November 4th, 2009 marks fourteen years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. A picture of the man who worked so hard to make peace -- and died for that effort -- sits in my office as a constant reminder of the objectives pursued by this great man and by my nation.
Each of the five Israeli Prime Ministers in the last fourteen years has worked to achieve Rabin's objective: peace between Israel and its neighbors and security for Israel. Each of these Prime Ministers has taken bold steps to create an environment where a peace agreement could be concluded. This is true regardless of whether the press classifies them as hawks or doves. All have and are committed to the complementary goals that motivated Rabin, peace and security for all who live in the area, Arab and Jew alike.
It's important to review some of the actions taken by Israel in the pursuit of these objectives over the last fourteen years.
- In 1997, then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu negotiated solutions with Palestinians over such contentious issues as Hebron and again in 1998 with the Wye River Memorandum.
- Prime Minister Ehud Barak met with Yasser Arafat in Camp David in 2000, and at Tabla, in order to finalize a peace agreement. With a resolution, negotiated with the help of President Clinton, of the problem at hand, the final settlement was rejected by the Palestinians.
- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon removed all Israeli settlements and citizens from the Gaza Strip. This was met not by peace but by constant rocket and mortar fire at Israeli civilians living in communities near Gaza. In addition, an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was kidnapped from his homeland and whisked across border into Palestinian-controlled areas.
- Despite these hostile actions, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered the Palestinians a peace agreement that would have resulted in a Palestinian state with 100% of Gaza, 98% of the West Bank (with land exchanges to compensate for the remaining 2%), and a capital city in Arab East Jerusalem.
Since 1947, Israeli leader after Israeli leader has supported the United Nations resolution calling for a Palestinian state living side-by-side with the Jewish nation state now called Israel.
As recently as June 14th, 2009 Prime Minister Netanyahu declared at his speech at Bar-Ilan University's Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies: "I appeal tonight to the leaders of the Arab countries and say, Let us meet. Let us talk about peace. Let us make peace. I am willing to meet at any time, at any place, in Damascus, in Riyadh, in Beirut, and in Jerusalem as well."
This is only the latest offer from Israel to sit down at the negotiating table with no preconditions; to talk about the issues and to finally arrive at a solution that achieves the goals of the United Nations and of both peoples: two independent states -- a Palestinian state and a Jewish state -- living side-by-side in security and economic prosperity.
The reason for this failure does not fall on Israel, which is willing to forgo the fruits of previous wars in order to prevent future ones in the name of peace. Israel is once again prepared to uproot settlements and displace Israeli citizens in order to make peace. We have offered a complete withdrawal in exchange for peace and twice -- in the years 2000 and again in 2009 -- we were refused. Instead, we received rockets and missiles hitting our cities, towns, and children. The Israeli settlements are not the impediments to peace. The only real impediment to peace is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to conclude an agreement that provides peace and security for the people of the region.
Peace is accomplished when both sides realize that they need not live in a constant state of war, that the legitimate goals of peace and security for all parties can be best achieved through a peaceful resolution of differences. Peace in the Mideast can be a reality. It's one that the late-Prime Minister Rabin sacrificed his life to achieve, and toward which every single Israeli Prime Minister thereafter has worked.