Office of the Press Secretary
(Gaza City, Gaza)

For Immediate Release December 14, 1998


Zahrat Al Madian
Gaza City, Gaza

2:15 P.M. (L)

CHAIRMAN ARAFAT: His Excellency, President Bill Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, and Miss Chelsea; members of the American Congress and members of the U.S. delegation; ladies and gentlemen. This ancient city that receives you today has not seen too many happy days during its modern history. But your presence here made us live the golden days of the days of Palestine. And I express the feelings of all our peoples when I say that the few hours that you will be spending here with us, these will be hours that will provide us with a great momentum of hope and confidence that the future will be there to achieve freedom and peace.

When you, this morning, Mr. President, were inaugurating the opening of Gaza International Airport, you were opening for us -- which is for us a window to the world -- you also were inaugurating another window for our people toward freedom, peace and prosperity. This a window, a window for the peace of the brave, peace with our neighbors.

We were hoping that your stay with us would have been a little bit longer, so you can have a firsthand experience to see this Holy Land closely, the land that is full of history. A land that is authentic with its people, a land that is rich in history and its culture, a land where people are looking forward to a future that's much brighter, and more prosperity.

President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton, Miss Chelsea, distinguished members of Congress, all our great friends, today we are enjoying a very nice, warm day. The sea is calm while we are in the middle of winter. It seems like nature is cooperating and celebrating with us.

Once again, I would like to welcome you, Mr. President, Mrs. Clinton -- myself, on behalf of the Palestinian people, would like to welcome you here. (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Chairman Arafat, Mrs. Arafat, distinguished leaders of the Palestinian community, colleagues and friends: On behalf of my family and our entire delegation, we thank you for your warm and truly memorable welcome.

Mr. Chairman, as I promised you at Wye River, I have come to Gaza, to speak about the benefits of peace, based on mutual respect. I know that the circumstances you've faced since 1993 and the signing of the peace have remained difficult, but there are reasons for hope. For the first time in the history of the Palestinian movement the Palestinian people and their elected representatives now have a chance to determine their own destiny on their own land. (Applause.)

I am proud to be the first American President to stand with the Palestinian people here as you shape your future. (Applause.) I want to emphasize that that future is possible because of the commitment you have made to live in peace and mutual respect with your neighbors, side by side. (Applause.)

All this would have been hard to imagine in the darkest years of struggle, when most people expected the Middle East would always be a separate set of armed camps. Sometimes it takes more courage and more strength to make peace than it does to continue war. I thank Chairman Arafat for having the strength, the courage and the wisdom to make peace, and then to persevere on the path of peace. (Applause.)

I thank the Chairman and, indeed, all Palestinians who embrace the idea that Palestinians and Israelis can share the land of their fathers together. I thank you for believing that the land which gave the world Islam and Judaism and Christianity can be the home of all people who love one God and respect every life our one God has created.

America wants you to succeed and we will help you to create the society you deserve -- a society based on respect for human rights, human dignity, the rule of law. (Applause.) A society that teaches tolerance, values education, and now, at last, has the chance to unleash the creative power of its people against the destructive pull of hopelessness and poverty.

I think of you at this hopeful moment as a family reuniting after too many years of dislocation and despair; a community of believers helping to build a Middle East in which people of all faiths can live in security and peace; a people known through the world like the olive tree for your attachment to this land and now to peace; a society that demands of yourselves what you rightly demand of others.

The way ahead may be hard and uncertain, but the way you have left behind is full of self-defeating violence and so withering hate. So we have no choice but the way ahead.

Tomorrow, my family and I, along with Chairman and Mrs. Arafat, will have a chance to visit Bethlehem, to light the Christmas tree at the beginning of this season which is so important for those of us who are Christians. The next time people celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem we will be on the edge of a new millennium, marking 2000 years since the birth of the Christ child, who became known to Christians as the Prince of Peace, who happened to be a Jew, who happens to be recognized by Islam.

Now, if all that can be true, surely we can figure out how to solve these problems and go into the future. (Applause.)

I close with these words of the poet, Hafez Ibrahim: People of a hopeful future, we are in need of leadership which builds and people who construct. People of a hopeful future, we are in need of wisdom that counsels and a hand that liberates. People of a hopeful future, we need you; fill the void, get to work. People of a hopeful future do not let tomorrow pass like yesterday, in dusty existence. People of a hopeful future, your country implores you to think. God willing, we will think and feel and act as one.

Thank you. And thank you again. (Applause.)

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