Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Speech at the Saban Forum

13/11/2005 – éĺí řŕůĺď é”ŕ çůĺď úůń”ĺ Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to welcome you to Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. As we are now in Jerusalem, the city of the Bible, it is appropriate to speak in the language of the Bible. Therefore, with your permission, I will speak in Hebrew. [In Hebrew] I am pleased to attend this important conference of the Saban Center to advance America-Israel dialogue. For many years, the relations between Israel and the United States have been characterized by friendship, mutual understanding of each side’s strategic interests, and in our shared values of freedom and democracy. The current administration displays warm friendship toward Israel, and we are acting to strengthen the relations between us in all fields. During this month, we will conduct a strategic dialogue between our countries, in which we will discuss primary issues on the agenda. This is an important dialogue, which adds an additional dimension to advancing the understandings between Israel and the United States. The United States has a central role in the substantive changes the Middle East has undergone in the last few years, and it leads the necessary international steps to make the region more moderate, democratic and stable. At the current time, the Middle East is moving between two extremes. On the one side, there are those countries which President Bush has labeled “the axis of evil”. At their head stand Iran and Syria, which are ruled by irresponsible leaders, who take extreme stands which threaten the stability of the area. These countries encourage the activities of radical terrorist elements, provide shelter for them, guide them, train them and fund them. On the other side stand the more moderate countries, such as Egypt and Jordan, and the Gulf states, and those in North Africa. These countries suffer the ravages of terror, and understand that it is not possible to coexist with or accept radical terror elements in their boundaries and in the region. In between the two extremes, are those countries which have of late undergone far-reaching changes, thanks, inter alia, to the efforts of the United States and the international community. Among these countries, Iraq and Lebanon, as well as the Palestinian Authority, can be counted. The toppling of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorial regime was a courageous and important step, which only occurred because of President Bush’s determination and leadership. If there had been no war in Iraq, the region would continue to be at the mercy of this dangerous and irresponsible leader. The positive trends which Iraq is experiencing must be strengthened, with the approval of the constitution and the advancing of elections, and we must act to support the moderate elements in order to prevent the establishment of a radical front, which will join with its neighbors in the axis of evil – Syria and Iran. Syria has again proved that it is led by an irresponsible leadership. The leadership hosts, guides and trains Palestinian terrorist organizations within its borders, and encourages the continuation of their terrorist activities against Israel. Syria also encourages the activities of terrorists along its border with Iraq, against American and foreign targets. Following the adoption the Mehlis Report, the international community must continue its efforts to exert pressure on the Syrian regime, and to clarify that the extremist path they are taking places its continued existence in doubt. Iran, especially following their recent elections, has a radical leadership, which publicly calls for the elimination of the State of Israel. Iran’s vigorous efforts to obtain nuclear weapons and encouragement of terror are the single greatest threat to the stability of the Middle East and beyond. The international community understands the dangers emanating from Iran and the need to confront it. We believe that the Iranian nuclear issue must be addressed by the U.N. Security Council, since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s efforts have been exhausted. Only united and courageous by the international community will erase the Iranian threat which hovers over the entire Middle East. In addition to its activities in the nuclear field, Iran is also working to export its radical ideology. It encourages the activities of terrorist organizations, including elements of the global Jihad and Palestinian terror organizations. The goal of Hizbollah is to upset the delicate balance which exists along the northern border, increase the tension and drag Israel into an escalation on this front. These terrorist organizations, and I refer particularly to Hizbollah, have not abandoned the path of terror, despite its participation in the democratic process in Lebanon. Hizbollah must be disarmed, and the international community must continue to exert pressure on the government of Lebanon so that it acts as it committed. The latest developments in Lebanon after the murder of Prime Minister Hariri can lead to a better future. We attach great importance to strengthening an independent Lebanese government, and encourage the actions of the international community, led by France and the United States, towards the full implementation of Resolution 1559, including the removal of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who are still in Lebanon. The understanding that only by choosing the path of peace and fighting against radical factions can regional stability be achieved, has led those countries with which we have peace agreements – Jordan, Egypt and other moderate Arab countries – to increase cooperation with us. Our relations with Jordan are characterized by comprehensive cooperation in a variety of spheres. The Jordanians understand the dangers of terror and its destructiveness. I again offer my condolences to King Abdullah and the Jordanian people following the terrorist attack last Wednesday in Amman. The attack in Amman serves as a warning as to how the situation in the Middle East can deteriorate if the necessary steps toward change are not taken. After the terror attack, I spoke with King Abdullah, and we agreed to increase our cooperation in the struggle against terror. There is no doubt that Jordan is a stabilizing factor between Israel’s neighbors, and our relations are based on mutual trust and an understanding of each side’s strategic interests. Our relations with Egypt are constantly improving. Coordination on issues relating to the Disengagement, as well as the release of Azzam Azzam, helped to build trust and deepen cooperation between our countries. Recently, we signed an agreement relating to the deployment of the Egyptian Border Police along the Philadelphi Route, and an increased cooperation against terrorism and against the phenomenon of smuggling from the Sinai to the Gaza Strip and Israel. There is great importance to the dialogue which exists today between Israel and Egypt, and we intend to continue improving it. Following the death of Yasser Arafat, the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Chairman of the Authority and the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, the Palestinian Authority has undergone a positive change. After a long period, an opportunity was created to advance the political process according to the Roadmap to which we are committed and which we intend to implement. On the other hand, we are witness to an increase in the strength of the radical terrorist organizations, who intensively continue in their efforts to carry out acts of terror. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has so far shown weakness in dismantling these organizations and their infrastructure, despite its commitments. Today, after the implementation of the Disengagement Plan, focus must be placed on the advancement of issues relating to Gaza. Advancing security, economic and governmental reforms in Gaza will positively affect the continuation of the process with the Palestinians, and will clarify where they stand. In the next few days, we hope to reach positive agreements regarding the issues which remain unresolved in the framework of the Disengagement Plan. Responsibility for the situation in Gaza is moving from Israel to the Palestinians – and they must prove their ability to administer their affairs by themselves. The immediate future is critical for the Palestinian Authority – it must decide if it chooses the path of peace and communication, or if it chooses the path of radical terror and allows the existence of terrorist organizations and their participation in the political system before they disarm. In addition, Hamas must annul its charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Advancing to the second phase of the Roadmap will be done only after the Palestinian Authority implements the first phase of the plan – by dismantling the terrorist organizations and implementing the comprehensive reforms to which they are committed. We cannot accept a situation in which terrorist organizations do not disarm, yet gain legitimacy for their existence, under the cloak of democracy. For its part, Israel has proven the seriousness of its intentions for genuine peace, including painful compromises. The decision to pursue the Disengagement Plan and implement it, was a difficult test for Israeli society, the likes of which it has never known. We implemented this difficult and painful step, inter alia, out of a belief that it had the potential to jumpstart the political process according to the Roadmap and contribute to the efforts toward peace. I hope the Palestinians do not miss this opportunity. I believe that the day will come when we sign peace agreements with all our neighbors. However, the day I truly wish for is the day when there will be genuine peace – not between countries and leaders, rather between peoples. Unfortunately, our Arab neighbors still do not recognize the ancestral right of the Jewish people to a country in their homeland – the land of Israel. This recognition will be a decisive step towards genuine peace in our region. We have been operating in this reality of radicals versus moderates in the Middle East for many years. However, the recent period symbolizes the possibility of positive and comprehensive change. The international community, headed by the United States, is working to advance the process of democratization, which will lead to more moderation and stability in the region. These are, indeed, long processes, however they are important for the long term. These changes also have positive consequences for the chance of peace in the region. Israel is an island of stable democracy in the region, and I have no doubt that if Israel had democratic neighbors, we could take more risks in the political process. The international community, which understands the consequences of a radical Middle East on the entire world, must continue to act in order to strengthen the moderate forces and to harness them for the struggle against the extremist factors which threaten each country, and the entire region. I intend to exhaust every possibility to assist the forces of positive change which the region is undergoing. This is the only path which will lead to stability in the region, and genuine peace in the future. I believe that, only through the joint of every positive force in the region, can we achieve it. I will do my utmost to make this happen. Thank you.