the bilateral relations between the United States and us. AIPAC’s continued support is more important now than ever before. We attach great importance to the strategic and friendly relationship we have with the United States, especially the current Administration. I want to thank AIPAC for contributing to this. You have done tremendous work in order that we will be able to reach this situation. Thank you for that.
Over a year ago, President Bush and I reached a series of understandings that will help guarantee the future of Israel and preserve Israel’s character and well being as a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders.
Last month I met with President Bush at his ranch in Crawford. During our meeting the President and I reconfirmed our understandings on strategic issues. Clearly, the relations between our two countries are stronger than ever before.
The strength of US-Israel relations is also visible in the unprecedented bi-partisan support Israel receives in the United States Congress and the public. We see eye to eye on strategic issues such as: the global war on terrorism, the need to reach a peaceful solution with the Palestinians according to the Roadmap, the threats to the stability of the Middle East from Syria, Lebanon, and Hizballah and the dangers of a nuclear Iran. Most importantly, Congress confirmed its dedication to Israel’s long-term interests by endorsing the principals of President Bush’s letter.
The Roadmap is the only political plan for a peaceful solution with the Palestinians. The sequence of the Roadmap states that progress will be in stages in order to examine developments. It emphasizes that true peace will only be realized after full security is achieved and terrorism is eliminated.
Over a year ago, in the absence of a Palestinian partner to implementing the Roadmap, I initiated the Disengagement Plan, which was approved by the Government of Israel and the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament. Let there be no doubt – the Disengagement Plan will be implemented according to the timetable and the decisions authorized by the Government.
We believe disengagement will increase Israel’s security and reduce friction between the Palestinians and us. It will help advance our national strategic interests, promote our economy and prosperity and advance the development of the Negev and the Galilee.
It is thanks to the disengagement that we can make certain that there will be no entry of Palestinian refugees into Israel. In addition, the major Israeli population centers in Judea and Samaria will remain an integral part of the State of Israel and will have territorial contiguity with Israel in any final status agreement.
In addition to the understandings I reached with the President, since initiating the Disengagement Plan, it has gained the support of the international community and improved the status of Israel compared to a year ago.
In implementing the Disengagement Plan there is the potential of paving the way to the Roadmap. Though the decision of disengagement was taken unilaterally, Israel is willing to coordinate elements of the plan with the new leadership of the Palestinian Authority. I call upon the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to meet the challenge and coordinate the disengagement with us. The successful coordination of the Disengagement Plan will allow us to embark on a new era of trust and build our relations with the Palestinian Authority.
However, in this pre-Roadmap phase – and we are still in the pre-Roadmap phase – we see great opportunities in the election of Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. We hope he will be able to lead his people and create a democratic law-abiding society that will build its institutions, undergo a broad reform process, fight terrorism and dismantle the infrastructure and dismantle the terrorist organizations. Israel does not intend to lose this opportunity. We will do our utmost to cooperate with the new Palestinian leadership and will take the needed measures to help Chairman Abbas. We are willing to help Chairman Abbas as much as we can, as long as we do not risk our security. That is the red line.
After the election of Chairman Abbas, we reached with him understandings at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit. Israel agreed to stop all military action in the West Bank and Gaza provided the Palestinians stop all violence and terrorist activities against all Israelis everywhere. And we have done several things: We have released five hundred prisoners. Upon my return to Israel I will present for government approval the release of an additional four hundred. Israel has transferred the security responsibility over two cities to the control of the Palestinian Authority and is willing to reassign more. We take steps that help the economic and humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian population. We are ready to do more.
I appreciate Chairman Abbas’ strategic decision to condemn violence and terrorism. With this approach he can be a partner in implementing the Roadmap and to move the process forward. But, his statements must be translated into real actions on the ground.
Until now, terrorist activities have not yet ceased. The smuggling of weapons and arms production continues, and there is no real prevention of terrorist actions. The progress towards the Roadmap can be achieved only after the terrorist organizations are dismantled. Appeasing the terrorists and engaging them into the Palestinian political system will only strengthen them. These actions will disrupt essential progress to the Roadmap. It is my hope that progress towards the Roadmap will be as fast as possible in order to achieve true peace in the Middle East.
Israel is a peace-seeking country. I said in the past – and I say it also today: I am willing to make painful compromises for peace. I think that the entire world can now see how hard such compromises are. There is one thing on which we will not make any compromises – not now and not in the future – and that is our security.
Two weeks ago, we marked 57 years since the establishment of the State of Israel. In those days, President Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel in contrast to the opinion of all his advisers. He later said and I would like to quote it: “I had faith in Israel before it was established. I have in it now. I believe it has a glorious future before it – not just another sovereign nation, but as an embodiment of the great ideals of our civilization.”
And indeed, in its short existence Israel has reached tremendous achievements. We have brought millions of Jewish immigrants from five continents, who speak 82 languages, and they were all absorbed in the State of Israel. They all speak Hebrew, the language of the Bible. We developed advanced health care, research and academic institutions that are among the best in the world, and agriculture which is envied everywhere. I’m very proud of that, being a farmer myself. We have more engineers per capita than any other country, more start-up companies than anywhere else, apart from the ‘Silicon Valley’. We are a part of the exclusive group of countries who launched satellites into space.
This last year has been very challenging for Israel and for me personally. In promoting the Disengagement Plan I paid a heavy political price. But this is where the foresight of strong leadership is realized. Strong leadership is measured by the ability to implement important processes that might initially seem unpopular but eventually bring positive results.
The coming period will not be easy, but I believe in the Israeli society and its ability to successfully overcome this period. I am certain that with the determination of the Israeli public we will be able to emerge from this experience strong and united.
The State of Israel will continue to be a vibrant Jewish and democratic nation – a source of attraction and pride for Jews everywhere. We will continue to bring many Jewish immigrants from all over the world, including North America. And please, my dear friends, start the preparation. We will further advance and develop our science, education and culture, for our benefit, and, in the future, also for the benefit of the peoples of the region.
With God’s help, in the future, my speeches at AIPAC’s policy conference may focus not on security issues but rather on promoting tourism or improving Israel’s technology sector. Together, as one, we will work to achieve this great goal.
Thank you. Israel is grateful for your contribution and dedication. And I would like you to remember – we need you now more than ever, we always needed you, but now we need you more than ever.