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Bill Clinton Administration:
Speech to the Knesset in Jerusalem, Israel

(October 27, 1994)


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Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Netanyahu, ladies and gentlemen of the Knesset: Let me begin by thanking the Prime Minister and the people of Israel for welcoming me to your wonderful country, and thanking all of you for giving me the opportunity to address this great democratic body where, clearly, people of all different views are welcome to express their convictions. I feel right at home. [Laughter]

Yesterday Israel took a great stride toward fulfilling the ancient dream of the Jewish people, the patriarchs' dream of a strong and plentiful people living freely in their own land, enjoying the fruits of peace with their neighbors. Nearly 17 years after President Sadat came to this Chamber to seek peace and Prime Minister Begin reached out in reconciliation, and just over a year after Israel and the PLO declared a pathway to peace on the South Lawn of the White House, Israel and Jordan have now written a new chapter.

Tonight we praise the courage of the leaders who have given life to this treaty, Prime Minister Rabin and Foreign Minister Peres. They have shown the vision and the tenacity of other leaders of Israel's past whose names will be remembered always for their devotion to your cause and your people: Ben Gurion, Meir, Begin.

In your life, Prime Minister, we see the life of your country. As a youth, you wished to fulfill the commandment to farm the land of Israel, but instead you had to answer the call to defend the people of Israel. You have devoted your life to cultivating strength so that others could till the soil in safety. You have fought many battles and won many victories in war. Now, in strength, you are fighting and winning battles for peace. Indeed, you have shown your people that they can free themselves from siege, that for the first time they can make real a peace for the generations.

For the American people, too, this peace is a blessing. For decades, as Israel has struggled to survive, we have rejoiced in your triumphs and shared in your agonies. In the years since Israel was founded, Americans of every faith have admired and supported you. Like your country, ours is a land that welcomes exiles, a nation of hope, a nation of refuge. From the Orient and Europe and now from the former Soviet Union, your people have come, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, Yemenites and Ethiopians, all of you committed to living free, to building a common home. One of nearly four of the citizens of this country is an Arab, something very few people know beyond your borders. Even without the blessings of secure borders, you have secured for your own people the blessings of democracy. With all of its turmoil and debate, it is still the best of all systems.

In times of war and times of peace, every President of the United States since Harry Truman and every Congress has understood the importance of Israel. The survival of Israel is important not only to our interests, but to every single value we hold dear as a people. Our role in war has been to help you defend yourself by yourself. That is what you have asked. Now that you are taking risks for peace, our role is to help you to minimize the risks of peace.

I am committed to working with our Congress to maintain the current levels of military and economic assistance. We have taken concrete steps to strengthen Israel's qualitative edge. The U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission, unprecedented Israeli access to the U.S. high-technology market, and acquisition of advanced computers, all these keep Israel in the forefront of global advances and competitive and global markets.

I have also taken steps to enhance Israel's military and your capacity to address possible threats not only to yourselves but to the region. F–15 aircraft are being provided and F–16's transferred out of U.S. stocks. We work closely with you to develop the Arrow missile, to protect against the threat of ballistic missiles.

As we help to overcome the risks of peace, we also are helping to build a peace that will bring with it the safety and security Israel deserves. That peace must be real, based on treaty commitments arrived at directly by the parties, not imposed from outside. It must be secure. Israel must always be able to defend itself by itself. And it must be comprehensive. We have worked hard to end the Arab boycott, and we've had some success. But we will not stop until it is completely lifted. There is a treaty with Jordan and an agreement with the PLO. But we must keep going until Syria and Lebanon close the circle of states entering into peace and the other nations of the Arab world normalize their relations with Israel.

This morning in Damascus I discussed peace with President Asad. He repeated at our press conference what he had earlier said to his own Parliament: Syria has made a strategic choice for peace with Israel. He also explained that Syria is ready to commit itself to the requirements of peace through the establishment of normal peaceful relations with Israel. His hope, as he articulated it, is to transform the region from a state of war to a state of peace that enables both Arabs and Israelis to live in security, stability, and prosperity.

We have been urging President Asad to speak to you in a language of peace that you can understand. Today he began to do so. Of course, it would take more than words, much more than words. Yet I believe something is changing in Syria. Its leaders understand that it is time to make peace. There will still be a good deal of hard bargaining before a breakthrough, but they are serious about proceeding.

Just as we have worked with you from Camp David to Wadi Araba to bring peace with security to your people, so too we will walk with you on the road to Damascus for peace with security.

There are those who see peace still as all too distant. Surely, they include the families of those burned in the rubble of the community center in Buenos Aires, those in the basement of New York's World Trade Center, the loved ones of the passengers on bus number 5, and of course, two people who, as been noted, are in this Chamber with us tonight. And we honor the parents of Corporal Nahshon Waxman, a son of your nation and, I proudly say, a citizen of ours.

We grieve with the families of those who are lost and with all the people of Israel. So long as Jews are murdered just because they are Jews or just because they are citizens of Israel, the plague of anti-Semitism lives, and we must stand against it. We must stand against terror as strongly as we stand for peace, for without an end to terror there can be no peace.

The forces of terror and extremism still threaten us all. Sometimes they pretend to act in the name of God and country. But their deeds violate their own religious faith and make a mockery of any notion of honorable patriotism.

As I said last night to the Parliament in Jordan, we respect Islam. Millions of American citizens every day answer the Moslem call to prayer. But we know that the real fight is not about religion or culture. It is about a worldwide conflict between those who believe in peace and those who believe in terror, those who believe in hope and those who believe in fear.

Those who stoke the fires of violence and seek to destroy the peace, make no mistake about it, have one great goal. Their goal is to make the people of Israel, who have defeated all odds on the field of battle, to give up inside on the peace by giving in to the doubts that terror brings to every one of us. But having come so far, you cannot give up or give in. Your future must lie in the words of a survivor of the carnage of bus number 5 who said, "I want the peace process to continue. I want to live in peace. I want my children to live in peace."

So let us say to the merchants of terror once again: You cannot succeed; you must not succeed; you will not succeed. You are the past, not the future; the peacemakers are the future.

I say to you, my friends, in spite of all the dangers and difficulties that still surround you, the circle of your enemies is shrinking. Their time has passed. Their increasing isolation is reflected in the desperation of their disgusting deeds.

Once in this area you were shunned. Now, more and more, you are embraced. As you share the waters of the River Jordan and work with your neighbors, new crops will emerge where the soil is now barren. As you join together to mine the Dead Sea for its minerals, you will bring prosperity to all your people. As you roll up the barbed wire and cross the desert of Araba, the sands will yield new life to you. As you dock in each other's ports along the Gulf of Aqaba, more and more people will have the chance to experience the wonders of both your lands, and more and more children will share the joys of youth, not the dread of war.

This is the great promise of peace. It is the promise of making sure that all those who have sacrificed their lives did not die in vain; the promise of a Sabbath afternoon not violated by gunfight, a drive across the plains to the mountains of Moab where Moses died and Ruth was born, a Yom Kippur of pure prayer without the rumble of tanks, voices of fear, or rumors of war. After all the bloodshed and all your tears, you are now far closer to the day when the clash of arms is heard no more and all the children of Abraham, the children of Isaac, the children of Israel will live side by side in peace.

This was, after all, the message the prophet Mohammed himself brought to peoples of other faiths when he said, "There is no argument between us and you. God will bring us together, and unto Him is the homecoming." And this was the message Moses spoke to the children of Israel, when for the last time he spoke to them as they gathered across the River Jordan into the Promised Land, when he said, "I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live."

This week, once again, the people of Israel made a homecoming. Once again, you chose life. Once again, America was proud to walk with you.

The Prime Minister mentioned a story in his remarks that he never asked me about. Wouldn't it be embarrassing if it weren't true? [Laughter] The truth is that the only time my wife and I ever came to Israel before today was 13 years ago with my pastor on a religious mission. I was then out of office. I was the youngest former Governor in the history of the United States. [Laughter] No one thought I would ever be here; perhaps my mother, no one else. [Laughter] We visited the holy sites. I relived the history of the Bible, of your Scriptures and mine, and I formed a bond with my pastor. Later, when he became desperately ill, he said he thought I might one day become President. And he said, more bluntly than the Prime Minister did, "If you abandon Israel, God will never forgive you." He said, "It is God's will that Israel, the biblical home of the people of Israel, continue forever and ever."

So I say to you tonight, my friends, one of our Presidents, John Kennedy, reminded us that here on Earth, God's will must truly be our own. It is for us to make the homecoming, for us to choose life, for us to work for peace. But until we achieve a comprehensive peace in the Middle East and then after we achieve comprehensive peace in the Middle East, know this: Your journey is our journey, and America will stand with you now and always.

Thank you, and God bless you.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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