Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 13, 1998


Jerusalem Hilton

9:16 P.M. (L)

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: (In progress) -- We went out to the terrace of this magnificent hotel and looked eastward at one of the great sites of the world -- the walls of the Ancient City of Jerusalem, which has been the cornerstone and the pivot of Jewish existence for 3,000 years.

This evening you join us and our distinguished guests from Israel and you have here I think the entire leadership of the country. You join all of us in another moment that is so evocative of our roots, the lighting of the first candle of Hanukkah. Now, as you know, this holiday commemorates the victory of the Maccabees some 2,200 years ago over those who tried to extinguish -- (inaudible) -- places which for thousands of years have been called by the names Judea and Samaria. Now, Mr. President, you and Mrs. Clinton will be visiting these places and other places in the country during your short stay. In sum, your visit will have a political character. In others, the motif is religious or historic.

There is a story about you, Mr. President -- I don't know if it's apocryphal, you have an opportunity to confirm it -- that one of the reasons, one of the great influences informs your deep attachment to Israel is the influence of your minister, who is reputed to have one day called you, held a Bible in his hand and said, "Bill, never forget Israel."

Well, I can tell you, Mr. President, that everyone in this room holds the Bible and we never forget Israel. And you will visit those places whose common denominator is that they are all part of our history, our heritage, our Bible, our life.

Bethlehem, where you will visit on Tuesday, is the birthplace of Jesus, a Jew whose trials and tribulations forged the great religion of Christianity. And Bethlehem is also where our matriarch, Rachel, was buried and where King David was born. This is the same King David who established the capital of the Jewish people in the city of Jerusalem, a city which never was and never will be the capital of any other nation. (Applause.)

Tomorrow you will be in Gaza. This was not an Israelite city, it was a Philistine city, but it was also where the heroic figure of Sampson strutted large on history's stage. Sampson was one of the first figures in Jewish history whose sacrifice symbolized a total uncompromising struggle against slavery.

A similar philosophy dominated the defenders of Masada, which you will also visit on Tuesday. You're covering a lot of ground, I must say. The heroes of Masada preceded an American patriot, Patrick Henry, by 1700 years when they proclaimed, "Give me liberty or give me death." But today Masada serves a different purpose. Our young conscripts of the Israeli Army pledged their allegiance to the state there and thereby make it a symbol of our refusal to repeat the past and make Masada a symbol of our determination to choose life -- a life of freedom, of peace and security for the Jewish people.

These goals -- freedom, peace and security -- can only be guaranteed by Jewish courage and Jewish strength and the strength of our purpose. I believe there's no parallel in history for the kind of attachment the Jewish people have felt for this land for more than 3,000 years, through wars and exiles and sieges, spiritual and physical.

Now we are back in our land. And we seek peace with our neighbors, with all of them. I believe we deserve the kind of peace, the total absence of violence and bloodshed and hatred envisioned by our prophets who walked on the very ground -- the very ground -- on which this hotel is situated.

But I don't think we have to go into the distant past to realize that our great concern for security is justified. All you have to do, Mr. President, is look out the window and on a good day you'll see the Dead Sea and the Transjordan Mountains. The geography of this tiny land makes it obvious.

Now, we have made excruciating sacrifices for peace, including recently. We have given away parts of this land, parts which are the cradle of our civilization. It's not been easy. And we are prepared to fulfill all of our obligations, providing the Palestinians keep their obligations under the agreements. We seek nothing more; we will accept nothing less.

And this is in the nature of contracts, but also in the nature of common sense, because the great change of Wye was that it was, unlike the previous agreements under the Oslo Accords, structured in a series of steps that allow us to judge the compliance of our Palestinian partners. They complied in the first step, and so did we. We now seek to see a moving away from violence, from incitement to violence, from declarations of unilateral decisions on their part that vitiate the final settlement negotiations of any meeting. We want to see them, in these and all the other things, keep their commitments. And if they keep their part, we will do our part. That should be said and we mean it.

I believe, Mr. President, that forging a durable and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in this tiny land between the Jordan River and the sea is the most difficult task facing any nation on this often troubled Earth. Of the myriad efforts to achieve peace elsewhere, I believe this is the most challenging, but potentially the most rewarding.

When I look back at the history of our people, our odyssey through time, and especially what we've achieved in the last 50 years, coming out of the abyss, the pit of destruction, what we've struggled through, what we've accomplished, what has been attained, I am absolutely filled with the confidence that we can obtain our goal of peace and security. We believe we can do so with your help, Mr. President, and with the help of the friendship of the great American people who see in Israel a natural ally and a kindred spirit.

So let us raise a glass to true peace, a peace based on security and fortitude; to the spirit of the Maccabees and to the vision of Isaiah. May this land of Israel, which gave the world the Bible and Judeo-Christian values, also give the region the gift of genuine and lasting peace.

L'chaim and shalom.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mr. Prime Minister, Mrs. Netanyahu, leaders and citizens of Israel, my fellow Americans. Let me begin by thanking the Prime Minister, his family and his administration for the warm welcome accorded to me and Hillary and Chelsea and our entire group. This is, as I have said many times today, my fourth visit to Israel since I became President. Perhaps that fact alone says something about the unique relationship between our two nations.

Last spring I walked out onto the South Lawn at the White House to lead my fellow Americans in our celebration of your 50th birthday as a nation. And as I did that I thought about how that great old house, where every President since our second President has lived for almost 200 years now, and how for the last 50 years it has been and now will forever be linked to Israel's destiny.

It was in the White House that Harry Truman recognized the State of Israel only 11 minutes after you had declared your independence. And, I might add, he did so over the objection of some of his most senior advisors. It was in the White House a year later that President Truman wept when Israel's Chief Rabbi told him, "God put you in your mother's womb so you would be the instrument to bring the rebirth of Israel after 2000 years."

Mr. Prime Minister, every President since Harry Truman has been strongly committed to the State of Israel and to Israel security. No one should doubt that the United States will always stand with you. (Applause.)

Every President has also believed it is vital to Israel's security that together we seek peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Israel's own leaders again and again have said this -- from Ben Gurion to Golda Meir, Begin to Rabin and Peres. Now you, Mr. Prime Minister, have taken your own brave steps on the path to peace. This is the correct course because only through negotiated and implemented peace can Israelis live their dream of being both free and secure.

No one knows better the cost the enemies of peace can extract than you, Mr. Prime Minister. You have fought terrorism with your own hands. You have written powerfully about it. You lost your beloved brother to it. The citizens you now lead face the possibility of terrorism every day.

America knows something of this struggle, too. Hundreds of our citizens have perished in terrorist attacks over this generation, most recently at our embassies in East Africa. We know we must stand strong against terrorism. We are determined to do so -- just as we are determined to find just and peaceful solutions to conflicts and to overcome longstanding hatred and resentments. We know the closer we get, the more desperate the enemies of peace become. But we cannot let terrorist dictate our future. We will not let their bombs or their bullets destroy our path to peace.

Mr. Prime Minster, at Wye River you obtained commitments that will greatly strengthen Israel's security if they are honored. All of us who shared those nine days and nine long nights know you are a skilled and tenacious negotiator. Despite your long sojourn in America, there can be no doubt that you remain a sabre to the core -- tough, the kind of leader with the potential to guide his people to a peaceful and secure future.

Many have pointed out that you are the first leader of Israel born after 1948, actually born in the State of Israel. But I know you never forget that the history of the Jewish people, as you have told us again tonight, is far, far longer; that the issues of today must be considered in light of events of a rich but often turbulent past, including 2,000 years of exile and persecution.

We honor your history, your struggles, your sacrifices. We pray for a permanent peace that will, once and for all, secure the rightful place of the people of Israel, living in peace, mutual respect, mutual recognition and permanent security in this historic land, with the Palestinians and all your neighbors.

You mentioned, Mr. Prime Minister, the fact that my devotion to Israel had something to do with the instruction I received from my minister long ago. I will tell you, the real story is even more dramatic. I hesitate to tell it because then you will use it against me when it is helpful. (Laughter.)

My pastor died in 1989. Before that, starting in 1937, he came here to the Holy Land more than 40 times. Once in the mid-1980s, we were sitting together, long before I had thought that a realistic prospect -- and he looked at me and he said, "You might be President one day. You will make mistakes and God will forgive you. But God will never forgive you if you forget the State of Israel." That's what he said. (Applause.)

When Hillary first came here with me 17 years ago this month, I was not in elected office. I came on a religious pilgrimage just after we celebrated Christmas. I saw Masada and Bethlehem for the first time, not through political eyes, but through the eyes of a Christian. I can't wait to go back to Masada and I can't wait to go back to Bethlehem.

You mentioned that the troubles and travails and triumphs of Jesus, a Jew, gave the world the Christian religion, of which I am a part. In the Christian New Testament, we get a lot of instruction about what it takes to make peace and become reconciled to one another. We are instructed that we have to forgive others their sins against us if we expect to be forgiven our own. We are instructed that they who judge without mercy will be judged without mercy, but mercy triumphs over judgment. And we are told in no uncertain terms that the peacemakers are blessed, and they will inherit the Earth.

Please join me in a toast to Prime Minister and Mrs. Netanyahu, the people of Israel, and the promise of peace -- L'chaim.

(A toast is offered.) (Applause.)

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