Fifty-seven countries are not at peace with Israel today. Fifty-seven countries out of 193 countries in the world.
Fifty-seven countries with a total population greater than Europe and the United States combined.
Fifty-seven countries, representing one-third of the members of the United Nations. Fifty-seven countries for whose citizens the conflict in Palestine is the issue of their time.
We must, therefore, ask the important question: What are the implications for global stability if this continues?
Today I assert that this must not continue and that 2008 is a critical year. Yes, at long last, this year, right now, we are in the best possible position to resolve 60 years of conflict between Israel and Palestine.
The Arab and Muslim states have committed to an unprecedented and unanimous peace initiative. We have a chance to answer this third of the world who is not at peace with Israel and who demands freedom and dignity for the Palestinian people.
But time is running out and we need the United States of America completely involved to influence the course of discussions, monitor progress and help bridge the gaps to ensure a final agreement by the end of 2008.
It is difficult to exaggerate how great the stakes are, for Americans, for Arabs, for Israelis and, indeed, for the whole world.
But I am not here today to speak only of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am here to speak to you, the scholars of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, of the critical importance of a long-term strategic American involvement in the development of the Middle East.
I am here to explain that such a commitment is an opportunity to transform the strategic landscape of the Middle East for years to come. I am here to speak of what must, I repeat, must happen if our world is to be safe.
I know that optimism does not come easily in academia. But I do know about the visionary thinking that is the scholar’s gift. Today, I ask you to employ visionary thinking to consider a short- and long-term strategy that will ensure a viable, stable, prosperous Middle Eastern region and a safe and secure world for all.
America’s involvement is a critical success factor of such a strategy. We need a strong authority that can act and act swiftly. We need to act now, for time is running out.
The continuing confinement of the Palestinians in Gaza every day creates a greater radicalism amongst Palestinians and invites other actors within the region to operate on their behalf. The long period of conflict has allowed new ambitions, influences and capabilities to appear. They are echoed in Iraq’s armed sectarian division, in the attacks on Lebanese sovereignty, and in the power projection by state and non-state actors.
There are many other serious threats.
Security, opportunities for youth, economic development, resource scarcity, chronic conflicts, institutional challenges and nuclear weapon proliferation are just some examples of the major challenges we face.
You are a prime example of some of the gifted, ambitious youth of America. We are acutely aware of the urgent needs of our own youth who make up 70 per cent of my region’s people. It is the largest youth cohort in our history. Like American youth, Internet communications have given them an unprecedented view of the world. In their own region they see evidence in extremist messages of hatred and isolation. They see a lack of opportunities and an uncertain future. But they also see the prosperity and freedom that countries and regions in peace can offer.
We must meet the expectations of this younger generation. In my region, we expect to need 200 million new jobs by 2020. Creating these opportunities will require investment and partnerships to develop new infrastructure, meet energy and water needs and improve public services and education. A strong cooperative Arab-American strategic partnership must be created.
But today, my friends, we must contemplate.
I pose these questions for your consideration: Will my region plunge into more chaos and violence, where extremism rules? Or will it be a peaceful, developing region?
Will it be a region focused on conflicting radical ideologies fuelled by the manipulation of sectarian division? Or will it be a region reaping the benefits of globalisation and strong global partnerships?
Will it be a region that rejects Western alliances, perhaps violently, because they have become far too difficult to achieve? Or will it be a region that is a global partner in progress and prosperity with the West?
The choice is ours. But we must act and time is running out. The dangerous combination of new technology, terrorism and the drastic consequences of economic underdevelopment, all continue to add to a potentially catastrophic situation on the ground.
We must act this year if we are to achieve the first important advancement towards a strong Middle Eastern region.
A year ago, before the US Congress, I urged an all-out American commitment to lead the way forward. I said then what I repeat today: That the wellspring of global division, the source of resentment and frustration within the region and far beyond, is the denial of justice and peace in Palestine. The beginning of a long-term strategic partnership between the Arab world and the United States must begin with the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
America is the only world power capable of ensuring that the parties stay on track and on time in their current negotiations. And America is uniquely placed to build international support throughout the peacemaking process. Resolution of this conflict will be critical if we are to confront the other serious regional challenges.
But time is running out. This year is an unprecedented opportunity to reach a comprehensive settlement between Israel and all its neighbours.
In Israel, there are those who oppose any movement towards resolution. There are politicians who do not want peace with Palestinians and who reject a two-state solution.
I disagree. Israel’s security cannot depend indefinitely on occupation, walls and the Israeli military. Real security for Israel will occur when it is a neighbour among neighbours, an economy among economies, a people among people working together towards the achievement of common goals and bright futures.
In America, there are those who oppose any further involvement. There are those who say it is not America’s business. I disagree. You will all know that historically, success in Middle East peacemaking was achieved when the United States stepped in and drove the negotiations.
A victory by the enemies of peace, freedom, stability and moderation cannot be an option. If we miss today’s opportunities, peace will be set back, perhaps for decades. Extremists will continue to act. The forces for moderation and positive change will weaken. Global divisions will not only endure but also possibly deepen. Questioning of the West’s effectiveness and commitment may grow. All of these will have consequences not only for my region but also for the world.
Division and hatred have eroded understanding and agreement. They have played into the hands of the enemies of humanity - those who attacked the World Trade Centre, those who would divide multicultural Europe, those who, right now, seek to tear my region apart.
If we fail to take the necessary steps to resolve the core problem of the region, it will become significantly harder for the countries of the Middle East to work in partnership with America in the future. I fear radical ideologies will determine the political and social agendas in many of our countries. The region will move further away from our vision of moderation, prosperity and peace. It will move further away from the common principles of mutual respect and partnership on which we want to base our relations with the United States and the West.
Every day another child in my region grows up with frustration and hatred in his or her eyes. Every day another child grows up with aggression because that is all they have known. Every day young people lose hope because they cannot get jobs and they cannot see opportunities.
Speaking here today, I am especially aware of the role of scholars and students in making progress happen. Where others see unsolvable problems, you see paths that can lead to answers and successful action. This is the tradition of great scholarship of which you are a part.
Today I ask you to bring the tradition of scholarship to the challenges that lie ahead and join me in thinking about the reality that together our countries can create:
- An end to 60 years of conflict, violence and occupation;
- A homeland for Palestinians, offering hope, respect and a future;
- Security and new acceptance for Israel, within its neighbourhood and around the world;
- A strategic region that is able to turn to the future as peace takes hold;
- And, a new partnership between your country and the Arab and Muslim peoples, transforming the strategic landscape and creating new horizons for progress and peace.
It is an honour to be speaking to you all today, and I thank you, President Tilghman, for your warm reception.
I should like to conclude by drawing from the wisdom of the great American after whom this school was named.
Woodrow Wilson said: “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together. There must be, not a balance of power, but a community of power; not organised rivalries, but an organised peace.”
This is the challenge, this is the opportunity and we must succeed.