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Jimmy Carter Administration: Remarks with Israeli President Yitzhak Navon

(March 10, 1979)

PRESIDENT NAVON. Mr. President and Mrs. Carter, shalom and welcome to Israel.

In the name of the people of Israel, it is a great pleasure and privilege, together with my wife, to greet you and the distinguished officials who have come with you, with all our hearts in sincere friendship and profound appreciation.

We cherish these feelings towards you personally and also as a representative of the leading nation in the free world, the great and noble democracy of the United States, which has done so much to deserve our admiration and gratitude.

You come to us, Mr. President, on a unique mission for a goal which is dear to all of us and for which you have mustered all your energy, your dedication, and your leadership, to put an end to hatred and hostility and to open a new page of peace in the troubled annals of the peoples of this area.

At this moment we do not know as yet what tidings you carry with you from your visit to our great neighbor, Egypt. Does the dove of peace, which has emerged from the ark, carry an olive branch in its beak, or will it have to wait some time longer until the waters of the flood are abated from off the Earth, so that it can at last find a resting place for its feet?

Mr. President, you are not unaware, I'm sure, of the differences of opinion in our country in the sphere of foreign policy and national security. Two sentiments, however, are shared by all sections of our people: a sincere and ardent desire for true peace, and the profound conviction that in order to achieve that peace, Israel has made enormous sacrifices above and beyond what might have been expected or demanded of her.

These sacrifices, as you well know, take the form of very tangible things—withdrawal of our forces from strategic territories three times as large as the area of Israel, the evacuation of vitally important airfields and oil resources, the evacuation of flourishing villages. These concessions, once made, are irrevocable. In this situation, it is easy to understand our desire to ensure that the peace treaty we sign shall guarantee a true and permanent peace and shall not contain elements liable to endanger the peace and our security.

During your visit here, you will meet the people which feel at one and the same time deep concern and a great hope. It is our prayer that your visit will remove that concern and justify that hope.

My dear President and Mrs. Carter, 5 years ago you toured our country as private citizens. Today Divine Providence has brought you here on an historic mission. I hope it will not be long before you can come to Israel again and see that the seedlings of peace which you planted will have grown into sturdy trees bearing plentiful fruit on every hill and valley in Israel, in Egypt, and the entire area.

Once again, a most hearty welcome.

PRESIDENT CARTER. Mr. President, Mr. Prime Minister, and the people of Israel:

As the elected leader and the representative of the people of the United States of America, I am indeed honored and pleased to set my foot on the soil of the free nation of Israel.

I come to you as a fellow worker in the cause of peace. I know how much this cause means to the people of this land. No people in all history have suffered more from violence than the Jewish people. The State of Israel was born as a refuge from that violence. You, after four wars in three decades, every Israeli citizen still knows at first hand what it is to grieve for a fallen loved one or a friend.

As I walked down the ranks of representatives of your military forces, certainly among the finest fighting men on Earth, I said a silent prayer to God that none of these men nor their compatriots would ever again have to give their lives in war.

As Prime Minister Begin has said many times, Israel truly wants peace. Of that there can be no doubt. And I feel absolutely certain, after my experience of the past 3 days, that the people of Egypt fully share that desire for peace.

During the last 3 days I have spent many hours discussing with President Sadat what could be the final details of a treaty of peace in the context of comprehensive peace for the whole region. Prime Minister Begin and I will soon begin discussing the same details with the same end in mind—to seek in the present situation the means and the will to take this next crucial step toward a just and lasting peace for the Middle East.

We have come a great distance together-perhaps a greater distance than many would have dreamed of. Under the strong and courageous leadership of Prime Minister Begin, the Government of Israel has been willing to make difficult decisions, as your President has just said, all along the way. I need not add that it would be a tragedy to turn away from the path of peace after having come so far.

I have good reason to hope that the goal can now be reached. But, of course, the ultimate choice lies where those choices have always lain—with the chosen representatives of the people who have suffered directly from so many years of destruction and bloodshed. I look forward to completing the urgent business at hand on this brief visit.

I bring with me the best wishes of the American people and also the greetings of President Sadat, whom I left no longer than 1 hour ago, and the hopes for peace of the entire world.

The task we are striving to accomplish together demands more than reason, more, even, than will. It demands faith. For in a very real sense, the task of building peace is a sacred task. In the words of the Midrash, "Peace is important, for God's name is Shalom." Let us have shalom. Let us make peace together.

NOTE: The exchange began at 8:15 p.m. at Ben Gurion International Airport.

Following his remarks, the President went by motorcade with Prime Minister Menahem Begin to the entrance to the city of Jerusalem, where he participated in a welcoming ceremony at the site of a monument to those who died in the 1948 Israeli war for independence. He was greeted by Mayor Teddy Kollek at the ceremony.

Later in the evening, the President and Mrs. Carter had dinner with Prime Minister and Mrs. Begin at the Begin residence. Following the dinner, the President and the Prime Minister met privately, and then the President went to the King David Hotel, where he stayed during his visit to Israel.

Sources: Public Papers of the President