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Address by Prime Minister Rabin Before a Joint Session of Congress

(January 28, 1976)

Yitzhak Rabin was the first Prime Minister of Israel to address a joint session of Congress. Rabin used the opportunity to spell out Israel's policy and goals.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker, Distinguished Members of Congress,

I come to you from Jerusalem with the greetings of my people in this, your Bicentennial Year.

Two days ago, I stood before Independence Hall to pay tribute, in the name of Israel, to the Fathers of the American Revolution. There, I saw the biblical inscription an the Liberty Bell which is so familiar to me in its original HebrewUkratem dror baaretz lchol yoshveha: Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. We, Israel, celebrate with you that great message America proclaimed 200 years ago.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker:

I thank you all for the invitation that has brought me here today, and I appreciate your expressions of welcome.

Standing here, in this great hall, I am aware that you are the heirs of a two-century-old tradition of free government by the people. Free people everywhere acknowledge their debt to your Declaration of Independence which emphasizes the natural right of all peoples to establish governments of their own choosing.

Our Declaration of Independence, building on that right, adds to it the principle that the Jewish people shall preserve its integrity and restore its national existence in its own land, despite the holocausts of history.

The first principle reflects the essence of the American Revolution, the second the essence of the Zionist revolution.

The war of 1776 and the war of 1948 were both battles of liberation. What made them into revolutions was the human vision that fired them. It was a vision not only to win freedom, but also to construct new societies in freedom. In our case, it was the revolt of an ancient nation to put an end, once and for all, to homelessness, helplessness and holocaust. It was the assertion of our right to self-determination, to return to Zion, to reclaim it of the desolation of twenty centuries, to gather in the oppressed of our scattered sons and daughters, and to build there a new society inspired by the values of the old.

This is the Zionist vision.

From the days when John Adams expressed his hope for the return of Jewish independence; from the days when Mark Twain first saw the Land of Israel as a land of ruin; to the present day – the United States has shown sympathy for this vision. Congress, as the expression of America, has consistently acted to give that sympathy substance. For this, I extend to you the gratitude of the people of Israel.

Israel could well say of itself what Thomas Jefferson said of America: Our ancestors possessed a right which Nature has given to all men, of departing from the country in which chance – not choice – has placed them, of going in quest of new habitations and of their establishing new societies...

When these words were spoken, America was in the midst of its nation-building through immigration. It was to continue for another 150 years. We are a century into ours. Our Statue of Liberty is a refugee immigrant barge.

For both of our new societies, immigration became pioneering. Israel’s contemporary folk-heroes, like yours, are those who mastered wastelands and went out to build communities in empty places.

In a society of pioneering, democracy springs from the frontier itself. Our common heritage – founded upon the biblical ethic – gave the democratic experience its unique expression. It proclaimed the dignity and worth of every individual. Though different in form, our respective institutions share this common objective.

There are all too few nations in the world that uphold these democratic forms and objectives. We are a rather small family. We did not expect to be so a generation ago.

A generation ago, the world was engulfed in a great war. In the contest between nations, it was, perhaps, the greatest of battles between the forces of good against the forces of evil. When it was over, a conscious effort was made to extend the principles of international justice and decency to all peoples, large and small. Its concrete expression was the Charter of the United Nations.

At the generation’s end, the United Nations finds itself in crisis. The words of its Charter have been abused and devalued. Israel has learnt that it can expect no justice from the United Nations in its present form. Its moral resources have been eroded by extortion and appeasement which, again, intrude upon the international scene. None of us in the Free World have fared well in this climate.

The present combination of circumstances has placed my own people in the front line. But I believe that the consequences extend to the whole democratic family and, ultimately, to the peace and welfare of mankind. Given the acute political, economic and social stresses of our times, never has the inter-dependence of our democratic community been greater.

Benjamin Franklin might well have been speaking of us when he said: We must all hang together or we will all hang separately.

I say this as a representative of a small democracy to the representatives of the biggest and strongest of us all. President Ford’s leadership is making a crucial contribution to the peace of the world and to the cause of peace in the Middle East. His efforts hold out the hope for a more secure and stable world, and a better place for people to live in. There is no freedom, nor shall there be peace in this world, without a United States, strong and confident in its purpose. World peace rests upon your fortitude. Upon it rests the hope that honest dialogue can move forward with societies having other systems of rule. We welcome any form of international dialogue to reduce the suspicions and tensions between nations. For in the end, our common cause as democracies is a struggle for mankind and not against any portion of it.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker,

From this rostrum I declare that, however difficult the road, however hard the challenge, and however complex the process, Israel will strive with all its being to contribute to the peace of the world by pressing ahead with its effort for peace with the Arab countries. This is the driving goal of all our policies.

We know of your concern and national interest in the stability of our area, and I wish to say to you that we seek to be sensitive to them. I believe that certain steps we have pursued have also contributed to that interest. We see the expression of that interest through the advancement of the human and economic welfare of the peoples of our region as a positive development and as a hope for progress towards peace itself.

The principle of which I speak is the resolution of a conflict that has lasted too long. Let me share with you my thinking on what has, thus far, stood in the way of a solution to it.

If I were to be asked to state in a word, what is the heart and the core of the Arab-Israel conflict, I would say this: it is the refusal of the Arab countries to reconcile themselves to the right of existence of one, small, viable, sovereign, Jewish State in the land of our people’s birth. By Jewish State I mean an independent, democratic society, secular in the equality of all its citizens, Jew and non-Jew alike, before the law, and founded upon historic Jewish values.

By stating this, I am saying that the question of territory, the matter of boundaries, the issue of maps, were not, and are not, the true obstacles to peace.

Twenty-nine years ago, in 1947, we accepted a very truncated partitioned territory upon which to rebuild our Jewish statehood. It was not because of its shape or size that the Arab leaders rejected that U.N. partition plan. They went to war against us because they rejected our very right to freedom as an independent people.

Against great odds and with much sacrifice, we won our War of Independence. The stakes were incredibly high. Defeat would have meant national holocaust and the eclipse of the Jewish people in history.

And just as every war reaps its inevitable tragic crop of refugees, so did the Arab war against Israel produce two refugee problems of almost equal size – an Arab one, and a Jewish one from Arab countries.

After our War of Independence, in 1949, we signed armistice agreements with our neighbors. We believed, naively, that these would soon lead to a negotiated peace. They did not. We were ready to settle for the fragile armistice lines as peace boundaries. But, as a matter of principle, the Arabs would not negotiate the end of the conflict because they refused to reconcile themselves to a Jewish independent State.

So, In 1956, another war was imposed upon us. Again we won it. At its end, we agreed to evacuate the Sinai Peninsula. Did Israel’s withdrawal from all the territory occupied in the war lead to peace? It did not even lead to a negotiation.

So, in 1967, Arab armies again massed along those fragile frontiers that had invited past aggression. Again we won a victory in a war we did not seek.

Then came 1973. Again we were attacked – this time a surprise attack. But this time we were not exposed to those weak armistice lines which our neighbors had recognized only as targets of invasion. Israel now had defensive depth.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker,

Until 1967, Israel did not hold an inch of the Sinai Peninsula and the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or the Golan Heights. Israel held not an acre of what is now considered disputed territory. And yet we enjoyed no peace. Year after year Israel called for – pleaded for – a negotiated peace with the Arab governments. Their answer was a blank refusal and more war.

The reason was not a conflict over territorial claims. The reason was, and remains, the fact that a Free Jewish State sits on territory at all.

It is in this context that the Palestinian issue must be appraised. That issue is not the obstacle to peace as some would suggest. Certainly, it has to be solved in the context of a final peace. But to assert that this is the key to peace, the formula for peace, or the breakthrough to peace, is to misread the realities. It is to put the cart before the horse.

The Palestinian issue began with, and is a product of, the overall Arab posture on the legitimacy of a Jewish State of Israel. Only when that posture changes will the Palestinian issue be constructively and finally tackled.

The clock of history cannot be put back. It was not Israel that prevented the establishment of a Palestinian State in 1947, as the Partition Plan had proposed. What did prevent it, was the Arab declaration of war on the Plan itself, because it called for the creation of a Jewish State.

For nineteen years no Arab government saw fit to establish a Palestinian State, even though the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were under Arab control. Neither was there a Palestinian demand to do so. In January 1964, the organization that calls itself the P.L.O. was established by Arab Heads of State. Yet, even then, statehood in those territories, then held by Jordan and Egypt, was never the objective. We know what the objective is. It is written large into the Palestinian Covenant which is their binding constitution. Every paragraph of it spits out the venom calling for Israel’s destruction.

These are the truths that lie at the heart and the core of the Arab-Israel conflict. And since, to date, the Arab version of peace does not depart from these truths, no honest being can blame us for refusing to cooperate in our own national suicide.

Peace will come when the Arab leaders finally cross the Rubicon from aggressive confrontation to harmonious reconciliation. Then there is no problem between us that cannot be solved in negotiation. That includes, too, the Palestinian issue, within the geographic and political context of peace with Jordan. When I say Jordan, I do not discount Palestinian representation in the peace delegation of that country. And when I say geography, I do not discount a negotiation concerning the future final peace boundaries of the territories involved.

For the genuine peace we seek, Israel is ready to give up much and compromise much on territory. In a negotiation whose sincere shared goal is final reconciliation, we shall go more than half way to assure its success.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker:

A short time ago, from this very rostrum, President Sadat wisely declared: “There is no substitute for direct person-to-person contacts that go deep into the heart of all the problems which invoke our common concern and capture our imagination.” I wish that he would direct those words to me as well as to you, the Congress of the United States. I would then know that the work of true peacemaking had finally begun.

I today declare: I am ready to meet with any Arab Head of Government, at any time and at any place, for the purpose of peace talks.

I do not know when peace will finally come. But of this I am certain: it will be our future strength that will largely determine the resources of peace in our region. Weakness is no prescription for negotiation. If it be perceived that Israel is not weak, so shall our neighbors perceive the wisdom of mutual compromise, reconciliation and peace.

What, therefore, does Israel propose as the next step in the effort for peace? Israel proposes the re-convening of the Geneva Peace Conference in accordance with the Letter of Invitation from the U.N. Secretary-General to the parties to the Conference, of December 18, 1973.

The basis for the Conference has to be founded on two fundamental principles – on Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 as were accepted by Israel and by the other parties and powers concerned. The second principle is that the parties to the conflict must be the parties to the peace-making process. The negotiations for peace must be conducted between ourselves – the Government of Israel and the neighboring Arab governments.

There are some who tell us that – here and there – a change towards realism is perhaps slowly evolving. I pray there is some truth to this.

Israel is determined to encourage whatever symptoms there may be to move that process along. This is why we entered into the interim agreement with Egypt. We did so to encourage the trend towards greater realism. Our aim in the agreement is to promote conditions of stability and trust which, we hope, will produce, in time, a climate for genuine peace negotiations.

In the light of what I said and under the given conditions of regional tension, the pursuit of this policy calls for taking risks. It has required our making tangible concessions for concessions far less tangible. We have done so because we believe it is necessary to take measured risks not only in case of war but also for the sake of peace.

Thus, in a very few weeks time, the Defense Forces of Israel will carry out a withdrawal in Sinai. We have already handed to Egypt proper the oilfields on the Gulf of Suez and the coastal link to them. With that, Israel has given up its single oil resource. We have agreed to these measures not in return for peace, nor even in return for an end to the state of war. We did what we did in the hope that it will move us some steps closer to peace.

Congress, I know, is familiar with these measures. They are major elements of the recent Israel-Egypt Agreement, negotiated through the good offices of the United States. May I say that the limited American civilian technical presence – requested by both parties – and which Congress authorized in the context of this Agreement, is a contribution towards the cause of peace. That presence has no function or responsibility in case of war. And I wish to add with emphasis that if a condition of hostilities does arise, I will be the first to call for its removal. This is a matter of fundamental doctrine for Israel. We alone are responsible for our own defense. This is how it has been; this is how it must be. I believe it to be the essence of our political relationship.

Mr. Vice-President, Mr. Speaker:

Throughout the years, we have found here, in Congress, a wisdom and deep understanding of our nation-building and defense needs and the economic burdens arising from them. But as a people, we turn to ourselves before we turn to others.

The Government of Israel is engaged in a tough program of economic measures. Last year we reduced private consumption by almost five per cent and we shall reduce it by another five per cent this year. We have put on ourselves a heavy burden of taxation. This year the Government will collect in taxes some seventy per cent of our national income. I am told that this is almost twice as much as in America.

I mention these as only a few of the many examples within a comprehensive economic policy inducing more austerity and higher production. We shall continue this policy difficult though it be – for this is what we require of ourselves to do.

Peace, not war, is our tradition. We see no glory in battle. I was once a soldier, not by choice, but by necessity. I know the horrors of war, the waste and the agony. I know what peace can bring to all the peoples of our region, through open boundaries, projects of economic cooperation, the conquest of disease, and the free flow of ideas, people and products. Even now, before peace, we declare our readiness to promote its climate by unilaterally opening our ports to the free passage of goods – to and from our immediate neighbors. We open our hospitals to the neighboring sick. We declare open our institutes of research to all countries in the Middle East wishing to share knowledge in the fields of agriculture and water development.

We, the people of our region, are destined to live together for all time. For never again shall there be a Middle East without the State of Israel.

The going has not been easy and the challenge ahead will not be easy. But we are an old people and there is no sacrifice too great to protect the freedom we have won and the new society we have created. I believe Americans, above all, can understand this truth.

Three hundred years ago, celebrating their first years of survival after much suffering, your Pilgrim Fathers wrote these lines: “We have made a clearing in the wilderness; and another year will see a broader clearing, a better garnering. We have made a good beginning in a hostile world.” So do we, the first generation of Free Israel, descendants of a 2,000-year unhappy wandering, declare – we have made a good beginning in a rather hostile world.

America has helped us greatly. In loyalty to its Founding Fathers, this Republic of the United States has given tangible meaning to human values in the charting of its policies. By virtue of this, Israel pays you tribute as you enter into the third century of independence.

Permit me to express that tribute to the Congress through the words of an American Jew, a soldier in the Revolutionary War. Jonas Phillips, in 1787, wrote this prayer: “May the Almighty, God of our Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, imbue this noble Assembly with wisdom... and may they have the satisfaction to see that their present toil and labor for the welfare of the United States be approved throughout all the world and particularly by the United States of America.”

This is the sincere sentiment of friendship Israel brings you this day.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.