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Bill Clinton Administration:
Speech to the AIPAC Policy Conference

(April 28, 1996)


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Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, I just thought I was tired because it was late Sunday night. I never felt better in my life. Thank you very much.

Mr. Prime Minister, Ambassador Rabinovich, Secretary Glickman, Ambassador Indyk. President Dow, thank you for that wonderful introduction. Mr. Grossman, Mr. Sher, Mr. Bronfman, Mr. Levy, to Jack Bendheim, who also gave a wonderful introduction; the cochairs of this event, Art Sandler and Betsy Sheer; to all the young students who are here.

The Prime Minister referred on two occasions to the opportunity that I had on my last trip to Israel to meet with the young people there. It was an incredible experience for me. And I realized that in some ways we have to keep depending on young people to deliver us because they remind us that we can break new ground and make tomorrow different from yesterday.

Just before the Prime Minister and I came in here tonight, we received petitions for peace signed largely by college students that were presented by Jonathan Epstein of Trinity College and Abigail Michelson of Brandeis, and I'd like to thank them. I think they're over here. I thank them very much for what they did for that.

I would also like to say a special word of thanks to the Members of Congress who are here who have supported our administration's policies in the Middle East. If I miss someone whom I do not see, write me a nasty note tomorrow. [ Laughter] But I would like to say a special word of thanks to Senator Lautenberg, Congressman Frost, Congressman Engel, Congresswoman Lowey, Congressman Waxman, and Congressman Levin. And I hope I didn't miss anybody; we can't afford to lose any more friends in Congress. [Laughter]

When the Prime Minister said that Israel was now spending as much money on education as defense, I thought of seeing if I could get him to stay another week and just testify before a few committees. [Laughter] And when you, sir, said that I had made history for a second time, I can see myself being guilt-peddled into the future; I can make history now every year from now on until the end of my life. [Laughter]

Since I associate you with the struggle for peace, I can't help, if you will indulge me one real purely personal observation: The last time I appeared before this conference before last year was in 1989, when the person who was supposed to appear on behalf of the Democratic Party against Lee Atwater went to his daughter's college graduation. I thought he had his priorities in order, and so when he asked me to replace him, I was glad to stand in for Ron Brown. And since he lost his life on another remarkable mission of peace, I thought I would share that with you tonight, and I hope you will remember that and remember him and his family in your prayers.

I am pleased as the Prime Minister is that we can come here tonight with the northern border of Israel and the southern border of Lebanon quiet—no Katyusha rockets firing down on the people of northern Israel. I thank the Prime Minister for the tremendous work he did. And in his absence—and I hope to goodness he's sleeping right now—I want to thank the Secretary of State for his magnificent herculean effort. I also thank his partner and great unsung hero, Dennis Ross, for what he has done.

As the Prime Minister said, we had an agreement back in 1993, but it wasn't in writing, and it was shattered. For the first time now, there is an agreement in writing that will be more effective in preventing further outbreaks. The violence has stopped. There is now a monitoring mechanism to which Israel and Lebanon can refer complaints. And now it is our fond hope that civilians on both sides of the border can resume their lives with greater confidence and security. And we will not tolerate further efforts to disrupt the calm.

When I came into office, I was determined that our country would go into the 21st century still the world's greatest force for peace and freedom, for democracy and security and prosperity. We have to promote these values just as vigorously as we did in the cold war. Indeed, in some ways, our responsibilities as Americans are now greater.

I know that you agree with that. You have devoted yourselves to strengthening the bonds between the United States and Israel, a cornerstone of our foreign policy and of our efforts to advance peace and freedom and democracy in the Middle East. I thank you for that and I ask you, too, to continue to speak out in a larger sense for America's role in the world. It has made a difference what we have done in the Middle East and in Bosnia and in Northern Ireland and in Haiti and in fighting against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and in leading the world to take a tougher stand against terrorism. We cannot afford to walk away from these responsibilities to the future of our children, our children's children, and the children of all the world.

What a difference a year can make. It was at this conference last year that Israel's then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said, from day one Israel found itself in a unique alliance with the United States, resting on twin pillars of shared values and strategic partnership.

Well, it's still true. And now the United States and Israel are still partners based on shared values and common strategies.

I am grateful for the service, the life, and the sacrifice of Prime Minister Rabin. But I am also very grateful that the man he called his full partner, our friend Shimon Peres, is carrying forward the important work of peace with security. From his earliest days when he helped to establish Israel's military, up to the very present when he has defined a vision of a new Middle East in his remarkable book—which, Prime Minister, I have told the whole world I enjoyed reading, and I'm promoting it for you and I hope I get a certain percentage kickback if it really does very well. [Laughter] We just made another agreement. They're just spouting out all over.

I said that in jest—[laughter]—to lay the pretext for a serious comment. At least the critical mass of American Jews should read that book and become familiar with its contents, because if you do it will give you the energy for the tasks ahead, because the Prime Minister has been able to imagine what the future might be like beyond the history that can be made with the other peace signings. And that vision is what must drive us all into tomorrow.

We have made a lot of progress with the Declaration of Principles of the Palestinians, the peace of the Araba with Jordan, the interim accord that was signed in Washington. I have watched in these very difficult months since Prime Minister Rabin's assassination Prime Minister Peres rise to this moment. He has been a true and reliable friend of our country, and a true and reliable leader of his own. And I am proud to say, as Yitzhak Rabin said, he is our full partner for peace and security.

This has been a trying time for those who believe that a secure peace is the only true hope for Israel and the Middle East. The Katyusha rockets, the bloodshed in Lebanon, the suicide bombings in Israel—we grieve for the innocent victims, for the Israelis who simply wanted to live quiet lives in their own country, for the innocent Palestinians who were killed in the suicide bombings in Israel, for the children of our own Nation, Sarah Duker and Matthew Eisenfeld, visiting a land they loved; for the Lebanese children in Qana who were caught between—make no mistake about it—the deliberate tactics of Hezbollah in their positioning and firing and the tragic misfiring in Israel's legitimate exercise of its right to self-defense.

I know that in Israel and Lebanon, throughout the Middle East and throughout the world, it would be so easy after yet another round of violence and death to give up, to think that the very best we could expect is a future of separate armed camps. It is that sort of bunker mentality that we fight, indeed, all across the world in different ways today. It would be easy to give into it in the Middle East, but it would be wrong.

I was asked the other day whether the violence of the last few days was not proof that the peace process was dead. I said, no, quite the contrary; it was proof that the yearning for peace was alive. The people who started the violence were trying to kill the longing for peace. It is still alive, and we must not let it die. We must stand up to what they tried to do.

We can still achieve a peace if we conquer fear and restore security and deal honestly with those with whom we have differences. We know it will not be easy. Peace requires in some ways more strength than war. And we must have the patience to endure a few more setbacks along the way. We know that it takes great courage to press forward into an unknown future. It's harder than retreating into a familiar past. It takes great bravery to reach out to a former enemy. It's easier to stay in the false security of isolation.

But I believe that Israel will maintain its resolve for peace. As I said, I saw it in the eyes and I heard it in the voices of the children of Israel when I was there just last month. I saw it in the eyes of those two young Americans who gave Prime Minister Peres and me those petitions. I heard it from two boys in Israel, Uri Tal and Tal Loel, who were badly wounded in the bombing in Tel Aviv—one even deafened. Despite their pain, they wrote to me from their hospital beds, and I quote, from their hospital beds they wrote: "Peace is the only true solution for this area." They showed strength, having lost much even in their young years. They showed the ability to overcome adversity that is the true genius of the character and history of the Jewish people.

If the Jewish people have endured centuries of exile, persecution, the ultimate evil of the Holocaust, flourishing against all the odds, surely—surely—together they can throw back their shoulders and raise their heads and say, after all this, Hezbollah and Hamas will not succeed where others have failed.

Even as the Katyushas were falling, we saw proof of peace taking hold. We saw it in the meeting between Prime Minister Peres and Chairman Arafat 10 days ago, when they vowed to move ahead on the goals set by the accords. We saw it in the Prime Minister's path-breaking trips to Qatar and Oman this month. And I salute again the Prime Minister for the strength and commitment he has shown in pursuing the peace in this difficult period.

And of course, last Wednesday, on the 48th anniversary of Israeli independence, the Palestinian National Council finally did change the PLO charter and deleted the hateful clause calling for the destruction of Israel. Now, think about that. That symbol of hatred had endured since 1964, before some people in this room were even born. It's a moment we have long waited and worked for. The Palestinian leadership followed through on its commitments and made a better move to a better day. All friends of peace should be heartened by this, and especially by the large margin of the vote in support of Chairman Arafat's policy.

Even during the suicide bombings there was dramatic proof that peace is taking root. Remember, as Prime Minister Peres said, at the Summit of the Peacemakers in Sharm al-Sheikh we had 29 leaders from around the globe and 13 from the Arab world voting and committing themselves for the first time not only to condemn but to work against terrorism in Israel. It was an historic moment. And we are following up on it.

I say again, I want to hammer this home, not only to you who know, but to people beyond this room; this progress for peace is the reason the enemies of peace are lashing out. We must restore peace. We must restore security. But we must not be diverted from our ultimate goal, else we will hand them the victory that they have sought all along.

We know the circle of peace cannot be closed only by an end to the fighting in Lebanon. It can be closed only when the Arab-Israeli conflict is truly over; when normalization takes hold in the entire Arab world; when Israel's security is completely assured; when Israel is fully accepted in every way in the region. The circle of peace will be closed only—and I say only—when the people of Israel are confident that what they are getting is worth the risks they must take. Peace and security are indivisible. And Israel must feel comfortable and confident about both in order to achieve either over the long run.

Let me say to you what I hope you already know, the breakthroughs of the past were possible because we built together a bond of trust. And I pledge to you today that this relationship will remain strong and vital, so strong and so vital that no one will ever drive a wedge between us.

Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. It will stay that way because Israel must have the means to defend itself by itself. In a time of shrinking resources, we have maintained our economic assistance. We have sought to enhance Israel's security to lessen the risks it has taken and still takes every day for peace.

Israel's qualitative military edge is greater than ever because we have kept our word. Earlier today, Prime Minister Peres and Secretary Perry signed an agreement to expand our theater missile defense program so that we can detect and destroy incoming missiles. That way Israel will have not only the advantage it needs today, but will be able to defeat the threats of tomorrow.

As part of this effort, we are proceeding with the third phase of the deployment of the Arrow missile program. The United States is committing $200 million to this effort so that the children who lived through the Scud attacks of the Gulf War will never again face that fear. We also pledge to expand work on the Nautilus high-energy laser system, which is designed to destroy Katyushas in flight. Our air forces are working together so that the first of the F-15-I's are delivered as planned next year. And we have offered Israel the AMRAAM, our most advanced air-to-air missile system, so that Israel's air power remains unmatched in the region.

Our strategic cooperation is greater than ever. We are continuing to help build Israel's high-tech capacity through the sale of supercomputers. We are even expanding cooperation in space and preparing to train Israeli astronauts. There may be a few volunteers out there, Mr. Prime Minister. [Laughter]

We are also working, as the Prime Minister has said, more closely than ever to defeat terrorism. This week we will complete the agreement to combat extremist violence that we began work on during my visit to Israel last month. Almost as soon as we received word of the bombings we began sending new equipment to detect explosives. Now we are committing more than $100 million to this program for equipment and training, for development of new technologies and improved communications and coordination. And I am very pleased that in the budget I signed just 2 days ago, the first $50 million was included in our common antiterrorist efforts.

We all know that Israel should have every tool at its disposal in the fight against terror. And we all know that the organized forces of hatred and terror threaten people not only in the Middle East, but here at home and around the world. We saw that in Oklahoma City, at the World Trade Center, in the attacks we have thwarted, in the subways of Tokyo, in the skies over Scotland. We see it all around the world. Fighting terrorism will remain one of our top law enforcement priorities for many years to come. And in order to be successful, we have to have the tools we need here, and we have to work together.

I want to thank the Congress and Members in both parties for passing the antiterrorism bill I signed into law just last week. I want to thank many of you in this audience in both parties who worked hard and lobbied hard for that legislation. It will help us to stop terrorists before they strike and to bring them to justice when they do.

Now we can more quickly expel foreigners who come here and support terrorist activities. Our prosecutors can wield new tools and expanded penalties against those who terrorize Americans at home or abroad. And we can stop terrorists from raising money in the United States to pay for their crimes anywhere around the world.

Again, I say AIPAC has long been a powerful voice in favor of this legislation. We may not be able to always stop those who are gripped by hatred, but at least now because of your support, we will make a real difference in the fight against terror. And I pledge to you that in America, in Israel, and around the world we will not rest from these efforts until, in the words of the Psalm, "We shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flies by day."

When I was in Jerusalem last month, I placed a small symbol of the extraordinary bond of solidarity between the United States and Israel on the grave of my friend Prime Minister Rabin. It was a little stone from the South Lawn of the White House where the first accord with the Palestinians was signed. I put it there in keeping with the Jewish tradition that says one must always add to the memories of those who have died and never detract from them.

Well, it falls to us to add more to the memories of all those who have given their lives for Israel's security and for the hope of peace. And we must do this not only with stones, but in kind. We must build a peace as hard and real as any stone. And in so doing, we will add to the memory of every martyr and validate the sacrifice of every martyr, and give meaning and breath and life to the dreams of so many who have gone before.

That is my vision to you and my pledge. And I say to you, and especially to you, I will do everything I can to help us achieve it together.

Thank you, and God bless you.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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