Candidate Al Gore on Israel
(May 23, 2000)
Remarks by Vice President Al Gore to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Conference at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Washington, D.C., May 23, 2000. Excerpts:
Our enduring support for a strong and unshakable partnership between the United States and Israel; our commitment, our shared commitment to one of the cornerstones of America's national security, a strong, secure, peaceful and prosperous state of Israel. This will never change. Never. When I think about that special relationship, I'm reminded of a story that I read recently about some of the earliest discussions between the United States and Israel. David Ben-Gurion, although he proudly proclaimed that he never rested, would frequently take time out from the difficult work of building the new state of Israel for some of his other eclectic pursuits, one of which was the practice of yoga. And this is not a joke, incidentally. This comes from an excellent biography of Ben-Gurion by Dan Kurzman and is said by all involved to be a true story.
One day, the American ambassador to Israel Ogden Reed (sp) came in to speak to Ben-Gurion and found the great leader literally standing on his head. Now, well-schooled in the art of diplomacy, Ambassador Reed (sp) appraised the situation and decided to abandon State Department protocol and promptly stood on his head also. And then he and Ben-Gurion, with their feet in the air, began their discussions. Now, here is what I think the moral of that story is: Even if the world is turned upside down, the United States and Israel will see eye to eye and you can count on it no matter what happens.
Now, Ben-Gurion may have had unorthodox ways of conducting diplomacy, but he truly was a modern-day prophet, part of the generation that believed it was their responsibility to make the centuries-old dream of a Jewish homeland a vibrant reality in our world. He was one of the dreamers who believed they could make the desert bloom and then did so. He was one of the warriors who never lost hope for peace and then earned it. As Ben-Gurion wrote to a friend, near the end of his life, and I quote: "There is hope that peace is approaching, not quickly but slowly -- slowly. And it appears to me that, by the end of this century, the prophesy of Isaiah will be fulfilled."
Today, we meet for the first time in a new century, still striving to fill that prophetic vision that all of us have quoted often about beating the swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks. And at this time, when the pace of peace again appears to be slow -- slow -- I want to talk about what we can do to achieve peace and security for Israel, for our own country, and ultimately throughout the world. In a speech three weeks ago in Boston, I laid out a vision for America's strength and role abroad. I am not going to recapitulate that speech here. But I want to briefly say that in its essence, I believe that we need to recognize that the classic security agenda, the question of war and peace between sovereign nations, is still with us during this new global age in which the destinies of billions of people around the globe are increasingly intertwined.
We need to recognize that this global age presents us with a new set of threats, such as rogue nations or terrorist groups acquiring, not only nuclear weapons, but possibly chemical and biological weapons; or as we have seen a taste of recently, merely acquiring the ability to disrupt our computer networks; threats like the continued degradation of our environment, which has the ability to threaten the long-term security of all humanity.
At the same time, this new age clearly presents us with new opportunities for peace and for economic growth. We have to choose wisely. We need to engage the new security agenda with the same vigor and commitment and seriousness of purpose with which we continue to confront the old security agenda. That is, we need to pursue what I call forward engagement. It comes out of the military discussions where the strategic analysts find the value of engaging in a forward way early on, when the chances of success are greatest. It's an approach in which we address problems close to their source and before they become crises, and in which we have the forces and resources to deal with those threats quickly.
One of the great tests of this approach is in the Middle East, where we still wrestle with the classic questions of war and peace. We see in the Middle East the emergence of new threats that must be addressed swiftly and definitively, but we also see the possibility of peace opening extraordinary new horizons.
When we took office almost eight years ago, President Clinton and I decided that the United States needed to chart a new course with regard to the Middle East peace process. Unlike our immediate predecessors, we chose to get intimately involved, but we also established a firm new rule, and we have followed this rule faithfully: that we must not and would not in any way try to pressure Israel to agree to measures that they themselves did not see were in their own best interests.
Now that principle is one that I have long believed in. It is a commitment to Israel that was not new for me in this administration. I stood against the efforts of the two previous administrations to pressure Israel to take stands against its own view of what was in Israel's best interests. When a friend's survival is potentially at stake, you don't pressure that friend to take steps that it believes are clearly contrary to what is in that friend's best interests. In 1988 I took a strong stand against a previous administration's efforts to force Israel into concessions that would have, in my view, threatened its security. And in 1991, I vividly remember standing up against a group of administration foreign policy advisers who promoted the insulting concept of linkage, which tried to use loan guarantees as a stick to bully Israel. I stood with you, and together we defeated them and we stopped that effort.
You remember and I remember facilitating peace, not forcing it; standing by our friends, not against them. These have been the hallmarks of my approach for my entire career. And if I'm entrusted with the presidency, it will be my approach in the Oval Office.
I will never, ever let people forget that the relationship between the United States and Israel rests on granite, on the rock of our common values, our common heritage and our common dedication to freedom. If from time to time we disagree, I will always work to make sure that we emerge even stronger, with a better understanding of each others' interests, so that we're always working to reinforce one another. I will never forget that Israel's security rests on Israel's superiority and arms. That is why, two years ago, the United States and Israel established a new strategic partnership ushering in an unprecedented level of military cooperation. I am absolutely committed to making sure that Israel's qualitative edge always remains, and always remains strong.
Our renewed partnership has brought historic progress over the past seven years. Last year when we met, I told you that I would work to end Israel's half-century of ostracism from the United Nations regional groupings of countries. I have followed through on that pledge. When I was last at the United Nations in January to speak to the Security Council, I raised this issue with Secretary-General Annan in a private meeting. I have continued to work on it. And I can report to you that we are closer than ever to seeing Israel finally and proudly take its rightful, equal place in the international order.
We're very close. The shameful wall that has blocked Israel's full integration into the community of nations must come down. And it will come down.
In these same last seven years, Jordan has joined Egypt as an Arab state which has signed a peace agreement with Israel. The negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis have reached a point where final status talks and a full resolution are still possible, although the difficult struggle to get there is clearly growing more intense.
As we have seen again this past week, there are those who prefer violence to negotiation. I condemn this violence. I condemn this violence. And just as I supported Prime Minister Netanyahu's efforts, I now applaud Prime Minister Barak's resolve and his clear message that peace will be achieved at the bargaining table, not in streets torn by riot and violence; at the bargaining table. Incidentally, I believe we should all be proud of his courage, because he has shown as much bravery in negotiations as he has demonstrated in a lifetime of heroic service on the battlefield.
And the negotiations cannot be a one-way street. The Palestinians too must recognize that they will not get all that they want. It is the responsibility of Yasser Arafat and all of the Palestinian leadership -- a responsibility they acknowledge -- to prevent those who would resort to violence from disrupting the peace process at this extraordinarily difficult and delicate time. This is a test for them.
And, of course, it is a particular disappointment that Syria, at least for now, has turned down offers made in good faith in Geneva. As Israel proceeds to withdraw from Lebanon in compliance with Resolution 425, President Assad can decide to let this happen without incident, as a down payment for peace in the future; or, by continuing to allow Hezbollah to harass Israel as her troops withdraw and even after they withdraw, he can signal that he is not interested in progress.
Syria may not choose to pursue peace for now. It is Syria's choice. But make no mistake, Syria has no right to pursue a course of conflict that denies peace to others. The people of the Galilee should be able to live their lives without the disruptions of air raid sirens. I have been with some of you in some of the villages right on the border. I have seen what the people who live there feel about their proximity to this threat. If peace does not come to this area, President Assad will bear a heavy responsibility before the entire world.
It is a sign of how serious matters have become that Prime Minister Barak has decided to remain at home, of course, cancelling his trip here. Ehud Barak is far away from here tonight, but I would like him to know that -- well, this morning -- it's this afternoon in Israel -- but the message that we all send to him should be loud and clear. We stand by you in these critical days. The United States of America stands by you in these critical days. We are with you. We stand by you. You are our friend. These are tough times; we are with you.
The classic challenges of war and peace, of course, extend beyond Israel's immediate neighborhood, to Iraq and Iran. In 1991, I broke with many in my own party and voted to use force to stop Saddam Hussein's aggression in the Middle East. I believe in bipartisanship, most of all when our national interests are at stake in foreign policy. Throughout my service in the House and Senate, as many of you know, I was frequently among the small group that tried to build bipartisan bridges to bring Democrats and Republicans together in support of policies that would promote what is in our nation's best interest.
Despite our swift victory and our efforts since, there is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein still seeks to amass weapons of mass destruction. You know as well as I do that as long as Saddam Hussein stays in power there can be no comprehensive peace for the people of Israel or the people of the Middle East. We have made it clear that it is our policy to see Saddam Hussein gone.
We have sought coalitions of opponents to challenge his power. I have met with the Iraqi opposition and I have invited them to meet with me again next month, when I will encourage them to further unite in their efforts against Saddam.
We have maintained sanctions in the face of rising criticism, while improving the oil-for-food program to help the Iraqi people directly. We have used force when necessary, and that has been frequently. And we will not let up in our efforts to free Iraq from Saddam's rule. Should he think of challenging us, I would strongly advise against it. As a senator, I voted for the use of force, as vice president I supported the use of force. If entrusted with the presidency, my resolve will never waiver. Never waiver.
In Iran, there is increasing tension between the people who clearly want to lead normal lives and the most extreme clerics who are bent on preserving their radical regime by whatever means necessary. We see this tension playing itself out in the trial of the 13 Iranian Jews in Shiraz. Like the closure of newspapers and the assassination of dissident leaders, this trial is part of the effort to block reform in Iran. Those conducting the trail claim that due process is being served, but the proceedings are closed to international observers and closed to the press, both Iranian and international.
They say they have received confessions from some of the accused, but it is crystal-clear that these confessions are meaningless and that the trials are a complete mockery of justice. We utterly and absolutely condemn these show trials as an immoral and illegal abuse of basic human rights. And let me be clear; the United States will judge Iran by its actions, not by its verbal assurances.
Iran is not only a conventional threat to our national interests, the security of Israel, and the stability of the region; it also stands at the crossroads where the classic and new security agendas meet, for it is still a major sponsor of terrorism and seeker of weapons of mass destruction. That is a deadly and unacceptable combination.
We have been working to cut off all possible suppliers of missile and nuclear technology. We have gained full cooperation from our European allies. But Russia represents a special concern, because there is a gap between the stated policy of its government to stop proliferation and what continues at times to occur in practice. We have made progress at some points, but not at others. We now call on President Putin to show leadership in this area, not just because it is in our interest, but because it is in the interests of world peace.
But we must also prepare countermeasures. That is why we have been working with Israel to develop and deploy the Arrow anti-missile defense system, a vital part of its future defense. It is also one of the reasons we are developing technology for a possible national missile defense for the United States.
The challenges of the classic security agenda -- facilitating peace between Israel and its neighbors, and containing and transforming Iran and Iraq -- are ones that I believe we can meet with unwavering vigilance and commitment. But we also recognize that when the time comes for that last peace treaty to be signed, if that time comes, there will then be agreements between governments but not necessarily peace between people. True peace, if it is to take hold, will come about only if we apply the same courage and determination to making the Middle East a more stable, secure, and prosperous region. I ask us for a moment here to lift our eyes and look beyond the ebb and flow of daily events, as compelling as they are, especially today.
Despite all of the grave problems of the moment, all the real challenges to the prospect for peace, let us envision a Middle East as it can be 10 or 20 years from now; a Middle East at peace with itself, taking full advantage of all its potential and the talent of all its people. And let us focus on the steps we can take to make that vision a reality. It is possible. Even at difficult times, we must never lose hope. I believe there is progress. I believe that over time there will be more. I believe we will succeed. We have to integrate Israel fully and completely into the region and into the new global economy. We must revitalize the economic summit process started in Casablanca. We need to foster trade and investment in the region by expanding private-sector involvement and by working with governments to remove the political and bureaucratic barriers to growth.
In the middle of the century just past, a statesman once said, "When goods do not cross borders, armies do." Economic integration and trade should be seen as strategic components of the larger effort to build peace with security. And we need to explore new ways to marshal the limited regions -- the limited resources of the region to benefit Israel and the entire Middle East. Specifically, we need to foster cooperation on the issues of water and the environment. From the days chronicled in the Bible to today, water has been a source of conflict in the Middle East. We should work to make it a fountain of peace, encouraging all countries in the region, including Turkey, to cooperate on this issue -- is essential to the stability of the Middle East and critical to the security of Israel. And I am indeed encouraged by the hopeful signs in that particular bilateral relationship. We need to stand with our ally Jordan. King Abdullah and the Jordanian people, now more than ever, deserve our help with defense assistance and with economic development.
We have to work with the Palestinians to establish transparent democratic institutions to fight corruption and to build a society built on the rule of law. When they pursue that path, we should be prepared to help them. We need to help lift up the region's poor, combat illiteracy, and fight disease. We need to promote cultural exchanges and people-to- people contact. And we need to back all of this up with a systematic effort to encourage tolerance and mutual respect in the region's media and schools. This is a topic that I spoke about at a meeting a few years ago, before AIPAC.
But to keep Israel secure and to keep the region at peace, we must look even farther ahead. In this global age where it is possible for any state or group, potentially in the future, to inflict terrific destruction with relative ease over thousands of miles, we have to view security, not just regionally, but in a much wider context.
One of the broader challenges we face is to actively and forwardly engage the Islamic world, a world stretching far beyond the confines of Israel's immediate neighbors; stretching south into sub-Saharan Africa, north and east through the Caucasus and South Asia, through Xinjiang in China and to Malaysia and the largest Muslim nation, Indonesia. Some say that, when it comes to the Islamic world, there is destined to be conflict; conflict between and even within faiths, between the religious and the secular, between modernity and tradition. Indeed, a minority of the Islamic world has come to view the West, particularly the United States and Israel, through that lens and has turned to terrorism against us.
We must act decisively against that terrorism and we must persist in making it clear that the only way forward for all nations is for all nations, no matter what their faith, to learn to live together.
Forging the right kind of relationship with the Islamic world is a major challenge for the United States and Israel in the coming years. We know it will not be easy, but we will do it. And in the process, we will advance and strengthen peace in the Middle East and the security of Israel. Seeing the challenges of the future, and helping our country actively prepare for them, has always been the mission of AIPAC.
You are continuing that mission today, as you go up to Capitol Hill to make sure that Israel has all the power and support it needs to negotiate a so-called Peace of the Brave. But then your work -- our work -- will not be done. In truth, it will just be beginning. A true peace, with security, will be the work of generations. As the ancient rabbis taught in Pirke Avot, it is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to desist from it either.
This is our responsibility: to safeguard Israel and to do the work of building peace with security. It is a moral imperative that we share deeply. It is not just in my policy; it is in my heart, in my conscience and in my bones and in my soul. I believe in it. And with your help, I hope to do all that I can in this cause for many years to come. Thank you for your friendship. Good luck in your work today. God bless you. Thank you.
Source: Conference for Middle East Peace