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Sec. Rice Remarks To American Jewish Committee

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Capital Hilton
Washington, DC
April 29, 2008

Remarks at Opening Dinner of the 102nd Annual Meeting of the American Jewish Committee

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you, very much. Well, first of all, thank you, Richard Sideman, for that really elegant and wonderful introduction, very touching introduction. And I want to thank you for your leadership of this proud and great organization.

For more than a century, the American Jewish Committee has been a tireless advocate for tolerance, for pluralism, and for respect for human dignity. You have defended these values - the values of your community - against bigotry and against anti-Semitism. And you have promoted these values by fostering dialogue and understanding peoples of all faiths.

So I want to commend the American Jewish Committee for your long, distinguished role in strengthening the foundations of American life. You have helped this nation, our nation, to lift itself a little closer to those great and enduring ideals for which we strive so mightily. I want to thank you for that.

Since 1948, the American Jewish Committee has also worked to strengthen the common bonds we share with the citizens of Israel, and it is an honor to be with you tonight in commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel's founding. (Applause.) President Bush and I will be going to Jerusalem next month to participate in Israel's official celebration, and I can tell you that it is a trip that I am really looking forward to personally.

Honored members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Israeli Government and parliament, ladies and gentlemen:

America's commitment to Israel is unwavering, but let us not forget that 60 years ago, the issue was still very open to debate. On May 12, 1948, President Truman summoned his chief advisors into the Oval Office. The administration was divided, and the mood was tense. At one point, Truman's secretary of state told him that he would vote against him in the upcoming election if he backed the creation of Israel. Now I've said a lot of candid things to President Bush -- (laughter) -- that's not one of them.

But two days later, the decision was made. David Ben-Gurion declared Israel's independence in Tel Aviv. And eleven minutes later -- eleven minutes later, the United States of America became the first nation in the world to recognize the Jewish state of Israel. (Applause.)

For 60 years now, American administrations - Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative - have differed over many, many things, but one thing unites our government: We are committed to the freedom, the well-being, and the security of our democratic ally, Israel.

I still remember my first time visiting Israel: It felt like coming home to a place that I had never been. And every time I return, and as I look upon the land where Israelis have made the desert literally bloom, and as I drive past the aging hulks of Israeli tanks, which recall the dear cost that generations of Israeli patriots have paid for their nation's survival, as I see all of these things, it is clear to me that a confident Israel can achieve things that many think impossible.

Confidence defines Israel's pioneer spirit, but I know how Israel's confidence is tested day in and day out when it comes to issues of security. I remember all-too-well the awful days of 2001 and 2002, when Israelis feared that every bus ride, every night out, was another Passover massacre waiting to happen. And I know the heartbreak and the anger that all Israelis feel as they watch today the terror of rockets raining down on towns like Sderot and Ashkelon.

Many times, as I fly into Israel, and it has been many times, I think of a story that President Bush tells. This was before he became president, and it was on a visit to Israel, and he was taken up in a helicopter to see the country from above. He talks about how he looked out on a people so resolute and yet a country so vulnerable and he decided then and there that America's enduring commitment to Israel's security would be absolutely unshakeable on his watch. And I think we have kept that promise. (Applause.)

When Israel was besieged by terror in 2001 and 2002, it was the United States that insisted that Israel had the right to defend itself. When people used to say, and we now forget that they did, "Well, you see, one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter", it was the United States that said: No, that is wrong. No, the intentional murder of innocent people is wrong, and you cannot hug Hezbollah and Hamas and say that you are fighting al-Qaida.

And when the president of Iran proclaimed his desire to, quote, "wipe Israel off the map", it was the United States that arranged a $30 billion security package to help Israel defend its homeland against any threat. (Applause.)

Now, we are in another phase. And let me be very clear, we have a vital interest in peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But I want also to be very clear about the following: We will defend against any action, as we always have, that would compromise Israel's security.

Our commitment to Israel's security has given Israel the confidence to work with us and with responsible Palestinians, and with friends in the region, to begin creating real conditions for peace. Israel has a long and venerable tradition of holding itself to the highest standards of justice, and of working magnanimously to seize any opportunity to live in peace with its neighbors.

This may be such a moment. There's an opportunity now to advance the historic and long-held aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. This will require difficult, painful sacrifices, by both sides. But these are choices that Israel can and should make confidently. Israel can be bold in the pursuit of peace - for America is fully behind her, and fully committed to her security.

Now, I do not deny that there are deeply troubling events and situations in the region. The situation in Gaza, for instance, is a horror. The situation in Gaza brought on by Hamas, that holds the Palestinian people hostage in that land, and the hope and dreams of decent Palestinian people hostage with them. A Hamas that uses Gaza as a firing ground against decent and innocent Israeli citizens, so certainly, it is a time of trouble. And I don't deny that Gaza and other situations make the present moment complicating and -- complicated and challenging. But when, ladies and gentlemen, has the Middle East ever been uncomplicated and unchallenging?

I believe that we have a chance now to reach agreement this year on the basic contours of a peaceful Palestinian state subject to the fulfillment of Roadmap obligations. My confidence in this is not blind optimism or willful naiveté. We've been through too much for that to be the case. It is based instead on my firm belief that we have the right vision for ending this conflict. We are supporting reasonable and responsible Palestinians in an unprecedented effort to realign their society around the values of non-violence. And a new democratic spirit is enabling them to do it.

Violent extremists, you see, can no longer hide in the shadows, destroying all prospects for peace without beginning to bear consequences for their actions. They are being forced and will be forced to make fundamental choices they have refused to make. That choice is very clear: Either you are a terrorist group, or you are a political party - but you cannot be both. (Applause.)

Unfortunately, until now, Hamas is making its choice, and it is choosing violence. They are refusing to renounce violence, refusing to recognize Israel's right to exist, and refusing to respect all previous Palestinian agreements with Israel. But perhaps of deepest concern, the leaders of Hamas are increasingly serving as the proxy warriors of an Iranian regime that is destabilizing the region, seeking a nuclear capability, and proclaiming its desire to destroy Israel.

The problem here is not a failure to communicate. It's not a failure to talk. Indeed, how can any government negotiate with a group that sees every agreement, every truce, not as a compromise to advance peace, but as a tactic to later advance war? No, the only responsible policy is to isolate Hamas and defend against its threats, until Hamas makes the choice that supports peace.

We are on the right course. What America and Israel need now is will and courage - both in our national defense, and at the negotiating table - to advance our vision of peace in the face of violent enemies. The legitimate Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has the will to fight terrorism. I believe that they have the desire to govern effectively. But they do not yet have the capability, and these responsible leaders deserve our support. They need also the support of the international community. And frankly, they need most the support of their fellow Arabs, who must show Israel - now, not later - that they believe that it has a rightful place in the Middle East.

Ladies and Gentlemen: This is a trying time. But it is no time to despair. This is a time for bold and courageous leadership.

I was very honored and, indeed, very privileged to know Ariel Sharon, a man who loved Israel deep, deep into his soul. I've had the privilege of working with his successor, Ehud Olmert, who is a great leader for Israel. And as I've worked with these leaders, I recognized that the love for Israel runs very, very deep. But Ariel Sharon was a special kind of person, and I once visited his farm. You know the famous farm. And he said to me, "I want to introduce you to my sheep." (Laughter.) I said, "Fine," and we went out and we met his sheep. I am from the city. I had never seen a sheep up close and personal. (Laughter.)

A few days before he was stricken, we were talking on the phone about something, and he said to me, "How are you doing?" And I said, "Fine. How are your sheep?" He said, "They miss you." (Laughter.) Somehow, I thought, all right, that's a true friend. (Laughter.)

But it reminded me, too, of another time that we talked. And it was just before Israel's disengagement from Gaza, and he told me that he gone out to talk with Israeli settlers in Gaza. And of course, he was the father of that movement. He went to one family and he explained to them why it was important to share the land. And this man said, "Let me show you something." And he showed Sharon the mezuzah above their house, and he told Sharon, "You personally put that mezuzah there. You personally told us that it was good for the state of Israel for us to settle here, and now you tell me that we have to leave for the good of the state of Israel." He was deeply pained by that, I have no doubt. I could see it even as he told the story. But that is what great leaders do: They make hard decisions confidently for the sake of peace and for the sake of their people.

Difficult decisions are coming. Difficult decisions will have to be made. But Israelis have waited too long for the security they desire and they deserve. Palestinians, quite frankly, have waited too long for the dignity of an independent state. And we have all waited long enough for peace. So let us hope and pray that we will wait no longer. Let us secure for all time, what David Ben-Gurion called, and I quote, "the legacy of a small nation, which has endured great sufferings and tribulations, but which is, nevertheless, great and eternal in spirit, vision, faith and virtue."

Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: First let me say thank you, Madame Secretary, for such a thoughtful and moving address. You have moved us all and you have given us much to think about, and our hopes and prayers go with you as you continue on your labors.

I should tell you now that the Secretary has agreed to answer some questions and, consequently, I'm going to be calling on people to ask such questions. If I can see them, I'll try.

Harold. Harold Tanner.

QUESTION: I'm looking for the microphone, but I can't see it. My voice carries but (inaudible.)

MODERATOR: I'll repeat it, Harold, in case there's a question. Okay.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, (inaudible) there was an interview with former President Carter expressing a difference of opinion with you about what was said about his trip to the Middle East. Do you care to comment on that?

SECRETARY RICE: Harold, before I do, I want to recognize somebody who has just come in, if you don't mind. I see Annette Lantos here. (Applause.) Tom's great partner in life. We miss him, Annette, but I want to just tell you a little story. I wrote Annette and Charity, her granddaughter, a card about it.

Tom gave me a plant when I was National Security Advisor, so this was maybe five, six years ago. And this plant did not bloom. It was quite beautiful, but it did not bloom. This year, for the first time, it bloomed, Annette.

As to the question concerning former President Carter, look, I have made clear that the United States believed and communicated to President Carter that this was a trip and a meeting -- let me say it that way -- with Hamas that would not be helpful to our policies in the Middle East, that would serve to give Hamas a platform from which to say that they were legitimate because a former President of the United States was meeting with them, and that it would, in fact, not be a good thing from the point of view of a peace process that is relying on negotiations between responsible Palestinian leaders who have, by the way, renounced violence and believe in a negotiated solution, in favor of those who continue to rely on violence, continue to say that Israel doesn't have the right to exist, and by the way, continue to abrogate and to set aside all negotiated agreements that the Palestinians have signed over the last more than a decade. And I don't know how that could have been any clearer.

So I don't want to continue this argument, but I just want to restate the policy of the United States. I don't see the point of trying to bring into peace negotiations people who are clearly determined to destroy the foundation for peace. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: I'll call on David Harris.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, in the travels of the American Jewish Committee, we have admired the key role of the United States in helping to forge an international consensus with regard to Iran, the subject you addressed, in adopting the first UN Security Council resolution followed by the three sanctions resolutions. We also applaud the work of the Department of Treasury internationally.

But at the same time, those who are concerned about Iran's nuclear ambitions fear that these efforts are not keeping pace with Iran's nuclear program and its ballistic missile technology. Could you share with us, perhaps, some additional thoughts tonight on whether you think, in fact, not only can we keep pace but we can outpace and ensure a peaceful outcome which prevents Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, thank you. Well, the first point that I would make is that when you go to these meetings, everyone says, well, it would be terribly destabilizing and tragic, indeed, if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon. And I mean other states with whom we speak. And that seems to be a consensus, and it is on that basis that we have worked with particularly the Russians, the Chinese and the three European countries to try to forge a coalition of states that will carry the international banner against allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon.

But of course, this is going to require extremely -- not just coordinated, but more intensive diplomatic activity. The fact is the Iranians have continued to defy the international community despite the series of sanctions that have been put there. They've continued to defy despite the fact -- and they continue to say, well, it's just the United States or it's just the West. Well, these are Security Council resolutions, which means that they have the entire world's imprimatur.

But while the Security Council resolutions are very important, so, too, are the efforts that we are undertaking, which you referenced, David, that are using the Security Council, in a sense, umbrella, a concern, but really are outside of the Security Council. And those are sanctions that the Treasury Department -- designations that the Treasury Department makes of Iranian entities, individuals, groups, in order to prevent Iran from using the international financial system to move its ill-gotten gains from terrorism and from proliferation. And we made designations, for instance, of the Qods Force. We made designations of the Revolutionary Guard. You can believe that we're going to continue to make designations because we believe, as my colleague Hank Paulson said, that it's really hard to know who you're doing business with when you do business with Iran. And that is the point that we are making increasingly to commercial entities, to banking and financial centers. You may think that you're doing "legitimate business" with Iran, but you know, over time, the IRGC and the Qods Force is more and more involved in these issues. And therefore, we're really trying to mobilize the international community to recognize what kind of state Iran is and what kinds of measures it requires.

We are also -- not in connection with the nuclear issue but in connection with what the Iranians are doing in Afghanistan and in Iraq and in Lebanon and, as I mentioned earlier, in supporting Hamas in the Gaza Strip, I think we have to be more active in calling to people's attention the nefarious activities that Iran is engaged in against reasonable states in the region and against our common security interests. Particularly, recently in Iraq, we had a kind of interesting circumstance; the Iraqi Government reclaimed Basra in the south from elements of Jaish al-Mahdi, associated with Muqtada al-Sadr, trained and equipped by Iran. Now, I think that that has gotten people's attention. It certainly had people's attention at the Neighbors' meeting that I recently attended.

So it is a process of continuing to try to push on as many fronts as we possibly can, but it is also to be very clear that the United States is prepared to defend its interests and defends its friends in the region. And it is one reason that the Gulf Security Dialogue that Bob Gates has been leading on the defense side, that the security assistance packages that we've put together for not just Israel but for other important states in the region, that this is a signal that the United States is in the region to stay and will defend its interests. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: (Inaudible.) I can barely see.

QUESTION: Secretary, I'm wondering what analysis you could give us of the possibility or -- and the desirability of, as they say, peeling off Syria's allegiance to Iran to the West.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, if I thought it could be done -- look, we'd be prepared to try to deny Iran friends and allies? Absolutely. But I have to say I think Syria behaves like Iran's sidecar. The fact is that Syria is the problem in Lebanon. The fact is that we still do not have real satisfaction when it comes to foreign fighters in Iraq. And you know we have tried. We went out of our way to invite Syria to the Annapolis peace conference. It was hoped that that might give a glimpse of a Syria that might engage in more responsible behavior. We, of course, now know, too, that Syria was involved in building a covert nuclear reactor, well hidden, and after being destroyed great efforts to cover the whole thing up. And so -- and one also, of course, has to speak of the internal policies of Syria, which are quite brutal.

So it's hard to see that there is a Syrian regime that is receptive to those approaches. But if, in fact, it can be done, if Syria and -- Israel and Syria wish to pursue peace, the United States is never against peace. It should be pursued if it can be -- if it can be achieved. It's just that, at this point, it's been difficult to see Syrian behavior that is -- has the prospect of being more stabilizing in the region rather than the destabilizing behavior that we're seeing. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Bob (inaudible).

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, we applaud your efforts to bring about the agreement with the Palestinians. Thank you for that effort.

As time moves on in your discussions, it is more and more stated that if there is an agreement, that it'll be an agreement for the shelf, an agreement to be postponed in executing, and that that will bring about a great deal of frustration and therefore might not be a constructive accomplishment. I would appreciate your addressing that, if you would.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, thank you. I'm glad that you mentioned this because I've heard the argument that what we are perhaps creating is a shelf agreement. And we have never thought of it that way. I think that the Annapolis formula really demonstrates that we expect things to proceed on parallel tracks. First of all, you obviously need to improve conditions for the Palestinians on the ground. And I've been working with the Israelis. We now are working on perhaps a more integrated way to take a part of the West Bank, put in Palestinian security forces, remove some of the obstacles to movement and access, get some of the Blair economic projects in and see if you can't make life better in a part of the West Bank and see if you can spread that over time. We really do have to improve lives for the Palestinian people.

Secondly, we are very devoted to trying to make the Roadmap obligations be met. And again, in parallel, so that when there are movement and access issues that the Israelis address or when the Palestinians address certain institution-building issues like proper security forces that we're helping to train, that then is moving you along. And then there is the third track, which is the negotiated peace. Now, my view is that tracks one and two, which frankly, we've tried before in the absence of a political horizon, those tracks are not going to move without the negotiations on the political settlement. And the political settlement is not going to move without changes on the ground and Roadmap obligations. They have to move together.

And ideally, and I see no reason that this would not be the case, if you pay attention to all three tracks going forward, you would arrive at a place where one could establish the Palestinian state, but you'd have to be absolutely sure that the Roadmap obligations had been met. And of course, it's going to take some time to do all of the things that it would take to actually implement an agreement, no matter how quickly you want to implement it. It just takes time.

So, I don't think of this as a shelf agreement. I think of all of these tracks moving simultaneously together to create the conditions for a Palestinian state and to create the terms on which a Palestinian state would be created. Because I don't think that a shelf agreement is a very good idea. I think then, you do have the potential for frustration.

I should mention that there is a fourth track that we have been pressing very much to, and I press it every time I'm with my Arab colleagues. There are Arab states that openly, of course, have peace treaties with Israel. There are Arab states that conduct relations with Israel at various levels. And it was actually envisioned in both the Roadmap and in the Arab peace initiative that this would be a -- comprehensive, in the sense that the Arab-Israeli peace has to work, too.

Now, we have essentially reversed or, I should say, we have - rather than keeping the Roadmap in sequence, phase one, phase two, phase three, we've put them together in parallel tracks. I would argue that it is also important for the sequentiality that is envisioned in the Roadmap concerning Arab contacts with Israel and in the Arab peace initiative also begin to soften. Because nothing would be more useful to our efforts and to the efforts of the parties than to have Arab contact with Israelis and Arab support for Palestinians, because, ultimately, the Palestinians have to be assured that when they make difficult choices, the Arabs are going to back those choices. And if the responsible Arab states back those choices, it's going to be difficult for the Hamases of the world to say very much.

On the other hand, I think Israelis need to have a horizon, too, that says when you make this peace it's going to begin to normalize Israel's place in the region. And so we are trying to move that peace along, too. And my friend and colleague, Tzipi Livni, has been tireless in pressing that forward, but I think that we will - we're going to need to press that more. Everybody, rather than standing back and saying, well, I'll wait until that happens or I'll wait until that happens, everybody needs to come forward now. (Applause.)

MODERATOR: Okay. We'll take one more question, please. (Inaudible).

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, first, I'd like to express (inaudible) for you. It means the world for us that you're coming and share with us your vision for peace. Now, if we assume for a minute that there can be - that a peace will be arranged by Abbas and Olmert and the government, Abbas representing the more moderate side of the Palestinian, but we still have the issue of the Hamas which really controls the Gaza side and we are told that they are very popular in the Palestinian. So how do you see that - how - what is your vision of getting over the issue with Hamas and having Abbas regime really be in control of the entire Palestinian --

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, thank you. Well, the President's vision has always been that responsible people - or let me put it this way - ordinary people want to live in peace, that the Palestinian mother really doesn't want to see her child become a suicide bomber. She wants to see her child go to university. Yes, there are some extremes in every society, but you have to appeal to the broad base of people who just want to live a normal and better life. And the extremists right now appeal to hopelessness and they appeal to assaults on dignity as they see it. And they appeal to the sense that there is no future for Palestinians.

And the outline of the state or the definition of the state gives to those Palestinians who believe in the two-state solution, who believe in living side-by-side in peace and democracy with Israel, something to go to the Palestinians with and say, all right, yes, it represents compromise. It's not the old - the old state on all the land and so forth. That's not what it is. It represents a compromise. But it's a state and it's a future and it's a hope and join in now to build that state and live side by side with Israel. And I believe if you've also had improvements on the ground and you've had the Palestinians building the institutions, that will be a powerful and compelling vision for Palestinians.

At that point, Hamas will have to make a choice: Are they going to really stand outside of not just the Palestinian consensus, but the Arab consensus? And it's one reason that it's been important this time to bring along, as a part of the Annapolis process, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Jordan and the Gulf states and Morocco and the North African states, to bring them along as a part of it, because ultimately, they will have to form the base of support so that it is a broad Arab consensus that that is the right answer to Palestinian aspirations.

Now, I think that the window of opportunity for that vision is not very large. I will tell you that I don't see - well, let me put it this way -- increasingly, Palestinians who talk about a two-state solution are my age. And I'm not that old, but I'm a lot older than most of the Palestinian population. And what you don't want is that the hopelessness and the vision of the extremists has no counter. Because we can talk about economic opportunity for the Palestinians; we've tried to build it. It's hard in the absence of a state.

Israel has real security concerns that prevent real movement and access from taking place. It's hard to talk about investment in the absence of a Palestinian state. And so these have to go together and there has to be an answer to the extremists. And it has to be that if you do renounce violence and you do accept Israel's right to exist and you do agree that the agreements that have been signed ought to stay in place, then there's going to be a future for you in a state.

The extremists that we are talking about now also have a different character than even in the '90s and in the beginning of the decade. And that is this belt of extremism that is Hamas and Hezbollah and the radicals in Iraq and the radicals even in places like - even - increasingly, even in places like Afghanistan that are united by a vision of intolerance, of death and destruction and, by the way, supported overwhelmingly by Iran and, to a certain extent, Syria, but particularly Iran, gives this conflict a regional dimension that it has not had before.

When you looked around that room at Annapolis, you saw a kind of coalition of states that both fear Iran and have come to understand that Iran is playing in troubled Arab waters. And I didn't, three, four years ago talk very much about Iranian influence in Gaza. Now we do. And so there are many reasons to try to resolve this conflict now. I will be the first to say it's hard; nobody is going to compromise Israel's security, most especially the Israelis and most especially this President.

And I've never been one who says you get security through peace. That's not the point. But you can have peace and security. I am not certain that in the long term, the region as a whole can have true security without peace. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

2008/339
Released on April 30, 2008

ENDS

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