THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND PRIME MINISTER EHUD BARAK OF ISRAEL IN AN EXCHANGE OF TOASTS The South Lawn Pavilion
9:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: I want to, first of all, welcome you all and thank you for braving the rather lengthy receiving line. Prime Minister Barak has asked me to announce that you can relax because our speeches will only be half as long as the receiving line. (Laughter.)
It's a great pleasure and an honor for Hillary and I to welcome the Baraks to the White House. This is a good day. (Applause.) This is a good day for affirming the eternal friendship between Israel and the United States. (Applause.) It is also a hard day for those of us who are Americans, and we offer our prayers for John Kennedy, Carolyn Bessette and Lauren Bessette and for their families. We are reminded again that life and its possibilities are fleeting; that we mortals are obliged to be humble and grateful for every day; and to make the most of every day; and that the obligation we bear for the search for peace in the Middle East should be assumed with that clear knowledge.
Mr. Prime Minister, 12 days ago you spoke to the Knesset, announcing your new government. Now, I read your speech with great interest, particularly your vow that you will "not sleep a wink" until peace is achieved. Shortly after you gave that speech you came here, we went to Camp David -- you kept me up until 1:45 a.m. (Laughter.) This is a man who keeps his commitments. (Laughter.)
In that speech, you proclaimed that this moment is "a landmark and a turning point; a time of reconciliation, a time of unity, a time of peace." Many years of hard work have brought this day closer -- some of it done on this very ground. Here Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, with President Carter's assistance, made peace. Here Prime Minister Rabin, Chairman Arafat and King Hussein committed to peace. Here last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat agreed to build on that commitment.
Now the challenge is to make the promise of those days a reality every day from now on; to implement the Wye accords, to reach a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people; to build a comprehensive peace for the region, including Syria and Lebanon. Mr. Prime Minister, you have made it very clear that Israel will keep its commitments. I want to make it equally clear that America will do its part. And that should include the approval by our Congress of the commitments we made at Wye to help the parties promote the peace process. (Applause.)
Mr. Prime Minister, I know you are more than ready for the challenge ahead. Americans know you as a great war hero. They may not know you as a classical pianist, a systems analyst, a tinkerer who can take apart and repair any clock -- and, I am told, pick any lock. (Laughter.) I don't know what you're thinking about for a career change, but -- (laughter.)
They may not know about your parents' path to Israel, how your father saw his parents killed by Cossacks in Lithuania, while your mother's parents perished in the Holocaust. The qualities you have and the experiences you have known have shaped a leader of extraordinary breadth and depth. A leader who is a decorated warrior but, who, like another decorated warrior, Yitzhak Rabin, has the courage to make peace, the humanity to treat old adversaries with dignity and fairness, the wisdom to know that the land which brought forth the world's great religions, who share a belief in one loving creator, God, that cares for us all, surely that region can be a land of milk and honey for all who call it home.
President Theodore Roosevelt, also a warrior turned peacemaker, said when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, "Words count only when they give expression to deeds." Much of the hard work of turning words to deeds remains to be done. I am grateful that the people of Israel have called upon you for your greatest command -- to bring to life the cherished dream of shalom, salaam, peace.
Please join me in a toast to Prime Minister Barak, to Nava, to all of the friends of peace here -- especially to you, Leah Rabin and to the people of Israel.
(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER BARAK: President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton, Senators and members of the House, ladies and gentlemen. First, for myself, for Nava, for all the people of Israel, let me say that we share America's sorrow tonight. The little boy who sustained your nation and the world in a moment of grief is lost at the high noon of his own promise with his wife and her sister. The family that has given us all so much has suffered another loss that can hardly be borne. Now we offer the families our prayers and in that spirit we continue to ask what we can do for our countries and for the cause of peace.
There are poets who have never known the smell of gunpowder who have written epics about war. There are also those who have never heard the sound of a cannon fire who have written books on war. I have never written a poem or a book, but I was there in combat on the firing lines in the fight against terrorism and I can tell you that there have never been words or images that truly convey the horrors of the battlefield -- only those who have survived it can understand it.
In that spirit, I have been sent here tonight by thousands of Israeli soldiers who have given their lives; by tens of thousands who have served valiantly and continue to contribute to their nation; and by hundreds of thousands of children who have yet to serve. They are all prepared to defend their country to the last drop of their blood, but they do not want another war. In the words of the ancient prophet Zacchariah, (speaking Hebrew): "Not by might, nor by power, but my spirit."
As Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, I pray that the time will never come when I have to give the order to go to war. Until the end of my days I will remember the most agonizing times -- they were neither the moments under fire, nor even when we gathered our dead. My hardest moments were at the door of a fallen soldier's family on the day he was lost. It is the memory of those moments which I carry with me here this evening.
Mr. President, I stand today on the eve of what can be a new era of secure and lasting peace in the Middle East. History will record that few have worked more tirelessly or more effectively than the President of the United States to prevent the breakdown of the peace process, to give hope and help for all the peoples of our region to take up this historic opportunity. (Applause.) You are really a great friend. (Applause.)
We have a profound trust in your resolve and your leadership, so powerfully demonstrated again this year in Kosovo. Somehow I believe the extraordinary victory in Kosovo has been underestimated. It was a defining moment in the new world we are entering, a proof that the free world will stand against the violation of fundamental values in our own backyard. (Applause.) A signal to tyrants that if they cross the line the free world, led by the United States, can and will respond. The victory would not have been achieved without President Clinton, who stood firm against pressure, uncertainty and doubt along the way. (Applause.)
I have spent much of my adult life fighting, and I say to you that this was a top-notch example of leadership. (Applause.) In our renewed pursuit of peace in the Middle East, we need the same qualities here, too -- leadership, determination and convictions are essentials. We will have to stand firm for our goal amid pressure, uncertainty and doubt. There will be obstacles, there will be crisis, but there also will be good times. I can assure you on behalf of the people of Israel that we will overcome the obstacles and endure the pain, knowing that America stands by us. (Applause.)
In that spirit, we now follow the road of Menachem Begin and of my beloved commander and mentor, Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated while fighting for peace, and we will follow in their footsteps all the way to a peace of the brave in the Middle East. Mr. President, you are our partner, our fellow pilgrim on this journey. We know that we can count on you and on the American people as we cross a great historic divide and extend a hand of friendship to our other neighbors.
Mr. President, in the name of the soldiers, past, present and future; in the name of the mothers and children of the Middle East; in the name of the orphans and those who, thanks to you, will enjoy a full and secure family life; and on behalf of all Israel, I propose a toast to you and to Mrs. Clinton for your warm hospitality this evening, to you for your singular role as the world's peacemaker of the '90s, to the deep and enduring friendship between the United States and Israel, to the prosperity of the United States of America, to the well-being and strength of the State of Israel and, most of all, to President Kennedy's dream, so brilliantly advanced by President Clinton, of a world where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.
And allow me to end in the words of our old prayer, (speaking Hebrew): May the maker of peace in the heavens make peace upon us and on all of Israel and let us say, amen. (Applause.)
PRIME MINISTER BARAK: And please allow me now to raise a toast to President Clinton, to the United States of America, to the State of Israel. L'chaim.
(A toast was offered.) (Applause.)
END 9:36 P.M. EDT