Visit of Prime Minister Begin of Israel

(March 22, 1978)


THE PRESIDENT. The visit of Prime Minister Begin and his discussions with me and the other Israeli and American officials has been very important. These 2 short days have been spent in a comprehensive exchange of views on the Middle East peace process. I have reiterated to the Prime Minister the profound support of all Americans for the security and the well-being of the state of Israel as it approaches its 30th year of independence. We share Israel's pride in this milestone.

Israel's achievements are uniquely its own, a mixture of high idealism, ingenuity, and self-reliance. Americans have always found an echo of our own frontier past in Israel's energy and its strong individualism.

Thirty years ago, Israel was born into uncertainty and a threatening future. Since that time, Israel has suffered more hardship and tragedy than most nations must endure in a century. Yet today, Israel stands as a powerful nation, fiercely independent and determined to forge its own political destiny.

The Israel of 1978 is strong and more secure militarily than at any time in its history. We in America take satisfaction in the knowledge that we have contributed in some small measure to the realization of that dream of strength. We have stood beside Israel from the earliest moments of its birth, and there we shall continue to stand.

This visit by Prime Minister Begin has had only one purpose, to explore the ways in which we can build our past cooperation into a true partnership for peace. In the course of these meetings, Prime Minister Begin and I have had an opportunity to review in considerable detail the present situation and our progress to date on a comprehensive settlement of the Middle East conflict.

As always, these discussions have been detailed and frank, as is to be expected from two partners in the peace process.

I have reviewed for Prime Minister Begin my recent discussions with President Sadat. And I have shared with him my assessment of what will be required to regain momentum in the common search for peace.

I emphasized to him the importance of reaffirming that all of the principles of Security Council Resolution 242 must apply to all fronts if peace negotiations are to succeed.

In the past few months, we have had a glimpse of what a peaceful future might hold. We have come to appreciate what it can mean in terms of human contact, direct contact, and liberation from the dangerous, self-defeating patterns of the past.

As Prime Minister Begin returns home, he will carry with him our hopes and our dreams for a future free of the bitterness and violence of the past generation.

We know that he faces both a challenge and an opportunity—the challenge of providing security for his people, and the opportunity to achieve that security through a true and enduring peace. It is our conviction that this opportunity must not be allowed to slip into the cycle of hatred and violence which has characterized the history of the Middle East for the past 30 years and which we have witnessed again over the last 2 weeks.

We pray with him that all peoples of the Middle East will come to realize that another generation must not be allowed to grow up learning only war and despair.

Prime Minister Begin does not return alone to his own country. He carries with him our deepest hopes and prayers. We stand with him as he faces the challenges and the opportunities of Israel's great dream.

At this historic moment, when peace still seems far away, we rely on the vision and the humanity of a great people, born of great suffering, to triumph once again.

In this mission, Prime Minister Begin carries with him the good wishes and the constant support of all the people of the United States.

Mr. Prime Minister, we wish you Godspeed.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, I thank you wholeheartedly for the good words and the expressions of friendship and understanding for our people and country. This is a new reaffirmation of the mutual, deep amity between our peoples and our countries.

As you said, Mr. President, our people had to suffer much and to fight for its liberation and for its independence. Great sacrifices were given so that we can have the land of our forefathers to build up for our children. But when I stand here in Washington in the presence of the President of the United States, our great friend and ally, it is my duty as the elected Prime Minister of Israel to remind public opinion of the fact that Israel is still the only country in the world against which there is a written document to the effect that it must disappear.

There is no country, either large or small, or even the smallest, against which there is such a document, demanding, saying publicly, that country should not exist, should be wiped off the map, and behind those people who carry out also the abominable acts to prove that they mean it, there is an alignment of many Arab states, armed to the teeth by the Soviet Union, and sometimes getting modern weapons also from the West.

This is the decisive problem we face, which is called, sometimes, security. I would like to reaffirm what security means to us. It means the preservation of the lives of our elderly people, of our women and our children—the lives which are threatened daily—so that to make sure that the future generations, as ours, will live in a free and independent country. This is the great issue we face, or continue to face.

Now, Mr. President, what is our contribution to the peacemaking process? Yes, indeed, when I learned that President Sadat is ready to come to Jerusalem, I immediately sent out to him an invitation to come, and then his visit took place. After that, President Sadat, in the wake of my visit to you in December, Mr. President, invited me to come to Ismailia. Both meetings of Jerusalem and Ismailia were characterized by the spirit of friendship and openness. We knew, President Sadat and I, that we have differences of opinion. But we both agreed that we shall discuss them freely, we shall negotiate them, because such negotiations are the soul of any attempt to reach an agreement and to conclude a peace treaty.

That was the spirit. In that spirit, Israel contributed three documents, making it possible to deal with the question how to reach and conclude peace treaties. We made a peace proposal in two parts—one concerning the bilateral relations between Egypt and Israel, and the other, the full administrative autonomy for our neighbors, the Palestinian Arabs residing in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip.

It was a real contribution to the thinking and making of peace, positive, constructive; and so it was appreciated here, Mr. President, and elsewhere, when those two documents were produced, a forthcoming proposal to make peace, a long step forward, a great deal of flexibility, a notable contribution, to quote the public statements.

We added another document, a declaration of principles which should make it possible for everybody to join in the peace effort. There are three Israeli documents contributing to go forward in the process of reaching peace in the Middle East. We only ask to negotiate. We said it is a basis and a fair basis for negotiations. There may be counterproposals. We shall also negotiate them. This is the process.

Mr. President, may I express our hope that this will happen, indeed, and the spirit of the Jerusalem, the Washington, and the Ismailia meeting will be renewed, and in that spirit of understanding and openness, the negotiations will be resumed.

As I will be leaving your great country, Mr. President, I will take with me the expressions of your friendship, of your humanity, of your understanding of our problems. We are very grateful to you. Israel is a very small country. The United States is a mighty world power. But there are bonds which tie us together in understanding and friendship which derive from our tradition, from our faith in divine providence, from our love of liberty, from our devotion to democracy.

These are the values which make life worthwhile to live. And therefore, as we say to each other from time to time, we are not only friends, we are partners, we are allies. And in this spirit, in the faith that we shall continue our partnership for peace, for liberty, for the welfare of our peoples and of mankind, I take leave of you, Mr. President, expressing my deep gratitude for your hospitality, for your warmth, and for your friendship.

Thank you.


Source: Public Papers of the President