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Toasts at a Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel

April 15, 1980

THE PRESIDENT. If I could have your attention for a minute, I'd like, first of all, to welcome all of you to the White House. We're extremely delighted to have our guests from Israel come here to see us again, particularly Prime Minister Begin and his lovely wife.

Mr. Prime Minister, as you may know, this is an election year in the United States. I don't know if the word has gotten to Israel yet. [Laughter] But I have noticed that when Prime Minister Begin and I agree, we both prosper, not only in public acclaim but also politically; when we don't quite agree, neither one of us benefits substantially. [Laughter]

Lately, for instance, my own policies have caused him some trouble, as you may have noticed a month or so ago, on the West Bank of the Jordan. And I might say that our disagreement also caused me some trouble on the east bank of the Hudson River. [Laughter]

When Prime Minister Begin comes in to the White House, it's an experience not only of a personal pleasure but also with the realization of the making of history. There are a few people in this world who, because of personal courage and integrity and deep commitment and sensitivity to others and tenacity, are able to change the course of human events. And obviously, our visitor tonight, Prime Minister Begin, is one of those men.

This is an historic house, and the friendship that binds our two countries together and the tremendous achievements of this great statesman, I think, make a good confluence of both pleasure and history.

Monday will be the 32d birthday of the nation of Israel. I can't be in Israel. I wish I could. I am sending, Mr. Prime Minister, my mother to represent me on that delightful occasion.

As you know, 2 years ago we were together on the South Lawn of the White House to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. On that occasion, I thought that it would be good for our Nation to commemorate with the large group of American Jewish citizens and all of us, the 220 million of us, the terrible historic lesson that we learned from the Holocaust. Since then, the committee has been to Israel and to some of the devastating locations in Europe to assess how our own Nation might commemorate this historic and blighting event in the passage of human life and through human history.

We've now appointed the Holocaust commission to establish a proper memorial in our country, and outgrowth directly of the 30th anniversary event on the South Lawn of our White House.

I think it's obvious that when Prime Minister Begin was elected Prime Minister, and obviously for the 25 or 30 years prior to that, many people said it is impossible to bring peace to Israel, and particularly between her and her most powerful Arab neighbors. Prime Minister Begin proved those people to be wrong.

It's been less than 2 1/2 years—it's hard to believe since the historic meeting between Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat in Jerusalem, an act that literally shook the world and inspired all human beings to believe that peace was indeed possible, even among the most historic and bitter of enemies.

It was less than a year following that when Prime Minister Begin met with President Sadat at Camp David and came forward with an agreement, the Camp David accords, that was announced here in the White House one Sunday afternoon.

This agreement is now the basis for our current search for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. It's founded on the principles espoused in U.N. Resolution 242. It calls for an honoring of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity and the political independence not only of Israel but of all nations in the Middle East. It's committed to the proposition that each nation there, with a special emphasis on Israel, has a right to live in peace behind recognized and secure borders.

This accord or agreement, signed with our word of honor and with our Nation's honor, calls for the establishment of a self-governing authority among the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza area. It calls for Israel, after the establishment or inauguration of this selfgoverning authority, to withdraw their military government, the civilian administration, and then calls for a withdrawal of Israeli armed forces and a redeployment of them to specified security locations.

It calls for a strong police force among the people who live on the West Bank and Gaza area, with proper liaison to be established with the adjacent police forces in Israel, Jordan, and Egypt. It calls for a preeminent recognition of the need for all of us to guarantee the security of Israel and her neighbors. It calls for the recognition of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians. It calls for the Palestinians' right to participate in the determination of their own future. It calls for us to resolve the Palestinian question in all its aspects. And it calls on us to resolve the refugee problem.

This combination, which was carefully hammered out between Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat at Camp David, is still the binding document under which we are presently engaged in further pursuit of peace. It's almost impossible, again, to believe that 13 months ago Israel and Egypt were in a state of war, a state that had continued over a period of 30 years. And last year, at this same place, the White House of the United States of America, that peace treaty was signed. It has been observed meticulously. And I might add my voice to President Sadat's in saying that Israel has honored the difficult terms of this treaty with truthfulness and with honor and, I might add, with generosity. Its terms were very strict, but those terms have been met not grudgingly at the last minute, but .ahead of time, and with an extra expression of a common commitment to peace.

Israel has already withdrawn from more than two-thirds of the Sinai, and in a time when oil is particularly precious, has relinquished oil wells that were on acknowledged Egyptian territory but were developed by, discovered by Israel. We have guaranteed Israel to meet their needs for oil in the future if their supply should be interrupted and, of course, our country will carry out this commitment meticulously as well.

Now there's full diplomatic relations, recognition of each other, an exchange of ambassadors, open borders. Tourism is building day by day between these two ancient enemies who are now friends.

This is an exciting time, and we have made a lot of progress. Now we are moving to the next step—how to carry out those detailed, complicated, very carefully negotiated agreements at Camp David; how to define the self-governing authority; how to set up the procedure for the elections. They are difficult issues; we acknowledge them to be so.

Last week, President Sadat was here with me. We discussed those difficult issues. Today, with Prime Minister Begin, we've discussed them as well. As we walked toward Prime Minister Begin's car at noon today, we both acknowledged—I started to say admitted—we both acknowledged that we've had even more difficult times in the past. But when he and I and President Sadat have set our mind to overcoming an obstacle or answering a difficult question, so far—and I knock on wood—we have never failed.

It would be a tragedy, having come this far, to fail. As I said earlier, Prime Minister Begin represents those characteristics that can ensure success, and those characteristics are shared by his heroic partner in this effort, President Sadat-courage, sensitivity, tenacity. And I think that this will bode well for the world in the future.

I might say in closing that our Nation also has a special relationship with Israel, a relationship built on mutual respect and admiration, a shared past and a shared future, a realization that one of the most vital aspects of the security of the United States of America is a strong, free, independent, peaceful, and secure Israel. We have made commitments in the past to Israel that are vital to them. We have committed ourselves never to negotiate with nor recognize the PLO until after the PLO has acknowledged U.N. Resolution 242 as a basis for peace and also recognized Israel's right to exist.

We have expressed ourselves strongly and forcefully and consistently as being opposed to the establishment of .any independent Palestinian state in the West Bank area, and we believe very strongly-and I'm sure Prime Minister Begin shares this belief—that Jerusalem should be undivided and that all should have access to the worship places there.

I might close by saying that we believe that together we can continue to achieve a just and a lasting peace for all in the Middle East and, a little more than a year ago, when we signed the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, Prime Minister Begin said, and I'd like to quote his words in closing: "Peace unto you, shalom, salaam, forever."

I'd like to ask all of you to rise and join me in a toast: To the brave and free people of Israel in one of the world's great nations, and to a courageous and enlightened, farsighted and successful leader of those free people, Prime Minister Begin, and his lovely wife.

THE PRIME MINISTER. Mr. President, Mrs. Vance, your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen:

The President just said that when we agree, we both prosper. Therefore, I would like to say immediately that I agree with the President that Jerusalem should remain undivided. [Laughter]

Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique week in our life. It started with Remembrance Day of the greatest tragedy that ever took place in the annals of mankind since God created man, and man let loose the Devil. And it will end with the greatest victory a persecuted, ancient people achieved through the sacrifices of its best men during the rule of our independence in the land of our forefathers.

We use the word "Holocaust." What does it mean? Nothing more than a word, but the wound will not be healed for generations, many generations to come. We lost 1 million and half a million of our children. We lost our sages, our professors, our doctors, our rabbis, our brains, our hearts, our beloved ones. Such is the wound in our hearts, and there it will be to the last day of our lives.

But there is the command to live, the divine command to overcome, to continue, to struggle for a just cause until it wins the day. And therefore, after the tragedy we struggled, we gave sacrifices, and with God's help, we won the day and a country of our own and means to defend our people.

During this memorable week, I look around and see the world in turmoil and liberty in danger. In Iran, the most reactionary revolution that ever happened in the history of mankind took place. Customs and laws which were sacrosanct for ages, not only in time of peace but even during war, are being trampled underfoot with incomprehensible dark fanaticism and absolutely intolerable blind hatred.

There are the hostages there, for the last 5 months. Perhaps I can say that no other nation in the world understands the American people these days better than our nation does. Nobody can understand as we do what it means to see our sons and citizens kept hostage, threatened with their lives, getting ultimata which we cannot fulfill, and look upon the families who spend sleepless nights and restless days thinking of their dear ones, longing for them—loving wives and mothers. We feel deeply for the President, who is so preoccupied with this human and humanitarian question, and for all the American people.

As I spent a certain period of my life in Russia—not, as the previous Soviet Ambassador in our country before they severed diplomatic relations with us told me, "not in too good conditions"- [laughter] —some people ask me, "In your opinion, you know the Russians, what would they have done?" I gave an unequivocal answer: The very same day, they would have marched on Tehran, and they wouldn't have given a damn for the hostages. They would have conquered Tehran. The Khomeini army is a mob. It's no match for any army, not for the Soviet army. But this is the difference: The American people tries every avenue, accepts patience and pain, just to make sure that the hostages come back home alive and well.

We have had such experiences—how many, how many. Our children were taken hostages, not only our men. And just 10 days before I came to this great country, five of our children were taken hostage and threatened with death, and one boy, 2 1/2 years old—I saw the little coffin that I will never forget—got killed. Four other children—1 year, 2 years old—babies—were saved by our soldiers. In the spirit of self-sacrifice which our army has got in itself, with their blood, 11 boys—11 soldiers—were wounded, several of them severely. One of them got killed. Four children were saved, although wounded. Wounded children, hostages.

This is the first reason why we are so grateful to the President that he found time to invite President Sadat and me and my colleagues, and to deal with our problems of the Middle East and the bilateral relations we have, although his mind is with the hostages and their families, as the mind of all the American people is. At such a juncture, to find time for such talks is a measure of devotion and of moral greatness.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in one of the most dangerous and serious moves after the Second World War. Some people compare it with the invasion into Czechoslovakia in August 1968. It's not a true comparison. It is a fact that Czechoslovakia went through a horrible tragedy. The Czechs and the Slovaks started to breathe some freedom under the man, who is already forgotten, Dubcek, and that beginning of liberty was crushed by the tanks of the Warsaw Pact countries.

But still, Czechoslovakia was in the Soviet orbit, and then the famous—or infamous Brezhnev doctrine was created, which even Yugoslavia and Rumania-two Communist countries—did not recognize; no country in the world ever recognized. Afghanistan never was in the orbit. It is a neighbor of the Soviet Union, of the so-called socialist countries. It was invaded. It's an ancient people, a fighting people. They do fight the huge Soviet army of more than 100,000 soldiers; they resist, as any proud people should, an invader.

But to the world, there is a grave danger every day. Through Baluchistan, the Soviet army can reach the Indian Ocean . in no time, and there is no real force to stop them there. Iran may become a Communist country any time. We know the tactics. There is the Tudeh party, the most servile to Moscow except the French Communist party—well organized, the only really organized group in Tehran. And they, the Communists, support Khomeini with his fanaticism because, since the days of Lenin, the Communists developed a theory which is called a revolutionary situation. It means strikes, disorders, fights in the street, demonstrations, and in this atmosphere-they used to say power lies on the street; bow and take it. Then they take it. And with the long border between Iran and the Soviet Union—l,500 miles—who can stop it if such a thing happens? And it may happen any time, any day.

Therefore, we live in a dangerous period. But there is one solace: Free nations can, if they wish to, stand together.

Mr. President, the great people of the United States have got many allies throughout the world, but I would say, looking out of experience into this world, that there are two categories of American allies: the first are allies, and the second are reluctant allies. May I tell you that Israel belongs to the first category.

Mr. President, we are a small nation, but may I have the chutzpah to say- [laughter] —a courageous nation. No, no, no—not me, the nation is courageous. It is conceived in courage and born in fight and reborn in resistance to tyranny, to oppression. And we are your ally. In good and in bad days, we stand by you and stand with you, and we shall always be together and defend liberty so that tyranny never wins its night.

Under these circumstances, may I ask the following question: Should Israel be weakened or should it be strengthened? I know your attitude towards the so-called Palestinian state ruled by the PLO. That organization is bent on the destruction of Israel. They will not destroy Israel. How can they? They never will. But they are bent on it. They wrote about this destruction brazenly. They never changed it, not one word. But even a corridor leading to such a Palestinian state would be a mortal danger to us. No peace. Peace is lost and permanent bloodshed, more even than in Lebanon, much more. And therefore, we must be very careful, very careful.

There are some who say, especially in Europe, that now, after the Soviet invasion into Afghanistan—and as there is oil in the Earth beneath the surface of the sheikdoms, which only the free West could have taken out because otherwise it would still be beneath the surface-some people say that now we must find favor with the Islamic world, with the Arab world, even at the expense of Israel. They say so, cynically. This is called expediency.

And with our experience of our generation in the thirties in Europe, we do know now that expediency is not a realistic policy; to the contrary, it takes revenge on those who sacrifice ideals for the sake of expediency. At Israel's expense, at the expense of our security, of the lives of our children—I believe that the United States will never, under no circumstances, adopt such a policy. And as we are your ally, the United States is our ally, and we will always stand together.

Israel shouldn't be weakened. Israel fulfilled a very serious role, I say so without boasting, with every government it had, under all governments in the Middle East, to stop Soviet expansionism indirectly and directly. I remember when there was a threat of Syrian invasion into Jordan with Soviet help. We were asked-it is now disclosed in two books written by two Americans—to bring about the putting to an end of that danger, and we put it to an end. And there is another example, which I prefer not to mention tonight.

We really fulfilled the role, and we can do so in the future. May I also say with humble pride, the army of Israel is not the worst in the world. So, Israel should be strengthened, for Israel's sake—it deserves, we suffered so much, we lost so many—but also for the sake of the free world—should be strengthened, mustn't be weakened under any circumstances. This is the reason why we did so much for peace.

Yes, last year and a month ago we signed the peace treaty. Now I think I will ask a rhetorical question. Nobody is going to answer it, but I will put it, and I, myself, will reply to it. Who is the architect of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel? And the answer is, the President of the United States, Mr. Jimmy Carter.

It was the turning point in the annals of the Middle East. Let us imagine a state of war for 31 years—five wars, five meetings on the battlefield. The Secretary of State, who is here, will remember how moving was that human scene which we shall never forget, when wounded soldiers of Egypt and Israel met at El-Arish, together with the President of Egypt and me and the Secretary. And the invalids who bodily suffered in the wars embraced each other, shook hands, and said to each other, as the President of Egypt and I said to each other, "No more war. We shall never again raise arms against each other." Could there be more beautiful words than those simple words? "No more war. We shall not raise arms against each other."

We also gave proof to the oldest of philosophical teasers: that every war is avoidable. What is absolutely inevitable is peace. Peace must come. We gave sacrifice for it.

The President already mentioned it, therefore, I will not repeat—that oil well, that our oil fields, with the help of an American company, but with the toil of our men—how much toil did we invest in it? Now we get the oil, that quantity, but how much do we have to pay for it? You better don't ask. [Laughter] And every month, the prices go up. But you should also remember this: Out of that money we all pay—and every several months, more and more—there goes a million dollars per day for a terrorist organization with a Nazi philosophy, called PLO. And all of us share in that million unwillingly, but in fact.

And for 9 months, the whole burden of fulfillment of the peace treaty commitments was on our shoulders. We did it. We fulfilled it. To the date, to the day, to the dot. Now there is a mutual commitment of normalization of relations. Again, both sides do it honorably.

Now, there is the question. May I, Mr. President, quote you and, through this quotation, requote myself. There is the question of the full autonomy for the inhabitants of Judea—Samaria, in my language, the proper language— [laughter] —and the Gaza District. And we want to keep what we promised—what we wrote and what we signed—full autonomy for our neighbors. We'll deliver them in peace and in human dignity and in justice and in liberty. We don't want to oppress them. We don't want to oppress anybody.

You should know that in the Bible, scores of times it is written, love a stranger, don't do any wrong to a stranger, because you were strangers in Egypt-not in Egypt of President Sadat, another Egypt—much older one. But this is written in the Bible. We don't want to do any wrong to anybody. We never want to do any wrong. We just came to the land of our forefathers. And therefore, we want to grant, to give them, to ensure them this full autonomy. And we shall do so.

There are difficulties conducting negotiations. My dear friend, Dr. Burg, the Minister of Interior, who is here, is the head of the negotiating team—all of you know him now; he's a wonderful man, mighty sense of humor, which we need very badly sometimes, a sage—and they achieve much, not enough yet.

We now face difficult issues. But we shall solve them. We want to have it solved by the 26th of May, as we promised each other as a goal, not as a deadline. We believe in lifelines, not in deadlines. So, we shall do our best.

Before I came here, there were rumors in the American press and also in the Israeli press, Mr. President, that pressure is going to be exerted on me and my colleagues. And God knows what is going to happen in the Cabinet Room when we meet. As we already met, and we talked for hours on end, I can attest that nothing happened in the Cabinet Room, and no pressure was exerted and no confrontation took place. And the Cabinet Room, as it became a familiar place to me- [laughter] —was the same Cabinet Room in which all of us felt friendship for each other, understanding for each other. And together we looked for solutions and for formulations, and all the brains worked. And on both sides sat some brainy people who did their best and who will do so in the future.

So, there is hope that we may meet the date. If we don't, the sky is not on our heads; we shall continue negotiating until we reach the agreement which is necessary. We want it with all our heart, and we shall honor it as we do honor the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and all its commitments.

The people of Israel will next week celebrate, as the President said, the day of independence, when glory came back to our ancient people, when we got our parliament, our government, our army—all the attributes of sovereignty in the land of our forefathers.

From generation to generation, this day will be always a great holiday in our hearts, amongst our people. But during the holiday, we shall also always remember our friends—remember you, Mr. President, and all of you dear friends, leaders and representatives of the great American people. We shall stand together, and together we shall labor for liberty, so that it will win the day and triumph in the world.

I raise my glass to the great American people, which is the guarantee to the success of liberty throughout the world; to the President of the United States, my dear friend, who contributed so much to peace in the Middle East between Egypt and Israel and, in the future, between other neighbors and Israel. I say to all of you, as it is our tradition, Lechayim.

Note: The President spoke at 8:12 p.m. in the State Dining Room at the White House.

Jimmy Carter, Toasts at a Dinner Honoring Prime Minister Menahem Begin of Israel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/249494

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