Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a major policy speech at Bar-Ilan University, June 14, 2009. Netanyahu called for the Palestinian leadership to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, called for the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state, and stated that Jerusalem would remain Israel’s united capital city.
Diplomacy-Based Security vs. Security-Based Diplomacy
Since the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles was signed with Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, Israel’s vital security requirements have been relegated to a position of secondary importance in the service of reaching a final peace agreement. Israel’s traditional “security-based diplomacy” approach to foreign relations that had anchored the Jewish state’s defense doctrine since the Six-Day War in 1967 had been reversed. Instead, a doctrine of “diplomacy-based security” had come to dominate Israeli diplomatic thinking, as peace agreements were thought to be the guarantor of Israel’s safety.
In service to this new doctrine, Israeli efforts to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the initiative of Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013-14, the Annapolis process in 2008, the Gaza disengagement in 2005, the Lebanon withdrawal in 2000, and the Camp David Summit in 2000, were marked by far-reaching and often unilateral Israeli concessions. At the same time, the Israel Defense Forces were called upon to retrofit Israel’s security needs into a political model instead of establishing security “red lines” prior to or in the initial stages of diplomatic initiatives.1
Israel’s previous policy of making concessions first and trying to enforce its vital security rights and requirements second has raised international expectations that Israel will continue to offer an intransigent Palestinian leadership greater concessions as “sweeteners” to coax them into negotiations. The Palestinians, in contrast, have been sensitizing the international community to what the PA leadership calls “Palestinian rights” underpinning their statehood quest.2 The public silence of Israeli governments on Israel’s own rights-based case for a viable, secure Jewish state with defensible borders has encouraged confusion among allies and exacerbated the antagonism of adversaries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy speech at Bar-Ilan University on June 14, 2009 – the first one of his administration – represented a fundamental restoration of Israel’s security- and rights-based approach to the conflict. Netanyahu’s sharp break from past policy was his insistence, up front, that reciprocity govern relations between the sides: that Israel be recognized as the nation-state of the Jewish people,3 that a future Palestinian state be demilitarized, and that Israel’s critical security needs be honored.
Netanyahu was indeed articulating a new Israeli political consensus about the peace process, and at the same time restoring Israel’s traditional, “security-first” approach to diplomacy that had been reflected in Israeli policy by every Israeli government from 1967 until the first years of the Oslo peace process.
When it came to the West Bank, the security-first approach was guarded by Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu. Ariel Sharon would also protect Israel’s rights and security interests there, despite his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Netanyahu’s revival of this approach since his 2009 election seems particularly relevant in the context of Iranian and Al-Qaeda-backed campaigns to threaten Arab regimes amenable to the West, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Gulf States. At the same time as the Iranian regime leads a campaign to destabilize the Sunni regimes that have either made formal or de facto peace with Israel, the Iranian regime funds, trains, and arms terror groups on Israel’s northern and southern borders, and even in the West Bank.
Israel’s return to security-based diplomacy and insistence on Palestinian demilitarization and defensible borders are vital guarantors of Israel’s security in the face of the profound uncertainties surrounding both the Palestinians and the rise of Iranian power in the region.
In this context, Israel’s return to security-based diplomacy and insistence on Palestinian demilitarization and defensible borders are vital guarantors of Israel’s security in the face of the profound uncertainties surrounding both the Palestinians and the rise of Iranian power in the region.
Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan Speech
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood before a packed auditorium at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, it was a defining moment. Several months earlier, he had established a strong center-right coalition that reflected a 30 percent rise in public support for right-of-center parties.4 The Israeli public was looking to move away from the policies of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose unsuccessful bid to negotiate a peace accord and establish a Palestinian state had brought him to offer unprecedented concessions to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.5 Despite Abbas’ public admission of Olmert’s far-reaching concessions, the Palestinian leader noted that there remained “wide gaps between the sides” that had led to the collapse of peace talks.6 Newly-elected President Barack Obama had placed exceptional pressure on the Netanyahu government for additional concessions, including a full freeze on Jewish building in the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem that contradicted firm understandings reached with the Bush administration and even collided with the Oslo Accords and the policies of the Clinton administration.7
Netanyahu accepted the notion of a future Palestinian state,8 but insisted that the Palestinians would need to make reciprocal gestures and accept two principles: recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; and demilitarization of a future Palestinian state and accession to additional security guarantees, including defensible borders for Israel.9 He also stated that Jerusalem would remain a united city under Israeli sovereignty.
Netanyahu placed Israel’s national rights and vital security needs first, and only then accepted Palestinian demands. This was a major shift away from the Olmert approach at Annapolis, where many of the fundamental security requirements that Israel had insisted upon in the past were dropped in the context of far-reaching concessions he had offered to Mahmoud Abbas.10
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Knesset debate on the Oslo peace accords signed with the Palestine
Liberation Organization, September 21, 1993. Rabin foresaw Israeli control of the Jordan Valley and a united Jerusalem in any final status agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s commitment to a security-first paradigm has been well-received by Israelis because nearly two decades of concession-driven diplomacy not only failed to yield security or earn international goodwill, but led to broad public understanding that Israel’s security situation had become perilous.
During the first three years of the Oslo process, more Israelis were killed by Palestinian terror attacks than during the fifteen years prior to the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.11 The collapse of the Camp David Summit in 2000 and the ensuing suicide bombing war claimed the lives of more than 1,100 Israelis.12 Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 led to an emboldened Hizbullah firing more than 4,000 rockets at Israeli cities in the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Furthermore, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 multiplied the rocket and mortar attacks from there on southern Israel – more than 12,000 since 2001 – and resulted in Israel’s defensive operation in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 that was condemned around the world.13
The failure of Oslo, Annapolis, and territorial withdrawals to improve the prospects for peace did not deter Israelis from yearning for peace. But they did offer a sobering lesson to the Israeli public about the dangers of indulging in wishful thinking. The public today is in no mood for unrealistic plans that are long on hope and short on credibility. They want security first, and a united Jerusalem. Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech was so well received in Israel because it articulated this broad public consensus.14
Netanyahu’s approach won the support of more than 70 percent of the Israeli public, according to a poll conducted by Ha’aretz the day after the speech.15 Ha’aretz columnist Ari Shavit called the speech “Netanyahu’s Revolution,” compared the prime minister to Theodor Herzl – the founder of modern Zionism, and noted: “With the seven-word formula – a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a Jewish Israeli state – he changed the discourse on the conflict from its very foundations. He set an unprecedented challenge before the Palestinian nation and the international community.”16
Elaborating on his thinking, Netanyahu noted in a November 2009 speech, “We have to ensure that weapons do not flow into the Palestinian areas of the West Bank, which overlooks Tel Aviv and surrounds Jerusalem.”17 On March 3, 2010, Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the Jordan Valley’s strategic importance along the eastern border of the West Bank made it impossible for Israel to withdraw from there.18
This was not the first time that Netanyahu stressed the security-first paradigm for peacemaking. In early 1997, during his first term in office, Netanyahu was asked by the Clinton administration to agree to a “further re-deployment” (FRD), in accordance with the Oslo Agreements, that required Israel to make a new withdrawal of an unspecified size in the West Bank.
Instead of engaging in a debate with the administration over the terms of a “credible” re-deployment, including specific percentages of territory, Netanyahu asked the IDF to provide him with a security map delineating Israel’s vital territorial needs in the West Bank that would be required for the country’s defense. The IDF map came to be known as “The Interests Map,” and Netanyahu took a version of it to Washington to present to President Bill Clinton.19 Netanyahu’s decision-making at the time illustrated an important principle of his approach to peacemaking on which he insisted then and still embraces today: Israel’s formal diplomatic positions on the peace process must be derived by first establishing its security needs, rather than the reverse.
Restoring Israel’s Security-First Approach
Netanyahu’s insistence on a demilitarized Palestinian state and defensible borders did not represent a new strategy. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had presented his vision for defensible borders at the height of the Oslo peace process, on October 5, 1995, during the Knesset ratification of the Oslo II interim agreement. He said of the final-status arrangement with the Palestinians: “The borders of the State of Israel, during the permanent solution, will be beyond the lines which existed before the Six-Day War. We will not return to the 4 June 1967 lines.”20 In fact, Rabin told the IDF leadership that Israel would need to retain approximately 50 percent of the West Bank in any future settlement.21
Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, like Netanyahu today, insisted on retaining the Jordan Valley, telling the Knesset in 1995: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”
Rabin, like Netanyahu today, insisted on retaining the Jordan Valley, telling the Knesset at the time: “The security border of the State of Israel will be located in the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”22 Rabin meant that the Jordan River alone was an inadequate defensive barrier to prevent hostile forces and weaponry from reaching the West Bank’s high ground, and that Israel would need to rely on the eastern slopes of the 2-3,000-foot-high West Bank mountain ridge that rises from the Jordan riverbed,constituting the Jordan Rift Valley. This was clearly Rabin’s intention when he stipulated that Israel needed this zone in “the broadest meaning” of the term. Rabin also insisted on maintaining a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty.
Rabin had rejected a fully sovereign Palestinian state, telling Israeli lawmakers in 1995, “We would like this to be an entity which is less than a state, and which will independently run the lives of the Palestinians under its authority.”23
On April 14, 2004, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon exchanged letters with President George W. Bush in which Israel committed to withdraw from Gaza and the United States endorsed defensible borders for Israel.24 A week later, Sharon explained the language of the U.S. letter to the Knesset, noting that the U.S. guarantees included two territorial components: Israel would retain the major settlement blocs in the West Bank and would also obtain defensible borders. In the midst of his Hebrew address, Sharon repeated “defensible borders” in English to emphasize the American presidential commitment. Implicit in Sharon’s review of the U.S. letter was that beyond the large settlements close to the pre-1967 lines, there was also recognition of a vital geographic zone in the West Bank, namely the Jordan Valley.25 Sharon told Ha’aretz on April 24, 2005, “The Jordan Rift Valley is very important and it’s not just the rift valley we’re talking about [but]…up to the Allon road and a step above the Allon road. In my view, this area is of extreme importance.”26
Defensible Borders: Historical Context
The 1949 armistice lines, which stood as Israel’s de facto eastern border from the end of the War of Independence until the 1967 Six-Day War, left the Jewish state with critical vulnerabilities and were therefore unsuitable as permanent borders. Israel’s former foreign minister, Abba Eban, referred to these lines in 1969 as “Auschwitz borders that must not be restored.”27
Yigal Allon, a commander of the pre-state Palmach and foreign minister under Rabin, was the architect of the defensible borders doctrine. In a 1976 essay in Foreign Affairs, he wrote:
One does not have to be a military expert to easily identify the critical defects of the armistice lines that existed until June 4, 1967….The gravest problem is on the eastern boundary, where the entire width of the coastal plain varies between 10 and 15 miles, where the main centers of Israel’s population, including Tel Aviv and its suburbs, are situated, and where the situation of Jerusalem is especially perilous. Within these lines a single successful first strike by the Arab armies would be sufficient to dissect Israel at more than one point, to sever its essential living arteries, and to confront it with dangers that no other state would be prepared to face. The purpose of defensible borders is thus to correct this weakness, to provide Israel with the requisite minimal strategic depth, as well as lines which have topographical strategic significance.28
In Allon’s view, which was shared by successive Israeli prime ministers, the concept of defensible borders means that Israel has a right and a responsibility to establish boundaries that provide for its citizens’ basic security requirements, as opposed to accepting a geography that invites attack. This has always meant that Israel would retain some territories east of the 1949 armistice lines as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians, especially in the largely unpopulated Jordan Valley.29
Allon’s plan for defensible borders has been a key point of reference for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s foreign policy advisor, Amb. Dore Gold, noted that in 1997 Netanyahu proposed a plan for a final agreement with the Palestinians based on what he termed “Allon plus.”30
Confused Diplomatic Messages
The international criticism of Netanyahu’s security-first posture is more comprehensible when considered in the context of the heightened expectations that were created by the willingness of previous Israeli governments to make deep concessions first, and only then attempt to retrofit Israeli security requirements. The following three cases illustrate the perils of concession-driven diplomacy:
Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000
Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s determination to reach an “end of conflict” agreement with Yasser Arafat at Camp David in July 2000 and again at Taba in early 2001 was the driving force behind his idea of creating a new concept of security arrangements in the territory of a future Palestinian state. Barak’s proposals reflected the first abandonment by an Israeli government of defensible borders in the West Bank. He apparently believed it possible to keep Israel safe by settling for Israeli control of 12 percent or less of the West Bank,31as opposed to the 33 to 45 percent required by a defensible borders strategy.32 Barak may have made his proposal in order to “unmask” Yasser Arafat, but his ideas would shape the intellectual legacy of the peace process for years to come.
Barak also proposed a sovereign Palestinian state with the proviso that the West Bank be demilitarized and Israeli early-warning stations and IDF troops be placed on Palestinian soil. However, despite Barak’s unprecedented offer, then-Palestinian security chief Mohammed Dahlan categorically refused to accept the proposed Israeli security arrangements. As former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross wrote, “Dahlan was dead set against any Israeli or foreign presence in the West Bank border crossing and rejected the idea that the Israelis should have guaranteed access routes into the West Bank.”33
Barak’s seeming abandonment of defensible borders and his acquiescence to security arrangements in their stead whittled down and even undermined Israel’s long-standing insistence on retaining the Jordan Valley and other vital security areas in the West Bank. Despite the fact that during the Bush administration, the Clinton parameters and the Camp David proposals were off the table, the Palestinians pocketed the concessions and would always be able to insist on them as a starting point for future negotiations.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, July 11 1999. Barak’s adoption of a new concept for security arrangements on the territory of a future Palestinian state, essentially on the 1967 lines, would recalibrate international expectations of Israel.
As Defense Minister and former IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon notes in the Introduction to this study, “from that point on, Israel was expected to live within the curtailed borders that Barak had proposed. Even more far-reaching, the Palestinian leadership succeeded in establishing in the minds of Western policymakers the idea that the 1967 lines – that is, the 1949 armistice lines – should be the new frame of reference for all future negotiations.”
Sharon’s Unilateral Gaza Withdrawal
Ariel Sharon, too, would whet the international appetite for a full return to the 1949 lines stemming from his decision to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Sharon conceded the Gaza Strip in 2005, believing that he would provide security for Israelis and win international praise and goodwill for handing the Palestinians their first mini-state.34 However, Israel’s generosity did not earn durable support from Europe and even provoked fears that the Gaza pullout was a ploy to avoid further territorial concessions.35
Israel’s concession of Gaza has been minimized internationally as organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch continue to refer to Gaza as “occupied territory.”36 Europe’s expectation of future Israeli withdrawals reflects the degree to which Israel’s unconditional unilateral pullout in Gaza undermined its territorial rights in the West Bank. This was the central reason that Israel’s former Deputy Chief of Staff and National Security Council head Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan had publicly opposed full withdrawal from Gaza. He noted on June 4, 2007, that Gaza established an “immoral and dangerous diplomatic precedent for the West Bank.”37
Olmert’s Unprecedented Concessions Backfire on Israel
The idea that Israeli concessions only drive international expectations for further concessions was best illustrated by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert during the Annapolis peace process that collapsed in late 2008. Olmert went beyond any other prime minister in the concessions he was willing to make to strike an agreement with the Palestinians. He offered between 93.5 and 97 percent of the West Bank, half of Jerusalem including an international regime for the “Holy Basin” containing the Temple Mount and Muslim shrines, and expressed a willingness to allow 10,000 Palestinian refugees to resettle in Israel on humanitarian grounds.38
Olmert’s negotiation team, headed by Brig.-Gen. Udi Dekel, an author in this study, also tried to retrofit security demands into the final agreement, such as the demilitarization of a Palestinian state, special security arrangements in the Jordan Valley, and Israeli security control of the Gaza coast, all of which were rejected by the Palestinians.39 It was also clear to Palestinian and Israeli negotiators that nothing was agreed until everything was agreed.40 However, when negotiations collapsed, the pattern from the Barak proposals re-emerged: Israel’s unprecedented concessions were rejected by the Palestinians but simultaneously pocketed, so as to form the basis for the next round of negotiations.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, August 28, 2009. Regarding his unprecedented offer of 93.5 percent of the West Bank and a shared Jerusalem, Olmert recalled in a November 2009 interview: “I told him (Abbas) he’d never get anything like this again from an Israeli leader for 50 years.”
Reconsidering Israel’s Legal and Diplomatic Rights
One of the basic sources of tension between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations regarding the peace process is that the U.S. has grown accustomed to a concessions-based Israeli diplomacy that sidelines Israel’s legal and diplomatic rights. Israel’s return to security-based diplomacy is both rooted in and protected by international resolutions such as UN Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967, which was unanimously approved and protected Israel’s rights in the West Bank as a result of having fought a war of self-defense there.41 Since 1967, Resolution 242 has governed all Arab-Israeli diplomacy and has been the legal backbone upholding Israel’s right to “secure and recognized boundaries” – that is, defensible borders – that the Security Council recognized as part of its determination that the Arabs, not Israelis, were the war’s aggressors.42
Resolution 242 would also form the legal infrastructure for future peace processes, such as the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, the 1991 Madrid conference, the 1993 exchange of letters with the PLO, the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan, and the 2004 presidential letter commitment from Bush to Sharon.43
The U.S. has grown accustomed to a concessions-based Israeli diplomacy that sidelines Israel’s legal and diplomatic rights. Yet Israeli concessions only drive expectations for further concessions.
A major challenge for Israel’s return to security-based diplomacy is that the Obama administration seems to have broken sharply from past U.S. agreements. It has been virtually silent on Resolution 242 and has apparently disregarded Bush’s 2004 presidential letter guarantee to Israel that was overwhelmingly approved by bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate. President Bush had quoted the exact language of Resolution 242 for emphasis and reassured Sharon: “As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338….The United States reiterates its steadfast commitment to Israel’s security, including secure, defensible borders, and to preserve and strengthen Israel’s capability to deter and defend itself, by itself, against any threat or possible combination of threats.”44
As the Obama administration breaks from the traditional practices and understandings that have governed Middle East diplomacy for decades, the Israeli government will have to adjust its practices and understandings. As the administration weakens its commitment to Resolution 242 and other guarantees, the Israeli government must insist even more on the salience of these legal precedents and diplomatic guarantees.
Regional Threats and Israel’s Return to Security-Based Diplomacy
Regional threats both to Arab states and Israel from a nuclearizing Iran, its Syrian ally, and regional terror proxies, as well as the ongoing activities of Al-Qaeda ever closer to Israel’s borders, further justify Israel’s insistence on a security-first, diplomacy-second approach to the Palestinians. While Al-Qaeda first emerged in Afghanistan in 1989, it has moved its subversive activities closer to Israel’s borders and has inspired new followers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza. Jordan has been the repeated target of Al-Qaeda assaults.45
Every Israeli territorial withdrawal since 2000 has created a security vacuum that has been exploited by Iran-backed forces in Lebanon and Gaza to improve their position against Israel.
These developments – especially the rise of the Iranian-backed “resistance bloc,” consisting of Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas – have shattered the illusion that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be isolated from larger regional trends and that a stable territorial settlement could be reached without considering these regional developments.
Every Israeli territorial withdrawal since 2000 has created a security vacuum that has been exploited by Iranian-backed forces in Lebanon and Gaza to improve their position against Israel. The 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war and the 2008-2009 and 2012 Israel-Hamas conflicts have underscored the threat of short-range rockets and highlighted the importance of territorial protection for Israel.46
By all indications, President Barack Obama continues to make the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1949 armistice lines a centerpiece of his agenda. He may even present an American plan, perhaps forcefully, if the peace process does not progress to his liking, and despite intense opposition to the idea in Israel.47 This new U.S. diplomatic approach has put the Netanyahu government on the defensive, and has allowed the Palestinians to harden their positions on the core issues even beyond their demands at Annapolis. It has also provided succor to Palestinian hopes for a unilaterally-declared Palestinian state, which the PA leadership has referred to as their “Kosovo strategy.”48
Under these adverse conditions, a security-first diplomatic posture is needed more than ever. Israel will continue to find itself under intense pressure to make concessions to the Palestinians; frequently, no reciprocal gestures will be demanded from them, and Israel’s failure to comply with Washington’s demands will likely be met with criticism and punishment. In this environment, the Israeli government must stake out its position on a rock-solid foundation. The only foundation that provides the strength and solidity to resist U.S. diplomatic pressure for additional concessions and Palestinian plans for a unilaterally-declared state along the 1949 armistice lines is a confident insistence on Israel’s fundamental and non-negotiable security requirements, whose centerpieces are defensible borders in the West Bank and a demilitarized Palestinian state.
1. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s attempts to concede territories to reach a peace agreement with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then negotiate Israeli security arrangements during the Camp David and Taba summits in 2000 and early 2001 respectively are good examples of this strategy. See Dan Diker, “A Return to Defensible Borders,” Azure, no. 21 (Summer 2005), http://www.azure.org.il/article.php?id=174.
2. See, for example, Arafat’s address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 28, 2001, http:// www.gamla.org.il/english/article/2001/jan/ler4.htm.
3. See Netanyahu’s speech at http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Speeches+by+Israeli+leaders/200 9Address_PM_Netanyahu_Bar-Ilan_University_14-Jun-2009.htm. Netanyahu’s insistence that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state had also been raised by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as part of the Annapolis peace process. However, the Palestinian leadership refused to accede on this issue. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/923076.html.
4. In the 2009 elections for the 18th Knesset, Israeli center-right parties increased their strength from 50 to 65 seats (out of 120), representing, among other issues, the public’s displeasure with Olmert’s unprecedented concessions to the Palestinian Authority, including the concession of defensible borders in the strategically vital West Bank and the division of Jerusalem.
5. Greg Sheridan, “Olmert Still Dreams of Peace,” The Australian, November 28, 2009, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/ehud-olmert-still-dreams-of-peace/story-e6frg76f-1225804745744.
6. See Jackson Diehl, “Abbas’ Waiting Game,” Washington Post, May 29, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803614.html.
7. Elliot Abrams, “Hillary is Wrong about the Settlements,” Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2009, http://online.wsj.com/ article/SB124588743827950599.html. The insistence of the Obama administration that Israel undertake a full cessation of building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem had no precedent in U.S. policy in the Middle East peace process. The 1995 Oslo interim agreements, which still govern Palestinian-Israeli relations pending a final agreement between the sides, do not prohibit either Palestinian or Israeli building in the West Bank or Jerusalem, whose final status was to be negotiated between the sides. See Dan Diker, “Does the International News Media Overlook Israel’s Rights in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 495, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, April 2003, https://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp495.htm.
8. Ari Shavit, “Netanyahu’s Revolution,” Ha’aretz, June 19, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1093877.html.
9. Netanyahu insisted on Israel maintaining defensible borders, Israeli control of a unified airspace over the Palestinian state, and electromagnetic security. He stated that a future Palestinian state would be prohibited from engaging in military covenants with foreign armies, and that no foreign forces would be allowed in Palestinian territory. Netanyahu also declared that “Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, must remain undivided with continued religious freedom for all faiths.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speech at Bar-Ilan University, June 14, 2009, http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/PMSpeaks/speechbarilan140609.htm.
10. Abbas acknowledged to the Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl after the failure of Annapolis that Olmert’s offer of between 93.5 and 97 percent of the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem, a special custodial regime for the “Holy Basin,” and the recognition of the right of return (that included the return of 10,000 refugees to Israel for humanitarian reasons – according to a senior official on Olmert’s negotiating team) was more generous to the Palestinians than the offers of either George Bush or Bill Clinton, and yet Abbas said: “The gaps were wide.” See Jackson Diehl, “Abbas’ Waiting Game,” Washington Post, May 29, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/28/AR2009052803614.html.
11. “The number of people killed by Palestinian terrorists in the five years immediately after the Oslo Accord (256), was greater than the number killed in the 15 years preceding the agreement (216).” See “Terrorism and Oslo,” Daily Forward, September 19, 2003, http://www.forward.com/articles/8161/.
13. Dore Gold, “Israel’s War to Halt Palestinian Rocket Attacks,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 7, no. 34, March 3, 2008.
14. Yossi Verter, “Sharp Rise in Support for Netanyahu Following Speech,” Ha’aretz, June 16, 2009. Regarding the Israeli public’s support for a united Jerusalem, see Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Washington: Regnery, 2007), pp. 277-8.
15. Verter, “Sharp Rise.”
16. Shavit, “Netanyahu’s Revolution.”
17. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speech to the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, November 11, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1127027.html.
18. Jonathan Lis, “Netanyahu: Israel Will Never Cede Jordan Valley,” Ha’aretz, March 2, 2010.
19. Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 327.
20. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Knesset, October 5, 1995, http://www.mfa.govilMFAMFAArchive/1990_1999/1995/10/PM+Rabin+in+Knesset-+Ratification+of+Interim+Agree.htm.
21. Meeting with former senior IDF official in Jerusalem, April 4, 2010.
22. Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the Knesset.
25. Diker, “A Return to Defensible Borders,” pp. 52-53.
26. Dan Diker, “Sharon’s Strategic Legacy for Israel: Competing Perspectives,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, vol. 5, no. 15, January 12, 2006.
27. Interview with Der Spiegel magazine, November 5, 1969.
28. Yigal Allon, “Israel: The Case for Defensible Borders,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 55 (October 1976), pp. 41-42.
29. Specifically, the Allon Plan, which has guided the thinking of Prime Minister Netanyahu since his first administration from 1996 to 1999, holds that Israel’s new defensible borders would mean “retaining absolute control of the 700-square-mile strategic Jordan Rift Valley east of the major Arab population centers,” a zone that lies between the Jordan River to the east and the eastern slopes of the Samarian and Judean mountains to the west, as well as greater Jerusalem and certain relatively unpopulated sections of the Judean Desert. Allon’s recommendation for annexing the Jordan Valley was supported by the fact that this area was – and continues to be – largely unpopulated, aside from the approximately thirty thousand Arab residents of Jericho, which would not be part of the annexed territory.
This demographic reality and the need for control of the Jordan Valley would remain true over the following years and would be a key benefit for Israel, as reflected in President George W. Bush’s presidential letter in exchange for Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza. It has also been noted in more recent interviews with Netanyahu, preserving the plan’s relevance for today.
30. Dore Gold, “Defensible Borders for Israel,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 500, June 15, 2003, https://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp500.htm.
31. Barak was reported to have approved an offer of between 93 and 95 percent at Camp David and 97 percent at Taba in line with the Clinton bridging proposals. He also was believed to have offered the Palestinians at the Taba talks a compensatory 3 percent land swap from pre-1967 Israel, although this was denied by MK Danny Yatom, Barak’s national security adviser, during a Knesset conference on defensible borders on October 19, 2004, sponsored by the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
32. The Allon Plan was based primarily on Israel retaining the Jordan Valley, a full third of the West Bank. The “Allon-plus” doctrine adopted by Prime Ministers Rabin and Netanyahu would also include other strategically vital settlements that would constitute approximately 45 to 49 percent of West Bank land. This assessment is based exclusively on Israel’s defense needs and does not include other national security interests such as the West Bank aquifers from which Israel draws a third of its potable water. A former IDF official told the author that in the beginning of the Oslo process in 1994, Prime Minister Rabin had determined that Israel would need to retain
63 percent of the West Bank, which he had seen as a security red line. Meeting in Jerusalem, April 4, 2010.
33. Ross, The Missing Peace, p. 703, cited in Dore Gold and David Keyes, “What If Bush Invited Sharon and Abu Mazen to Camp David?” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 526 (January 2, 2005), p. 10.
34. Dan Diker, “Why Israel Must Now Move from Concessions-Based Diplomacy to Rights-Based Diplomacy,” Jerusalem Issue Brief, no. 554, June-July 2007.
35. Spanish Foreign Minister Javier Solana warned at the time that the European Union would not support the Gaza disengagement if it did not lead to a full Israeli pullout from the West Bank. Solana called that scenario “nightmarish.” Diker, ibid.
36. See, e.g., John Dugard, Report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories Occupied Since 1967, A/ HRC/4/17, January 29, 2007 (esp. paragraphs 1, 6 and 22 referring to Gaza as part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and applying the Fourth Geneva Convention regarding “occupied” territory).
37. Speech by Maj.-Gen. Uzi Dayan at the conference on “40 Years of UNSC Resolution 242,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Jerusalem, June 4, 2007.
38. Jackson Diehl, “Abbas’ Waiting Game.” The number of Palestinian refugees Olmert offered to accept is a matter of debate. Arab diplomatic sources have indicated that Olmert would accept 100,000 over 10 years. However, an IDF official involved in the Annapolis peace negotiations told the author that the number did not exceed 10,000. Meeting in Jerusalem, April 17, 2010.
39. Udi Dekel, Demilitarization – Preventing Military and Terrorist Threats from Within and By Way of the Palestinian Territories, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2010.
40. Aluf Benn and Barak Ravid, “Olmert’s Negotiator: Full Mideast Peace Impossible,” Ha’aretz, January 25, 2010, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1144854.html.
41. Yehuda Blum, “The Territorial Clauses of Security Council Resolution 242,” in Israel’s Rights to Secure Boundaries:
Four Decades Since UN Security Council Resolution 242, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2009, pp. 32-33.
42. Gold, “Defensible Borders for Israel,” Israel’s Rights to Secure Boundaries: Four Decades Since UN Security Council
Resolution 242; and Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008. http://www.defensibleborders.org/db_introb.pdf.
43. Gold, Defensible Borders for a Lasting Peace, Introduction.
45. Dore Gold and Lt. Col. (res.) Jonathan D. Halevi, “Al-Qaeda, Zarqawi, and Israel: Is There a New Jihadi Threat Destabilizing the Eastern Front?” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 538, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 1, 2006, https://www.jcpa.org/jl/vp538.htm.
46. Lt.-Gen. (ret.) Moshe Yaalon, “The Second Lebanon War: From Territory to Ideology,” Iran’s Race for Regional Supremacy, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2008, p. 33, https://www.jcpa.org/text/iran2-june08.pdf.
47. Gil Hoffman, “Poll: 91% Against Obama Imposing Deal,” Jerusalem Post, April 14, 2010, http://www.jpost.com/ Israel/Article.aspx?id=173093. Notably, the numbers were similar for the Jordan Valley, where 90 percent opposed relinquishing Israeli control and 10 percent were in favor.
48. Dan Diker, “The Palestinians’ Unilateral ‘Kosovo Strategy’: Implications for the PA and Israel,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, no. 575, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, January 2010.
Address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University, June 14, 2009
Peace has always been our people’s most fervent desire. Our prophets gave the world the vision of peace, we greet one another with the word “peace” and our prayers conclude with the hope for peace.
We are gathered this evening in an institution named for two pioneers of peace, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and we share their vision.
Two and half months ago, I took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Israel. I pledged to establish a national unity government – and I did. I believe that unity is essential for us now more than ever as we face three immense challenges – the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.
The Iranian threat looms large before us. The greatest danger facing Israel, the Middle East and the entire world is the joining of radical Islam with nuclear weapons. I discussed this matter with President Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Confronting a global economic crisis, the government acted swiftly to stabilize Israel’s economy. We passed a two-year budget in the government – and the Knesset will soon approve it.
And the third challenge, so exceedingly important, is the advancement of peace. I spoke about this as well with President Obama, and I fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.
I share the President’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. To this end, I met with President Mubarak in Egypt and King Abdullah in Jordan to elicit the support of these leaders in expanding the circle of peace in our region.
I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace. I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to meet in Damascus, in Riyadh, in Beirut, anywhere – including Jerusalem.
I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace but an important element in achieving it. Together we can undertake projects that overcome the scarcities of our region, like water desalination, or maximize its advantages, like developing solar energy, and exploiting our geographic location by laying gas and petroleum lines and establishing transportation links between Asia, Africa and Europe.
The economic success of the Gulf States has impressed us all and it has impressed me. I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians and us in spurring the economy.
Together we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and develop tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history – in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site on the banks of the Jordan.
There is an enormous potential here for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate to realize it.
I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let us begin negotiations immediately without preconditions.
Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments.
We want to live with you in peace, as good neighbors. We want our children and your children to never again experience war: that parents, brothers and sisters will never again know the agony of losing loved ones in battle; that our children will be able to dream of a better future and realize that dream; and that together we will invest our energies in plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears.
I know the face of war. I have experienced battle. I lost close friends. I lost a brother. I have seen the pain of bereaved families. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war.
If we join hands and work together for peace, there is no limit to the development and prosperity we can achieve for our two peoples – in the economy, agriculture, trade, tourism and education – and most importantly, in providing our children a better world in which to live, a life full of tranquility, creativity, opportunity and hope.
The Root of the Conflict
If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why has peace eluded us, even as our hand remains outstretched to peace? Why has this conflict continued for more than sixty years?
In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict? In his speech to the first Zionist Conference in Basel, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl, said about the Jewish national home: “This idea is so big that we must speak of it only in the simplest terms.” Today I will speak about the immense challenge of peace in the simplest words possible.
Even as we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was and remains the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their historic homeland.
In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing. The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.
Those who think that the continued enmity toward Israel is a product of our presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are confusing cause and effect.
The attacks against us began in the 1920s, escalated into a comprehensive attack in 1948 with the declaration of Israel’s independence, continued with the fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, and reached their peak in 1967, on the eve of the Six-Day War, in an attempt to tighten a noose around Israel’s neck.
All this occurred during close to fifty years before a single Israeli soldier ever set foot in Judea and Samaria.
Fortunately, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of enmity. The signing of peace treaties with them brought about an end to their claims against Israel and an end to the conflict. But regrettably, this is not the case with the Palestinians. The closer we get to an agreement with them, the further they retreat from it and raise demands that are inconsistent with a true desire to end the conflict.
Many good people have told us that withdrawal from territories is the key to peace with the Palestinians. Well, we withdrew. But the fact is that every withdrawal was met with massive waves of terror, by suicide bombers and thousands of missiles.
We tried withdrawal with an agreement and withdrawal without an agreement. We tried a partial withdrawal and a full withdrawal. In 2000 and again last year, Israel proposed an almost total withdrawal in exchange for an end to the conflict, and twice our offers were rejected.
We evacuated every last inch of the Gaza Strip, uprooted over twenty settlements and evicted thousands of Israelis from their homes. In response, we received a hail of missiles on our cities, towns and children.
The claim that territorial withdrawals will bring peace with the Palestinians, or at least advance peace, simply does not square with the facts.
In addition, Hamas in the south, like Hezbollah in the north, repeatedly proclaims its commitment to “liberate” the Israeli cities of Ashkelon and Beersheba, Acre and Haifa, Ashdod and Tiberias.
Territorial withdrawals have not lessened the hatred. And to our regret, even Palestinian moderates are not yet ready to say the simple words: Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people, and it will stay that way.
The Principle of Recognition
Achieving peace will require courage and candor from both sides, not just from the Israeli side. The Palestinian leadership must rise and say: “Enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own in this land, and we are prepared to live beside you in true peace.”
I am yearning for that moment, for when Palestinian leaders say those words to our people and to their people, the path will be opened to resolving all the other problems between us, however difficult.
Therefore, a fundamental prerequisite for ending the conflict is a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. To vest this declaration with practical meaning, there must also be a clear understanding that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside Israel’s borders. Clearly, any demand for resettling Palestinian refugees within Israel undermines Israel’s continued existence as the state of the Jewish people.
The Palestinian refugee problem must be solved, and it can be solved, as we ourselves proved in a similar situation. Tiny Israel, with a speck of land and no natural resources, successfully absorbed hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who left their homes and belongings in Arab countries.
Justice and logic therefore demand that the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel’s borders. On this point, there is a broad national consensus. I believe that with goodwill and international investment, this humanitarian problem can be settled once and for all.
So far I have spoken about the need for Palestinians to recognize our rights. In a moment, I will speak openly about our need to recognize their rights.
But let me first say that the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3500 years. Judea and Samaria – the places where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived – are not alien to us.This is the land of our forefathers.
The right of the Jewish people to a state in the Land of Israel does not derive from the cascade of catastrophes that befell our people. True, for 2000 years the Jewish people suffered expulsions, pogroms, blood libels, and massacres which culminated in the Holocaust, a chain of suffering which has no parallel in the history of nations.
There are those who say that if the Holocaust had not occurred, the State of Israel would never have been established. But I say that if the State of Israel would have been established earlier, it is the Holocaust that would not have occurred.
The tragic history of powerlessness of our people explains why the Jewish people need a sovereign power of self-defense. But our right to build our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: this is the homeland of the Jewish people, this is where our identity was forged.
As Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion said in proclaiming Israel’s independence: “The Jewish people arose in the Land of Israel and it was here that its spiritual, religious and political character was shaped. Here they attained their sovereignty, and here they bequeathed to the world their national and cultural treasures, and the most eternal of books.”
But we must also tell the truth in its entirety: Within this homeland lives a large Palestinian community. We do not want to rule over them, we do not want to govern their lives, we do not want to impose our flag and our culture on them.
In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours two peoples will live freely, side-by-side, as good neighbors with mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other.
These two realities – our connection to the Land of Israel and the Palestinian population living within it – have created deep divisions in Israeli society. But the truth is that much more unites us than divides us.
I have come tonight to give expression to that unity, and to the principles of peace and security on which there is broad agreement within Israeli society. These are the principles that guide our policy, a policy that must take into account the international situation that has recently developed. We must recognize this reality and at the same time stand firmly on those principles essential for Israel.
Principle of Demilitarization
I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. The Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people. The second principle is – demilitarization. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel.
Without these two conditions, there is a real danger that an armed Palestinian state would emerge that would become another terrorist base against the Jewish state, such as the one in Gaza.
We do not want Kassam rockets on Petach Tikva, Grad rockets on Tel Aviv or missiles on Ben-Gurion airport. We want peace.
In order to achieve peace, we must ensure that Palestinians will not be able to import missiles into their territory, to field an army, to close their airspace to us, or to make pacts with the likes of Hezbollah and Iran. On this point as well, there is wide consensus within Israel.
It is impossible to expect us to agree in advance to the principle of a Palestinian state without assurances that this state will be demilitarized. On a matter so critical to the existence of Israel, we must first have our security needs addressed.
We therefore ask our friends today in the international community, led by the United States, for what is critical to the security of Israel. We ask for clear commitments that in a future peace agreement, the territory controlled by the Palestinians will be demilitarized:namely, without an army, without control of its airspace, and with effective security measures to prevent weapons smuggling into the territory – real monitoring, and not what occurs in Gaza today. And obviously, the Palestinians will not be able to forge military pacts.
Without this, these territories will sooner or later become another Hamastan, something we cannot accept. Israel must control its security and its destiny.
I told President Obama when I visited Washington that if we could agree on the substance, then terminology would not pose a problem.
And here is the substance which I now clearly state: If we receive this guarantee regarding demilitarization and Israel’s security needs, and if the Palestinians recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people, then we will be ready in a future peace agreement to reach a solution where a demilitarized Palestinian state exists alongside the Jewish state.
Regarding the remaining important issues that will be discussed as part of a final peace settlement, my positions are known: Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, must remain undivided with continued religious freedom for all faiths.
The territorial question will be discussed as part of the final peace agreement. In the meantime, we have no intention of building new settlements or of expropriating additional land for existing settlements.
But there is a need to enable the residents to lead normal lives, to allow mothers and fathers to raise their children like families elsewhere. The settlers are neither the enemies of the people nor the enemies of peace. They are an integral part of our people, a principled, pioneering and Zionist community.
Unity among us is essential and will help us achieve reconciliation with our neighbors. That reconciliation must begin today by altering realities on the ground. I believe that a strong Palestinian economy will bolster peace. It will strengthen the moderates and weaken the radicals.
If the Palestinians turn toward peace – in fighting terror, in building governance and the rule of law, in educating their children for peace and in stopping incitement against Israel – we will do our part in making every effort to facilitate freedom of movement and access,and to help them achieve prosperity. All of this will help us advance a peace treaty between us.
Above all, the Palestinians must make a critical choice between the path of peace and the path of Hamas. The Palestinian Authority will have to establish the rule of law in Gaza and overcome Hamas. Israel will not sit at the negotiating table with terrorists who seek our destruction.
Hamas will not even allow the Red Cross to visit our kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who has spent three years in captivity, cut off from his parents, his family and his people. We are committed to bringing him home, safe and sound.
With a Palestinian leadership committed to peace, the active participation of the Arab world, and the support of the United States and the international community there is no reason why we cannot achieve a breakthrough to peace.
Our people have already proven that we can achieve the impossible. Over the past 61 years, while constantly defending our existence, we have performed wonders.
Our microchips are powering the world’s computers. Our medicines are treating diseases once considered incurable. Our drip irrigation is bringing arid lands back to life in five continents. And Israeli scientists are expanding the boundaries of human knowledge.
If only our neighbors would respond to our call – peace too will be in our reach.
I call on the leaders of the Arab world and on the Palestinian leadership: Let us continue together on the path of Menahem Begin and Anwar Sadat, Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein. Let us realize the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who said in Jerusalem 2700 years ago: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, and they shall learn war no more.”
With God’s help, we will know no more war. We will know peace.
Source: Prime Minister’s Office website, http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Archive/ Speeches/2009/06/speechbarilan140609.htm
Address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a Joint Session of the U.S. Congress, May 24, 2011
I am deeply moved by your warm welcome. And I am deeply honored that you have given me the opportunity to address Congress a second time.
Mr. Vice President, do you remember the time that we were the new kids in town?
And I do see a lot of old friends here. And I see a lot of new friends of Israel here. Democrats and Republicans alike.
Israel has no better friend than America. And America has no better friend than Israel. We stand together to defend democracy. We stand together to advance peace. We stand together to fight terrorism. Congratulations America, congratulations, Mr. President. You got bin Laden. Good riddance!
In an unstable Middle East, Israel is the one anchor of stability. In a region of shifting alliances, Israel is America’s unwavering ally. Israel has always been pro-American. Israel will always be pro-American.
My friends, you don’t need to do nation-building in Israel. We’re already built. You don’t need to export democracy to Israel. We’ve already got it. You don’t need to send American troops to Israel. We defend ourselves. You’ve been very generous in giving us tools to do the job of defending Israel on our own. Thank you all, and thank you President Obama, for your steadfast commitment to Israel’s security. I know economic times are tough. I deeply appreciate this.
Some of you have been telling me that your belief has been reaffirmed in recent months that support for Israel’s security is a wise investment in our common future. For an epic battle is now unfolding in the Middle East, between tyranny and freedom. A great convulsion is shaking the earth from the Khyber Pass to the Straits of Gibraltar. The tremors have shattered states and toppled governments. And we can all see that the ground is still shifting. Now this historic moment holds the promise of a new dawn of freedom and opportunity. Millions of young people are determined to change their future. We all look at them. They muster courage. They risk their lives. They demand dignity. They desire liberty.
These extraordinary scenes in Tunis and Cairo evoke those of Berlin and Prague in 1989. Yet as we share their hopes, we must also remember that those hopes could be snuffed out as they were in Tehran in 1979. You remember what happened then. The brief democratic spring in Iran was cut short by a ferocious and unforgiving tyranny. This same tyranny smothered Lebanon’s democratic Cedar Revolution, and inflicted on that long-suffering country the medieval rule of Hezbollah.
So today, the Middle East stands at a fateful crossroads. Like all of you, I pray that the peoples of the region choose the path less traveled, the path of liberty. No one knows what this path consists of better than you. This path is not paved by elections alone. It is paved when governments permit protests in town squares, when limits are placed on the powers of rulers, when judges are beholden to laws and not men, and when human rights cannot be crushed by tribal loyalties or mob rule.
Israel has always embraced this path in the Middle East that has long rejected it. In a region where women are stoned, gays are hanged, Christians are persecuted, Israel stands out. It is different.
As the great English writer George Eliot predicted over a century ago, once established, the Jewish state will “shine like a bright star of freedom amid the despotisms of the East.” Well, she was right. We have a free press, independent courts, an open economy, rambunctious parliamentary debates. You think you guys are tough on one another in Congress? Come spend a day in the Knesset. Be my guest.
Courageous Arab protesters are now struggling to secure these very same rights for their peoples, for their societies. We’re proud that over one million Arab citizens of Israel have been enjoying these rights for decades. Of the 300 million Arabs in the Middle East and North Africa, only Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy real democratic rights. I want you to stop for a second and think about that. Of those 300 million Arabs, less than one-half of one percent are truly free, and they’re all citizens of Israel!
This startling fact reveals a basic truth: Israel is not what is wrong about the Middle East. Israel is what is right about the Middle East.
Israel fully supports the desire of Arab peoples in our region to live freely. We long for the day when Israel will be one of many real democracies in the Middle East.
Fifteen years ago, I stood at this very podium and said that democracy must start to take root in the Arab world. Well, it’s begun to take root. This beginning holds the promise of a brilliant future of peace and prosperity. For I believe that a Middle East that is genuinely democratic will be a Middle East truly at peace.
But while we hope and work for the best, we must also recognize that powerful forces oppose this future. They oppose modernity. They oppose democracy. They oppose peace.
Foremost among these forces is Iran. The tyranny in Tehran brutalizes its own people. It supports attacks against American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. It subjugates Lebanon and Gaza. It sponsors terror worldwide.
When I last stood here, I spoke of the dire consequences of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Now time is running out, and the hinge of history may soon turn. For the greatest danger facing humanity could soon be upon us: A militant Islamic regime armed with nuclear weapons.
Militant Islam threatens the world. It threatens Islam. I have no doubt that it will ultimately be defeated. It will eventually succumb to the forces of freedom and progress. It depends on cloistering young minds for a given amount of years and the process of opening up information will ultimately defeat this movement. But like other fanaticisms that were doomed to fail, militant Islam could exact a horrific price from all of us before its inevitable demise.
A nuclear-armed Iran would ignite a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. It would give terrorists a nuclear umbrella. It would make the nightmare of nuclear terrorism a clear and present danger throughout the world. I want you to understand what this means. If we don’t stop it, it’s coming. They could put the bomb anywhere. They could put it on a missile. They’re working on missiles that could reach this city. It could be on a container ship in a port, or in a suitcase on a subway.
Now the threat to my country cannot be overstated. Those who dismiss it are sticking their heads in the sand. Less than seven decades after six million Jews were murdered, Iran’s leaders deny the Holocaust of the Jewish people, while calling for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
Leaders who spew such venom should be banned from every respectable forum on the planet. But there is something that makes the outrage even greater: The lack of outrage. In much of the international community, the calls for our destruction are met with utter silence. It is even worse because there are many who rush to condemn Israel for defending itself against Iran’s terror proxies.
But not you. Not America. You have acted differently. You’ve condemned the Iranian regime for its genocidal aims. You’ve passed tough sanctions against Iran. History will salute you America.
President Obama has said that the United States is determined to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He successfully led the Security Council to adopt sanctions against Iran. You in Congress passed even tougher sanctions. These words and deeds are vitally important.
Yet the Ayatollah regime briefly suspended its nuclear program only once, in 2003, when it feared the possibility of military action. That same year, Muammar Qadaffi gave up his nuclear weapons program, and for the same reason. The more Iran believes that all options are on the table, the less the chance of confrontation. This is why I ask you to continue to send an unequivocal message: that America will never permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.
As for Israel, if history has taught the Jewish people anything, it is that we must take calls for our destruction seriously. We are a nation that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust. When we say “never again,” we mean never again. Israel always reserves the right to defend itself.
My friends, while Israel will be ever vigilant in its defense, we will never give up on our quest for peace. I guess we’ll give it up when we achieve it. Israel wants peace. Israel needs peace. We’ve achieved historic peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan that have held up for decades.
I remember what it was like before we had peace. I was nearly killed in a firefight inside the Suez Canal. I mean that literally, inside the Suez Canal. I was going down to the bottom with a 40-pound ammunition pack on my back, and somebody reached out to grab me,and they’re still looking for him, for the guy who did such a stupid thing. I was nearly killed there. I battled terrorists along both banks of the Jordan River. Too many Israelis have lost loved ones. I know their grief. I lost my brother.
So no one in Israel wants a return to those terrible days. The peace with Egypt and Jordan has long served as an anchor of stability and peace in the heart of the Middle East.
This peace should be bolstered by economic and political support to all those who remain committed to peace.
The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are vital. But they’re not enough. We must also find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Two years ago, I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples: A Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.
I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it is my responsibility to lead my people to peace.
This is not easy for me. I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the ancestral Jewish homeland. In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo.
This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history can deny the four-thousand-year-old bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.
But there is another truth: The Palestinians share this small land with us. We seek a peace in which they will be neither Israel’s subjects nor its citizens. They should enjoy a national life of dignity as a free, viable and independent people in their own state. They should enjoy a prosperous economy, where their creativity and initiative can flourish.
We’ve already seen the beginnings of what is possible. In the last two years, the Palestinians have begun to build a better life for themselves. Prime Minister Fayad has led this effort. I wish him a speedy recovery from his recent operation.
We’ve helped the Palestinian economy by removing hundreds of barriers and roadblocks to the free flow of goods and people. The results have been nothing short of remarkable.
The Palestinian economy is booming. It’s growing by more than 10% a year.
Palestinian cities look very different today than they did just a few years ago. They have shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, banks. They even have e-businesses. This is all happening without peace. Imagine what could happen with peace. Peace would herald a new day for both peoples. It would make the dream of a broader Arab-Israeli peace a realistic possibility.
So now here is the question. You have to ask it. If the benefits of peace with the Palestinians are so clear, why has peace eluded us? Because all six Israeli Prime Ministers since the signing of the Oslo accords agreed to establish a Palestinian state. Myself included.
So why has peace not been achieved? Because so far, the Palestinians have been unwilling to accept a Palestinian state, if it meant accepting a Jewish state alongside it.
You see, our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian state. It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. This is what this conflict is about. In 1947, the United Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state.The Jews said yes. The Palestinians said no. In recent years, the Palestinians twice refused generous offers by Israeli Prime Ministers to establish a Palestinian state on virtually all the territory won by Israel in the Six-Day War.
They were simply unwilling to end the conflict. And I regret to say this: They continue to educate their children to hate. They continue to name public squares after terrorists. And worst of all, they continue to perpetuate the fantasy that Israel will one day be flooded by the descendants of Palestinian refugees.
My friends, this must come to an end. President Abbas must do what I have done. I stood before my people, and I told you it wasn’t easy for me, and I said… “I will accept a Palestinian state.” It is time for President Abbas to stand before his people and say… “I willaccept a Jewish state.”
Those six words will change history. They will make clear to the Palestinians that this conflict must come to an end. That they are not building a state to continue the conflict with Israel, but to end it. They will convince the people of Israel that they have a true partner for peace. With such a partner, the people of Israel will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise. I will be prepared to make a far-reaching compromise.
This compromise must reflect the dramatic demographic changes that have occurred since 1967. The vast majority of the 650,000 Israelis who live beyond the 1967 lines reside in neighborhoods and suburbs of Jerusalem and Greater Tel Aviv.
These areas are densely populated but geographically quite small. Under any realistic peace agreement, these areas, as well as other places of critical strategic and national importance, will be incorporated into the final borders of Israel.
The status of the settlements will be decided only in negotiations. But we must also be honest. So I am saying today something that should be said publicly by all those who are serious about peace. In any real peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders. The precise delineation of those borders must be negotiated. We will be generous on the size of a future Palestinian state. But as President
Obama said, the border will be different than the one that existed on June 4, 1967. Israel will not return to the indefensible lines of 1967.
I want to be very clear on this point. Israel will be generous on the size of the Palestinian state but we’ll be very firm on where we put the border with it. This is an important principle. It shouldn’t be lost.
We recognize that a Palestinian state must be big enough to be viable, independent and prosperous. President Obama rightly referred to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, just as he referred to the future Palestinian state as the homeland of the Palestinian people. Jews from around the world have a right to immigrate to the one and only Jewish state. Palestinians from around the world should have a right to immigrate, if they so choose, to a Palestinian state. This means that the Palestinian refugee problem will be resolved outside the borders of Israel.
As for Jerusalem, only a democratic Israel has protected freedom of worship for all faiths in the city. Throughout the millennial history of the Jewish capital, the only time that Jews, Christians and Muslims could worship freely, could have unfettered access to their holy sites, has been during Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem. Jerusalem must never again be divided. Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel. I know that this is a difficult issue for Palestinians. But I believe with creativity and goodwill a solution can be found.
This is the peace I plan to forge with a Palestinian partner committed to peace. But you know very well that in the Middle East, the only peace that will hold is a peace you can defend.
So peace must be anchored in security. In recent years, Israel withdrew from South Lebanon and Gaza. We thought we’d get peace, but that’s not what we got. Instead, we got 12,000 rockets fired from those areas on our cities, on our children, by Hezbollah and Hamas. The UN peacekeepers in Lebanon failed to prevent the smuggling of this weaponry. The European observers in Gaza evaporated overnight. So if Israel simply walked out of the territories, the flow of weapons into a future Palestinian state would be unchecked. Missiles fired from it could reach virtually every home in Israel in less than a minute. I want you to think about that too. Imagine there’s a siren going on now and we have less than 60 seconds to find shelter from an incoming rocket. Would you live that way? Can anyone live that way? Well, we aren’t going to live that way either.
The truth is that Israel needs unique security arrangements because of its unique size. Israel is one of the smallest countries in the world. Mr. Vice President, I’ll grant you this. It’s bigger than Delaware. It’s even bigger than Rhode Island. But that’s about it. Israel on the 1967 lines would be half the width of the Washington Beltway.
Now here’s a bit of nostalgia. I first came to Washington thirty years ago as a young diplomat. It took me a while, but I finally figured it out: there is an America beyond the Beltway. But Israel on the 1967 lines would be only nine miles wide. So much for strategic depth.
So it is therefore absolutely vital for Israel’s security that a Palestinian state be fully demilitarized. And it is absolutely vital that Israel maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. Solid security arrangements on the ground are necessary not only to protect the peace, they are necessary to protect Israel in case the peace unravels. For in our unstable region, no one can guarantee that our peace partners today will be there tomorrow.
And when I say tomorrow, I don’t mean some distant time in the future. I mean tomorrow. Peace can be achieved only around the negotiating table. The Palestinian attempt to impose a settlement through the United Nations will not bring peace. It should be forcefully opposed by all those who want to see this conflict end.
I appreciate the President’s clear position on this issue. Peace cannot be imposed. It must be negotiated. But it can only be negotiated with partners committed to peace.
And Hamas is not a partner for peace. Hamas remains committed to Israel’s destruction and to terrorism. They have a charter. That charter not only calls for the obliteration of Israel. It says “kill the Jews wherever you find them.” Hamas’ leader condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden and praised him as a holy warrior. Now again I want to make this clear. Israel is prepared to sit down today and negotiate peace with the Palestinian Authority. I believe we can fashion a brilliant future of peace for our children. But Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government backed by the Palestinian version of Al Qaeda.
So I say to President Abbas: Tear up your pact with Hamas! Sit down and negotiate! Make peace with the Jewish state! And if you do, I promise you this. Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. It will be the first to do so.
My friends, the momentous trials of the last century, and the unfolding events of this century, attest to the decisive role of the United States in advancing peace and defending freedom. Providence entrusted the United States to be the guardian of liberty. All peoples who cherish freedom owe a profound debt of gratitude to your great nation.
Among the most grateful nations is my nation, the people of Israel, who have fought for their liberty and survival against impossible odds, in ancient and modern times alike.
I speak on behalf of the Jewish people and the Jewish state when I say to you, representatives of America, thank you. Thank you for your unwavering support for Israel. Thank you for ensuring that the flame of freedom burns bright throughout the world. May God bless all of you. And may God forever bless the United States of America.
Source: Prime Minister’s Office website, http://www.pmo.gov.il/PMOEng/Communication/PMSpeaks/speechcongress240511.htm