Democracies do not make war with one another.For much of the last decade, the peoples of the Middle East looked to the future with great optimism. For the first time since World War II, nations and individuals allowed themselves to dream that the conflicts that had raged for so long, and claimed so many innocent lives, could be rendered relics of history. They believed that we were entering an exciting new era, where conflict would yield to cooperation and the opportunities of a brave new world would replace history’s bickering over land and resources.
Today, much of that optimism and excitement has dissipated in the ominous smoke that inevitably rises from the region’s ever more numerous suicide attacks and terrorist bombs. Fear and worry have replaced the hope that once prevailed. We now stand in danger of raising a new generation resigned to the reality of endless war.
We know from our own history, however, that this need not be. While war and terrorism has characterized much of the Middle East in the last century, it is not the only path available to us. There is an alternative path – the path of dialogue and reconciliation, based upon the respect for the rights of all States and an unshakable commitment to non-violence and mutual recognition.
It was this commitment that enabled Israel to conclude peace treaties with two of our neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. These landmark events, which were the product of negotiations with truly brave Arab leaders, paved the way for the improvement of our relations with other States in the region, gave impetus to the bilateral peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, generated bilateral and multilateral regional economic cooperation, and promoted the signing of Israel-Palestinian interim agreements which were intended to inaugurate an historic course of reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. They also demonstrated conclusively that only a negotiated settlement, not endless UN General Assembly resolutions, can bring peace to the region and prosperity to its peoples.
The hope generated by the Middle East peace process was founded on a simple yet profound notion – mutual recognition. When there is mutual recognition of the legitimacy and rights of all peoples and States in the region, the path of negotiations necessarily replaces the path of violence and imposed solutions. It is only when one denies this legitimacy, that violence and terrorism becomes an acceptable means to achieve one’s goals.
For all the suffering caused to Israeli citizens by this policy of rejectionism and terrorism, the suffering and despair it has brought to Arab societies is in many ways just as tragic. For Israel this policy, while it has caused untold hardship, has also taught us how to defend ourselves. It has hardened our resolve and our dedication to protect the welfare of Israel’s citizens and our legitimate rights, and it has encouraged a spirit of innovation and creativity in Israeli society that has made Israel a world leader in a wide variety of technological, scientific, agricultural and social fields.
For many states in the Arab world, the deadly combination of support for terrorism and repressive and non-democratic rule, has not only failed to deliver any political gains, it promises only hopelessness and despair for Arab societies. The Arab world that has so much to offer humanity, and that was, and must be again, a leader in many positive developments in scientific and human realms throughout world history, has been set drastically off course by this terrible alliance between terror and tyranny. Terrorism is the enemy of the untapped potential of the men and women of Arab societies, at least as much as it is the enemy of the innocent victims around the world which it so callously targets. The Arab world in general, and Palestinian society in particular, serve as tragic proof that it is not poverty that breeds terror, but terror that breeds poverty.
If we want to truly get to the heart of understanding and improving the situation in the Middle East, we must look to the lack of democratic values and institutions. We must look to extremism, fundamentalism and intolerance. We must look to incitement, antisemitism and the rejection of the rights of others. We must look to the repression of women, the rampant corruption, the lack of transparency and the culture of lies. It is these factors, more than any others, that feed terrorism and war-mongering, that prevent self-reflection and personal responsibility, that endanger and impoverish all the peoples of the region, and that block the achievement of a dignified and lasting peace. Democracies do not make war with one another, and they do not sponsor terrorism against their own or each other’s citizens.
If we are to honestly consider the situation in the Middle East, we must, sadly, admit, that while large parts of the world have discovered democracy over the past few decades, the Middle East, and especially the Arab world, has remained a dam of tyranny against the waves of democracy, and an island of poverty in a sea of prosperity. These factors nourish and sustain much of the terrorism that has targeted innocents from Bali to Istanbul, and from New York to Jerusalem and will continue to do so. These factors, and the fundamentalist mindset from which they originate, have also prevented the creation of a political and cultural environment in which genuine peace and concessions are possible.
We believe that the peoples of the Middle East are no less entitled to democratic, transparent and enlightened rule than the rest of the world’s citizens. And we choose to believe that, sooner or later, a leadership will develop and emerge in the region that will guarantee prosperity, freedom, dignity and peace for all. We sincerely hope that the potential for positive change that has been ignited in Iraq, and to a lesser extent in some other countries in the region, will usher in a new era of hope and peace in the Middle East.
Israel prays for the prosperity and progress of our neighbors in the region. We hope that all citizens in the Middle East will be able to live in safety, security, dignity and freedom within their own sovereign states. And we remain ready to work together with all States in the region to achieve not just a peace and a normalization of relations, but to jointly advance all the fields of human endeavor for the mutual benefit of all our peoples.
Based on a statement given at the United Nations on December 2 on Agenda Item 37: The Situation in the Middle East.