February 11, 1996
Dear Chairperson, distinguished delegates of the NJCRAC Annual Plenary Session, the City of St. Louis, the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, guests, ladies and gentlemen;
Dear Friends, I stand here before you today, a privileged man. Privileged to be here, privileged to be the Foreign Minister of Israel and privileged to represent a strong, vibrant and self confident Israel.
I was appointed as foreign minister under the most tragic circumstances. Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated just 99 days ago, was for a generation my commander, my leader, my mentor and my friend. Ninety-nine agonizing days, and not one has passed without the thought of "what if?" crossing my mind. Yitzhak's legacy of Zionism, nation building, security and peace is, and must be, the shining path along which we march forward.
In two years time, the State of Israel will mark the 50th anniversary of its independence.
As we approach the threshold of the next millennium, many challenges lie ahead, and clearly some obstacles too. But we may look back at almost a half century of remarkable accomplishments, and draw from it confidence for an even brighter future.
Standing at this juncture in our history we are engaged in a process that is designed to shift us into an entirely different, and somewhat unfamiliar sphere of national, social, economic and cultural existence: Peace.
Our ultimate objective, to put it in political-maritime terms, is to create "the Pacific Mediterranean". To pacify the region, to render war a horror of the distant past, to bid farewell to the use of arms. We are doing so from a position of strength, self-confidence and superiority vis-a-vis our immediate surroundings.
Our power is predicated on the military might of the Israel Defense Forces, a robust economy, a vibrant society, our unique relationship with the United States - the only global superpower - the absorption of seven hundred thousand Jews, the elite of a collapsing empire and the common perception in the Arab world that we have a nuclear capability.
These are the tenets of our edge.
Others may tell you that peace cannot be achieved until the Arab world radically changes its attitudes and begs us for peace. That is a fallacy. It will never happen by itself and it is in fact a code word and a recipe for sanctifying the status quo and forever living on our swords. Our approach is to pursue peace from a position of strength and self-confidence.
This peace, by virtue of the reality it would create, will gradually lead the Arab peoples to come to terms with Israel as a peaceful neighbor. We will continue to be strong an enhance this strength to ensure that agreements are kept and that we are never out-maneuvered. This posture will serve us deep into the future.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we have no illusions. The dreams and aspirations of many in the Arab world have not changed. We still live in a modern and prosperous villa in the middle of the jungle, a place where different laws prevail. No hope for those who cannot defend themselves and no mercy for the weak. But we are now at an unprecedented advantageous position from which we can attain lasting and durable peace and take the necessary, yet calculated risks attached to it. Moreover, in many quarters of the Arab world attitudes are in fact changing.
The Arab political leadership, excluding countries like Iraq, Libya, and Iran has in fact recognized Israel. Our military might and Israel's overall strength compelled the Arabs to negotiate peace agreements with us. This is the truth. Take a close look at the fruits this peace process brought us. We now have relations with one hundred and seventy countries, including a promising beginning of ties with Tunisia, Oman and Qatar.
Our economic growth is astounding as a direct result of the impact of the contribution of the new aliyah and the peace process as a whole. We now have McDonald's in Israel, not just McDonnell-Douglas. Yet we do not delude ourselves and pretend that the risks are over. There are serious threats ominously looming over the horizon.
The possibility of radical Islamic fundamentalism guiding global terror and acquiring the bomb is not merely a menacing prospect, but it may prove to be a real threat, not only to Israel, but to the stability of the region and to the world order as a whole. The international community has a responsibility to do everything in the realm of the possible to foil that threat.
Ladies and Gentlemen, back to the present situation. Our basic approach to the negotiations with Syria, as with the Palestinians, is to determinedly pursue peace while insisting on our vital security and water interests. With Syria, our goals are to devise an array of security arrangements that are designed to achieve three aims:
- To render a surprise attack practically impossible.
- To significantly reduce the temptation to launch a full scale war.
- To prevent daily border clashes from deteriorating into full scale collision.
These arrangements will be combined with full normalization, open borders and regional economic cooperation that would create a powerful disincentive to resort to armed conflict.
The agreement, if and when reached, will be accompanied by solutions to the problems of water, terror, and the Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. It will also leave the door wide open and invite North African countries, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to join this process. The kind of peace we seek, means more, rather than less overall security.
And I say this not only as the Foreign Minister of Israel responsible for the peace talks, but as a former Chief of the General Staff who spent almost thirty five years in uniform, defending Israel against terror and external aggression.
In regards to our Palestinian neighbors. Yasser Arafat was elected a leader. Consequently, he gained more legitimacy, but in our judgement also a heavier burden of responsibility.
He now has to live up to his commitment, to forcefully combat terror and nullify the Palestinian Covenant in a straightforward manner. If the Palestinian Authority fails to deliver on these promises, then I see no way to proceed with the permanent status negotiations as planned.
In these talks, our position will be that greater Jerusalem should remain undivided under our sovereignty, the eternal capital of Israel.
There are no compromises here. No "ifs," "ands" or "buts". We will not go back to the 1967 borders, most Israeli settlements will remain under Israeli control and no army other than the IDF will be deployed between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
This peace process has enormous benefits for all peoples, a quantum leap from the ruins and despair of wars to the promise of hope and prosperity, not without risks, not without concessions, but with clearsighted determination.
In the words of a great American, President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address: "Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate".
Friends, on the verge of the year 2000, we are a transformed nation. Five and a half million Israelis produce 85 billion dollars a year, more than the output of 75 million people in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority combined. I wish the Arabs, too, reach such a figure once their resources are diverted from offensive weapons systems into the markets.
We, supported by you, are successfully absorbing the new waves of immigration. We have more doctors, pianists and engineers per capita than any other country in the world, and we print more books per capita than anyone else, although, I must admit that many are cook books. We are Jewish, after all.
Yet, my friends, with all that, one thing is conspicuously absent in our national experience: a new agenda concerning our relations with the diaspora. As Israel addresses fundamental questions regarding its identity, its borders, its relations with its neighbors, its social fabric and economic development, fundamental also is the question of its relations with the diaspora. There is a clear and pressing need to define for ourselves, for all of us, the direction we wish Israel-diaspora relations to take.
Strong leadership is needed to ensure that we can create a vibrant relationship capable of rising to the challenges and opportunities the new era presents.
Our identity is critical, how we each see and define ourselves. For Israel, the question is do we, or should we, define ourselves as a nation completely separate unto ourselves, or do we, or should we, define and see ourselves as a part of a larger Jewish whole.
For the diaspora, the question revolves around the place of Israel and Jewish expression within the family and the communal frameworks you build and nurture.
Clearly, the traditional relationship between us must be adapted to the new realities of Israel's maturing identity and the growing communal focus of many communities in the diaspora.
To put it in a nutshell, we must move beyond charity to partnership. Although many may not yet see it this way, we are strategic partners. And we must learn to act as true partners. As befits such a partnership, on the political level, Israel must involve the diaspora Jewish leadership as never before, through improved dialogue, regular consultations, and genuine openness.
The support and involvement of your leadership is important as a value in itself, but also for the crucial contribution it makes to Israel's political, security and economic standing in the international arena. It is also welcome for the less tangible benefits it brings.
You live in a society - free and democratic, embedded in a two-hundred year tradition of pluralism and tolerance.
We, as a young state still defining our national identity, must and wish to gain from the input created by the American democratic experience.
Yet, friends, do not be misled. The fateful decisions regarding the State of Israel will and should continue to be made solely by the democratically elected government of Israel.
The strategic alliance I see between us reaches also to the depth of our shared culture and heritage. Let me make an example: For generation and generation your grandparents and mine shared a common culture and a common language.
Today, in Israel, our youth continue to learn Hebrew, they can read and understand the very sources of our tradition; yet, their brothers and sisters in the diaspora remain largely cut off from the rich, national fountain of this civilization, the civilization that gave birth to the morals and values of western societies.
Friends, we must recommit ourselves and our resources to Jewish education in the diaspora, to the teaching of Hebrew to our youth everywhere, and to the continued renaissance of our heritage. If we do not take steps in this direction, we face the prospect of losing our common reference points, and, in the long run, the diaspora sense of identity.
We need to increase the exposure of our youth to each other, best achieved through organized programs in Israel. In this way, American Jewish youth can renew their emotional bond to the land and the modern State of Israel, while at the same time conveying the full cultural richness of their own Jewish identity to their Israeli friends. Such exchanges are vital to our continued mutual understanding.
A complete convergence of interests and concerns between Israel and the diaspora is neither possible nor desirable.
We each have our own priorities and concerns dictated by our different challenges and responsibilities. We must use this diversity positively, to draw on the sustenance it provides, to build our future together.
The present Israeli government embarked on an ambitious road to peace. The long journey stemmed from strength and is fueled by poise and conviction.
On the eve of our elections, critical early elections, and since we are in St. Louis, I want to paraphrase a famous Missouran, President Harry Truman, and tell all Israelis: "I don't want you to vote for us, I want you to get out on election day and vote for yourselves - for your own interests".
And to you, our extended family in America, I want to say that whichever way Israelis choose to define their interests, your support and partnership is vital.
You have stood firmly behind us in time of war and conflict.
I ask you now to lend us your unmitigated support in this historic moment of peace making.
And may the Lord make it succeed.
At your yearly meeting today, I would like to express our full appreciation for the constant support for the peace process that your organization has given all along, for your public positions, decisions and advocacy. We have a full partner and real friend in your organization.
Our particular appreciation to the leadership role played by your chair Lynn Lyss and our special congratulations for a job well done.
St. Louis must inspire a whole generation of Jews. My best wishes to Michael Newmark, your chair-elect. We are looking forward to working closely with you in the future.
Thank you very much.