President of the State of Israel

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 5 February 1992

Mr President, distinguished members, may I express to you my profound thanks for the honour accorded me and my country by inviting me to address this session of the Council of Europe. I do so not only conscious of the intrinsic importance of this body, but also because of its significance. Indeed, it has a profound import for those of us who come from the Middle East, because here in Strasbourg, despite all the problems, great nations which were divided for centuries by war, attrition, conflict and hatred are joined together in what must represent a new and noble adventure in the history of mankind. Above all it represents a landmark and a lesson for the nations of the world in general and for the strife-tom area from where I come, in particular.

You here represent much for someone from Israel. You represent what is perhaps the most important of all between nations – dialogue. You represent an attempt to stress the unifying and to resolve the divisive. With all the growing pains which the European Community must endure, what is happening here in Strasbourg represents a brave and noble example to the world.

And as I stand here as a representative of what is, alas, the only parliamentary democracy, as you understand it, in our area, I cannot but offer a silent prayer that one day we will be privileged to have such an institution in which the representatives of the countries and parliaments in the Middle East will meet to discuss their problems in free and open debate and not, as in so many instances now, in hostile and menacing diatribe.

In the past two years the world has seen dramatic and far-reaching changes. The communist ideology has collapsed together with the Soviet empire and a new alignment of countries in central and eastern Europe has developed.

We can point with gratification to the revoking of that infamous Resolution 3379 of the General Assembly of the United Nations, which equated Zionism with racism. The impressive majority of the United Nations which sponsored this resolution and which voted for it was a reflection of the major changes which have taken place in the world.

In this connection I would urge the distinguished members of the Council of Europe and, indeed, of the freedom-loving countries, to be aware of the spread of the curse of anti-Semitism and racism in Europe and to fight this frightening phenomenon before it develops and broadens in scope.

We see as our major challenge the achievement of peace between us and our Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.

In 1922 the world community, in the form of the League of Nations, gave political recognition to the historic and religious rights of the Jewish people to a state of their own in their ancient homeland, hallowed and sanctified by history recorded in the Bible, which is holy to all of us. That political acknowledgement of the rights of the Jewish people was further endorsed by the United Nations on 29 November 1947.

In our Declaration of Independence we held out our hand to our Arab neighbours in a quest for peace. It was rejected, and, instead, the armies of seven Arab states combined with the Palestinian Arabs in an effort to destroy the embryonic Jewish state before its birth and to drive us into the sea. We fought back desperately without adequate arms, outnumbered, outgunned, and embargoed by most of the countries of the free world. Thanks to our sacrifice of 1 % of our population and the leadership of Ben Gurion, we managed to survive.

Israel stretched out its hand in an offer of peace, but it was rejected. The Palestinians continued along the road of tragedy and, in the words of one of our outstanding statesmen, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

For nineteen years, from 1948 to 1967, the West Bank was occupied by Jordan and the Gaza Strip was occupied by Egypt. But the Palestinians were not granted independence, nor was a state established, because then, as today, the last thing the Arab countries wanted, their protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, was a Palestinian state.

Ten days after the conclusion of the Six Day War in 1967, the Israeli Cabinet offered to return to Egypt the Sinai desert and to Syria the Golan Heights in return for demilitarisation and peace. The government prepared for negotiations with King Hussein. The Arab reply to this approach was the Khartoum Summit Conference with its three “nos” – no to negotiations with Israel, no to recognition of Israel and no to peace with Israel.

In 1977, the programme for full autonomy for the Palestinians proposed by the then Prime Minister, Menachem Begin, was rejected out of hand. Had this proposal been accepted, we might by now have been well on the road to a permanent settlement.

We are irrevocably committed to the inexorable process moving towards peace in the Middle East. I am convinced that we will achieve it. For I only have to look back to fourteen years ago, at the time of President Sadat’s historic visit to Jerusalem, when most of Israel’s borders were hermetically sealed and there was no passage of people or trade across them. Who would have dreamt then that today the Israeli flag would fly over an Israeli embassy in Egypt and an Egyptian flag over an Egyptian embassy in Israel? Who would have dreamt that ten years after the signing of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, Egypt would be accepted back into the Arab League while remaining loyal to its commitments to Israel and would, indeed, reassume its rightful position as leader of the Arab world?

Who would have dreamt that tens of thousands of Israeli tourists would be thronging Egyptian resorts and tourist sites annually, and that joint Israel-Egypt agricultural projects would be taking place in the Nile delta and in the Negev desert in Israel?

Who would have dreamt that over a million people would be crossing annually over the bridges of the River Jordan in both directions, and that hundreds of trucks would be carrying produce and exports in both directions? And who would have dreamt that thousands of Israeli Muslims would be making their way to and fro in performance of the holy pilgrimage to Mecca? Who would have believed that thousands of Lebanese would be crossing daily into Israel to work?

We have reached a new crossroads. We are experiencing a period of unrest in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. We deeply regret the bloodshed on both sides as we strive to maintain law and order.

Irrational and self-destroying persistence has tragically marked previous Arab attacks on Israel. Hatred and violence have led only to bereavement and disaster without solving any problem. Understanding has come too late in every case. There is no desire in Israel to rule over another people and to direct its life. Let us not forget, however, that this issue is the subject of a major policital debate in Israel which may be resolved in the general elections in June 1992. Israel has to face fateful decisions, and I am only too aware of the agonising reappraisals taking place today, both in our free society and among the Palestinians who live with us in Israel and in the territories.

It is easy to discuss our problems at a distance, to pass judgment, to make speeches, write articles and offer solutions. It is, to say the least, less easy for those who, together with their children, will have to bear the consequences should they err. Remember, what for others is a matter of foreign policy is for us a matter of existence. We are only too aware of the fact that, in the cruel realities of our region, if we make the wrong decision, we shall not have a second chance.

Nobody in Israel can forget for one moment the unprovoked, indiscriminate, brutal onslaught of Scud missiles from Iraq against an innocent civilian population in Israel. Nobody can forget that this reflects a form of behaviour which threatens not only Israel but the whole of the Middle East.

In the current outbreak of civil unrest in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the choice facing us is unfortunately not between law and order on the one hand and negotiations on the other hand. The choice is between maintaining law and order as a basis for bilateral negotiations, or allowing the situation to deteriorate into a new edition of Lebanon or Yugoslavia. That is the cruel choice which faces us today.

A society’s strength is tested by its ability to face crises. I believe that, given all the difficulties and with all our shortcomings, our society has shown as much maturity and humanity as any other society in similar circumstances. As Golda Meir once said, she cannot forgive the Arabs, not so much because they kill our children as because they force our children to kill theirs.

It is our earnest hope that the current peace process, in which, as in the past, the United States is playing a major role, will succeed.

Unfortunately, it is not generally realised that the Palestinian population with whom we live and have daily contact lives under a reign of terror created by their own extremists. In the so-called intifada, which has lasted over four years, some 1 300 Palestinians have been killed. Of them some 650, or approximately 50%, have been killed by Palestinians. In 1991, the percentage of Palestinians killed by Palestinians reached 75%. In the month of June, it was 93 %. In July and November, it reached 84%. In the past two weeks the eight Palestinians who were killed were killed by Palestinians. In addition to the reign of terror, there is a violent struggle between the supporters of the Islamic fundamentalists and extreme PLO groupings, on the one hand, and the I other elements of the PLO, on the other.

As a background to this situation, we cannot forget for a moment that the PLO policy still continues to adhere to the Palestinian Covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel.

What validity can one give to statements made by a leadership which obviously does not control the constituent elements of the organisation which it purports to lead and represent, and which is becoming more and more irrelevant as support for it in its own ranks wanes? Gradually the new leadership emerging in the West Bank and Gaza is replacing in Palestinian consciousness those who are rightly perceived to represent the failures of the past.

True, there is a debate within Israeli society on the issue of the current peace talks between Israel and its Arab interlocuters. That debate will be resolved, as in all civilised countries, at the ballot box. Unfortunately as I pointed out, the Palestinians live under a reign of terror and the so-called Hammas, or Islamic fundamentalists, as well as the extreme constituents in the PLO, are violently opposed to the peace process and to the participation of the Palestinians in it. They have, therefore, stepped up their terror attacks not only against Israelis in the territories administered by us, but also against those many Arabs who support Palestinian participation in the peace process. All their activities, including the murder of both Jews and Palestinians, are directed towards creating the atmosphere which will prejudice the talks which have been taking place within the framework of the peace process.

Thanks to the initiative and efforts of the United States of America and to the Russian co-sponsors, the peace process got under way in Madrid, where for the first time in history an Israeli delegation, led by the Prime Minister of Israel, sat around the same table with representatives of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation, a Lebanese delegation and a Syrian delegation.

I have already mentioned the slow but inexorable move towards peace. A scene such as the one we saw in Madrid, or but a few days ago in Moscow, would have been considered some years ago to be an unrealistic Utopian dream. Now, Israeli teams have been meeting with the Jordanian-Palestinian team, in addition to the Lebanese and Syrian teams, and each meeting has marked some slight advance and, above all, some change in atmosphere.

Make no mistake about it, the process will be a long one with ups and downs, but I believe it will be an inexorable one which will ultimately lead to peace. I certainly have no wish to paint a rosy picture of future possibilities. We are in the initial stages of the peace process, not at its conclusion or its height. The unrest in the territories, the violence practised by extremist factions do not lead to a peaceful approach. Activated by instructions from abroad, murder and systematic attacks are carried out by fanatical groups.

For fear of being labelled as collaborators, many Palestinian leaders are afraid to speak freely and to act in a spirit of moderation, and those participating in the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks have already been subjected to threats, veiled and direct, to their lives.

Whatever confidence we might have had in the intentions of Arab leaders was badly shaken by the Gulf war and the dastardly missile attacks on the peaceful citizens and towns of Israel. Who can guarantee that a new despot will not rise tomorrow and attempt to strengthen his hold on his own country and the entire Arab world by imitating the precedent set by Saddam Hussein, or indeed that Saddam Hussein will not recover so as to constitute a renewed threat to our region and to world peace?

Misperceptions continue to plague many concerned with the Middle East. There is a tendency to see the Arab-Israeli conflict as the central and most perilous in the Middle East, although this has been proved incorrect many times, and especially so after the Gulf war. The Arab-Israeli conflict is undoubtedly important, and every effort must be made to achieve a solution – as, indeed, is now being done. But I feel it necessary to stress time and again that, grave as the Israeli-Arab conflict is, it is not the main problem facing the world from the Middle East today. After all, the Israeli-Arab conflict had nothing to do with the war in Afghanistan. The Israeli-Arab conflict had nothing to do with the fall of the Shah and the rise of Khomeini, and bore no relation whatsoever to the Iran-Iraq war. The Israeli-Arab conflict certainly had no influence on the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, any more than it has on the Polisario struggle with Morocco. The Israeli-Arab conflict had nothing to do with the outbreak of internecine war in Lebanon in 1975, and the ultimate result, whereby it has become a vassal colony of Syria. In other words, if for one reason or another Israel were to disappear today, all the centres of conflict and danger for peace in the area and, conceivably, in the world, emerging from the Middle East, will continue to endanger the area and the world.

I have always been of the opinion that this obsession with the Israeli-Arab conflict, to the exclusion of all the other conflicts and dangers in our area, has created a situation whereby the western leadership has failed to appreciate the significance of major developments in our area and, indeed, to evaluate them in advance. With Israel hosting the second largest press corps in the world after Washington, every stone-throwing incident in the West Bank seems to have achieved a major headline throughout the world, while at the same time battles in which tens of thousands were being killed in the Iran-Iraq war, for instance, were ignored. While a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction was being built up in Iraq under the very eyes of the world, western powers were acquiescing or even participating in the sale of arms to Iraq.

I hope I will be excused if I express my reservations about the ability of the western leadership to understand and appreciate the major factors that influence developments in our area. After all, the facts speak for themselves. The western powers, as I have already noted, have literally fallen flat on their faces time after time, when it came to understanding and appreciating the world-shattering events in our area. They were taken by surprise by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. They were taken by surprise by the fall of the Shah and made light of an evaluation by our ambassador at the time, six months before the event, that it might happen. They did not evaluate in advance the rise of Khomeini and Khomeinism. The Iran-Iraq war caught them unprepared. They were taken by surprise by the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war when it came to an end. They did not evaluate correctly the move of Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. Indeed, important United States congressional leaders, only a few months before that event, praised and lauded Saddam Hussein as a great leader who was seeking peace. When Israel attacked the Iraqi nuclear facilities in 1981 she was condemned, and that condemnation has been on the agenda of the United Nations every year since, including that of the current General Assembly, believe it or not! And now comes the astounding revelation of the terrifying preparations being made in Iraq for the creation of weapons of mass destruction – nuclear, chemical and biological, including possibly a hydrogen bomb – which would place in jeopardy not only all the states in the Middle East but, conceivably, much of the world.

All these errors, one after the other, have been made despite the existence of intelligence organisations with almost limitless resources, with the most modem facilities available, despite a network of diplomatic representations and university research departments, and despite a widespread network of press and news agency media.

After the vital, very important and courageous military moves instigated under President Bush’s leadership in Iraq, came the miscalculation of the timing of the cessation of hostilities, a miscalculation which enabled that monster Saddam Hussein to survive, to strengthen his hold on his unfortunate country and, presumably, to continue to attempt to hoodwink the United Nations investigation teams and thus advance the process of the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction.

One must be excused if one is at times critical of their track record and sceptical about the ability of the major western powers to evaluate correctly the developments in our area.

The main danger which faces the world has been ignored to date. It is the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which threatens the regimes of most of the Middle East today, which sponsors uprisings from time to time in many countries in our region and which is spreading rapidly throughout the world. We hear of the efforts being made, for instance, by the Iranians and their associates to advance the rise of this fundamentalism in the five Muslim republics in the former Soviet Union, with their sixty million inhabitants. This is despite the resistance of the political leadership in these countries. This danger is now compounded by the fact that some of the elements involved in the rise of Islamic fundamentalism are endeavouring to achieve control of weapons of mass destruction. If one links the extremism of Islamic fundamentalism to the terror of weapons of mass destruction, one cannot escape a formula for catastrophe. The world faces a sombre and sinister prospect.

This is the problem to which the experts on the Middle East throughout the world must address themselves. This is the problem which should be foremost today in the minds of the leaders of the western world and, particularly, of the United States of America and Europe. After all, Algeria is not so far from Europe today. This is the problem which is, unfortunately, being ignored, for whatever reasons I cannot understand. As I look at the record of the western powers in the Middle East, I cannot but endorse the famous statement by General Schwartzkopf to the effect that one thing he had learnt in the Middle East was that the Middle East experts are not experts at all.

We can only hope and pray that we will move slowly but inexorably towards peace. It will be a long, trying and slow process, of that I am sure, but in the final analysis it will advance the area towards peace and bring us hopefully to the goal that we and all the people of the Middle East pray for. Yes, we are moving inexorably towards peace and that is the major goal of our people, reflecting as it does the prayers of millions who cannot express themselves freely in our area, tom by fundamentalist religious fanaticism. That peace will be achieved because we want it and because the people of the Middle East want it and need it.

In the meantime, as we pursue our struggle in the ongoing search for peace, we continue to develop as a free, vibrant society, which stretches out its hand seeking co-operation with all.

In a period of forty-four years, we have created an open, democratic society in Israel in which the dignity of man is enshrined as a supreme value. We have a free and independent judiciary, a democratically elected parliament, a free press and a system of universal education. We have created a highly developed system of agriculture, and an industry which is capable of producing some of the more sophisticated high technology and biotechnological engineering, supersonic planes and some of the better medical scanning equipment existing today. Israeli-manufactured items are in spaceships and in some of the more advanced planes produced in the United States. We are one of the three most advanced countries in the world – the other two are the United States and Japan – in the development and use of solar energy. We have provided technical, agricultural and medical aid to many developing countries. Over half the eye operations performed in black Africa over the past thirty years were performed by Israeli teams. We are among the leaders in the world in the field of irrigation, desalination of sea water and cloud-seeding. We are one of eight countries of the world which has been represented in space by its own satellite.

In closing, I must refer to a major aspect of our national life today in Israel, namely, the absorption of a large proportion of the Jewish communities from the former Soviet Union. The task before us – a small country, beset by the economic crisis which is affecting much of the world today – is comparable to that which would face the United States of America if it were to absorb the whole of France today. We have already received – and are in the process of absorbing – since the gates of the Soviet Union were opened in 1989 until today, some 400 000 immigrants, or roughly 10% of our population. In other words, it is as if the Federal Republic of Germany were absorbing eight million immigrants.

We are being enriched by an inflow of human material which is highly qualified in many fields and of which over 60% have academic qualifications. The process is costly and painful. But we can already point to the full half of the cup, although the empty half exercises our consciences daily. Many of your countries have experienced this strain of absorbing large populations of refugees. None of your experiences can compare in scope to ours in these difficult and trying days. We are solving a major humanitarian problem; we are, indeed, giving a lead and are setting standards.

We trust that many of the countries represented here will help this great humanitarian endeavour, which must be an example to many peoples and countries in the world. We are proud of our commitment to our brothers and sisters, and of the national consensus as to the self-sacrifice necessary to bring them home and to absorb them. We are proud of the freedom enjoyed by our Arab and Dmze populations, which comprise 17% of our population and who are an integral part of our society and our political life. We are proud of the fact – and it is appropriate that I say it here in this body in which the issue of human rights is focal – that, despite our problems, and they are many, we can point to the fact that the supreme value in our society is that of the dignity and freedom of man.

If there are at times divergences due to the exigencies of security considerations, the situation is monitored by a free press, by an alert parliament, by an outspoken public and by an independent judiciary.

It is against this background that I thank you for honouring me and through me, my country. We in Israel – Jews and Arabs – dream of the day when peace will come. It is with the example of Europe in mind that from this rostrum I express a prayer that the current peace process will succeed and that, together with the representatives of the great Arab nations and the people of Islam, recalling our common heritage and the golden ages of co-operation between our peoples in the past, we shall renew our days, as in the past, for our mutual benefit and for the benefit of the peoples of our region.


Thank you very much, Mr President, for that stimulating address. Your country is very much a nation made up of peoples from all nations and you are multinational – you were born in Ireland, you served in a very distinguished capacity in the British Army, landing in the first few days in Normandy, and now you are President of the State of Israel. You are an example of real absorption. If I may express it as a Briton, I hope that you will be able to inject even more of the British heritage into Israel that will be of benefit.

You have kindly agreed to answer questions without notice. We have received twenty questions and because of that, and the limited amount of time, there will be no supplementaries and I shall insist, as I did yesterday, that questions are strictly limited to thirty seconds. I shall cut off anyone who has not put their question by the end of thirty seconds, otherwise people at the end of the list will be cut out altogether and that would not be fair. The first question is from Mr Fourré.

Mr FOURRÉ (France) (translation)

At the close of the Moscow Conference, Mr Levy expressed his satisfaction at having achieved his aim, which was the implicit recognition of Israel by some ten Arab countries that initiated a dialogue with him.

Do you also consider this a sufficient ground for satisfaction when, as we can see, the negotiations seemed to have reached a deadlock?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

First of all, negotiations have by no means broken down. The meetings of the multilateral committees which were set up – four or five have already been set up and our representatives are known – are due to take place, if I am not mistaken, in May or June in Brussels, Tokyo, Toronto, Washington and one other place which I do not remember at the moment. So, I just do not understand anyone who talks about them breaking down. The bilateral negotiations are due to continue, I am not sure but I think, on about the 17th of this month or perhaps a week later in Washington. They are under way. As I said, there are and there will be problems, but they are gradually becoming part of the scenery of the Middle East, let us say. Of course, we want those negotiations to return to the Middle East where they rightfully belong. But, in the meantime, they are proceeding.

All I can say is that as we in Israel viewed the scene in Moscow – when representatives of Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt and Jordan were sitting with our delegation – we rubbed our eyes in disbelief. We had dreamed and prayed for that and here it was coming true.

I am absolutely convinced that, with all the problems – and we have many – it will advance.

Mr JESSEL (United Kingdom)

Will the President of Israel please remind the Assembly of the population figures for the number of Jewish people murdered by the Nazis in the holocaust, including the number of children, and of the population figure for Jewish people in Israel today. Will he explain to the Assembly the effect of those figures on the outlook in Israel?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

I really should not be repeating those figures in a distinguished Assembly such as this, which arose out of the second world war.

But let me say that 6 million of our people were destroyed in the Holocaust, of whom 1,5 million were children, and we have a Jewish, Arab and Druze population approximating 5 million, of whom 4,25 million are Jewish. We are rebuilding what was so tragically destroyed in the second world war. I do not think that there is another example of a people rebuilding itself and taking on the responsibility for doing that as we have done.

Mrs HAGLUND (Sweden)

I should like to express my admiration for the way in which Israel is absorbing tens of thousands of immigrants from Ethiopia and hundreds of thousands from the former Soviet Union. You are making a tremendous effort and I understand that you expect at least one million immigrants from the former Soviet Union. How do you think that that enormous immigration will influence Israel socially and politically in the future?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

The influence will be a positive one. As I mentioned, 60% of immigrants from the Soviet Union are academically qualified. We are a small country, yet, if I am not mistaken, today we have eight or nine symphony orchestras of international standard as a result, primarily, of the Russian immigration. The same is happening in many fields of science. It takes time. As I said, we have a half-full cup and unfortunately a half-empty cup.

The absorption of the Ethiopians has taken a long time. Today we have approximately 40 000 Ethiopians in Israel. I met a delegation of their leaders only a few days ago. They told me that of the 40 000 immigrants, 20 000 are now completely absorbed. It has taken more than five years. But those immigrants are Israelis in every sense of the word. We see them everywhere. For example, it was drawn to my attention a few days ago that some twenty-five officers of Ethiopian origin have already graduated in the Israeli army. That is not to mention a large number of Ethiopians working in other fields such as engineering and medicine. This is encouraging to see and we are proud of it. Happily, there is also a process of intermarriage between Ethiopians and other parts of the population.

As I said, the main problem that we face today is the large Russian immigration. It is a major load. We hope to absorb one million immigrants. I gave some examples of the proportion that that would represent in various countries, so the Assembly will be able to translate it in terms of its own experience and reality.

Mrs GJ0RV (Norway)

Mr President, under the intifada the schools and universities on the West Bank and in Gaza have been closed for long periods. I hear that the schools have now been reopened in many places but that the universities are still closed. I consider the right to education as a basic human right. It is denied to a generation of young people in those regions. I would like to ask the following question. When will all universities and schools be reopened?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

First, you will be surprised to hear that I agree with you that education for everyone is an inherent right. We believe that too. But we do not believe that education is an inherent right for an organisation which devotes itself to killing people and creating unrest. In other words, we are rather simple people. We believe that one is supposed to study in universities and schools.

Your facts are wrong. No schools are closed today. All the universities are open, with the exception of one – Bir Zeit. Until we obtain an undertaking from the management of that university that it will not be a centre for murder or terrorism, as it has been for a long time, it will not be opened. All the others gave such an undertaking, and they are all open. Not only that, but we are about to open two more colleges in the Arab sector – one in Hebron and one on the West Bank.

So I am sorry, but your information is very out-dated. I have the latest figures here with me. I am glad to say that it seems that very soon you will have no problem in this respect and everything will be open.

Mr FAULDS (United Kingdom)

One would think that, of all the peoples of the world, the Jews would understand the horrors of persecution. In the light of that experience, how can the Israelis treat the Palestinians in the outrageous and inhuman way that they do?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

You will not be surprised if I do not agree with you. I agree that, if there is one people who understand what persecution is, it is Israel. That is why, despite all the problems that we have, the situation in the territories is as it is. It is because all the time we are aware of what we went through in the past. You must appreciate that we face a situation which other countries also face. They are not as high-minded as you seem to be in reacting to unrest and terrorism. For instance, you in Britain do not allow any member of the IRA to appear on your media. In Israel, one sees Arafat on the television almost every day. We have a completely different approach. We have not shot unarmed people. We have not done what has happened in many cases in Northern Ireland.

We face a situation of unrest. We are responsible for the security of the people in the territories under international law. We maintain it. We protect them. If there are outbreaks, we are not prepared to allow a second Beirut to develop in the Middle East. That is all. We are prepared to talk. When President Sadat came and agreed to talk to us, you saw that we were tested. We stood the test and we have peace with Egypt. Now the others have come to their senses. I believe that ultimately we will reach a peaceful agreement there too.

You have to understand that you are making the mistake that most of the world makes in looking at our situation in black and white – Jews against Arabs. That is not the position. We live together with them. We meet them. We live in the same streets. There is a political problem. That problem is now being resolved by an international endeavour and our own endeavour, together with the Palestinians, the Arabs and the Arab countries. But that is one side. The other is that every government represented here regards it as its duty to maintain law and order. We are no different and we will continue to maintain it.

Let me remind you that in forty-four years of the most severe terrorism – unbelievable terrorism perpetrated by organisations which have introduced terrorism throughout the world, from which many of your countries have suffered – we have never executed one terrorist. No terrorist has died of hunger in our gaols, as has occurred elsewhere. We can face the world, look you all in the eyes and ask what you would have done in similar circumstances. Believe me, in the light of our record, we are very proud of what we have done.

Mr FLÜCKIGER (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, you have just referred to your country’s firm commitment to democracy. Democratic traditions, as you rightly reminded us, are taken for granted in Israel while, in the case of other countries in the region, one hardly dares hope for something so fundamental.

You mentioned the arms stockpiles in the Middle East. Do you not believe that the powers which, directly or indirectly, are sponsoring the current peace initiative should have agreed beforehand to freeze arms supplies to the countries concerned?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

After the Gulf war when there was talk of a general agreement on disarmament in the area, the issue was proposed primarily by the Americans and Russians. They talked about unconventional weapons. We proposed that the freeze should apply to all weapons, including conventional weapons, because the main cause of unrest in the Middle East over the years has been created not by unconventional weapons, which, so far thank God, do not exist in the area, but by a vast mass of conventional weapons which have poured in.

I regret to say that so far there has not been agreement that we should move forward with regard to conventional weapons disarmament, as a first step, in the area. A multilateral committee has now been set up in Moscow to examine the whole question of disarmament in the area. That is a small beginning, but is a beginning. I believe that, in the final analysis, when we see what it is costing all of us in the area, wiser counsels will prevail and we will have an agreement on disarmament.

Mr EWING (United Kingdom)

President Herzog, you spent part of your speech bemoaning the fact that those of us in the West do not really understand the problem in the Middle East. You may be right, or you may be wrong. However, in order to correct our lack of knowledge, we sought a debate on Middle East affairs in the Assembly during the course of this session. I have to say to you as gently as I possibly can, I was astonished to hear from...


May I say gently that you have already exceeded your thirty seconds. You have not put a question. I give you five seconds, Harry, to put your question.


I wondered why members of the staff of Israeli embassies throughout Europe lobbied so heavily to have that debate taken off your agenda. What...

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

The Israeli embassies felt that, if their head of state was due to appear here, it would not be in the best form for this body to hold a debate and reach conclusions without at least giving the head of state the benefit of presenting his case before you decided on the issue.

Mr ESPERSEN (Denmark)

Although from your speech we understand that you do not admire the intellectual capacity of our leaders very much, I will ask you the following question: do you understand the concern expressed by the Foreign Ministers of the Nordic countries about the continued settlements in the occupied area, which may make the situation worse and destroy the possibilities of peace? Do you understand the concern about the fact that you are expelling people from the occupied area in clear contradiction of Article 5 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the human rights conventions which do not allow any expulsion, although you have the responsibility for security in the occupied area?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

First, we are a free country and a democracy. There are varying views on various issues, including about the settlements. May I say first of all that I did not talk about the intelligence of the leadership of the West. I talked about the intelligence that they receive or their lack of intelligence. I meant real intelligence not human intelligence. I talked about the miscalculations that have been made. No one can deny what I said. It is evident to everyone. Do you want to tell me that everyone was aware of the vast preparations in Iraq and the creation of nuclear, chemical and biological warfare? You all have embassies there and presumably many of you have intelligence services working there. Were you not aware of that?

The issue of the settlements is subject to political debate in Israel. Therefore, I will not participate in the debate because, according to our Constitution, I am above politics. However, I will say only one thing, although I will not enter into the debate on the issue. You misquoted Article 5 of the Geneva Convention. That article states quite clearly that anyone who operates against the power administering the area automatically does not benefit from what is set out in the Geneva Convention. That is quite clear. The Fourth Geneva Convention was passed in connection with the mass expulsions that took place in Europe in the second world war, not in relation to incidents such as those which happened to us. In twenty-five years, we are talking about sixty-odd terrorists who have been sent out of the country, some of whom have returned in the meantime.

You say blithely that this is an obstacle to peace. Although, as I have said, it is not for me to enter the argument, I remind you that in the nineteen years that Egypt and Jordan controlled the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, there were no settlements. There were only Arab troops there. However, nobody sat down to talk peace to us. When President Sadat came to Israel to talk peace, there were already seventy settlements. That did not prevent us reaching a peace treaty. We are sitting now with the Arab world, discussing peace and advancing towards it. I would recommend that you be very careful about making these statements about what does help peace and what does not help peace. The facts on the ground must talk, not blithe statements which have no basis.

Mr SCHWIMMER (Austria) (translation)

Mr President, one of the conditions for peaceful and lasting solutions to conflicts which this Assembly has discussed on several occasions in the last few days with respect to European conflicts is respect for human rights and the ethnic and religious identity of minorities. This must also apply to the Middle East.

Mr President, I should like to ask you: What is your assessment of respect for human rights and the identity of minorities in Israel, and of the situation of Jewish minorities in Arab states?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

We have a large Arab and Druze minority in Israel, representing 17% of our population. They are part of our society. They are members of the Knesset; they vote for it and are elected to it. They are a very important political element in the coming elections. As I have said, they have complained from time to time, but many of us deal with their complaints. I am very proud of the fact that I do that. However, in principle, as you will see in the elections, they are a very important element as far as we are concerned.

I cannot talk about what is happening elsewhere in Europe – it is for each country represented here to talk about what is happening in their country, but I can say that we are proud to have an Arab minority, a Druze minority and a Circassian minority, the only community in the world which is free to study in its own language – the only Circassian community. We can be very proud of what we have done in this respect, and I would hope that many countries, when looking at the problem of minorities, will look at our example.

Mr BENDER (Poland)

Yesterday, Mr Lech Walesa, the President of newly independent Poland, visited the Council of Europe. Now you are our guest. On this great occasion, I ask you about your opinion on future relations between Israel and Poland. You have the same history – ten centuries. It is our life; we have lived together for a very long time.

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

You are absolutely right. We have one thousand years of common history. We have had a golden age during that period, certainly intellectually and culturally, and we have had the greatest tragedy that has happened to any people in the world occurring also on the soil of Poland, none of which we can forget. One of the most moving moments in the Knesset was when President Lech Walesa addressed the Knesset during his state visit to Israel and asked for forgiveness from the Jewish people for what had occurred in Poland. The reaction was quite dramatic and electric.

We have good relations now with Poland. I was pleased to host President Walesa in Israel, and I am looking forward to being his guest in Poland. There is a tremendous amount of cultural and educational co-operation going on between the two countries, in addition to the normal relations between two independent countries who are advancing each along their own way. I look forward to a hopeful future with Poland and many of the other countries in eastern Europe, but above all with Poland, having regard to the light and the very heavy shadows of history which becloud us.

Mr REDMOND (United Kingdom)

In what part of the occupied territories do you intend to resettle the one million Soviet Jews and what rights will the Palestinians who own the land have?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

First of all, I would like to make it clear – I did not make it clear to one of the previous questioners – that any Israeli settlement that has taken place in the West Bank and Gaza has taken place on land not owned by any Arab. No Arab has been dispossessed. They have recourse to the Supreme Court of Israel – only this week they have again gone to the Supreme Court of Israel – and they have trust in the courts of Israel. The settlements that have taken place have taken place on what were known as crown lands in the past, which were not owned by any Arabs. No Arab has been dispossessed of his land. If he has chosen to sell it, that is another matter, and he has done so in the open market and under the supervision of the courts of Israel.

As a matter of fact, there has been no settlement of Soviet Jews in the territories. Once they arrive, they become citizens. If they want then to get up and leave where they have been put, they can move into another area of the country. We are not going to stop them. I see that you have your own preconceived ideas. Therefore, there is very little purpose in my trying to convince you, but I would like to assure the distinguished members of this Assembly that nobody has been illegally disqualified from his land. That has been tested time and again in the law courts of Israel. If they were not sure of getting justice in the law courts of Israel, they would not apply for comfort from the law courts of Israel, which they do regularly. There are a large number of Arabs who are interested in selling, and that is a matter for them, not for us.

Mr AKARCALI (Turkey) (interpretation)

asked what role Israel would play in developing large-scale water supply projects across the Middle East.

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

All that I heard from you was about water, and I will answer on that. Yes, we are very interested in working out some Middle East arrangement on water. It is the most important element in the country, believe me, it is far more important than oil for us, certainly, and for many of the countries in the Middle East. We have been hoping that we could develop international co-operation with pipelines and so forth criss-crossing the Middle East. We have done it in our own country very successfully. We would like now to do it elsewhere. There was due to be an international conference on water resources in Turkey a few months ago, but Syria refused to attend. Without Syria – as you know, Syria is between us and Turkey – there was little point in having that meeting.

One of the multilateral committees set up in Moscow is on the subject of water – water for the Middle East. Our delegation was led by our water commissioner and some very important people will be participating. Once they begin to sit down and participate and each one sees the advantages to be gained from the equitable distribution of water throughout the area, with the untold possibilities there are in the deserts today, certainly, with the advances that we have made in arid zone agriculture, we can really save a great part of the world from hunger.

We believe that that will be a very important committee. It has already been set up. The delegates have already been nominated. It will be meeting, to the best of my knowledge, in May to being its work. Of course, Turkey will be a central, pivotal country in that respect.

Mr ROKOFYLLOS (Greece) (translation)

Mr President, you mentioned the great changes in Europe, from the divisions of the past to a harmonious situation as reflected in this Assembly Chamber. Do you not believe it is high time that this peace momentum, which you yourself described as irreversible, should become a reality so that there are no more occupied territories and life returns to normal in the Middle East too?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

I agree entirely. We hope and pray for peace. We hoped and prayed for peace – I set out the facts in my speech – and we tried time and time again. It was not until a great man – President Sadat – came to Jerusalem and addressed the Knesset that we finally reached the present situation. He told us what we wanted and during twenty-one months we negotiated with the Egyptians. The outcome was what we now have. Buses leave Tel Aviv and Jerusalem every day for Cairo, and vice versa. I am sure that it will not be too long before the same thing is happening between Israel and other capitals of the Middle East. Of course, negotiations require two sides; they say that it takes two to tango.

When President Sadat came forward and put us to the test, we stood the test. We have peace today. A new process has begun. We have wanted to enter into negotiations with the Arabs over the years, and for the first time we have done so. The process is taking place but these things take time. I am sure that we shall achieve that which we want, which is peace in the area on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interests.

Sir John STOKES (United Kingdom)

My question about settlements on the West Bank has already been asked. I am sorry, Mr President, that you felt unable constitutionally in terms of the peace process to answer this question.

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

Constitutionally, I was not prepared to become part of the debate. There are two sides to the problem and there is debate in Israel on the issue. There are those who are in favour and those who are against. There are those who seek moderation and there are others who seek less moderation. I am not prepared to go in this. It is necessary to understand the problem, and it is only fair to see the facts as they are. I tried to put the matter into its correct perspective for this audience. We are talking about a population of about 100 000 in an area that is populated by about 1,5 million Arabs. The population of Israel is 5 million. The issue assumes enormous proportions abroad, which are out of all proportion. It is the right of everyone to agree or disagree, but it is necessary to know the facts. I have set out the facts and the proportion. I reiterate that not one Arab has been dispossessed illegally of his property. He has either sold it or the land has not belonged to anybody. I refer to land that we have inherited as crown land.

Mr BERG (Norway)

Mr President, will you please elaborate on the alarming fact that a growing number of European companies exercise a form of economic boycott of Israel due to Arab pressure, with the prospect of increased profits, by neglecting fair trade agreements and concentrating on the buying power of the larger Arab markets? What is the scope of this malpractice? Is it in line with the basic principles of the GATT? What do you suggest can be done about these regrettable European double standards?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

Economic boycotting is a stain on international relations as they now exist. It is an international disgrace. Some countries, such as the United States, have made it illegal. They take a strong view. If I am not mistaken, Germany has also taken a firm stand on the issue. We are a free world and we should not be restricting trade in any way. The Arab boycott is not fool-proof because there are many divergent interests in the Middle East.

Let it be remembered that we are at peace with an Arab country and that we are trading with it. Trade flows across the River Jordan into the Arab world from Israel, and that trade is reciprocated. That takes place every day. In other words, there is a great deal of hypocrisy, behind which are many economic interests that have nothing to do with the political situation. It would be right for all the democratic countries – all the countries represented here – to follow the United States’ example. If that happened, the practice would stop. That would be a major element in moving towards peace. We had hoped that with the opening of negotiations, the boycott would be stopped. Talks are taking place but nothing has happened so far.

Mr CUCO (Spain) (interpretation)

asked how far the missile attacks of the Gulf war had altered Israel’s perception of the concept of state borders.

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

There is debate in Israel, as there is elsewhere, about borders and the introduction of missile warfare, which we know took place last year during the Gulf war. Territory is important in some instances, but in others it is possible to leap over it by the use of missiles. In the final analysis, victory can be achieved only by land forces, not by missiles alone. That is our experience following missile attacks on Israel. Those attacks caused much physical damage but only one individual was killed after forty missile attacks had taken place. In other words, the missile is not a weapon that can decide the outcome. Nothing very much has changed the old concepts, which tell us that in the end a ground force is needed to decide the issue.

That is why there are elements in Israel that attach more importance to territory than others. As I have said, the subject is under debate. It has been discussed in our media and by the Defence Committee of the Knesset. I would not want to go into it at this stage.

Mr KILIÇ (Turkey) (interpretation)

said that Turkey and Israel were celebrating five hundred years of co-operation since the arrival in Turkey of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. He asked what contribution relations between Turkey and Israel could make to the peace process in the Middle East.

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

It certainly can. After the expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain five hundred years ago in 1492, one of the main centres to which that community moved was Turkey, where they were received by the population and where to this day they speak the traditional Ladino, the Spanish that they brought in the fifteenth century from Spain. There is definitely room for cooperation. I am pleased to say that we have very good relations with Turkey, and I am sure that they will continue to improve and develop. I think that expression will be given this year to the very special relationship that exists between us as a result of the manner in which, over five hundred years ago, you received the Jewish community that was exiled from Spain.

Mr JUNG (France) (translation)

Mr President, during her visit to Alsace, Mrs Golda Meir, noting the positive effects of the reconciliation and cooperation between France and Germany, expressed to me the hope that she would one day see the creation of a common market and the establishment of co-operation with the Arab countries.

Do you still share this hope today?

Mr Herzog, President of the State of Israel

Not only do I share the hope, I am convinced that it will happen. As I pointed out in my speech, it is happening unnoticed in many cases. It is just a process of development taking place. Unless you have visited Israel, it is difficult for you to understand that we live with an Arab population. They are part of our society and we meet and socialise with them. I visit a different Arab town or village practically every few weeks. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Arab students studying at our universities and thousands are also studying in the Arab countries and coming back. There is an interchange, a form of mutual development which is not generally appreciated. When Israeli-Arab television goes on the air in the evening the whole of Jordan watches, just as many people in Israel watch Hebrew television from Jordan. In other words, an exchange is going on which is completely ignored. You hear nothing in the media about that. All you hear about is somebody throwing a stone.

In the past month, I have appointed an Arab to our higher education commission which controls the universities. In the past month, I appointed a Muslim, Judge Qadi, from one of the most distinguished families in the Middle East. Two weeks ago, I appointed an Arab judge and a Druze judge. I have appointed the first Arab woman judge, to the best of my knowledge, in the world. I do not know, I could be wrong, but she is certainly the first in Israel.

These things are difficult to say because everybody thinks that they are propaganda, but these are the facts. You must understand that that is the reason why we are more positive, more hopeful when not fed by the media.

There are two Israels, they say, one that you see on television and the other that you see when you go out of your front door. The one that you see as you leave your front door is the real one, so come and see it.


Thank you, Mr Herzog, for your detailed answers.

That brings us to the end of the question period. I compliment my colleagues. The average time was 29,1 seconds and that was greatly helped – l am not being partial – by two of my British colleagues who each took less than ten seconds.