Address to the Knesset by President Carter

(March 12, 1979)


President Carter arrived in Israel accompanied by Secretary of State Vance, Secretary of Defence Brown, National Security Adviser Brzezinsky and senior officials. In his three days in Israel he met with the cabinet, the Ministerial Committeefor Defence, the Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee and finally addressed a plenary session of the Knesset. In his speech he urged the people of Israel and Egypt to press their leaders to conclude the peace treaty, saying twice "the people of the two nations are ready now for peace... the leaders have not yet proven that they are also ready for peace enough to take a chance". At a concluding meeting with Mr. Begin, when it seemed that President Carter's mission was about to collapse, Israel made additional concessions which the President took with him to Cairo for the last minute talk with President Sadat. Text of President Carter's address at the Knesset:


Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, distinguished members of the Knesset, and friends: For the last 24 hours, I have been writing different versions of this speech. I have discarded the speech of despair. I have discarded the speech of glad tidings and celebration. I have decided to deliver the speech of concern and caution and hope.

I am honored to stand in this assembly of free men and women which represents a great and an ancient people, a young and a courageous nation.

I bring with me the best wishes and the greetings of the people of the United States, who share with the people of Israel the love of liberty, of justice, and of peace. And I am honored to be in Jerusalem, this holy city, described by Isaiah as a quiet habitation in which for so many of the human race the cause of brotherhood and peace are enshrined.

I am here in a cause of brotherhood and of peace. I have come to Cairo and also here to Jerusalem to try to enhance the bold, brave and historic efforts of President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, and to demonstrate that the United States of America is as determined as these two leaders to create lasting peace and friendship between Egypt and Israel and to put an end to war and the threat of war throughout the Middle East.

No people desire or deserve peace more than the Jewish people. None have wanted it so long. None have spoken of it more eloquently. None have suffered so much from the absence of peace. Pogrom after pogrom, war after war, Israel has buried its sons and its daughters.

Yesterday morning, at Yad Vashem, I grieved in the presence of terrible reminders of the agony and the horror of the Holocaust.

Modern Israel came into being in the wake of that historic crime, the enormity of which is almost beyond human comprehension.

I know that Israel is committed and determined, above all, that nothing like it must ever, ever be permitted to happen again on earth.

Americans respect that determination and we fully share that determination with you. And Americans recognize that for Jews over the centuries, as for Israel since its independence, caution and wariness have been a practical and a moral necessity for survival. And yet, in these past months, you have made enormous sacrifices and you have taken great risks for peace.

This sacred dedication to peace born and fostered in Jerusalem and in Cairo has given to men and women everywhere a renewed sense of hope that human reason, good will, and faith can succeed, can break down the barriers between peoples who, in our lifetimes, have only known war.

As Prime Minister Begin said after the Camp David Summit, the agreements reached there proved that any problem can be solved, if there is some - and he repeated, just some wisdom. Those are truthful and also reassuring words. I know from my intense involvement in these negotiations that President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin have not wavered from their often-expressed commitment to peace.

President Sadat told me in Cairo that he will let nothing stand in the way of our shared goal of finishing the treaty of peace between Israel and Egypt, and of making it a living testament of friendship between the two neighboring peoples. I believe him, and I know in my heart that Prime Minister Begin and the Government of Israel are no less fervently committed to the same noble objective.

But we have not yet fully met our challenge. Despite our unflagging determination, despite the extraordinary progress of the past six month, we still fall short. It is now the somber responsibility of us all to exert our energies and our imaginations once again to contemplate the tragedy of failure and the legitimate exultation if we bring peace.

In this effort, the support of the members of the Knesset will obviously be crucial. Our vision must be as great as our goal. Wisdom and courage are required of us all, and so too, are practicality and realism. We must not lose this moment. We must pray as if everything depended on God, and we must act as if everything depends on ourselves.

What kind of peace do we seek? Spinoza said that peace is not an absence of war: it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, for confidence, for justice.

Americans share that vision and will stand beside Israel to be sure that that vision is fulfilled.

In Egypt I saw vivid evidence of this deep longing for peace among the Egyptian people, millions of them. But like you, they worry about the uncertainties of that first crucial stage in the broad task of pounding Middle East swords into plowshares. Like you, they hope to banish forever the enmity that has existed between the neighbours, the permanent neighbours of Egypt and of Israel.

Like you, they want this peace, and like you, they want it to be real and not just a sham peace.

My friends, from my own experience as President of the United States, I understand all too well that historic decisions are seldom easy, seldom without pain. Benjamin Franklin, who negotiated the treaty of peace between England and America after our own War of Independence, once said that he had never seen a peace made, even the most advantageous, that was not censured as inadequate.

Throughout the peace process both Israel and Egypt have understood that no treaty can embody every aim of both nations. What a treaty can do, what it can do far better than the fragile status quo, and infinitely better than the insidious tensions that will build if our efforts are further stalled or fail, is to protect the vital interests of both Israel and Egypt, and open up the possibility of peace for all the states and all the people of this troubled region.

Doubts are the stuff of great decisions, but so are dreams. We are now at the very edge of turning Israel's eternal dream of peace into reality. I will not pretend that this reality will be free from further challenges. It will not. And better than most, the Jewish people know that life is seldom easy. But we must make this beginning. We must seize this precious opportunity. Fifty-seven years ago, the Congress of the United States of America committed itself to a Jewish homeland. Twenty-six years later, President Harry Truman recognized the new State of Israel eleven minutes after your nation was born. Seven Presidents have believed and demonstrated that America's relationship with Israel is more than just a special relationship. It has been, and it is a unique relationship. And it is a relationship which is indestructible because it is rooted in the consciousness and the morals and the religion and the beliefs of the American people themselves.

Let me repeat what I said to Prime Minister Begin last year on the lawn of the White House, on the anniversary of the founding of the modern State of Israel. And I quote, "For thirty years we have stood at the side of the proud and independent nation of Israel. I can say without reservation as President of the United States that we will continue to do so, not just for another thirty years, but forever."

We recognize the advantages to the United States of this partnership. You know that America deeply desires peace between Israel and Egypt and that we will do everything we can to make peace possible.

The people of the two nations are ready now for peace. The leaders have not yet proven that we are also ready for peace enough to take a chance. We must persevere. But with or without a peace treaty, the United States will always be at Israel's side.

Meeting in this hall of liberty reminds us that we are bound more than in any other way by distinctive common ideals and common commitments and beliefs. This Knesset itself is a temple to the principle and the practice of open debate. Democracy is an essential element to the very nationhood of Israel, as it is to the United States.

You have proven that democracy can be a stable form of government in a nation of great diversity and in a time and a place of danger and instability. But Israel and the United States were shaped by pioneers. My nation is also a nation of immigrants and refugees by peoples gathered in both nations from many lands by dreamers who, and I quote, by the work of their hand and the sweat of their brows transformed their dreams into the reality of nationhood.

We share the heritage of the Bible, the worship of God, of individual freedom, and we share a belief in cooperative endeavor, even in the face of apparently insurmountable obstacles.

In nations around the world where governments deny these values, minions look to us to uphold the right to freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to emigrate, the right to express one's political view, the right to move from one place to another, the right for families to be reunited, the right to a decent standard of material life.

These are the kinds of unbreakable ties that bind Israel and the United States together. These are the values that we offer to the whole world. Our mutual dedication to these ideals is an indispensable resource in our search for peace.

The treaty between Egypt and Israel that we hope may be placed before you for approval promises to be the cornerstone of a comprehensive structure of peace for this entire region.

We all recognize this structure will be incomplete until the peace can be extended to include all the people who have been involved in the conflict. I know, and I understand the concerns you feel as you consider the magnitude of the choices that will remain to be faced even after a peace treaty is concluded between Israel and Egypt. And as the time for these choices approaches, remember this pledge I make to you again today: The United States will never support any agreement or any action that places Israel's security in jeopardy.

We must proceed with due caution. I understand that. But we must proceed.

As recently as two years ago, after all the present steps that have already been taken seemed absolutely unthinkable. We know that confrontation magnifies differences. But the process of negotiation circumscribes differences, defines the differences, isolates them from the larger regions of common interests and so makes the gaps which do exist more bridgeable. We have seen the proof of that in the last 16 months.

At Camp David, Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat forged two frameworks for the building of that comprehensive peace. The genius of that accomplishment is that negotiations under these frameworks can go forward independently of each other without destroying the obvious relationship between them.

They are designed to be mutually reinforcing with the intrinsic flexibility necessary to promote the comprehensive peace that we all desire. Both will be fulfilled only when others of your Arab neighbours follow the visionary example of President Sadat, when they put ancient animosities behind them and agree to negotiate, as you desire, as you have already done with President Sadat, an honorable solution to the differences between you.

It is important that the door be kept open to all the parties in the conflict, including the Palestinians, with whom above all Israel shares a common interest in living in peace and living with mutual respect.

Peace in the Middle East, always important to the security of the entire region, in recent weeks has become an even more urgent concern.

Israel's security will rest not only on how the negotiations affect the situation on your own borders, but also on how it affects the forces of stability and moderation beyond your borders.

I am convinced that nothing can do more to create a hospitable atmosphere for those more distant forces in the long run than an equitable peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

The risks of peace between you and your Egyptian neighbours are real. But America is ready to reduce any risks and to balance them within the bounds of our strength and our influence.

I came to Israel representing the most powerful country on earth. And I can assure you that the United States intends to use that power in the pursuit of a stable and a peaceful Middle East.

We have been centrally involved in this region, and we will stay involved politically, economically, and militarily. We will stand by our friends. We are ready to place our strength at Israel's side when you want it to ensure Israel's security and well-being.

We know Israel's concern about many issues. We know your concern for an adequate oil supply. In the context of peace, we are ready to guarantee that supply.

I have recommitted our nation publicly to this commitment, as you know, only in recent days in my own country. We know Israel is concerned that the price of peace with Egypt will exacerbate ad already difficult economic situation and make it more difficult to meet your country's essential security requirements.

In the context of peace, we are prepared to see Israel's economic and military relationship with the United States taken on new and strong and more meaningful dimensions, even than already exist.

We will work not only to attain peace, but to maintain peace, recognizing that it is a permanent challenge of our times.

We will rededicate ourselves to the ideals that our people share. These ideals are the source not only of our strength, but of our self-respect as nations, as leaders, and as individuals.

I am here today to reaffirm that the United States will always recognize, appreciate and honor the mutual advantages of the strength and security of Israel. And I am here to express my most heartfelt and passionate hope that we may work together successfully to make this peace.

The Midrash tells us that, and I quote, "Peace is the wisp of straw that binds together the sheaf of blessings." But the wisp of straw, we know, is fragile and easily broken.

Let us pray God to guide our hand. Millions of men, women, and children in Israel and Egypt, and beyond, in this generation and in generations to come, are relying on our skill and relying on our faith.

In the words of a Sabbath prayer, "May He who causes peace to reign in the high heavens let peace descend on us, on all Israel, and on all the world."


Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry