Middle East Trip: Remarks by President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Exchange of Toasts

Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 13, 1998


Jerusalem Hilton

9:16 P.M. (L)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: (In progress) -- We went out to the terrace of this magnificent hotel and looked eastward at one of the great sites of the world -- the walls of theAncient City of Jerusalem, which has been the cornerstoneand the pivot of Jewish existence for 3,000 years.

This evening you join us and our distinguished guests from Israel andyou have here I think the entire leadership ofthe country. You join all of us in another moment that is so evocative ofour roots, the lighting of the first candle of Hanukkah. Now, as you know, this holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabeessome 2,200 years ago over those who tried toextinguish -- (inaudible) -- places which for thousands of years have beencalled by the names Judea and Samaria. Now, Mr. President, you and Mrs. Clinton will be visiting these places and otherplaces in the country during your short stay. In sum,your visit will have a political character. In others, the motif isreligious or historic.

There is a story about you, Mr. President -- I don't know if it'sapocryphal, you have an opportunity to confirm it --that one of the reasons, one of the great influences informs your deepattachment to Israel is the influence of your minister,who is reputed to have one day called you, held a Bible in his hand andsaid, "Bill, never forget Israel."

Well, I can tell you, Mr. President, that everyone in this room holdsthe Bible and we never forget Israel. And youwill visit those places whose common denominator is that they are all partof our history, our heritage, our Bible, our life.

Bethlehem, where you will visit on Tuesday, is the birthplace ofJesus, a Jew whose trials and tribulations forgedthe great religion of Christianity. And Bethlehem is also where ourmatriarch, Rachel, was buried and where King David wasborn. This is the same King David who established the capital of theJewish people in the city of Jerusalem, a city whichnever was and never will be the capital of any other nation. (Applause.)

Tomorrow you will be in Gaza. This was not an Israelite city, it wasa Philistine city, but it was also where the heroicfigure of Sampson strutted large on history's stage. Sampson was one ofthe first figures in Jewish history whose sacrificesymbolized a total uncompromising struggle against slavery.

A similar philosophy dominated the defenders of Masada, which you will also visit on Tuesday. You're covering alot of ground, I must say. The heroes of Masada preceded an Americanpatriot, Patrick Henry, by 1700 years when theyproclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death." But today Masada serves adifferent purpose. Our young conscripts of theIsraeli Army pledged their allegiance to the state there and thereby makeit a symbol of our refusal to repeat the past andmake Masada a symbol of our determination to choose life -- a life offreedom, of peace and security for the Jewish people.

These goals -- freedom, peace and security -- can only be guaranteedby Jewish courage and Jewish strength andthe strength of our purpose. I believe there's no parallel in history forthe kind of attachment the Jewish people have felt forthis land for more than 3,000 years, through wars and exiles and sieges,spiritual and physical.

Now we are back in our land. And we seek peace with our neighbors,with all of them. I believe we deserve thekind of peace, the total absence of violence and bloodshed and hatredenvisioned by our prophets who walked on the veryground -- the very ground -- on which this hotel is situated.

But I don't think we have to go into the distant past to realize thatour great concern for security is justified. All youhave to do, Mr. President, is look out the window and on a good day you'llsee the Dead Sea and the Transjordan Mountains. The geography of this tiny land makes it obvious.

Now, we have made excruciating sacrifices for peace, includingrecently. We have given away parts of this land,parts which are the cradle of our civilization. It's not been easy. Andwe are prepared to fulfill all of our obligations, providingthe Palestinians keep their obligations under the agreements. We seeknothing more; we will accept nothing less.

And this is in the nature of contracts, but also in the nature ofcommon sense, because the great change of Wyewas that it was, unlike the previous agreements under the Oslo Accords,structured in a series of steps that allow us to judge the compliance of our Palestinian partners. They complied in the firststep, and so did we. We now seek to see a movingaway from violence, from incitement to violence, from declarations ofunilateral decisions on their part that vitiate the finalsettlement negotiations of any meeting. We want to see them, in these andall the other things, keep their commitments.And if they keep their part, we will do our part. That should be said andwe mean it.

I believe, Mr. President, that forging a durable and lasting peacebetween Israelis and Palestinians in this tiny landbetween the Jordan River and the sea is the most difficult task facing anynation on this often troubled Earth. Of the myriadefforts to achieve peace elsewhere, I believe this is the most challenging, but potentially the most rewarding.

When I look back at the history of our people, our odyssey throughtime, and especially what we've achieved inthe last 50 years, coming out of the abyss, the pit of destruction, whatwe've struggled through, what we've accomplished,what has been attained, I am absolutely filled with the confidence that wecan obtain our goal of peace and security. Webelieve we can do so with your help, Mr. President, and with the help ofthe friendship of the great American people who seein Israel a natural ally and a kindred spirit.

So let us raise a glass to true peace, a peace based on security andfortitude; to the spirit of the Maccabees andto the vision of Isaiah. May this land of Israel, which gave the world the Bible and Judeo-Christian values, also give theregion the gift of genuine and lasting peace.

L'chaim and shalom.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs.Netanyahu, leaders and citizens of Israel, myfellow Americans. Let me begin by thanking the Prime Minister, his familyand his administration for the warm welcomeaccorded to me and Hillary and Chelsea and our entire group. This is, as I have said many times today, my fourth visit toIsrael since I became President. Perhaps that fact alone says somethingabout the unique relationship between our twonations.

Last spring I walked out onto the South Lawn at the White House tolead my fellow Americans in our celebration ofyour 50th birthday as a nation. And as I did that I thought about how that great old house, where every President since oursecond President has lived for almost 200 years now, and how for the last50 years it has been and now will forever be linkedto Israel's destiny.

It was in the White House that Harry Truman recognized the State ofIsrael only 11 minutes after you had declaredyour independence. And, I might add, he did so over the objection of someof his most senior advisors. It was in the WhiteHouse a year later that President Truman wept when Israel's Chief Rabbitold him, "God put you in your mother's womb soyou would be the instrument to bring the rebirth of Israel after 2000years."

Mr. Prime Minister, every President since Harry Truman has beenstrongly committed to the State of Israel and toIsrael security. No one should doubt that the United States will alwaysstand with you. (Applause.)

Every President has also believed it is vital to Israel's securitythat together we seek peace between Israel and itsArab neighbors. Israel's own leaders again and again have said this --from Ben Gurion to Golda Meir, Begin to Rabin andPeres. Now you, Mr. Prime Minister, have taken your own brave steps on the path to peace. This is the correct coursebecause only through negotiated and implemented peace can Israelis livetheir dream of being both free and secure.

No one knows better the cost the enemies of peace can extract thanyou, Mr. Prime Minister. You have foughtterrorism with your own hands. You have written powerfully about it. Youlost your beloved brother to it. The citizens younow lead face the possibility of terrorism every day.

America knows something of this struggle, too. Hundreds of ourcitizens have perished in terrorist attacks over thisgeneration, most recently at our embassies in East Africa. We know we must stand strong against terrorism. We aredetermined to do so -- just as we are determined to find just and peacefulsolutions to conflicts and to overcome longstanding hatred and resentments. We know the closer we get, the more desperate the enemies of peace become. But we cannotlet terrorist dictate our future. We will not let their bombs or theirbullets destroy our path to peace.

Mr. Prime Minster, at Wye River you obtained commitments that willgreatly strengthen Israel's security if they arehonored. All of us who shared those nine days and nine long nights knowyou are a skilled and tenacious negotiator.Despite your long sojourn in America, there can be no doubt that you remain a sabre to the core -- tough, the kind of leaderwith the potential to guide his people to a peaceful and secure future.

Many have pointed out that you are the first leader of Israel bornafter 1948, actually born in the State of Israel.But I know you never forget that the history of the Jewish people, as youhave told us again tonight, is far, far longer; that the issues of today must be considered in light of events of a rich but oftenturbulent past, including 2,000 years of exile andpersecution.

We honor your history, your struggles, your sacrifices. We pray for a permanent peace that will, once and for all,secure the rightful place of the people of Israel, living in peace, mutualrespect, mutual recognition and permanent security inthis historic land, with the Palestinians and all your neighbors.

You mentioned, Mr. Prime Minister, the fact that my devotion to Israel had something to do with the instruction Ireceived from my minister long ago. I will tell you, the real story iseven more dramatic. I hesitate to tell it because then youwill use it against me when it is helpful. (Laughter.)

My pastor died in 1989. Before that, starting in 1937, he came hereto the Holy Land more than 40 times. Once inthe mid-1980s, we were sitting together, long before I had thought that arealistic prospect -- and he looked at me and hesaid, "You might be President one day. You will make mistakes and God will forgive you. But God will never forgive you ifyou forget the State of Israel." That's what he said. (Applause.)

When Hillary first came here with me 17 years ago this month, I wasnot in elected office. I came on a religiouspilgrimage just after we celebrated Christmas. I saw Masada and Bethlehemfor the first time, not through political eyes, butthrough the eyes of a Christian. I can't wait to go back to Masada and Ican't wait to go back to Bethlehem.

You mentioned that the troubles and travails and triumphs of Jesus, aJew, gave the world the Christian religion, of which I am a part. In the Christian New Testament, we get a lot ofinstruction about what it takes to make peace andbecome reconciled to one another. We are instructed that we have toforgive others their sins against us if we expect to beforgiven our own. We are instructed that they who judge without mercy will be judged without mercy, but mercy triumphs over judgment. And we are told in no uncertain terms that the peacemakers areblessed, and they will inherit the Earth.

Please join me in a toast to Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu, thepeople of Israel, and the promise of peace -- L'chaim.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)


1998 Mideast Trip: Remarks of the President to the Press Pool

Middle East Trip: President Clinton Addresses The Palestinian National Council

Middle East Trip: Remarks by the President At Luncheon With Chairman Arafat

Middle East Trip: Remarks by the President in Photo Opportunity with Chairman Arafat

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

Office of the Press Secretary: Joint Statement by Clinton and Netanyahu

Office of the Press Secretary: Remarks at Lighting of the Menorah

Middle East Trip: Remarks by President Clinton and Prime Minister Netanyahu in Exchange of Toasts

Office of the Press Secretary: Remarks by President Clinton at Arrival Ceremony in Tel Aviv

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