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Bill Clinton Administration:
Speech at a Ceremony Honoring the Memory of Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo

(November 2, 1999)


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Your Majesties, Prime Minister and Mrs. Bondevik, Mr. Mayor, President Ahtisaari, Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Barak, Chairman Arafat, Leah Rabin, ladies and gentlemen, today we bear witness to the wisdom of the Psalm which says, "the righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance." We honor a righteous man whose memory is everlasting, because he devoted his life to the security of his country but gave his life to the promise of peace.

Yitzhak Rabin's life was a lesson, teaching us that old fears and suspicions and hatreds can, in fact, be overcome—for he would be the first to remind us that he felt all those things, too, but he let them go—teaching us that there could be no security without lasting peace and no peace without charity for all and malice toward none, teaching us that the only final answer to violence is reconciliation.

Almost 7 years ago, those principles brought Israelis and Palestinians to this city of peace to find common ground. And today our friend brings us back to Oslo. We can almost hear his kind, but stern voice telling us, "Well, this is all very nice, but if you really want to honor me, finish the job." He would be pleased to see Israel's cause represented by Prime Minister Barak, his friend, fellow soldier, and fervent ally for peace.

In his last hour, Yitzhak Rabin, who was a shy person in public, sang to a peace-loving throng of Israelis the Shir Ha Shalom, the "Song of Peace." Its words sing out to us today: Don't say the day will come; make it come. Today, in honor of our friend and leader, we must all say we will make it come—a new day of peace that is more than the absence of war; a new day of tolerance and respect, of trust and shared destiny, when the fears of the past are released so that the hands and heart are free to embrace the promise of the future.

The enemies of peace remain alive and active. Even in this day we see their dark work. But the Scripture reminds us that evil can be overcome by good, and only by good. So we pursue Yitzhak Rabin's vision not only because we loved and admired him—although we surely did—but because it is right and the only way.

We have now a chance, but only a chance, to bring real and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors. If we let it slip away, all will bear the consequences: Israel still trapped within a circle of hostility; the Palestinians still saddled with poverty and frustration and pain; both—and their Arab neighbors wrapped in an endless and pointless cycle of conflict.

So if Rabin were here with us today, he would say there is not a moment to spare; "All this honoring me and these nice words, they're very nice, but please finish the job."

The way ahead will be full of challenges for the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Lebanese, for the friends of peace here represented. President Mubarak and King Abdullah will be important to our efforts. I am determined that the United States will do all we can, including living up to the commitments we made at Wye River. But the most important thing we can do today is to say to our friend, Rabin, we can still hear you; we are prepared to finish the job.

When President Kennedy was assassinated, Abba Eban said, "Tragedy is the difference between what is and what might have been." That is the way we felt in the months and years after Prime Minister Rabin was killed. Today let us say together we are done with tragedy. We will close the gap between what is and what might have been.

The other night my wife had to the White House one of the great scientists in our country, who is unlocking the mysteries of the human gene. And he said to us the most astonishing thing—he said all humanity, genetically, are 99.9 percent the same. And if you get any group, ethnic group, together—100 Norwegians—with another ethnic group—100 west Africans—you find that the genetic differences among individuals within each group are greater than the genetic profile of differences between the Norwegians and the Africans. Think of that.

Think of all the bodies that have been piled up, one after another, the young and the old, throughout human history in tribute to that one-tenth of one percent difference. Think about what brings us here today—that the greatest quality a human being can have is the ability to reach beyond that last one-tenth of one percent to unite in the common humanity of the other 99.9 percent.

Yitzhak Rabin led us in that great reach out—reaching across the last divide of one-tenth of one percent. It was his greatness. It is his lesson. It is his message to us today. Let us hear him, even as we loved him.

Thank you very much.


Sources: Public Papers of the President

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