‘We Cannot Wait for the Palestinians Forever’


The following is excerpted from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress on May 24. For the complete text of the speech, go to: www.mfa.gov.il.

Israel must still meet the momentous challenge of guaranteeing the future of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority, within permanent and defensible borders and a united Jerusalem as its capital – that is open and accessible for the worship of all religions. This was the dream to which Ariel Sharon was loyally committed.

With the vision of Ariel Sharon guiding my actions, from this podium today, I extend my hand in peace to Mahmoud Abbas, elected President of the Palestinian Authority. On behalf of the State of Israel, we are willing to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority. This authority must renounce terrorism, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, accept previous agreements and commitments, and recognize the right of Israel to exist.

Let us be clear: Peace, without security, will bring neither peace nor security. We will not, we cannot, compromise on these basic tests of partnership.

But if there is to be a just, fair and lasting peace, we need a partner who rejects violence and who values life more than death. We need a partner that affirms in action, not just in words, the rejection, prevention and elimination of terror.

The lesson for the Palestinian people is clear. In a few years they could be living in a Palestinian state, side by side in peace and security with Israel. A Palestinian state which Israel and the international community would help thrive. But no one can make this happen for them if they refuse to make it happen for themselves.

For thousands of years, we Jews have been nourished and sustained by a yearning for our historic land. I, like many others, was raised with a deep conviction that the day would never come when we would have to relinquish parts of the land of our forefathers. I believed, and to this day still believe, in our people's eternal and historic right to this entire land. But I also believe that dreams alone will not quiet the guns that have fired unceasingly for nearly a hundred years. Dreams alone will not enable us to preserve a secure democratic Jewish state.

Painfully, we the people of Israel have learned to change our perspective. We have to compromise in the name of peace, to give up parts of our promised land in which every hill and every valley is saturated with Jewish history and in which our heroes are buried. We have to relinquish part of our dream to leave room for the dream of others, so that all of us can enjoy a better future. For this painful but necessary task my government was elected. And to this I am fully committed.

We hope and pray that our Palestinian neighbors will also awaken. We hope they will make the crucial distinction between implementing visions that can inspire us to build a better reality, and mirages that will only lead us further into the darkness.

And so I ask of the Palestinians: How can a child growing up in a culture of hate dream of the possibility of peace? So let us today call out to all peoples of the Middle East: replace the culture of hate with an outlook of hope.

We cannot wait for the Palestinians forever. Our deepest wish is to build a better future for our region, hand in hand with a Palestinian partner, but if not, we will move forward, but not alone.

Allow me to turn to another dark and gathering storm casting its shadow over the world. Iran, the world's leading sponsor of terror, and a notorious violator of fundamental human rights, stands on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

With these weapons, the security of the entire world is put in jeopardy. We deeply appreciate America's leadership on this issue and the strong bipartisan conviction that a nuclear-armed Iran is an intolerable threat to the peace and security of the world. It cannot be permitted to materialize. This Congress has proven its conviction by initiating the Iran Freedom and Support Act. We applaud these efforts.

A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die: the mass destruction of innocent human life.

This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail.

God bless you, and God bless America.

Ehud Olmert is the prime minister of Israel.



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