The State of Israel and the Israeli Knesset are honored to host you, Mr. President, in the home of Israeli democracy.
Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Knesset Session in Honor of the President of the United States, Mr. George W. Bush
Madam Speaker of the Knesset,
The Honorable President of the State of Israel, Mr. Shimon Peres,
Honored Guest of this House, the Honorable President of the United States of America, Mr. George Bush, and Mrs. Laura Bush,
Madam Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice,
Members of Knesset,
The Honorable US Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Richard Jones,
The Honorable Israeli Ambassador to the United States, Mr. Salai Meridor,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The State of Israel and the Israeli Knesset are honored to host you, Mr. President, in the home of Israeli democracy, the house where the free will of the Israeli people is manifested, through its delegates and elected representatives. On behalf of the citizens of Israel, on behalf of the Government of Israel and on behalf of the members of this House, I warmly welcome you as the President of a great nation, the leader of the Free World, and as a true, steadfast and loyal friend of the State of Israel.
The deep-rooted friendship between the United States and Israel is not an accidental one, and it cannot be taken for granted. It is a friendship predicated on shared values and on a moral, human and social destiny, the main principles of which are individual liberty, social justice and peace. The greatness of the United States lies in its willingness and ability to act and sacrifice for the sake of a global, international order based on democracy, human rights, free economy and the achievement of peace. The distinction between a way of life which is worth defending and that which must be opposed has always been, and still remains, clear and sharp. In the words of American President Harry Truman, who, sixty years ago, supported the establishment of the State of Israel:
"One way of life is based upon the will of a majority, and is distinguished by free institutions, representative government, free elections, guarantees of individual liberty, freedom of speech and religion, and freedom from political oppression. The second way of life is based upon the will of a minority, forcibly imposed upon the majority. It relies upon terror and oppression, a controlled press and radio; fixed election, and the suppression of personal freedoms".
In a world where the American light-tower prevailed, the Jewish people rose, through tremendous efforts, from the abyss of the Holocaust to the pinnacle of revival, and founded, by the heroism of its sons, the democratic State of Israel. Since then and throughout the years, despite the changes of governments in Washington and governments in Jerusalem, the alliance of friendship between our peoples and countries has remained solid and continued to grow stronger and more powerful.
The United States’ identification with the Jewish people’s struggle for national revival was demonstrated even before the establishment of the State of Israel, with its demand to open the gates of the Land of Israel to Holocaust survivors. Precisely sixty years ago, just a few minutes after the State of Israel’s declaration of independence, the United States was the first country to grant us recognition. When the nascent, indigent nation took upon itself the challenge of absorbing hundreds of thousands of destitute Jewish refugees from Europe and Arab states, your country lent a hand and provided loans and financial aid. Later, when the Soviet Union was arming Israel’s enemies who conspired to destroy us, the United States supplied Israel with the means to defend itself. When the courageous outcry was heard from behind the Iron Curtain "let my people go!", it was American pressure which led to the opening of the gates for the mass immigration of our brothers from the Soviet Union to Israel. And of course, it was American President George Bush Sr. who acted to bring to Israel the masses of Ethiopian Jews in the operation later known as Operation Moses.
In the international arena, the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and on countless other occasions, the United States consistently stood by Israel, often in splendid isolation, and in the face of a malicious, biased, automatic bloc, comprised mostly of totalitarian countries and dictatorships.
Today, on your visit to Israel, allow me to express the appreciation and gratitude of the people of Israel for your nation’s leadership and for its dedication to its moral, historic and universal role as the torchbearer of democracy, justice, freedom and peace.
The United States and Israel have a long-standing strategic alliance. This alliance also encompassed the economic relations between our two countries. In the first decades following the establishment of the state, the economic aid was unilateral, and was undoubtedly an important component in strengthening the Israeli economy.
However, today I can proudly say that the relations are no longer based merely on dependence, but rather on cooperation and mutual benefit. In the fields of trade, technology, research and development there is a true partnership between our countries, a partnership founded on economic considerations, but also on shared values and a worldview which attributes great value to the Israeli entrepreneurship and ingenuity.
The United States and Israel also share the concept that democracy and market economy walk hand in hand and that this combination is the winning recipe for growth and welfare. The United States opened its gates for Israel’s entrepreneurial forces, so that they can thrive in the vibrant economic framework which America leads. Numerous Israeli companies are traded on the New York Stock Exchange, and cooperation in the field of hi-tech between Israel and the United States resulted in groundbreaking successes of international standards.
Your visit to Israel on the occasion of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations is a wonderful gesture of personal and inter-state friendship. However, it is not only a courtesy visit. This visit provided another important opportunity for us to discuss the advancement of a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in accordance with your vision, Mr. President, of two states for two peoples. Your personal involvement, and the commendable efforts of the Secretary of State, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, is vital for the success of the intensive negotiations taking place between us and the Palestinians.
When, eventually, we reach with the help of G-d an historic peace treaty between us and our Palestinian neighbors, it will be submitted for the approval of this House, which represents the entire spectrum of opinions in the State of Israel. Knowing the differing views in this House and the sentiments of the citizens of Israel, I am convinced that a peace agreement which fully reflects the vision which you introduced to the world in June 2002, and which is based on two states for two peoples – a Jewish state and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security – will be approved by a vast majority of the Knesset members and will be supported by an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public.
The Middle East is a region fraught with danger. The firm actions taken by the United States throughout the years against sources of aggression, violence and terrorism are aimed at defending the justice and preventing a fundamental undermining of stability in our region – stability which is so vital for world peace, the international energy market and the global economy.
There is not the slightest shadow of doubt that confronting the murderous, fundamentalist threat of terror, which is devoid of any moral inhibitions, is the most important challenge currently facing democratic societies across the globe. We had a reminder of this only yesterday afternoon, when a rocket struck a mall in Ashkelon and injured innocent citizens.
The outcome of this confrontation will have far-reaching repercussions on the future and way of life of the Free World. You, Mr. President, will be remembered as the one who courageously, and without hesitation, took the reigns of leadership and stood firmly and determinedly against this formidable challenge.
The most severe source of threat currently to the stability of the Middle East and to world peace is, as you know, Iran. The danger lies in the pretentious ambition of the regime in Tehran to achieve regional hegemony, its cynical use of terror and religious hatred to further its aims, and its obvious pursuit of nuclear capabilities. The Iranian President’s threats to wipe Israel off the map, and the preparations he makes to carry this out through long-range missiles and nuclear capabilities, compel us to be ready to defend ourselves. But the threat is not aimed at Israel alone, and the majority of countries in the region also see themselves threatened.
Israel believes that while the severity of the Iranian threat forces us not to rule out any other course of action, presenting a united international, political and economic front against Iran, and more severe and effective sanctions, is a necessary, even if not final, step on the right path to curbing the Iranian threat.
On its 60th anniversary, Israel has no stronger desire than to achieve peace with its Palestinian neighbors and other Arab states. Your continued support of the effort to achieve peace and security in our region is America’s greatest gift to the State of Israel on its 60th anniversary.
Allow me please to convey through you to the American people, to both Houses of Congress and to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who, throughout all these years, persevered in their bipartisan support of Israel, our tremendous gratitude for the generous and vital political, economic and security aid that they have given us.
Prophet Isaiah, son of Amotz, whose voice and universal vision of peace and justice were heard here, in the eternal capital, in Jerusalem, 2,700 years ago, called in his prophecy for the opening of the gates of the city for the entry of a "righteous nation": "Open ye the gates, that the righteous nation that keepeth faithfulness may enter in."
The gates of Jerusalem, the gates of the State of Israel and the gates of the hearts of the people of Israel are open to you, Mr. President, as the head of a great nation and friend, which seeks justice, freedom and peace.
Welcome, and welcome to all those who accompany you on this important visit, which symbolizes, more than anything else, the spirit and depth of the special alliance between our peoples and countries.
And on a more personal note: it may not always be acceptable on these official occasions, which are often subject to quite a few strict rules of protocol, but I fear that such an occasion will not repeat itself in your capacity as President of the United States. So, I wish to say to you personally, from one person to another, one father to another, one son of great parents to another, and to a warm and sensitive family man such as yourself: political life provides all of us with many occasions in which statements are made, registered in the protocol, echo in the air and later fade away as if they were never made.
What you heard today, with your lovely wife and supportive team, is the truth. It will not fade away and disappear. Not necessarily because it is registered in the Knesset records, but because it comes from the heart – my own personal heart, the heart of the entire Knesset and the heart of the people of Israel.
Today, more than any other day, the Knesset gives an accurate, true and deep expression to the entire people of Israel, and all this is thanks to you and for you.
May you be blessed.