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Remarks at a Dinner for Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel

July 18, 1999

I want to, first of all, welcome you all and thank you for braving the rather lengthy receiving line. Prime Minister Barak has asked me to announce that you can relax, because our speeches will only be half as long as the receiving line. [Laughter]

It's a great pleasure and an honor for Hillary and I to welcome the Baraks to the White House. This is a good day. This is a good day for affirming the eternal friendship between Israel and the United States. It is also a hard day for those of us who are Americans, and we offer our prayers for John Kennedy, Carolyn Bessette, and Lauren Bessette and for their families. We are reminded again that life and its possibilities are fleeting, that we mortals are obliged to be humble and grateful for every day, and to make the most of every day, and that the obligation we bear for the search for peace in the Middle East should be assumed with that clear knowledge.

Mr. Prime Minister, 12 days ago you spoke to the Knesset, announcing your new government. Now, I read your speech with great interest, particularly your vow that you will, quote, "not sleep a wink" until peace is achieved. Shortly after you gave that speech you came here; we went to Camp David; you kept me up until 1:45 in the morning. [Laughter] This is a man who keeps his commitments. [Laughter]

In that speech, you proclaimed that this moment is, quote, "a landmark and a turning point, a time of reconciliation, a time of unity, a time of peace." Many years of hard work have brought this day closer—some of it done on this very ground. Here Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat, with President Carter's assistance, made peace. Here Prime Minister Rabin, Chairman Arafat, and King Hussein committed to peace. Here last year, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat agreed to build on that commitment.

Now the challenge is to make the promise of those days a reality every day from now on, to implement the Wye accords, to reach a permanent status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian people, to build a comprehensive peace for the region, including Syria and Lebanon. Mr. Prime Minister, you have made it very clear that Israel will keep its commitments. I want to make it equally clear that America will do its part. And that should include the approval by our Congress of the commitments we made at Wye to help the parties promote the peace process.

Mr. Prime Minister, I know you are more than ready for the challenge ahead. Americans know you as a great war hero. They may not know you as a classical pianist, a systems analyst, a tinkerer who can take apart and repair any clock, and, I am told, pick any lock. [Laughter] I don't know what you're thinking about for a career change, but—[laughter].

They may not know about your parents' path to Israel, how your father saw his parents killed by Cossacks in Lithuania, while you mother's parents perished in the Holocaust. The qualities you have and the experiences you have known have shaped a leader of extraordinary breadth and depth. A leader who is a decorated warrior but, who, like another decorated warrior, Yitzhak Rabin, has the courage to make peace, the humanity to treat old adversaries with dignity and fairness, the wisdom to know that the land which brought forth the world's great religions, who share a belief in one loving creator, God, that cares for us all, surely that region can be a land of milk and honey for all who call it home.

President Theodore Roosevelt, also a warrior turned peacemaker, said when he received the Nobel Peace Prize, "Words count only when they give expression to deeds." Much of the hard work of turning words to deeds remains to be done. I am grateful that the people of Israel have called upon you for your greatest command: to bring to life the cherished dream of shalom, salaam, peace.

Please join me in a toast to Prime Minister Barak, to Nava, to all of the friends of peace here, especially to you, Leah Rabin, and to the people of Israel.

NOTE: The President spoke at 9:20 p.m. in the South Lawn Pavilion at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Prime Minister Barak's wife, Nava; and Leah Rabin, widow of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. The transcript released by the Office of the Press Secretary also included the remarks of Prime Minister Barak.

William J. Clinton, Remarks at a Dinner for Prime Minister Ehud Barak of Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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