Address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the 5th International Conference of Jewish Ministers and Members of Parliament

January 8, 1998

Good morning. It's good to see you. I see some recognizable faces of old friends and many new faces, and I'd like to welcome you all here. I know that the Israeli Forum tries to make a valiant effort to gather public-spirited Jewish people from around the world with a view of cementing the ties between the Diaspora and Israel, and I think the meeting of parliamentarians is especially important, because it underlines the fact that there is a small difference between us and our neighbors. We have a real parliament, and that parliament requires that we go through the rigors of parliamentary debate, even parliamentary scuffle, in order to achieve a consensus or a decision by which we govern our lives.

The most crucial decision that we have to achieve today is how to direct and continue the quest for peace - and direct and continue it not for the sake of continuing it, although there is a school of thought that says that that's all we need, we just have to keep motion going. I happen to think that our purpose should be quite explicit and quite different. Our purpose should be to complete the quest for peace and achieve first a historic peace agreement between us and the Palestinian people who are our neighbors.

That is not an easy thing to do. It's not easy to do because the issues at hand are of the highest stakes. First of all, there is the issue of security. Israel is a tiny country. I don't have to tell you that, but on occasion I feel that point has to be made over and over again, because one never gets that feeling when you look at the international reports, at the various news coverage of Israel. People fail to remember that Israel in the old lines was the width of Washington DC - actually it's smaller than the width of Washington DC. We cannot go back to a country that is 10 or

12 kilometers wide. We simply will not survive. And the reason we had the wars launched against us was because we were the width of Washington DC. That was too tempting a target, when you could look from the slopes of the Judean or Samarian hills and see the Mediterranean, and understand that all you needed was one mediocre armored commander - not a good one - to thrust through this and reach the sea, and that's the end of Israel. The lifeline would be cut.

Now what happened over 30 years ago in the Six Day War was that such an attack was repelled and the effective security border of Israel was removed from the banks of the Yarkon River - hardly a river, it's a stream - to the banks of the Jordan, across a kilometer-high protective wall, which we often call in the media the West Bank. That is the most important strategic development in the history of the Jewish state other than its inception, because it made peace possible. The minute that Israel was no longer a country that could be pushed into the Mediterranean, that could not be overcome by direct military invasion because of this protective wall on this we are now sitting - we are sitting at the crest of the this wall, in Jerusalem; from here we can go to the Jordan or go to the Mediterranean - and a potential invader would have to climb up this very steep escarpment from the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth and one of the steepest climbs. This is not a very broad, not a very deep strategic buffer; it's all of 50 kilometers at the widest point. But it offers us not strategic depth, but strategic height. All of a sudden, the Jewish state was able to live without the threat of impending invasion and destruction.

This is the single most important development that produced the subsequent rapprochement and peace agreements with Egypt, with the Palestinians, with Jordan, and, one would hope, the completion of the peace agreements with our other neighbors. I say that because when we seek to complete the peace agreement with the Palestinians, if we revert to the old lines, if we move our effective border from the banks of the Jordan to the banks of the Yarkon, to the suburbs of Tel-Aviv, we will not merely put ourselves in peril on that front. I believe we will undermine all the other peace agreements that we have achieved over the years. Because in our area, peace is not maintained merely by the signing of peace treaties. Every one of our neighbors has peace treaties with every one of its neighbors, or has had, and this did not prevent wars between them. With one or two exceptions, mostly relating to Israel, all wars in history generally break out from a condition of peace and even contractual peace. So the way to prevent future wars is not merely by signing peace treaties. That is certainly an essential condition and a desirable one. It is to create the security conditions that prevent any temptation for a future contest.

That is not true in Western Europe; that is not true in North America - because the conditions of peace there are inherent, I would say implanted in the cultures of the population, implanted in the fact that democracy is all around. But democracy, parliamentary or otherwise, is not all around here. It's just here. In the absence of a democratic environment, where people can exercise pressure on their governments not to engage in military adventure, we don't have that limitation. For example, Saddam Hussein doesn't exactly take polls in Baghdad to decide if he will invade Kuwait, not in the past and not in the future. It's a decision that one or two or three people make. In the absence of a democratic environment here, the foundation of peace is the deterrence of war. That is the foundation of peace. And the deterrence of future conflict rests on Israel's having the necessary security arrangements, the necessary territorial elements of security that preserve the peace.

That is why the quest for peace with the Palestinians is so difficult. Because aside from a very important debate that we have over the rights on this land - this is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and the Palestinian Arabs claim it as their own as well; that is a very difficult conflict and a very difficult debate. But quite aside from that, and I don't put it aside, it's important - because I don't feel as if I am a stranger in a strange land when I'm walking the hills of Jerusalem or around Beit-El or anywhere else, I don't feel as though this is Algeria or Vietnam or some colonial outpost; this is Judea, this is the place where our common ancestors walked and dreamed and thrived and lived, and where my ancestors came 100 years ago, and there was practically no one, as innumerable travelers described, the most famous of which is Mark Twain. The fact is that the Jewish restoration of this land brought a very large Palestinian immigration, and the fact is we're both here, and no one is going to leave, and we're going to have to find a way to live with one another.

But I'm putting that issue aside for the moment, because the most important issue, even if that did not exist, and it does, the most important issue is how to preserve the necessary security defenses that Israel must have to preserve the peace.

That is why we've put forward a proposal for a final settlement of peace between us and the Palestinians which would have security zones. It would define which are the areas between the Jordan and the sea that are the most crucial for Israel's defenses. And we are engaged in the government now, fairly well along, in making that definition for the first time, I must say, since the Six Day War - 31 years have passed; no government has engaged in this exercise, and it's not just a theoretical one. It has to do with the very future, the very survival, the very security of the Jewish state. We have engaged in that effort, and from that effort we will suggest what can be done in terms of the redeployment. Coincidentally, of course, we expect to see Palestinian compliance with the promises that they gave us in the signing of the Oslo accords and the signing of the Hebron accords. None of the promises that they have given us have been fulfilled. None of them.

So we believe that if we are going to move forward, we need to do two things. First, we have to preserve the security and vital national interests of Israel in a peace agreement and in an interim agreement, and we have made the deliberation that decides what are these interests. We have defined those interests in order to see what is more important and what is less important. That's the first thing. The second thing is to say: We are prepared to move forward as fast as possible to a final settlement by which we would define those things that remain fully under Israel's control, those things that devolve to the Palestinians. By things I don't just mean territory, I mean powers. And the third thing is, before we can get to the final settlement which is the most important thing we can do, because the final settlement is peace - if you want to finally come to rest, if you want to finally have an agreement buttressed by the necessary security arrangements, you have to negotiate a comprehensive settlement between us and the Palestinians. But the Palestinians say: What about interim arrangements? And we say: All right, here is a packing of interim arrangements. You fulfill your obligations, such as fighting terrorism, dismantling the terrorist infrastructure, confiscating weapons, annulling the PLO charter, stopping the incitement on your controlled media - there are about ten of them - and we will offer an FRD [further redeployment], and the two are linked.

That is essentially what we are doing right now. We are trying to get the interim package, if you will, agreed upon, so that we can move to a final settlement on which we will stand on Israel's basic security arrangements, but offer a generous arrangement for the Palestinians. We have to be firm on what requires firmness, and we can be flexible on what does not.

I think this is what this government was elected to do. It's very hard to do. There is a neat revision of history that is taking place, describing a wonderful past that we had here a year and a half, two years ago: Peace was everywhere - it wasn't. Oslo was booming and succeeding - it wasn't. Oslo effectively collapsed two years ago with the cascade of terror that claimed the lives of 250 Israelis - terror that came from the areas that were given to the Palestinians to be terror-free, and terrorists increased ten-fold. We were elected not to stop the peace, but to put it back on track. And for that we have had to insist on Palestinian compliance with their promises - first to fight terrorism, and we have been insistent on that. And secondly, we were elected to negotiate a final settlement which is more commensurate with Israel's needs to insure its future survival, and we are doing that right now.

It's been a very difficult year and a half. Obviously this was not loved by the Palestinians, who were used to getting everything and giving nothing. It was not loved by many in the West, who would like to see a deal at all cost, who were patting Israel on the back as long as it gave, notwithstanding the fact that it didn't receive, or received terror in response. And it's not easy to take a very forceful stand. It's very hard, but we're doing it. And I believe we are right at a turning point right now. I think Palestinians' expectations are more realistic now. I don't say that they agree with us - they don't - but I think the gaps have been narrowed. We're working on narrowing them further, and I think that it is possible to see this process continuing and indeed going to completion, to complete an historic peace between us and our Palestinians neighbors.

In that peace, the Palestinians in those areas that will devolve to them, will govern every aspect of their lives except those elements that can threaten our lives. And I believe that such a functional division of powers is possible. So we have two negotiations of immense importance coming up: a territorial negotiation and a functional negotiation, for a final settlement of peace. I don't think any other government could do it. I know we can, and I'm sure we will.

Thank you.

- The conference took place in Jerusalem and was initiated by the Israeli Forum

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