TEXT-Full text of Netanyahu speech on peace process

Sun Jun 14, 2009 5:02pm EDT

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June 14 (Reuters) - Following is a full translation of Sunday's speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, provided on the Web site of his office:



"Honored guests, citizens of Israel.

Peace has always been our people's most ardent desire. Our prophets gave the world the vision of peace, we greet one another with wishes of peace, and our prayers conclude with the word peace.

We are gathered this evening in an institution named for two pioneers of peace, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and we share in their vision.

Two and half months ago, I took the oath of office as the Prime Minister of Israel. I pledged to establish a national unity government – and I did. I believed and I still believe that unity was essential for us now more than ever as we face three immense challenges – the Iranian threat, the economic crisis, and the advancement of peace.

The Iranian threat looms large before us, as was further demonstrated yesterday. The greatest danger confronting Israel, the Middle East, the entire world and human race, is the nexus between radical Islam and nuclear weapons. I discussed this issue with President Obama during my recent visit to Washington, and I will raise it again in my meetings next week with European leaders. For years, I have been working tirelessly to forge an international alliance to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Confronting a global economic crisis, the government acted swiftly to stabilize Israel's economy. We passed a two year budget in the government – and the Knesset will soon approve it.

And the third challenge, so exceedingly important, is the advancement of peace. I also spoke about this with President Obama, and I fully support the idea of a regional peace that he is leading.

I share the President's desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. To this end, I met with President Mubarak in Egypt, and King Abdullah in Jordan, to elicit the support of these leaders in expanding the circle of peace in our region.

I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: "Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace. I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to go to Damascus, to Riyadh, to Beirut, to any place- including Jerusalem. I call on the Arab countries to cooperate with the Palestinians and with us to advance an economic peace. An economic peace is not a substitute for a political peace, but an important element to achieving it. Together, we can undertake projects to overcome the scarcities of our region, like water desalination or to maximize its advantages, like developing solar energy, or laying gas and petroleum lines, and transportation links between Asia, Africa and Europe.

The economic success of the Gulf States has impressed us all and it has impressed me. I call on the talented entrepreneurs of the Arab world to come and invest here and to assist the Palestinians – and us – in spurring the economy.

Together, we can develop industrial areas that will generate thousands of jobs and create tourist sites that will attract millions of visitors eager to walk in the footsteps of history – in Nazareth and in Bethlehem, around the walls of Jericho and the walls of Jerusalem, on the banks of the Sea of Galilee and the baptismal site of the Jordan. There is an enormous potential for archeological tourism, if we can only learn to cooperate and to develop it.

I turn to you, our Palestinian neighbors, led by the Palestinian Authority, and I say: Let's begin negotiations immediately without preconditions. Israel is obligated by its international commitments and expects all parties to keep their commitments.

We want to live with you in peace, as good neighbors. We want our children and your children to never again experience war: that parents, brothers and sisters will never again know the agony of losing loved ones in battle; that our children will be able to dream of a better future and realize that dream; and that together we will invest our energies in plowshares and pruning hooks, not swords and spears.

I know the face of war. I have experienced battle. I lost close friends, I lost a brother. I have seen the pain of bereaved families. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war.

If we join hands and work together for peace, there is no limit to the development and prosperity we can achieve for our two peoples – in the economy, agriculture, trade, tourism and education - most importantly, in providing our youth a better world in which to live, a life full of tranquility, creativity, opportunity and hope.

If the advantages of peace are so evident, we must ask ourselves why peace remains so remote, even as our hand remains outstretched to peace? Why has this conflict continued for more than sixty years?

In order to bring an end to the conflict, we must give an honest and forthright answer to the question: What is the root of the conflict?

In his speech to the first Zionist Conference in Basel, the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodore Herzl, said about the Jewish national home "This idea is so big that we must speak of it only in the simplest terms." Today, I will speak about the immense challenge of peace in the simplest words possible.

Even as we look toward the horizon, we must be firmly connected to reality, to the truth. And the simple truth is that the root of the conflict was, and remains, the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state of their own, in their historic homeland.

In 1947, when the United Nations proposed the partition plan of a Jewish state and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the resolution. The Jewish community, by contrast, welcomed it by dancing and rejoicing.

The Arabs rejected any Jewish state, in any borders.

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