Speech by US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at the Signing of the Sharm el-Sheikh Memorandum

September 4, 1999

President Mubarak, Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat, His Majesty King Abdullah, and I must say King Hussein in spirit, distinguished colleagues, excellencies, special guests,

On behalf of President Clinton and the American people I am honored to be here with you to mark this moment of accomplishment and renewed resolve in a search for an Arab-Israeli peace. I begin by thanking our hosts, President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Moussa. For many years Egypt has merited the world’s admiration as an unwavering and courageous champion of peace. This reputation has only been enhanced by Egypt’s strong supporting role in the negotiations just completed.

I especially want to congratulate Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat and their respective negotiating teams headed by Gilad Sher and Saeb Erekat. They have toiled long hours, under great pressure, in a noble cause, and they have succeeded.

In addition I want to highlight the presence of such leading supporters of peace such as the King of Jordan, and distinguished representatives of Russia, the European Union, Norway, and Japan. The peace process could not survive without their backing, which will be even more crucial as we strive to build on the current agreement.

The accord Israeli and Palestinian leaders have just signed provides a long-awaited boost, both to the substance and spirit of the search for Middle East peace. By agreeing on a plan for implementing the Wye River Memorandum and other outstanding commitments, the two sides have begun to rebuild their partnership – a partnership that is central to the Oslo process and vital to the region’s future.

For the first time in several years, Israelis and Palestinians are working together and solving problems together. Relationships of trust and shared convictions are being built through this process. The result is beneficial to both sides.

Under today’s agreement further redeployments will be carried out, security cooperation will deepen, the fight against terror will continue, and prisoners will be reunited with their families. In addition, construction of a port for Gaza will begin, and a safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank will be opened.

These provisions are important in themselves, but there is an even larger significance to this agreement. First, the fact that Israelis and Palestinians negotiated this pact directly is a rich source of hope for the future. As one can see here tonight, the peace process has many sponsors and many supporters. But that process cannot succeed unless the parties are engaged with each other, gaining mutual confidence and building mutual trust. When that happens, agreements are not only more likely to be signed, they are more likely to be implemented. And if you ask the average Palestinian or Israeli, he or she will tell you – implementation is what counts.

Second, through this agreement the parties have cleared the way for the beginning of serious permanent status negotiations. Here is where the bold vision encompassed by the Oslo Declaration of Principles will meet its sternest test. The obstacles that permanent status negotiators will face are daunting. The issues are tough, laden with emotion and deeply rooted in the region’s troubled past. They involve life and death issues for both sides. But the road to reconciliation has always been strewn with obstacles. Over the years, the peace process has been undermined by extremists, assaulted by terrorists, and shot by assassins. Still, the desire for peace has not been quenched, and the need for peace has never lessened.

If a permanent settlement is to be achieved, the friends of peace must be strong. Those who seek peace must be persistent and the advocates of peace must make the case over and over again, that negotiations are not just one option among many, they are the only way for either Israelis or Palestinians to realize their deepest aspirations. But permanent status negotiations will prosper only if they are conducted in the spirit of partnership that was born in Oslo. And that spirit has been absent in recent years, but is present today and marks a new beginning, and it must be maintained. It is the spirit of striving not to create obstacles but rather to overcome them, and seeking not to intimidate, but rather to persuade; searching not to defeat the other party but rather to find a way to a shared victory.

If we are to ask, where will the negotiators find the required strength and confidence, I can only think of the model provided by Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin, by Yitzhak Rabin, and King Hussein. These leaders experienced war and understood therefore the need to prevent war. They believed that a people brave enough to fight must also be courageous enough to make peace, and they proved that negotiations can produce gains that alternatives cannot, such as the removal of security threats, the restoration of land, and the opening of new economic possibilities.

The legacy of their leadership guides us tonight and must continue to inspire us tomorrow. That is true with respect to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, it is true as well in the search for a comprehensive settlement. We must help find the right way for Israel to resume negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, while also restarting the multilateral track so that what has been a regional conflict can end in a regional peace.

As President Clinton has affirmed, the United States will do all we can to facilitate and enhance this effort, and to help negotiations succeed. This reflects the interests we have, the commitments we have made, and the values we cherish. Let there be no doubt through the remaining months of this century and far into the next, America will stand by and with those who stand for peace. And once again, I want to thank President Mubarak, Foreign Minister Moussa, for Egypt’s indispensable role in the peace process, and to extend my warmest congratulations to Prime Minister Barak and Chairman Arafat. A great task has been completed and an even larger one remains. Thank you.