Samuel R. Berger
Deputy Assistant to the President for national Security Affairs
Address to the 1996 American Jewish Committee
May 9, 1996
I am especially honored to be here because this year as the AJC celebrates its 90th birthday. I've done extensive research and the fact is, I find no other committee that has survived 90 years -- much less one that has flourished like the AJC. Maybe that's because, at least according to conventional wisdom, nothing ever is accomplished by a committee. As one sage put it, if Moses had been a committee, the Israelites would still be in Egypt.
The AJC has proved the committee-phobes wrong. If your 34 founding members could see you now: 50,000 strong... every profession, political persuasion and Jewish orientation represented... a strong, vibrant presence felt throughout the United States and far beyond. And a long track record of accomplishment that has made our country a better place and people around the world better off. In the fight against anti-Semitism and extremism and intolerance, the AJC has been on the frontlines. You've tirelessly promoted inter-faith relations and human rights. You've enriched the quality of Jewish life here in America. And no group has worked harder to safeguard Israel's security.
It's this last point I want to speak with you about tonight, from the perspective of the President Clinton and his Administration. And I want to begin by stating our working premise. It's very simple. The United States will stand with Israel through good times and bad because both our nations cherish the same ideals: freedom, tolerance, compassion and democracy. We know that when those ideals are under siege in one country, they are threatened everywhere. We have never been more determined to defend those ideals -- and to achieve our shared goal of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
Tonight, I can report that, for all the hard work still ahead... for the inevitable setbacks that will come... we are closer to that goal than at any time since the founding of the state of Israel.
Consider what we've seen... what we've accomplished together... over the past three years: the signing of the Israel-Palestinian Declaration of Principles on the South Lawn, where Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat bridged one of history's widest gulfs with a breathtaking handshake. The peace between Jordan and Israel that already has transformed a border of barbed wire into a bridge of communication, commerce and cooperation. The Israel-Palestinian Interim Accord that moved forward implementation of the Declaration of Principles, giving the vast majority of Palestinians control over their daily lives and making Israel more secure. And then just last Sunday, the beginning of Permanent Status talks between Israel and the Palestinians. More progress toward peace in these past three years than in all of Israel's nearly five decades.
Each of these giant strides forward toward a future of peace has been accompanied by smaller, but vitally important steps in the same direction. Arab countries from Morocco to Oman have improved formal relations with Israel. The Gulf Cooperation Council, two of whose most distinguished foreign ministers I share this stage with tonight, have lifted the decades-old secondary boycotts against Israel. Economic summits in Morocco and Jordan have, for the first time, brought Israel together with its Arab neighbors to forge a future of shared prosperity. And just last month, on Israel's 48th birthday, the Palestinian National Council finally rid the PLO Charter of those hateful passages calling for Israel's destruction. We applaud the Palestinian leadership and Chairman Arafat for fulfilling their commitments to peace.
First and foremost, credit for these successes belongs to a group of visionary leaders, starting with the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his partner Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Together, they dared to imagine what a future of peace in the Middle East might look like. Then they summoned the courage to act -- to begin to turn that vision into reality. These men who had dedicated their lives to defending their country were willing to risk their lives to bring it a lasting, secure peace. And we know the terrible price Prime Minister Rabin paid for his conviction.
These acts of faith and strength were met halfway by brave Arab leaders who stood up to the haters and embraced change. Leaders like King Hussein... King Hassan... President Mubarak... and Chairman Arafat. They are showing vision and wisdom where, too often in the past, passion and hatred have overwhelmed cooler heads and clearer minds.
These men are the real heroes of peace -- but they had help, and I am proud that the United States was there to provide it.
The first time President Clinton met Prime Minister Rabin, he promised him that, if Israel took risks for peace, the United States would do everything in its power to minimize those risks. A hundred times over, President Clinton has lived up to his commitment. In a time of shrinking resources, we've kept up our economic assistance. We''ve worked not just to maintain Israel's security, but to enhance it by making sure Israel's qualitative military edge is greater than ever. We''ve built a bond of trust with Israel that has helped give it the confidence to make peace.
Throughout the Middle East, the United States has been a full and reliable partner for all those willing to take risks for peace. We''ve taken the lead in securing the economic underpinnings of peace. Secretary Christopher and his team have traveled literally hundreds of thousands of miles -- sometimes frustrating...usually unglamorous... always exhausting -- to help build this structure of peace, one plank at a time. There's no better example of that commitment than the extraordinary effort he made last month to stop the Katyushas and to stem the violence in northern Israel and southern Lebanon.
Now, we must continue the hard work to close the circle of peace: to bring Syria and Lebanon into that circle; to see Israel fully accepted in every way throughout the Middle East; to build a future of peace for all the people in the region in which peace, security and prosperity are truly indivisible.
There is no question that the United States must continue to play a lead role in this process. No one can take our place. More than any other country outside the region, we have the power to help the parties shape their future. People look to us for our size and our strength. Just as important they look to us for what we stand for -- and what we're willing to stand against.
That's why our mission in the Middle East is not only to advance the peace process -- but to stop those who are determined to destroy it. The last few months have seen a dramatic upsurge in terrorism -- a risk that persists as the Israeli elections approach. If we fail to answer its challenge, the peace process can fail.
The reason for this upsurge in terror is clear. As the President has pointed out, with every new step taken along the path to peace, its enemies grow more and more desperate. They know that a new day is dawning in the Middle East -- that the vast majority of its people -- Arab and Israeli -- want to enjoy the simple blessings of normal life. Their answer -- more violence and terror... more bullets and more bombs -- may seem senseless. But make no mistake: it is the product of cold calculation: by murdering innocent people, they seek to kill the peace itself.
Our response must be two-fold. First, not to let our anger sidetrack us from continuing to press ahead on the path to peace. That's precisely what the enemies of peace want -- and that's exactly what we must deny them. The painstaking process of making peace must continue.
But turning another page in the book of peace does not mean turning the other cheek to terrorism. So our second task is to do everything we can to stop the killing and bring terrorists to justice. That's the only way to give those who have chosen peace the confidence that they have made the right choice -- and the courage to keep moving forward.
Our response to the recent wave of suicide bombings in Israel shows the determination of this President -- and his entire Administration's -- to stand strong against terror.
Within 48 hours of the Tel Aviv bombing, a planeload of highly sophisticated explosive detection equipment was speeding its way to Israel, along with a team of American counter terrorism experts. Working with their Israeli counterparts, they developed a plan to bolster Israel's anti- terror defenses. It calls for sending Israel explosive sniffers, advanced x-ray machines and the technical training and support to get this equipment up and running. The President immediately asked Congress for an extra $100 million in aid for Israel to put the plan into action. With the help of the Congress, we already have obtained $50 million.
Just as important, we also reached out to the Palestinian Authority, at Israel's urging, to improve its ability to root out terrorists and to cooperate with Israel and other regional governments.
President Clinton knew that these very real, very practical steps would make a difference on the ground. But he also wanted to make a difference in the minds of the Israeli people -- to show them that they were not alone... that more people than ever, throughout the Middle East and around the world, support Israel's search for a lasting peace and true security.
At Sharm el Sheik -- at our initiative -- 29 leaders from Israel, the Arab world, Europe, Asia, and North America came together in support of peace. It was an unprecedented gathering... unimaginable just a few years ago... and proof that the promise of peace is becoming a reality.
But Sharm el Sheik was more than symbolism -- important as such symbols are. It also launched a process of intensified anti-terrorism cooperation among the Summit participants. We agreed to better coordinate our efforts... to work to bring terrorists to justice... to prevent our countries from being used for terrorist purposes... to stop terrorist recruitment, supplying of arms or fundraising.
Meanwhile, we have continued to move forward with Israel to fight terrorism. Last week, President Clinton and Prime Minister Peres signed an unprecedented agreement on Counter- Terrorism Cooperation. It sets out areas of joint action and creates working committees to deepen our cooperation for each of them.
Our alliance with Israel to fight terrorism is part of a larger effort to combat these forces of destruction and hatred around the world -- and here at home.
We have dramatically increased our cooperation with other nations to hunt down terrorists before they act... to capture them when they do... so they have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.
We're cracking down on front companies and money launderers to sever the economic lifelines that allow terrorist groups to survive. And we have imposed stiff sanctions on countries that sponsor terrorism -- like Iran, Iraq, Libya and Sudan -- to deprive them economically and isolate them politically.
Here at home, we have increased the funding, personnel and training for our law enforcement agencies. And Congress finally passed the tough anti-terrorism bill President Clinton sent to the Hill in February 1995 -- and then strengthened after Oklahoma City.
The challenge of terrorism is unending. But we are getting results. Over the last three years, we''ve brought more terrorists to justice than at any time in our history. We made swift arrests after both the World Trade Center attack and Oklahoma City. We stopped plots to blow up the UN and to attack American airliners over the Pacific. And when we uncovered a plot to assassinate President Bush, the President ordered military retaliation against its state sponsor, Iraq.
Not one of these achievements came about easily or automatically. And each required American leadership and American resources.
It's worth reflecting on that fact at a time when American leadership is under attack from both the left and the right.
Some argue that, with the Cold War won, we can retreat from the world -- but they ignore problems like terrorism... the spread of weapons of mass destruction... international organized crime and drug trafficking. These threats have no respect for borders -- they are equal opportunity destroyers.
Others "talk the talk" of internationalism, but then don't "walk the walk" to pay for it. They would deny us the resources we need to lead... or the flexibility to work with others or with the United Nations to share the risk and spread the cost of leadership.
It's vitally important for internationalists of both parties to rally to the cause of American leadership. That's especially true for those of us who believe that a strong, secure Israel is a fundamental national interest. This Administration's support for Israel is rock solid. But as people take chunks out of the foreign policy pie, the one piece that doesn't shrink becomes more vulnerable. So I say to you tonight -- we need your support not just for America's enduring alliance with Israel... but for the work of American leadership around the world that we are seeking to uphold.
This Administration is determined that the United States remain a force for freedom and prosperity around the world. We are determined to keep bearing the burden of peace with the people of Israel and all those striving for a future of hope and security in the Middle East. And we are determined to keep working with you... to carry on the struggle for tolerance, for decency and humanity that have animated this group for ninety years. We are proud of our achievements but the job won't be done until we have secured a just and comprehensive peace that will end the Arab-Israeli conflict and allow all of the peoples of the Middle East to enjoy what the President has described as the quiet miracle of an ordinary life.
Thank you for all that you have done... and for all that you will do... to make these goals we share -- for America, for Israel and the Middle East -- a reality.
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