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JCPA Middle East Briefing: Remarks By Israel’s Vice Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
June 22, 2005




The following is a portion of a speech given by Israeli Vice Premier Ehud Olmert at the Israel Policy Forum Tribute Dinner on June 9, 2005.  Olmert’s tenure as a Knesset member beginning in 1973 was interrupted between 1999-2003, when he served as Mayor of Jerusalem.  The full text of his speech can be found by clicking here.

…We are tired of fighting, we are tired of being courageous, we are tired of winning, we are tired of defeating our enemies, we want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors, and I believe that this is not impossible. It may not be as fast as we all want it to be, it may take longer than we expect, it is not as simple as it sometimes appears to the eyes of the outsiders that are not fully aware of all the complexities of the memories, and the biases, and prejudices and fears, and suspicions which characterize these relations between us and the Palestinians over such a long period of time. But this time I can say, that I have reached, as many of my colleagues, first and foremost the prime minister of Israel, that this is not impossible. That it is within reach if we will be smart, if we will dare, if we will be prepared to take the risks, and if we will be able to convince our Palestinian partners to be able to do the same. So that together we will move forward in this direction of building up different relations, better understanding, and greater trust between us and them.

I know that many people are very curious to know what will be on the day after the disengagement. I have been asked about it since I landed here yesterday early morning in New York, everyone wants to know. And I understand this curiosity but I’ll tell you, the disengagement is so important, is so crucial, and is so sensitive, that at this time what we have to do is first and foremost make sure that it will be carried out as planned within the timetable set forth by the prime minister, starting on the fifteenth of August this year, ending within no longer than one month, so that by mid-September, Israel will be outside of the Gaza District and the northern part of Samaria in the West Bank.

If G-d forbid this will not be carried out, than believe me it is entirely immaterial what will be on the day after. If this will be carried out as planned, and I believe that it will be carried out as planned because we will not allow anything to interfere with our plans, and with our commitment to carry it out. If this will be done, than everything will be changed. We will know that we have to make painful sacrifices, and that part of this sacrifice is also to pullout from areas which were inhabited by the State of Israel for the last thirty-eight years. Don’t take it lightly. It is not easy. There are some who don’t like the settlers. There are many who believe that they have caused a great damage. We, in my party, in the Likud, and I am a Likud member and a proud Likud member, and my government, we have enormous respect for the patriotic emotions, for the dedication and sacrifice that these settlers have manifested for what they believe is the good for Israel in so many years. And when we come to them today and we say to them, “you have to leave your homes,” we don’t do it with joy, but with a deep conviction that this is what we need for the future of the State of Israel.

But this is not easy. It is perhaps the most serious internal crisis that the State of Israel went through from the very beginning of our national life in 1948. There never was such a confrontation which evolves on the very basic fundamental principles that have shaped the Zionist efforts for so many years. That’s why it was so difficult to reach that stage and this is why it is so painful to carry it out in the way that we are doing it. But as I said, not out of joy, not without hesitations, not without fears, but ultimately with a deep conviction that this is an inevitable stage in the process of changing the realities that have characterized the life of the Middle East for so many years on the way to create a new environment of relations between us and the Palestinians. And I think that the beauty of this policy of the Israeli government is that this is a unilateral action. No one imposed it on us, no government, no foreign government, forced Israel to pullout from these territories. We have reached the conclusion that this is essential in order to change the realities and to move forward to break the status quo, and to start something that ultimately will lead to a new dialogue between us and the Palestinians. We are in a very initial stage of building this dialogue. We have to overcome enormous difficulties. There are so many mutual suspicions, there are so many doubts on both sides, there are so many fears. We still have to see that the Palestinians are prepared to fight against terror in the most serious manner and disarm the terrorist organizations which are the real enemies of this process.

But, we are prepared to take the first risk. We are prepared to make the first move. We are prepared to risk the existence of this government, the majority that we have in the Knesset, the stability of our political party, in order to break through so that this reality will not be a hypothetical but will indeed be part of our lives. Everything depends on the success of this disengagement. And I came here tonight to tell you, on behalf of Prime Minster Sharon, on behalf of the Israeli government, that we are confident that this disengagement will be successful and that it will then lead to the beginning of a new pattern of relations between us and the Palestinian Authority and that these relations will develop into a meaningful dialogue. Again, I don’t want to be carried away beyond reasonable limits with my expectations and desires and hopes that everything will work out all right. There will be lots of hurdles, it will not be easy, the terrorist organizations will try to carry out some of their actions. Terror will not disappear overnight, but we know that there is no alternative and we pray that the Palestinians will understand that there is no alternative. And if they will understand what we know now than things will change. And we will spare no effort in order to convince them, not by fighting with them, not by killing them, not by reaching out for their leaders, but by sitting with them, and talking with them, and helping them, and cooperating with them, and partnering with them in order to establish a new foundation for economic growth, for cooperation, for the improvement of the quality of life of the Palestinians and the Israelis, so that the Middle East will indeed become what it was destined to be from the outset, a paradise for all the world, and not a battleground for people that are destined to live together and not fight with each other.


It’s not as simple as we all hope it to be. But it is achievable, and that’s why we are taking these careful steps now because we want to make sure that no mistake will endanger this process. It is only a matter of two months, on the fifteenth of August. I pray, that a month later, when all Israelis will be resettled inside the State of Israel and the Gaza District will be sovereign entirely by the Palestinians, that a new morning of great hope will emerge in our part of the world. I believe with all my heart that we in Israel are ready for it. I pray that the Palestinian leadership will seize this opportunity, will become as responsible as they need to be, will manifest courage and determination, so that they will be able to live up to the challenge which they have to face in order to meet the goodwill and the desires for peace that are now governing the leadership of the State of Israel. I believe that this change is going to be the beginning of a great time for all of us in the Middle East and I hope that all of you here, and many other places in America, who have been partners, supporters and contributors to the well-being of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, will be able to be proud of what we are doing and of what we will achieve for the people of Israel, for the Palestinians, for the entire Middle East.

Thank you very much.