I very much appreciate the opportunity to speak out on the very important issue of the status of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city, and Israel is a country, that I've felt very close to for a long time. I've left the United States only three times as Mayor of the City of New York, and two of those times were to go to Israel.
The next month is very important. There will be a change of government in the United States very shortly, and the government in Israel may or may not change in early February. It is a time of transition. This is not a time to be making radical changes from positions we've taken in the past. In fact, it would be foolhardy and unwise to do so right now.
Like Mayor Olmert of Jerusalem, I was surprised by President Clinton's suggestion to subdivide Jerusalem. I believe that the President has tried very hard to bring about peace in the Middle East. But the reality is that peace has to be based on security. As agreements and concessions are made, people have to see that their lives are becoming safer, more secure, more free of terrorism, and more harmonious with law and democracy.
But unfortunately, just the opposite has happened. Negotiations with the Palestinian Authority have turned out to be one-sided. A great deal has been asked of the state of Israel, and Israel has complied. But very little has been demanded of the Palestinian Authority. And the agreements that have been made haven't been kept. Most importantly, the terrorism and violence hasn't ended. In fact, it's arguably gotten worse. Given this situation, suggesting the division of the city of Jerusalem is just the opposite of a policy that will lead to peace. I believe that everyone wants peace in the Middle East. I think all Jews do and all Arabs do. But peace cannot be realized by subdividing the city of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has been the undivided capital of the state of Israel for two generations. And in that period of time, Jerusalem has had a much better relationship with all the different religions--it's had greater access for people who are Christian, people who are Muslim, people who are Jewish, to all of the religious monuments in the city. The equity and the fairness with which everyone is treated in Jerusalem is now much greater than has historically been the case. To subdivide the city would be a terrible mistake. In particular, I think that to take the Temple Mount away from Israel would be a sin.
I understand and in some ways sympathize with the motivation of President Clinton. But I urge him to rethink his change in position. When the President first ran for office in 1992, I remember him talking about keeping the city of Jerusalem undivided, keeping it under the jurisdiction of the State of Israel, and making certain that it remained that way. I think his recent change in policy, in his last two weeks in office, is really an example of giving in to a temptation to try to achieve peace by any means. But it's going to end up leading to more violence, more chaos, more difficulty, and it will set back for a very long time the cause of genuine, lasting peace.
I'm a Mayor of a very large City, like Mayor Olmert and Roni Milo, the former Mayor of Tel Aviv, who also joins us here today. I can't image having to deal with a situation in which the city I was responsible for governing was subdivided into different quarters and neighborhoods with no ability to have proper policing or security for people. This kind of situation will lead to much more confrontation and set back whatever hopes there are of achieving a really solid peace--a goal that I do believe we can reach. I think the new administration in Washington should be given a chance to assess the situation for itself. And I think the Israeli people should be given the chance to express their will democratically. We should never forget that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We should wait to hear what its people have to say in their upcoming elections before rushing to judgment.
I'd also like to take this occasion to tell Natan Sharansky how honored we are to have him with us today. He is a symbol of the desire and the need for freedom and democracy--and his life, like Israel's, is a testament to the power of freedom and democracy in the world.
I also want to express my admiration for Ronald Lauder, Chairman of the Conference of Major Jewish Organizations, for the courage he has displayed in attending protests and rallies in Israel. When he does so, he expresses the views of many Americans--Jewish and non-Jewish--who believe that it would be a terrible mistake to subdivide Jerusalem.
Instead of subdividing Jerusalem, President Clinton's last act in office with regard to Israel and Jerusalem should be to fulfill the will of the United States Congress, which he has so far failed to do, and move the American embassy to Jerusalem. I believe that this would contribute toward moving the peace process forward in a real and effective way, since it would demonstrate to all the parties involved the importance of keeping commitments.
So I thank all of you for being here. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to express views that I've held for many years, long before I was elected Mayor of New York City. And I thank you very much for showing support for a country that's always been a very good friend of the United States. I remember back to the Persian Gulf War. When American lives were at stake in that war and Israel was asked to step back and accept Iraqi bombing for the sake of attaining a peaceful and quick resolution, Israel accepted that burden. Israel has been a friend of the United States throughout all the decades that it has existed. And friends stick together in difficult times. That's why we must stand as one against the subdivision of Jerusalem now. Thank you.
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