Encountering Peace: The speech Netanyahu should make

It is now time for us to transform noble words into a new reality.

President Peres, Mr. Speaker, members of Knesset: On September 24, 2009 at Bar-Ilan University, I stated: “Peace was always the desire of our people. Our prophets had a vision of peace. We greet each other with ‘peace.’ Our prayers end with the word ‘peace.’”
Tonight, I come to declare that the State of Israel is prepared to take great risks for peace. We believe in peace, and we believe our Palestinian neighbors are ready to achieve a full, comprehensive and lasting agreement.
Last September in the UN, President Barack Obama told the world: “After thousands of years, Jews and Arabs are not strangers in a strange land. And after 60 years in the community of nations, Israel’s existence must not be a subject for debate... Israel is a sovereign state, and the historic homeland of the Jewish people. When we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel.”
WE WILL seek to reach a full agreement with our Palestinian neighbors on all issues, including borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees, water and economic relations. We will spare no effort, always conscious of the goal of reaching a full-framework agreement that will enable the State of Israel to suggest that the UN Security Council welcome the state of Palestine into the international community.
The challenges before us are great, the gaps are still wide, but we will consider all the progress made in past negotiations, and I am confident we can succeed.
In his book The Jewish State, the founder of the Zionist movement wrote: “We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.”
In our own Declaration of Independence, David Ben-Gurion said: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance, and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books… We extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness..., and appeal to them to establish bonds of cooperation and mutual help with the sovereign Jewish people settled in its own land. The State of Israel is prepared to do its share in a common effort for the advancement of the entire Middle East.”
The Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish authored the 1998 Palestinian Declaration of Independence, and in that text he said: “The State of Palestine... announces itself to be a peace-loving state..., in adherence to the principles of peaceful co-existence. It will join with all states and peoples in order to assure a permanent peace based on justice and the respect of rights, so that humanity’s potential for well-being may be assured, an earnest competition for excellence may be maintained, and in which confidence in the future will eliminate fear for those who are just, and for whom justice is the only recourse... The State of Palestine herewith declares that it believes in the settlement of regional and international disputes by peaceful means... it rejects the threat or use of force, violence and terrorism against its territorial integrity or political independence, as it also rejects their use against the territorial integrity of other states.”
THE JEWISH people have always chosen life. The sanctity of life is a pillar stone of our faith. As the Declaration of Principles of the first Israeli- Palestinian agreement from September 1993 opens: “The government of the State of Israel and the PLO, representing the Palestinian people, agree that it is time to put an end to decades of confrontation and conflict, recognize their mutual legitimate and political rights, and strive to live in peaceful coexistence and mutual dignity and security and achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement.”
It is now time for us to transform these words into a new reality.
There remains great uncertainty in the region, and real threats to our security. There are still leaders in this region who seek our destruction. I am convinced that President Mahmoud Abbas is not amongst them. We, the Jewish people who have struggled for freedom and liberation, and who have suffered persecution and the Holocaust, in which where one third of our people were exterminated solely because they were Jews, understand the yearning for freedom.We honor the peoples of the region who are seeking democracy and justice. Our hearts are with the people of the Middle East.
We seek peace with all people of the Middle East.
We know we must be strong. We recognize that some will see our new course as an invitation to derail our efforts. They will not succeed.
In conclusion, I recall the words of another great leader of our people, prime minister Menachem Begin, who told president Anwar Sadat in this Knesset: “We seek a true, full peace, with absolute reconciliation between the Jewish people and the Arab people. We must not permit memories of the past to stand in our way. There have been wars; blood has been shed; our wonderful sons have fallen in battle on both sides. We shall always cherish the memory of our heroes who gave their lives so that this day, yea even this day, might come... I wish to offer a prayer that the God of our common ancestors will grant us the wisdom of heart to overcome the obstacles, calumnies and slanders. With the help of God, may we arrive at the longed-for day for which all our people pray – the day of peace.”
I turn to the people of Israel, there will be many challenges ahead of us that will divide us and cause pain and demand painful concessions.
We face these with the recognition that we can no longer postpone these decisions. Our unity is our strength. We, the followers of Moses, who led us out of slavery and into the Promised Land, are strong enough to move forward and live in peace with our Palestinian neighbors. Their state will be built on part of our historic homeland. Jerusalem will become the capitals of both states. But Jews will not be barred from the land. We will continue to pray in the Tomb of the Patriarchs. We will continue to visit the Tomb of Joseph. It will take time to adjust to this new reality, in which we will visit places we have been accustomed to calling ours.
We are all children of Abraham. We are all children of this land, which we love. We choose peace.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is in the process of founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).