PM Netanyahu: Speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress
Washington D.C., July 10, 1996
Mr Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, members of Congress,
This is not the first time that a Prime Minister of Israel addresses
a joint meeting of Congress. My immediate predecessor, Shimon Peres,
addressed this body — and before him, the late Yitzhak Rabin, who
was tragically cut down by a despicable, savage assassin. We are
grateful that Israeli democracy has proved resilient enough to
overcome this barbaric act, but we shall always carry with us the
pain of this tragedy.
I recognize, Mr. Speaker, that the great honor you have bestowed on
me is not personal. It is a tribute to the unshakable fact that the
unique relationship between Israel and the United States transcends
politics and parties, governments and diplomacy. It is a relationship
between two peoples who share a total commitment to the spirit of
democracy, and infinite dedication to freedom.
We have a common vision of how societies should be governed, of how
civilization should be advanced. We both believe in eternal values,
we both believe in the Almighty. We both follow traditions hallowed
by time and experience.
We admire America not only for its dynamism, and for its power, and
for its wealth. We admire America for its moral force. As Jews and as
Israelis, we are proud that this moral force is derived from the
Bible and the precepts of morality that the Jewish people have given
Of course, Israel and the United States also have common interests.
But our bonds go well beyond such interests. In the 19th century,
citizens of all free states viewed France as the great guardian of
liberty. In the 20th century, every free person looks to America as
the champion of freedom.
Yesterday my wife and I spent a very moving hour at Arlington
Cemetery, and we saw there the evidence of the price you paid for
that freedom – in the lives of your best and brightest young men. And
it’s a toll that is exacted from you – from all of us, but from you,
these very days.
I think it was the terrible misfortune of the Jewish people that, in
the first half of this century, the United States had not yet assumed
its pivotal role in the world. And it has been our great fortune
that, in the second half of this century, with the miraculous renewal
of Jewish nationhood, the United States became the preeminent power
in the world.
You, the people of America, offered the fledgling Jewish state succor
and support. You stood by us time and time again, against the forces
of tyranny and totalitarianism. I know that I speak for every Israeli
and every Jew throughout the world when I say to you today: Thank
you, people of America.
Perhaps our most demanding joint effort has been the endless quest to
achieve peace and stability for Israel and its Arab neighbors.
American presidents have joined successive Israeli governments in an
untiring effort to attain this peace.
The first historic breakthrough was led by Prime Minister Begin and
Presidents Carter and Sadat at Camp David. The most recent success
was our pact with Jordan under the auspices of President Clinton.
These efforts, I believe, are clear proof of our intentions and our
direction. We want peace. We want peace with all our neighbors. We
have no quarrel with them which cannot be resolved by peaceful means.
Nor, I must say, do we have a quarrel with Islam. We reject the
thesis of an inevitable clash of civilizations. We do not subscribe
to the idea that Islam has replaced Communism as the new rival of the
West, because our conflict is specific. It is with those militant
fanatics who pervert the central tenets of a great faith towards
violence and world domination. Our hand is stretched in peace to all
who would grasp it. We don’t care about their religion. We don’t care
about their national identity. We don’t care about their ideological
belief. We care about peace, and our hand is stretched out to peace.
Every Israeli wants peace. I don’t think there is a people who has
yearned, prayed and sacrificed more for peace than we have. There is
not a family in Israel that has not suffered the unbearable agony of
war and, directly or indirectly, the excruciating, ever-lasting pain
of grief. The mandate we have received from the people of Israel is
to continue the search for an end to wars and an end to grief. I
promise you: We are going to live up to this mandate. We will
continue the quest for peace, and, to this end, we are ready to
resume negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on the
implementation of our Interim Agreement.
I want to say something about agreements. Some of you speak Latin, or
at least studied Latin. “Pacta sunt servanta” – we believe agreements
are made to be kept. This is our policy, and we expect the
Palestinian side to abide by its commitments. On this basis, we will
be prepared to begin final status negotiations as well. We are ready
to engage Syria and Lebanon in meaningful negotiations. We seek to
broaden the circle of peace to the whole Arab world and the rest of
the countries of the Middle East.
But I want to make it clear that we want a peace that will last. We
must have a peace based on security for all. We cannot, and I might
say we dare not, forget that more men, women and children have lost
their lives to terrorist attacks in the last three years, than in the
entire previous decade.
I know that the representatives of the United States sitting here,
the people of the United States, are now becoming tragically familiar
with this experience. You’ve experienced it in places as far afield
as New York’s World Trade Center, and most recently in Dhahran. And I
notice also the recent torching of Afro-American churches in America,
which, I must tell you, strike a familiar, chilling note among Jews.
But I want to try and put the Israeli experience in perspective. One
has to imagine, to do so, such attacks occurring time and time again
in every city and in every corner of this great country.
So, what we are saying here today is as simple as it is elementary.
Peace means the absence of violence. Peace means not fearing for your
children every time they board a bus. Peace means walking the streets
of your town without the fearful shriek of Katyusha rockets overhead.
We just visited with the wife of a friend of mine, the deputy-mayor
of Kiryat Shmona, who was walking the streets of Kiryat Shmona when
the fearful shriek of a rocket over her head burned her car, nearly
burned her, and she was miraculously saved and she is alive and she
is getting better. But peace means that this doesn’t happen, because
peace without personal safety is a contradiction in terms. It is a
hoax. It will not stand.
What we are facing in the Middle East today is a broad front of
terror throughout the area. Its common goal is to remove any Western,
and primarily any American, presence in the Middle East. It seeks to
break our will, to shatter our resolve, to make us yield.
I believe the terrorists must understand that we will not yield,
however grave and fearful the challenge. Neither Israel nor any other
democracy, and certainly not the United States, must ever bend to
terrorism. We must fight it resolutely, endlessly, tirelessly, we
must fight it together, until we remove this malignancy from the face
of the earth.
For too long, the standards of peace used throughout the world have
not been applied to the Middle East. Violence and despotism have been
excused and not challenged. Respect for human freedoms has not been
on the agenda. It’s been on the agenda everywhere else. Everywhere
else: in Latin America, in the former Soviet Union, in South Africa,
and that effort has been led by successive American administrations
and by this house.
I think it’s time to demand a peace based on norms and standards. It
is not enough to talk about peace in abstraction. We must talk about
the content of peace. It is time, I believe, for a code of conduct
for building a lasting Middle East peace.
Such a peace must be based on three pillars, the three pillars of
Security is the first pillar. There is no substitute for it. To
succeed, the quest for peace must be accompanied by a quest for
Demanding an end to terrorist attacks as a prerequisite for peace
does not give the terrorists veto power over the peace process.
Because nearly all of the terrorist acts directed against us are
perpetrated by known organizations whose activities can be curbed, if
not altogether stopped, by our negotiating partners.
This means that our negotiating partners, and indeed all the regimes
of the region, must make a strategic choice — either follow the
option of terror as an instrument of policy, of diplomacy, or follow
the option of peace. They cannot have it both ways.
This choice means that the Palestinian Authority must live up to the
obligations it has solemnly undertaken to prevent terrorist attacks
against Israel. This choice also means that Syria must cease its
policy of enabling proxy attacks against Israeli cities, and
undertake to eliminate threats from Hizbullah and other Syrian-based
groups. This means that the fight against terror cannot be episodic.
It cannot be conditional. It cannot be whimsical. It cannot be
optional. It must become the mainstay of a relationship of trust
between Israel and its Arab partners.
The second pillar of peace is reciprocity. This means an unshakable
commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes, including the
border disputes between Israel and its neighbors.
The signing of a peace treaty should be the beginning of a
relationship of reciprocal respect, recognition and the fulfillment
of mutual obligations. It should not trigger round after round of
hostile diplomacy. Peace should not be the pursuit of war by other
means. A peace without pacification, a peace without normalization, a
peace in which Israel is repeatedly brought under attack, is not a
Reciprocity means that every line in every agreement turns into a
sinew of reconciliation. Reciprocity means that an agreement must be
kept by both sides. Reciprocity is the glue of mutual commitments,
that upholds agreements. This is the second pillar of peace.
The third pillar of lasting peace is democracy and human rights. I am
not revealing a secret to the members of this chamber, when I say
that modern democracies do not initiate aggression. This has been the
central lesson of the twentieth century. States that respect the
human rights of their citizens are not likely to provoke hostile
action against their neighbors. No one knows better than the United
States, the world’s greatest democracy, that the best guarantor
against military adventurism is accountable, democratic government.
The world has witnessed the bitter results of policies without
standards in the case of Saddam Hussein. Unless we want more Saddams
to rise, we must apply the standards of democracy and human rights in
the Middle East. I believe that every Muslim and every Christian and
every Jew in the region is entitled to nothing less. I don’t think we
should accept the idea that the Middle East is the latest, or the
last, isolated sanctuary that will be democracy-free for all time
except for the presence of Israel.
I realize that this is a process. It may be a long-term process. But
I think we should begin it. It is time for the states of the Middle
East to put the issues of human rights and democratization on their
agenda. Democratization means accepting a free press and the right of
a legal opposition to organize and express itself. It’s very
important for the opposition to be able to express itself, Mr.
Speaker. I’ve just learned and will accord that same right, as you
know. This is democracy. To be able to disagree, to express our
disagreements, and sometimes to agree after disagreements. It means
tolerance. And it means an inherent shift away from aggression toward
the recognition of the mutual right to differ.
I’ll admit, the Middle East as a whole has not yet effected this
basic shift — this change from autocracy to democracy. But this does
not mean that we cannot have peace in this region, peace with
non-democratic regimes. I believe we can. It’s a fact that we’ve had
such peace arrangements.
But such peace arrangements, as we can now arrive at, can only be
characterized as a defensible peace, in which we must retain assets
essential to the defense of our country and sufficient to deter
Until this democratization becomes a mainstay of the region, the
proper course for the democratic world, led by the United States, is
to strengthen the only democracy in the Middle East, Israel, and to
encourage moves to pluralism and greater freedom in the Arab world.
I want to make something clear. We do not want peace merely in our
time. We want peace for all time. To the members of “Peace Now”: we
do not just want peace now. We want peace now, and later, we want
peace for generations. There is no divide. That desire is heartfelt.
It should be a point of unity, not of disunity.
This is why we must make the pursuit of human rights and democracy a
cornerstone of our quest.
These, then, are the three pillars of peace — peace, reciprocity and
the strengthening of democracy.
I believe that a peace based on these three pillars can be advanced.
Yet I, ladies and gentlemen, would be remiss if I did not refer to a
major challenge facing all of us.
I have touched on the problem of the Middle East that is largely
undemocratic, and part of it is strongly anti-democratic.
Specifically, it is being radicalized and terrorized by a number of
unreconstructed dictatorships whose governmental creed is based on
tyranny and intimidation.
The most dangerous of these regimes is Iran, that has wed a cruel
despotism to a fanatic militancy. If this regime, or its despotic
neighbor Iraq, were to acquire nuclear weapons, this could presage
catastrophic consequences, not only for my country, and not only for
the Middle East, but for all mankind.
I believe the international community must reinvigorate its efforts
to isolate these regimes, and prevent them from acquiring atomic
power. The United States and Israel have been at the forefront of
this effort, but we can and must do much more. Europe and the
countries of Asia must be made to understand that it is folly,
nothing short of folly, to pursue short-time material gain while
creating a long-term existential danger for all of us.
Only the United States can lead this vital international effort to
stop the nuclearization of terrorist states. But the deadline for
attaining this goal is getting extremely close.
In our own generation, we have witnessed how the United States
averted, by its wisdom, tenacity, and determination, the dangerous
expansion of a totalitarian superpower equipped with nuclear weapons.
The policy it used for that purpose was deterrence. Now, we see the
rise of a similar threat – similar, and in many ways more dangerous –
against which deterrence by itself may not be sufficient. Deterrence
must now be reinforced with prevention — immediate and effective
We are confident that America, once again, will not fail to take the
lead in protecting our free civilization from this ultimate horror.
But, ladies and gentlemen, time is running out. We have to act –
responsibly, in a united front, internationally. This is not a
slogan. This is not over-dramatization. This is the life of our
children and our grandchildren. And I belive there is no greater,
more noble, more responsible force than the united front of
democracy, led by the world’s greatest democracy, the United States.
We can overcome this challenge. We can beat it successfully.
Let me now say a word about a subject that has been on your mind and
ours, and that subject is the city of Jerusalem.
Countless words have been written about that city on the hill, which
represents the universal hope for justice and peace. I live in that
city on the hill. And in my boyhood, I knew that city, when it was
divided into enemy camps, with coils of barbed wire stretched through
Since 1967, under Israeli sovereignty, united Jerusalem has, for the
first time in two thousand years, become the city of peace. For the
first time, the holy places have been open to worshippers from all
three great faiths. For the first time, no group in the city or among
its pilgrims has been persecuted or denied free expression. For the
first time, a single sovereign authority has afforded security and
protection to members of every nationality who sought to come to pray
There have been efforts to redivide this city by those who claim that
peace can come through division — that it can be secured through
multiple sovereignties, multiple laws and multiple police forces.
This is a groundless and dangerous assumption, which impels me to
declare today: There will never be such a re-division of Jerusalem.
We shall not allow a Berlin Wall to be erected inside Jerusalem. We
will not drive out anyone, but neither shall we be driven out of any
quarter, any neighborhood, any street of our eternal capital.
Finally, permit me briefly to remark on our future economic
relationship. The United States has given Israel – how can I tell it
to this body? The United States has given Israel, apart from
political and military support, munificent and magnificent assistance
in the economic sphere. With America’s help, Israel has grown to be a
powerful, modern state. I believe that we can now say that Israel has
reached childhood’s end, that it has matured enough to begin
approaching a state of self-reliance.
We are committed to turning Israel’s economy into a free market of
goods and ideas, which is the only way to bring ourselves to true
economic independence. This means free enterprise, privatization,
open capital markets, an end to cartels, lower taxes, deregulation.
You know, there’s not a Hebrew word for deregulation. By the time
this term of office in Israel is over, there will be a Hebrew word
But may I say something thatunites all of us across the political
divide: I’m committed to reducing the size of government, and I’m
quoting Speaker Gingrich, quoting President Clinton, saying that the
era of big government is over. It’s over in Israel too.
I believe that a market economy is the only way to effectively absorb
immigrants and realize the dream of the ages — the ingathering of
the Jewish exiles.
To succeed, we must uphold the market economy as the imperative of
the future. It’s a crucial pre-requisite for the building of the
We are deeply grateful for all we have received from the United
States, for all that we have received from this chamber, from this
body. But I believe there can be no greater tribute to America’s
long-standing economic aid to Israel than for us to be able to say:
We are going to achieve economic independence. We are going to do it.
In the next four years, we will begin the long-term process of
gradually reducing the level of your generous economic assistance to
Israel. I am convinced that our economic policies will lay the
foundation for total self-reliance and great economic strength.
In our Hebrew Scriptures, which spread from Jerusalem to all of
mankind, there is a verse: “God will give strength to His people; God
will bless His people with peace.” This is the original, inspired
source for the truth that peace derives from strength.
In the coming years, we intend to strengthen the Jewish people in its
land. We intend to build an Israel of reciprocal dialogue and peace
with each and every one of our neighbors. We will not uproot anyone,
nor shall we be uprooted. We shall insist on the right of Jews to
live anywhere in the Land, just as we insist on this right for Jews
in any other place in the world. We will build an Israel of
self-reliance. We will build an Israel with an undivided and
indivisible city of hope at its heart. We will build a peace founded
on justice and strength, and amity for all men and women of good
And I know the American people will join us in making every effort to
make our dream a reality, as I know the American people will join us
in prayer: “God will give strength to His people; God will bless His
people with peace.” Thank you very much.