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President Clinton Accepts Rabin-Peres Peace Award

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The Briefing Room

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 21, 1997


East Room

12:27 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Dalia, Yuval, members of Congress, members of the administration, General and Mrs. Shelton, Secretary Christopher, Secretary Vance, General Powell, thank you all for coming. To the ambassadors of Israel and Jordan and Egypt, we thank you for being here today. Shimon and Lea, thank you for your friendship, for your remarks, and for your continued profound and eloquent striving for peace.

I am delighted that this prize will fund scholarships for young Americans to study in Israel, further strengthening the bonds between our nations and deepening the friendship between our people. And I am profoundly honored to be the first recipient of the Man of Peace award. But, actually, as we all know, I can accept this only on behalf of all people in our administration and previous administrations and, indeed, citizens in this country who have devoted themselves to helping to bring peace in the Middle East. There can be no greater recognition than this award was founded by the family of Yitzhak Rabin and by Shimon Peres, two men who helped to give the world one of its greatest gifts -- the hope of a new era of peace in the land of light and revelation.

You know, I was sitting here thinking when Shimon and Lea were talking of all the times that Hillary and I and Al and Tipper with one or all of them -- and it's so hard to say now, but actually, from time to time, we had a lot of fun doing this.

There were times when I thought that my role in the Middle East peace process was to bring to bear the wealth and power of the United States to work in a positive way and to work things through with Arab states, and all of that. A lot of times I thought I was Prime Minister Rabin's fashion advisor. (Laughter.) Which shows you just how much trouble he was in. (Laughter.)

Upstairs in my office upstairs, which is actually almost exactly right above this room, I have on a little table in a silver tray, that I believe Shimon gave me, the yarmulke that I wore at the Prime Minister's funeral, a little pin I had to wear to go to the graveside, and a small stone I took from the grave. But above it I have the picture of us together the last time I ever saw him, where I'm straightening the bow-tie I had to get for him because he didn't bring a bow-tie to take to this black-tie dinner that we attended.

I say that to remind you that the real purpose of peace is to allow people to laugh, to return to ordinary life, to appreciate the little things in life, and to appreciate it with people with whom they have previously been at odds -- and that it is not something we can be discouraged about, it has to be done little by little.

I remember the day we were in here and we were fixing to go out, in September, and sign the peace agreement. And the Prime Minister was of two minds -- first, you know, people were grinding on him, how can you do this, you can't trust the Palestinians, and all this, and he had this great one-liner -- well, you can't make peace with your friends. But then when I said when we went out there it was going to be quite an extravaganza, and Mr. Arafat was an emotional person and there was going to have to be a handshake -- well, now, the handshake was another thing altogether. (Laughter.)

He said, I have been fighting him for decades. I said, you just told me you can't make peace with your friends. There is going to be a billion people watching; what are you going to do? He said, all right, but no kissing. (Laughter.) And so I'm glad the press didn't known that because there's always this question, is the glass half empty or half full. So the whole world was electrified by this picture of these two men shaking hands. If the whole story had been known, someone would have written the story, why didn't they kiss? (Laughter.)

We have to remember what the purpose of this is. Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin rose to the height of Israeli politics by being concerned with the security of the state of Israel. And after a lifetime devoted to its security, based on their experience and their understanding not only of the particular situation, but of human nature, they reached a unique partnership premised on a commitment to peace as ultimately the only guarantor of security. They found the sort of courage that we saw when Sadat and Begin signed the Camp David Accords.

And I will never forget that great day here in September of '93, when Yitzhak Rabin said, "Enough of blood and tears." Lea mentioned the things which happened afterward and we have seen a great deal of progress -- the interim accords, the peace with Jordan in the Araba, growing diplomatic ties with neighbors.

Shimon said in Nobel Address that Israel had proved -- and I quote -- that "aggressors do not necessarily emerge as the victors." But also, he had learned that the victors do not necessarily win peace. To win peace these two leaders, on behalf of the Israeli people, stepped beyond the bounds of convention, put aside old habits of suspicion and mistrust. And after an assassin's bullet took Yitzhak's life, Shimon stayed true to the path they had chosen, even when the enemies of peace waged terror against the people of Israel.

We know from experience both before and since that progress is possible and progress is difficult; that barriers fall only if people show a consistent and constant will to go forward, guided by and bound to several principles. I think it's worth repeating them here today. Israelis and Palestinians must embrace the spirit at the heart of the Oslo Accords, not jockeying for advantage, but working together for the benefit of both sides. Both sides must dedicate themselves to building confidence, step by step, through a series of agreements on issues affecting both Palestinians and Israelis. Both sides must refrain from actions that undermine the joint pledge they have made to strengthen security. Both sides must approach each other as partners, joined by the prospect of peace and security. And both sides must live up to the letter and the spirit of their obligations.

In recent months, you have to acknowledge at least that the pace of change has slowed, and that the bonds of trust have eroded on both sides. The answer is not to bemoan the present condition, but to renew our resolve to move forward.

During recent negotiations here in Washington and in the Region, Israelis and Palestinians worked together seriously in an atmosphere of genuine respect. They faced the essential task of building cooperation and preventing terrorism. They moved closer to agreement on concrete steps to benefit the Palestinian people. They worked to advance the discussion on more difficult issues they will face in permanent status negotiations.

Now both sides have got to realize the need for urgency. The window of progress will become smaller with time. The frustration of ordinary people, both Israelis and Palestinians, will grow in the absence of progress. That is why we want the parties to work intensively on the matters that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat have undertaken to discuss: security cooperation, redeployment of Israeli forces, a time-out on provocative actions, the acceleration of permanent status talks. By addressing these issues, we can establish for Israelis and Palestinians that peace will bring tangible benefits. By speeding the progress on this track, we can more closer to invigorating negotiations between Israel and Lebanon and Israel and Syria to establish a lasting and comprehensive peace.

In recent weeks, as Iraq has challenged the United Nations, we have been reminded again of how vital it is to continue forging a community of shared values throughout the region to strengthen the bonds among all people who oppose intimidation and terror, and how we will never, ever do that until there is peace between Israel and her neighbors; and that the absence of that peace makes the other difficulties, tensions and frustrations all the more troubling because it compounds them and undermines our ability to seek a unified solution.

I think I should say just a few words about Iraq before closing. Early this morning, the international weapons inspectors arrived back in Baghdad, including the Americans assigned to the team. Their unconditional return is an important achievement for the international community. It shows once again that determined diplomacy backed by the potential of force is the only way to deal with Saddam Hussein. We must make sure that inspectors are able to resume their mission unimpeded . The inspector team has a clear mission and a clear responsibility. They must be able to proceed with their work without interference -- to find, to destroy, to prevent Iraq from rebuilding nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to carry them.

Let there be no mistake: We must be constantly vigilant and resolute, and with our friends and partners, we must be especially determined to prevent Saddam's ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program. Our children and our grandchildren will not forgive us unless we honor the work of these UNSCOM professionals. We must not let our children be exposed to the indiscriminate availability and potential of use and actual use of the biological and chemical and smaller-scale nuclear weapons which could terrorize the 21st century.

The UNSCOM team of dedicated professionals have labored quietly and effectively for six years. The past two weeks have made them famous people in the world. Let us not so much cherish their fame as value their mission. And let us be determined to see that it can go forward.

Lea and Shimon, it was not five years ago that I promised Yitzhak, as President Carter had promised Menachem Begin, that the United States would be there every step of the way with Israel as it walks the path of peace. Today I renew that pledge, for myself, our administration and indeed for the American people. I am deeply honored by this award. But the only prize in the end that really matters is the prize of peace we must give to the children of the Middle East.

For as long as I live, I will be grateful for the profound honor I had to work with you, Shimon, and with Yitzhak, to get to know your families, your co-workers, your friends, to see one of those magic moments that the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet, Shamus Heaney, spoke of when he said that sometimes people just leave aside their cynicism and their bitterness, and hope and history rhyme. That is what you made happen. The only way we can truly honor the memory of our friend and the continuing work of our friend, Shimon Peres, is not to let it go, but to bear down and see it through.

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

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