Israel must recognise it is a land of two peoples

From a talk given by the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, at the Israel Policy Forum Gala, held in New York
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The Independent Online

Whatever happens in the next two weeks I've got to serve, I think it's appropriate for me tonight to reflect on the lessons we've all learned over the last eight years, and how we can achieve the long-sought peace.

Whatever happens in the next two weeks I've got to serve, I think it's appropriate for me tonight to reflect on the lessons we've all learned over the last eight years, and how we can achieve the long-sought peace.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is not just a morality play between good and evil. It is a conflict with a complex history, whose resolution requires balancing the needs of both sides, including respect for their national identities and religious beliefs.

Among the really profound and difficult problems of the world that I have dealt with, I find that they tend to fall into two categories. And if I could use sort of a medical analogy, some are like old wounds with scabs on them, and some are like abscessed teeth. What do I mean by that? Old wounds with scabs eventually will heal if you just leave them alone. And if you fool with them too much, you might open the scab and make them worse. Abscessed teeth, however, will only get worse if you leave them alone, and if you wait and wait and wait, they'll just infect the whole rest of your mouth.

Northern Ireland, I believe, is becoming more like the scab. The Middle East is not like that. Why? Because there are all these independent actors who don't want this peace to work. The enemies of peace know they can drive the Israelis to close the borders if they can set off enough bombs. The last few months show the futility of force or terrorism as an ultimate solution.

Now, what are we going to do? The first priority, obviously, has to be to drastically reduce the cycle of violence. But beyond that, on the Palestinian side, there must be an end to the culture of violence and the culture of incitement. Young children are still educated to believe in confrontation with Israel, and multiple militia-like groups carry and use weapons with impunity. Voices of reason in that kind of environment will be drowned out too often by voices of revenge.

For their part, the Israeli people also must understand that they're creating a few problems, too; that the settlement enterprise and the building of bypass roads in the heart of what they already know will one day be part of a Palestinian state is inconsistent with the Oslo commitment that both sides negotiate a compromise.

Let me say this, I am well aware that it will entail real pain and sacrifices for both sides. I am well aware that I don't even have to run for reelection in the United States on the basis of these ideas. I have worked for eight years without laying such ideas down. I did it only when both sides asked me to, and when it was obvious that we had come to the end of the road, and somebody had to do something to break out of the impasse.

I have said what I have out of a profound lifetime commitment to and love for the state of Israel, out of a conviction that the Palestinian people have been ignored or used as political footballs by others for long enough, and they ought to have a chance to make their own life with dignity.

So I say to the Palestinians: there will always be those who are sitting outside in the peanut gallery of the Middle East, urging you to hold out for more, or to plant one more bomb. But all the people who do that, they're not the refugees languishing in those camps - you are. The fact is that the people of Israel dreamed of a homeland. The dream came through; but when they came home, the land was not all vacant. Your land is also their land, it is the homeland of two people. And, therefore, there is no choice but to create two states and make the best of it. If it happens today, it will be better than if it happens tomorrow, because fewer people will die.

Today, Israel is closer than ever to ending a 100-year-long era of struggle. It could be Israel's finest hour.

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