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Public Statements

Democracy In The Middle East

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. BERKLEY. Mr. Speaker, before I yield to my colleague, Mr. Engel, to continue our discussion, I want to mention a few things that are very much on my mind.

We can talk for hours about the existential threat of a nuclear Iran to Israel. But what I'd like to do in the minute or two that I have before I yield to Congressman Engel is, I want to mention the sacrifices that Israel has made in the name of peace.

When there was an opportunity to make peace with Egypt, something that had never been done before, the Israelis gave back the Sinai to the Egyptians, and there's been a peace, a cold peace, but a peace, for all of these years.

When there was extraordinary pressure to leave Lebanon, the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon.

And what was their reward?

They ended up with Hezbollah on their northern border and a war.

When Prime Minister Sharon decided that he would unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza, one would have thought that the Palestinians would have used this opportunity to demonstrate to the world that they were capable of self-governance. Instead of that, they have rained 8,000 rockets on Israel proper over the last 3 years.

I believe that Israel exercised extraordinary restraint before they finally went into the Gaza to end this bloodshed and carnage against their own people.

I understand how the Israelis feel, how tentative they are right now about sitting down and moving towards a two-state solution without any assurances. What is the guarantee, after they left Lebanon and got Hezbollah, after they left the Gaza and got Hamas, that if they leave the West Bank, what is going to happen then?

Do you want a terrorist state living side by side with the democratic State of Israel?

I don't think anybody wants another failed terrorist state. We have to make sure that doesn't happen.

Mr. Speaker, I join my friend and colleague Eliot Engel here tonight to talk about one of our strongest allies, and the only longest-standing democracy (Lebanon held free and fair elections on Sunday, June 7, 2009) in the Middle East: Israel. Under attack for its entire existence, Israel has stood up to threats, enemy armies and countless terrorist attacks, and yet has demonstrated throughout that it is committed to peace and stability for all people within its borders.

President Obama and Secretary Clinton have recently renewed America's efforts to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We applaud those efforts. We all want peace in the Middle East.

In the 1970s, after three straight decades of conflict with Egypt, Israel reached a peace agreement with the Egyptians. The courageous Egyptian president Anwar Sadat traveled to Jerusalem and addressed Israel's Parliament, and Israel returned to Egypt the Sinai desert, which had been captured in Israel's self-defensive war in 1967.

In the 1990s, after a long and bloody intifada, after Saddam Hussein rained SCUD missiles on Israel for weeks on end, Israel once again extended her hand in peace when President Clinton brought together Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and former PLO leader Yasser Arafat on the White House lawn.

And in this decade, Israel once again showed her commitment to peace, against all odds. Despite the threat from Hezbollah in the north, Israel pulled back from Lebanon. And despite getting nothing in return, Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, in order to give the Palestinians there an opportunity to create a forward-looking and flourishing economy there.

Time and time again, Israel has taken the necessary steps to make peace with their neighbors, and shown their eagerness to make peace. That is why we embrace President Obama and Secretary Clinton's efforts to climb this mountain once again.

Unfortunately, though, we have too often seen Israel's gestures toward peace met with violence. In Lebanon, we saw Israel's withdrawal followed by attacks from Hezbollah. In 2006, those became so severe that Israel was forced to retaliate to protect her own citizens. Even today, Hezbollah continues to re-arm, in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which demands their disarmament so that the people of Lebanon can live without this terrorist scourge in their midst.

And just this past winter, Hamas showed they are not interested in building a successful society in Gaza, in building jobs, businesses, schools, infrastructure, or hospitals. Instead, they shelled Israeli towns constantly, without any provocation. Dozens of rockets fell on Israelis each day, targeting citizens who were not ``settlers'' in ``occupied territory'' but were residents of areas that have never been disputed Israeli territory.

When Israel finally did retaliate against these attacks, critics accused them of using ``disproportionate force.'' I'd like to ask those critics: would they have preferred more Israelis died in the Hamas rocket attacks? Would that have been proportionate?

And, all the while, Israel faces a growing threat from Iran, which relentlessly pursues nuclear weapons, in contravention of their own treaties, of international law and of Security Council resolutions. President Ahmadinejad continues to deny the Holocaust and threatens Israel with annihilation should Iran ever succeed in producing a nuclear weapon.

How can one nation withstand so many threats to their very existence? How can any nation hope for peace under such pressure?

And yet, despite it all, Israel has remained incredibly strong and amazingly hopeful at the same time. They have built up their defenses and protected their citizens while--at the very same time--extending olive branches, negotiating and sitting down with their adversaries.

So, we stand here together, ready to embrace peace and ready to make peace so that Israelis, Palestinians and all people of the Middle East might finally live in security. But we are also here to say that Israel has not been the problem. They have been ready to make peace at any time and are ready today. But the question is: do they have a partner for peace?

Are the Palestinians ready for peace? Do they have a government that can stop terror? Will they recognize Israel's right to exist? Will they abide by past agreements they signed? Will they turn over Israeli solder Gilad Shalit? The Palestinians must answer those questions before I, for one, will believe that Israel's overtures will be met with peace, rather than more violence.

Mr. Speaker, Israel stands ready for peace, American stands ready for peace, and we welcome President Obama's efforts to broker an agreement. We wish him great success in this endeavor and we call on the Palestinians to do their part: to renounce terror, to accept Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State, to turn over the captured Israelis and to abide by past agreements.

And at this time I yield to my good friend, Eliot Engel.

Mr. ENGEL. I thank the gentlewoman for yielding to me. And she makes an excellent point.

You know, Israel withdrew from Gaza. People say, well, Israel needs to withdraw from the territories, from the settlements and there will be peace, land for peace. Well, Israel withdrew from Gaza and got land for war. I mean that's exactly what's happened, with rockets being fired on Israel from the very part in Gaza that Israel left.

The Arab countries, as a whole, need to start normalizing relations with Israel. We can start with Saudi Arabia on down, to show that they are really serious about peace. They need to stop the terrorist infrastructure and end the incitement.

And you know what? Gaza, as Ms. Berkley pointed out, is a terrorist organization in control--I'm sorry. Hamas is a terrorist organization in control of Gaza. And what Hamas needs to do is recognize Israel's right to exist, abide by all previous agreements that the Palestinians have signed, and renounce terrorism permanently. Otherwise, why should Israel negotiate with a government that denies its very right to exist?

The United States is right in saying that Hamas is a terrorist organization. And by the way, Representative Berkley and I do not believe that we should provide aid to Gaza until Hamas meets these conditions.

So there are people who also say that the Palestinian-Israeli problem needs to be settled before there can be peace in the region. That is nonsense.

The problem with Iran has to be settled before there can be peace in the region. We all know that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. We all know that Ahmadinejad has threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. We all hope he loses in his election this week. But whoever replaces him is not going to be much more of a moderate than he is.

And so Israel has the absolute right to defend its security, and the United States, as Israel's greatest ally, should not be putting pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions up front. That is very, very important.

When President Obama said the bond between Israel and the United States is unbreakable, then we ought to show that in our actions as well as our words.

So I thank the gentlewoman for sharing this time with me. I know we are going to continue to fight for strong U.S.-Israel ties.

Again, I'm glad there is bipartisan support in this Congress for Israel. And I'm glad that we pointed out that Israel has made many, many concessions for peace and has only gotten war.

We hear a lot about what the Israelis must do. Let us hear about what the Palestinians must do. The Palestinians must stop the incitement, stop the violence, stop the terrorist infrastructure and say that it recognizes Israel's right to exist.

It's not all right for President Abbas to say he recognizes Israel's right to exist. Let Hamas say it. Let the Palestinians say it, and let them mean it.

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