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Middle East Trip: Remarks by the President to the People of Israel

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Trip to Middle East

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 13, 1998


Ussishkin Hall
Jerusalem Convention Center

6:38 P.M. (L)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Let me begin by thanking thePrime Minister forhis leadership for peace and his leadership of Israel -- (applause) -- Mrs. Netanyahu, members ofthe Israeli government; to the distinguished American delegation here. Iwant to say a special wordof appreciation to the young man who spoke first -- Ben Mayoft -- didn't he do a good job?(Applause.)

This is my third trip to Jerusalem as President, my third time in this magnificent hall, and theyoung woman who was with me here last time on the stage, Liad Mudrick(phonetic), is also here.Thank you, I'm really glad to see you. (Applause.)

I'd like to also thank this magnificent choir, the Ankor Choir.Didn't they do a good job -- theyleft, but they were great. (Applause.) I understand we have students from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Beersheva, Akko and other cities. Welcome to you all. (Applause.)

We come here today to speak about the future of Israel and the MiddleEast -- your future.Six weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu came to the United States to seek a new understandingwith the Palestinian Authority on the best way to achieve peace withsecurity. Today I come to Israelto fulfill a pledge I made to the Prime Minister and to Chairman Arafat atWye River -- to speak toIsraelis and Palestinians about the benefits of peace, and to reaffirmAmerica's determination tostand with you as you take risks for peace. (Applause.)

The United States will always stand with Israel, always remember thatonly a strong Israelcan make peace. That is why --(applause.) We were, after all, yourpartners in security before wewere partners for peace; our commitment to your security is ironclad -- itwill not ever change.(Applause.)

The United States stood with Israel at the birth of your nation, atyour darkest hour in 1973, through the long battle against terror, against Saddam Hussein's Scuds in1991. And today,American Marines and Patriot missiles are here in Israel exercising withthe IDF. We have alsostood with you as you reached out to your neighbors, always recognizingthat only Israelis can makefinal decisions about your own future. (Applause.)

And as the Prime Minister said in his remarks about education forpeace, we agree thatpeace must begin with a genuine transformation in attitudes. Despite allthe difficulties, I believe thattransformation has begun. Palestinians are recognizing that rejection ofIsrael will not bring themfreedom, just as Israelis recognize that control over Palestinians will not bring you security.(Applause.)

As a result, in just the last few years you have achieved peace withJordan and the Arabworld has accepted the idea of peace with Israel. The boycotts of the past are giving way to a future in which goods move across frontiers while soldiers are able to stay athome. The pursuit of peacehas withstood the gravest doubts; it has survived terrorist bombs andassassins bullets.

Just a short while ago, this afternoon, Hillary and I visited thegravesite of Prime MinisterRabin with Mrs. Rabin, her daughter and granddaughter. He was killed byone who hoped to kill the peace he worked so hard to advance. But the Wye memorandum is proof thatpeace is still alive,and it will live as long as the parties believe in it and work for it.

Of course, there have been setbacks; more misunderstandings, moredisagreements, more provocations, more acts of violence. You feel Palestinians should provein word and deed that theirintentions have actually changed, as you redeploy from land on which tearsand blood have beenshed, and you are right to feel that.

Palestinians feel you should acknowledge they too have suffered andthey, too, havelegitimate expectations that should be met and, like Israel, internalpolitical pressure that must beovercome. And they are right, too. (Applause.)

Because of all that has happened and the mountain of memories that has not yet beenwashed away, the road ahead will be hard. Already, every step forward hasbeen tempered withpain. Each time the forces of reconciliation on each side have reachedout, the forces of destructionhave lashed out. The leaders at Wye knew that. The people of Israel knowthat.

Israel is full of good people today who do not hate, but who haveexperienced too muchsorrow and too much loss, to embrace with joy each new agreement the peaceprocess brings. Asalways, we must approach the task ahead without illusions -- but notwithout hope -- for hope is not an illusion. (Applause.)

Every advance in human history, every victory for the human spirit,every victory in your ownindividual lives begins with hope -- the capacity to imagine a betterfuture and the conviction that itcan be achieved. The people of Israel, after all, have beaten the mostimpossible odds, overcomethe most terrible evils on the way to the Promised Land. The idea of thePromised Land kept hopealive. In the remaining work to be done, the idea of peace and security in the Promised Land must keep hope alive. (Applause.)

For all you young people today, under all the complexities andfrustrations of this moment,there lies a simple question: What is your vision for your future? Therecan be only two ways toanswer that question. You could say that the only possible future forIsrael is one of permanentsiege, in which the ramparts hold and people stay alive, but the nationremains preoccupied with itsvery survival, subject to gnawing anxiety, limited in future achievement by the absence of realpartnerships with your neighbors.

Perhaps you can live with that kind of future, but you should notaccept it unless you arewilling to say -- and I will try to say properly -- ein breirah -- there is no alternative. (Applause.) But ifyou are not willing to say that, not willing to give up on hope with noreal gain in security, you mustsay, yesh, breirah, there is an alternative. (Applause.)

If you are to build a future together, hard realities cannot beignored. Reconciliation after allthis trouble is not natural. The differences among you are not trivial.There is a history of heartbreakand loss. But the violent past and the difficult present do not have to be repeated forever.(Applause.)

In the historical relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, onething, and only one thing, is predestined: you are bound to be neighbors. The question is notwhether you will live side byside, but how you will live side by side. (Applause.)

Will both sides recognize there can be no security for either untilboth have security? Thatthere will be no peace for either until both have peace? Will both sidesseize this opportunity to build a future in which preoccupation with security, struggle and survival canfinally give way to a commoncommitment to keep all our young minds strong and unleash all your humanpotential?

Surely, the answer must be, yes. Israelis and Palestinians can reachthat conclusion sooner, reducing the pain and violence they endure, or they can wait until later-- more and more victimssuffer more loss -- and, ultimately, the conclusion must be the same.

Your leaders came to an agreement at Wye because a majority of peopleon both sideshave already said, now is the time to change. (Applause.)

I want to talk just a little bit about this agreement at Wye. It does not, by itself, resolve thefundamental problems that divide Israelis and Palestinians. It is a meansto an end, not the end itself. But it does restore life to a process that was stalled for 18 months, and it will bring benefits that meetthe requirements of both sides if both sides meet their obligations. Wyeis an opportunity for boththat must not be lost. Let me try to explain why.

Prime Minister Netanyahu went to Wye, rightly determined to ensurethat the security ofIsraeli citizens is protected as the peace process moves forward. Hefought hard -- not to kill thepeace, but to make it real for all those Israelis who only want to livenormal lives in their own country. And he succeeded in obtaining a set of systematic Palestinian securitycommitments and a structure for carrying them out.

The Palestinian Authority agreed to a comprehensive and continuousbattle against terror.It pledged to combat terrorist organizations, to crack down on unlicensedweapons, to take actionagainst incitement to terror. U.S.-Palestinian committees will be set upto review specific actions thePalestinians are taking in each of these areas and to recommend furthersteps. We also will submitto our Congress a $1.2 billion package to help Israel meet its futuresecurity needs, including thosegrowing out of the redeployments agreed to at Wye. (Applause.)

The agreement can benefit Israel in another way. It offers theprospect of continuing aprocess that is changing how most Palestinians define their interests andtheir relationship with you.More and more, Palestinians have begun to see that they have done more torealize their aspirations in five years of making peace than in 45 years of making war. They arebeginning to see thatIsrael's mortal enemies are, in fact, their enemies, too, and that it is in their interests to help to defeatthe forces of terror.

This transformation, however, is clearly unfinished. It will nothappen overnight. There will be bumps in the road and there have been some already. The Palestinianleaders must work harder to keep the agreement and avoid the impression that unilateral actions canreplace agreed-uponnegotiations. But it is vital that you, too, recognize the validity ofthis agreement and work to sustain itand all other aspects of the peace process.

Tomorrow, I go to Gaza to address the members of the PalestinianNational Council andother Palestinian organizations. I will witness the reaffirmation of their commitment to foreswear fully, finally and forever, all the provisions in their Charter that called forthe destruction of Israel.(Applause.)

I will also make it clear that with rights come responsibilities,reminding people there thatviolence never was and never can be a legitimate tool; that it would bewrong and utterly self-defeating to resume a struggle that has taken Palestinians from one tragedy to another. I will ask the Palestinian leaders to join me in reaffirming what the vast majorityof Muslims the world overbelieved -- that tolerance is an article of faith and terrorism a travestyof faith. (Applause.)

And I will emphasize that this conviction should echo from everyPalestinian schoolhouse andmosque and television tower.

I will point out, of course, all the ways in which this Wye Agreementbenefits Palestinians -- itprovides for the transfer of more territory, the redeployment of moreIsraeli troops, safe passagebetween Gaza and the West Bank, the opening of the airport in Gaza, otherinitiatives to lift theireconomic condition, and new commitments of international assistance toimprove the lives of thePalestinian people.

In doing these things, this agreement benefits Israelis as well, forit is in Israelis interest togive the Palestine economy space to breathe and the Palestinian people achance to defeat thehopelessness that extremists exploit to unleash their terror. And it issurely in Israel's interest to deal with Palestinians in a way that permits them to feel a sense of dignityinstead of despair. (Applause.)

The peace process will succeed if it comes with a recognition that the fulfillment of one side's aspirations must come with -- not at the expense of -- the fulfillment ofthe other side's dreams.(Applause.) It will succeed when we understand that it is not just aboutmutual obligations, but mutual interest, mutual recognition, mutualrespect; when all agree there is no sense in a tug-of-war over commonground.

It will succeed when we all recognize, as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat didat Wye, that ultimately this can and must be a partnership between Israelis and Palestinians. It willsucceed if both sides continue the work that Wye makes possible -- if theyface the hard decisionsahead so that the future continues to be shaped at the negotiating table,rather than by unilateral acts or declarations.

We cannot, of course, expect everyone to see that. There are stillpeople in this region,indeed in every region, who believe that their unique cultures can thriveonly behind walls that keepout those who are different, even if the price is mutual mistrust andhatred. There are some who stilltalk openly about the "threat" of peace because peacemaking requires making contact with theother side, recognizing the legitimacy of different faiths and differentpoints of view, and openness toa world of competing ideas and values.

But I don't think that's the majority view in the Middle East anylonger. What once was aconflict among mainstreams is evolving into a mainstream seeking peace. We must not let theconflict invade the mainstream of Israel or of the Palestinians, or of anyother group in this regionagain.

I believe you can not only imagine, you young people, but actuallyshape the kind ofpartnership that will give you the future you want. I think you can do itwhile protecting Israel'sfundamental interests. To anyone who thinks that is impossible, I wouldask you this: How manypeople thought Israel was possible when your grandparents were just peoplesearching for a land?Who would have imagined the marvel Israel has become?

For decades you lived in a neighborhood which rejected you. Yet, younot only survivedand thrived, but held fast to the traditions of tolerance and openness upon which this nation wasfounded. You were forced to become warriors, yet you never lost the thirst to make peace. Youturned weakness into strength, and along the way you built a partnershipwith the United States that is enduring and unassailable.

Now Israel enters its second half-century. You have nourished anancient culture; you havebuilt from the desert a modern nation. You stand on the edge of a newcentury prepared to make the very most of it. You have given your children a chance to grow up andlearn who they are, not justfrom stories of wandering and martyrdom, but from the happy memories ofpeople living good livesin a natural way.

You have proven again and again that you are powerful enough to defeat those who woulddestroy you, but strong and wise enough to make peace with those who areready to accept you.(Applause.) You have given us every reason to believe that you can build a future on hope that is different from the past.

This morning the Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu and Hillary and Ihad breakfasttogether, and he said something to me I'd like to repeat to you to makethis point to all of you youngpeople. He said, you know, there are three great ancient civilizations inthe world -- the Chinesecivilization, the Indian civilization, and the Jewish civilization -- allgoing back 4,000 years or more.The Chinese are 1.2 billion people, the Indians are nearly a billionpeople. To be sure, they havesuffered invasion, loss in war; in the Indian case, colonization. But they have always had their land and they have grown.

There are 12 million Jews in the world, driven from their homeland,subject to Holocaust,subject to centuries of prejudice -- and yet, here you are. Here you are. (Applause.)If you can do this after 4000 years, you can make this peace. Believe me,you can do this.(Applause.)

Years ago, before the foundation of Israel, Golda Meir said of herpeople -- and I quote --"We only want that which is given naturally to all people of the world, tobe masters of our own fate --only our fate, not the destiny of others. To live as a right and not onsufferance; to have the chance tobring the surviving Jewish children, of whom not so many are left in theworld now, to this country, sothat they may grow up like our youngsters who were born here, free of fearwith heads high."

This hope that all of us can live a life of dignity when respectingthe dignity of others is part ofthe heritage of values Israel shares with the United States. On this, thefirst day of Hanukkah, maythis hope be the candle that lights Israel's path into the new century,into a century of peace andsecurity, with America always at your side.

Thank you and God bless.

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