of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
(Communicated by the Israel Government Press Office)
Greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people for the past 3000 years, and of the State of Israel for the past 54 years and forever. I apologize for not being with you personally this year but I wish to share with you this message of determination, unity and hope for a new horizon, as your gather for this important conference.
The world has changed since last year's AIPAC Policy Conference. The terrorist attack of September 11th has forever changed our lives. Now everyone recognizes the danger of terrorism. Life, liberty and freedom can no longer be taken for granted. We appreciate and applaud President Bush and the American people in their relentless worldwide campaign against terror.
One thing which has not changed, however, is our appreciation of AIPAC. At this challenging hour, we need you more than ever. We are grateful for your work throughout the year, in every city and in every state. You help strengthen the friendship between Israel and the United States - a friendship based on the shared values of freedom, democracy and the sanctity of life. Being the only true democracy in the Middle East, Israel stands at the forefront of the conflict between the civilized world and the forces of evil.
Over the last nineteen months, Israel has been engaged in a war against Palestinian terrorism - a war that was imposed on us. This is a war for our homes and way of life. The very foundations of our freedom are under attack. The Israeli public is strong and determined to win this struggle.
There can be no moral equivalency between acts of self-defense against terror and terrorist actions. The two cannot and must not be equated. There is a world of difference between victims of terrorism and those who commit terror. In Afghanistan, the United States is fighting terrorism; sometimes innocent civilians are caught in the crossfire. Israel is fighting terrorism on our doorstep. We have a moral right and obligation to defend ourselves. Terrorists in Washington, Tel Aviv or any other place have no right to murder innocent civilians indiscriminately.
We have just completed "Operation Defensive Shield", and have been successful in uprooting terrorism in many towns and villages. We discovered illegal weapons, bomb factories, and arrested many wanted terrorists. Most importantly, we dismantled the infrastructure of suicide-bombers, thereby saving the lives of many Israelis, and demonstrating to other countries that it is possible to contain the ominous spread of this form of terrorism. Once free of terror, we can move forward to implement the Tenet cease-fire agreement. We want to live in peace with our Palestinian neighbors, but they must first accept our right to live in our ancestral homeland in peace and security.
I am optimistic about the future. Operation "Defensive Shield" has opened a window of opportunity to put the peace process back on a different, more realistic track.
Free from the threat of terrorism, we can reach the threshold of a new horizon - one where regional peace is within our grasp. I have proposed a "Regional Peace Conference" to achieve this goal.
A regional peace conference, sponsored by the United States, can create the framework and modalities to bring about a cessation of hostilities. It can foster a coalition of countries committed to peace and able to contain the forces of terrorism and evil threatening our lives.
A regional peace conference will enable Israel to present its peace plan. This plan contains three phases:
1. A complete cessation of violence, hostilities, and especially incitement which leads to violent terrorist acts.
2. A long-term intermediate agreement, similar to an armistice, and finally
3. A permanent agreement, in which Israel's final borders, and the Palestinians final borders, will be established, ending the conflict between us and the Palestinians, and the Arab countries. This must be based on Israel's right to exist in secure borders and provide for normalized relations with all countries in the region.
I am very concerned about the global convergence of terrorism and anti-Semitism which is very alarming. Recent weeks have seen repeated attacks on Synagogues and Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe, and the blood libel of an alleged Israeli massacre in the Jenin refugee camp. Just today, we heard that Jews in Berlin were told to remove any outward signs of their Jewishness - for their own safety. Now more than ever, we need you to join our efforts in fighting this frightening phenomenon.
We recently celebrated Yom Haatzmaut, Israel's 54th Independence Day, and I am proud of our achievements. We are a small country, but rich in talent and achievements. We have absorbed millions of immigrants since our creation in 1948. Today, Jews from all over the world are moving to Israel. The doors of Israel are open for any Jew who wants to live here. I invite you to join us. We need you now. If you cannot join us, come to visit us, invest here and send your children to study here. My goal of bringing one million Jews in the next decade is within our reach and will be achieved.
The future is bright. I have spent much of my life defending Israel on the battlefield. Now I want to lead Israel in peace. While we may still need to hold a sword in one hand, I believe that, united in our just cause, and with your active participation and dedicated work, we can yet pave the road to a new horizon - a horizon of security, peace and prosperity for us and our neighbors.
Shalom from Jerusalem.