Prime Minister’s Opening Statement

Strengthening the connection of the Jewish communities around the world, especially in the United States, to Israel is something that is important both to my government and to me personally.  It’s also important for the people of Israel.  I look forward to working with all of you and also with Natan Sharansky.  Natan is on the line, and will join us after I make a few remarks.  I want to work with him and with the Conference of Presidents, with all of you, to advance our common goals.  And these are broad, they encompass a lot.  They encompass Aliyah and Jewish education and the strengthening of Jewish identity – to the broader and pressing questions of peace and security.  And I hope that this will be the first of many conversations that we’ll have in the months and years ahead.  So, view this as a pioneering effort.   Let’s do it often.

Now, before I take your questions today, I wanted to focus on two pivotal issues: the situation with Iran and the question of peace with the Palestinians.  First on Iran – very simply put, if the Iranian regime acquires nuclear weapons, I think this would be a hinge of history.  It would present a grave threat to Israel, to the Middle East and to the world at large.  The reason I say that is because the recent elections have unmasked the true character of this regime.  This is a regime that brutally represses its own people; it sponsors terrorism – not only sponsors it, it supplies the terrorists, it directs them, it finances them, it gives them missiles, it gives them everything – and it’s also determined to acquire nuclear weapons.  Understand that a nuclear-armed Iran could provide a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, and it could possibly provide nuclear weapons to terrorists.  I think for the sake of the peace of the world and the security of my own country and that of the United States, this must not be allowed to happen.  It’s important for me to stress to you that the Iranian people are not our enemies.  We remember a time when Israel and Iran had an excellent relationship, better than good, and we know that the Iranian people would like nothing better than to rid themselves of this horrible regime. 

When I was in Washington a few months ago, President Obama and I had extensive discussions about this threat.  The President has repeatedly stated that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, and that all options must remain on the table in dealing with this threat.  And of course this is a position that we support.  I also think there’s an increasing international understanding about the true nature of this regime and I think there is a growing resolve to thwart the regime’s effort to attain a military nuclear capability.  I think this is not merely an Israeli interest; I think it is now the stated interest not merely of our two countries, but I think this is ought to be the interest and is the interest of anyone interested in preserving the peace of the world.  Because a nuclear armed Iran threatens the peace of us all.

The second point I wanted to raise is the quest for achieving peace with the Palestinians, a genuine peace.  The simplest thing is to begin peace talks, unconditionally.  I have offered that, I offer that again.  In fact I say that to you tonight.  We seek unconditional peace talks with the Palestinians.  We’re prepared to begin those talks immediately, and I’m prepared to work with the Palestinians, and of course with President Obama, towards advancing peace with the Palestinians, and towards advancing the President’s idea of a broader peace in the region.

I think that we have to work on five principles that are not preconditions for beginning peace talks, but I think they are clear foundations for a successful completion of peace talks.  The first principle is recognition.  We are asked to recognize a nation-state for the Palestinian people.  I think that it’s necessary and elementary that the Palestinians be asked to recognize the nation-state of the Jewish people.  I think that the absence of the recognition of Israel’s right or of the Jewish people’s right to a state of their own was and remains the source, the root of this conflict.  I don’t think we should be myopic about this.  I think we have to be very, very clear.  The Palestinians so far do not say simply, unequivocally and clearly that they recognize Israel as the Jewish state, a Jewish state not in the religious sense, but a Jewish state as the nation-state of the Jewish people.  I think this is not a semantic insistence; it’s a substantive insistence of which there is an immediate derivative, which is the second principle – and that is that the problem of Palestinian refugees will be resolved outside the State of Israel.

You cannot say that you are prepared to make peace with Israel when you don’t recognize Israel as the state of the Jews, and when you insist that this state will be flooded by Palestinian refugees.  It just doesn’t make sense.  So the first principle is recognition.  The second principle is that the problem of the refugees will be resolved outside the State of Israel.

The third point ought to be obvious too, but I make it here too – it all relates to the question of ending the conflict.  And that is that a peace treaty actually ends the conflict.  It’s not an interim peace treaty from which the conflict is pursued from the Palestinian state that will be established.  It’s the end of the conflict.  That is, the Palestinians upon the signing of a peace treaty have to say unequivocally that they have no more claims – no more claims either on the question of refugees or on the question of borders or on the question of irredentist claims. 

So the first three points that I raised relate to legitimacy, to Israel’s permanent legitimacy: recognition of a Jewish state, the resolution of the refugee problem outside the borders of the Jewish state and the end of claims, the finality of conflict.

The other two points that I wanted to make relate to security.  It’s clear that the Palestinian state established should be one that doesn’t threaten the State of Israel.  The only way that that will be achieved is by effective demilitarization – this is the fourth point.  We need effective measures of demilitarization.  I’ll tell you what ineffective measures of demilitarization are: Gaza is an example; Lebanon is an example.  There is no effective demilitarization in either place, and in fact, the arrangements that have been put in place, either in the Philadelphi Corridor or in South Lebanon have produced a highly ineffective arrangement where these two places are used as a launching ground for thousands of missiles that have been hurled against us – now in South Lebanon, tens of thousands of missiles are in place, and in Gaza many, many missiles that are being piled up and smuggled inside that area to be launched again.  We want effective means of demilitarization.  I think this is the fourth point – absolutely essential.

And the fifth point is that whatever arrangements are undertaken in a peace arrangement, in a peace treaty, have to be guaranteed by the international community, led by the United States.  That is, we want to have clear demilitarization means and a clear commitment by the international community about the validity and the robustness of these security arrangements.  And I don’t seek the international community to actually provide the means of demilitarization.  I do seek the international community’s support for those arrangements that will be put on the ground, political support that is. 

So these are the five points: recognition, the question of refugees, the end of claims, effective demilitarization means and international political guarantees for those arrangements.  These are the five points that have a vast consensus in Israel, not broad consensus, not the majority – vast consensus.  And the reason they enjoy vast consensus, and I found this out after I spoke in Bar-Ilan – I knew they enjoyed support, but I didn’t understand they enjoyed such broad support – is because they’re fair and because they’re necessary.  And because anybody who has a commonsense and decent approach to the question of peace understands that these are the five foundations, the five prerequisite foundations for completing a genuine peace treaty.

I would add one other which is not in the form of a condition that we put for the end of the conflict, for ending the conflict, but one that I think, at least from experience, could help push along a solution and stabilize it – and that is prosperity.  Up to now, I spoke about three conditions that relate to legitimacy: recognition, refugees and the end of claims; and two points that relate to security: demilitarization and international guarantees for demilitarization.  But there is a third element, and that is what we can do to push forward the spread of prosperity.  I’m not merely talking about us.  We can do that, and we are doing that in our own economy, but advancing prosperity in the Palestinian economy.  We’ve been doing that.  We’ve taken steps that have begun to be recognized a bit in the international community, actually far-reaching steps of liberalizing movement and enabling movement in the West Bank; removing barriers and checkpoints.  I’ve recently asked our security establishment to open up the Allenby Bridge so that it is opened for additional hours for movement.  I personally head a ministerial committee to unblock several economic projects that have been held up that I think could advance the Palestinian economy.  I think we can do an enormous amount to advance tourism and investments, and we’re prepared to do that.  This idea of advancing the economic peace is not a substitute for achieving the political peace that I discussed.  It’s a way to facilitate it.  It helps achieving the peace, and it’s something that we are moving along independently, whether or not the Palestinians collaborate on it is, of course, up to them.  But if they do join with us and participate with us, we could move the West Bank economy way up very rapidly, and what this does is help peace.  Because obviously if young Palestinians have a job, if investments are made in Ramallah, if restaurants open in Jenin, if businesses flourish in Hebron, this makes peace more possible and more worthwhile for the Palestinians, as opposed to the radical Islamist projection of misery and conflict.  And so I think that prosperity is the other element.

So I advocate legitimacy, security and prosperity by advancing recognition of the Jewish state, the settlement of the refugees outside Israel, the end of claims and the end of conflict, effective demilitarization measures and political international guarantees for these matters; but in addition to that, also the advancement of prosperity and economic cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians with the support of the United States and others in the international community.  I think there is overwhelming consensus in Israel for this, and I am sure that this is something that could be helped by you, all of you, and everyone else interested in achieving peace.