Now, I ask you to also understand that at the same time as I stand here a friend of Israel, at the same time as I have a 29-year, 100 percent voting record, I can also stand here and tell you that we must recognize the Palestinians’ fundamental aspirations – to live in peace in their own state with its own clear borders – that has to be our mission as well. (Applause.) And I assure you, I assure you that a stable Palestinian state with assured borders and a flourishing economy will only strengthen Israel’s security and Israel’s future.
The Palestinian children that I’ve seen – I went into Gaza a number of years ago, five years ago, and the kids I saw playing in the rubble there, they should be able to grow up with playgrounds that aren’t made of the debris of bombed-out buildings. Their parents deserve to be able to live their daily lives the way people everywhere else in the world do and the way parents aspire to hopes for their children do. And these families’ lives should not be determined by terrorists in their midst.
And though I emphasize that it is not a substitute for peace – believe me, not a substitute – Palestinians also deserve to see their daily lives grow and the benefits of economic growth and development. And that is why last weekend at the Dead Sea I described an economic investment initiative for the Palestinian Territories led by Quartet Representative Tony Blair that will be different in scope and in process than anything that has preceded it.
We know that this conflict, my friends, is not the cause of problems in the Middle East. Indeed, it has often been used as a convenient excuse for autocrats who didn’t want their own populations to recognize and wrestle with the inadequacies of their own governance. An excuse.
But make no mistake: Resolving this conflict for both sides can have far-reaching benefits that will be in everybody’s interest. And the reverse is also true: Not resolving this will result in serious consequences for both.
I understand that many of you are asking, “Ma Nishtana?” (Laughter.) “What makes this different from every other time?”
Well, the difference is that what happens in the coming days will actually dictate what happens in the coming decades. We’re running out of time. We’re running out of possibilities. And let’s be clear: If we do not succeed now – and I know I’m raising those stakes – but if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance. So we can’t let the disappointments of the past hold the future prisoner. We can’t let the absence of peace become a self-fulfilling prophesy. The absence of peace is perpetual conflict.
So I want to ask you this: Whenever you think about this challenge and how hard it is, think about what will happen if it doesn’t work. We will find ourselves in a negative spiral of responses and counter-responses that could literally slam the door on a two-state solution, having already agreed, I think, that there isn’t a one-state one. And the insidious campaign to de-legitimize Israel will only gain steam. Israel will be left to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic state, but it will not be able to fulfill the founders’ visions of being both at once.
And the consequences of failure do not live only in the distant future. This is not some far-off concern, my friends. There are also some very real short-term consequences to consider because the status quo is simply not sustainable. (Applause.)
A stalemate today will not remain one tomorrow. What is static today will not be static tomorrow because it has been so for so long and it cannot remain so given the options. In this conflict, the simple fact is tomorrow is not guaranteed to look like today. And the people who think somehow because there is a fence and because there’s been greater security and fewer people hurt are lulling themselves into a delusion that that somehow can be sustained. It cannot be.
And think about what could happen next door. The Palestinian Authority has committed itself to a policy of nonviolence. They are the only entity out there in that region that has committed themselves to nonviolence. Think of the cost of that. And think of what they have done to try to build institutions, a security arrangement, a democracy, a prime ministership, growth in the Palestinian economy. The fact that last year, up until recently, not one Israeli died from anything that happened from the West Bank until there was a settler killed about a month ago. Salam Fayyad did an extraordinary job of building both the Palestinian Security Forces and the institutions of a viable state. But that’s not just the work of one man. We look forward to continuing these efforts with new Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah.