Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I appreciate the generosity of the New American Foundation for hosting this event. Thank you.
Tonight, I was asked to deliver some remarks about the Middle East. There is a great deal occurring in the region today, but I believe Lebanon is the topic of greatest concern. So this is what I will address.
First and foremost, ladies and gentlemen, it needs to be recognized clearly that the imperative before the world right now is to achieve peace and stability in a region that is historically unstable. Not just for today, or tomorrow, but for decades to come. We require a sustainable peace. One in which the countries of the region are at peace with themselves and the world – as well as the other way around.
I do not think there is much disagreement on this point.
However, what path we take to achieve this peace requires further deliberation. Robert Frost wrote: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by.” The path of aggression is well worn in the Middle East. What if we decide to take the path of peace – the path less traveled? It may make the difference – not just for today, but for tomorrow and the next day.
The decisions we are making will have long-term consequences. The decisions made yesterday bear their bitter fruit today. As we have seen time and time again, our choices indeed influence the stability of the region and of particular countries – as well as the sentiment and opinions of people – the men and women and children throughout the region who live each day with these issues.
We need to listen to these people – the people of Lebanon, and of Palestine, and of Israel, who desire only to live in peace. They are the ones who will stand up for peace, just as they are the ones who will become the involuntary victims of the next act of violence based on how the world’s problems play out in their back yards. And so we need to engender – no, I believe, demand – a new sense of allegiance on the part of our leaders to the virtues of tolerance, understanding and the path of peace, lest even our best intentions let slip the dogs of war.
As King Abdullah said the other day, “If the option of peace fails...then the only option remaining will be war, and God alone knows what the region would witness in a conflict that would spare no one.”
This is a frightening prospect – not just for Saudi Arabia, not just for the greater Middle East, but for the world. The lives and livelihoods of billions of people in the global community are tied into the geopolitical machinations of the region; from an economic standpoint – because of energy and trade and landgrabbing; from a security standpoint, because of how hostilities feed anti-Americanism extremism and terrorism; and, especially, in terms of religion, the region is tied into every corner of the globe – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.
For all of these reasons, Saudi Arabia continues to strive for peace. In Lebanon and Palestine, the Kingdom believes the answer is a comprehensive peace. This will allow the international community to broker a lasting solution to this crisis. Realistically, the parties involved in Lebanon, Palestine, and Israel, are incapable of brokering a truce among themselves.
Saudi Arabia feels it is incumbent on international leaders, particularly the United States and the United Nations, to restore peace through the creation of an international force to help the Lebanese government extend its sovereignty and authority over all Lebanese territory. This will redress the balance and allow the Lebanese government to negotiate in the interest of the Lebanese people.
We are further confident that for a lasting peace to come, it is imperative the world community shoulders the responsibility of protecting the Lebanese people, moving rapidly to halt the Israeli war on Lebanon, and providing support for the Lebanese government as it strives to preserve national unity, maintain its sovereignty, and exert control over its territory. In addition, it is just as critical the Israeli siege of the Palestinian people end.
Ladies and gentlemen; please, let there be no mistake about this position. Saudi Arabia holds firmly responsible those who first engaged in reckless adventure under the guise of resistance. They have brought much damage and danger to the region without concern for others.
However, these unacceptable and irresponsible actions do not justify the Israeli destruction of Lebanon or the targeting and punishment of the Lebanese and Palestinian civilian populations. These actions are without consideration for international pacts, conventions, and norms. This is not the way of peace.
And if the idea is somehow to create conditions that will leave Lebanon stronger, the stakes of this gamble are enormous. We are gambling with the people’s lives, their livelihoods, and their homes and families. In the end, we are all standing witness to the killing of the body and soul of Lebanon to cure the cancer of occupation that we all agree need to be excised.
To achieve a lasting peace we need to balance the interests of all the conflicting parties in such a way that they all feel they have achieved something of importance without a loss of face – only then will they remove their collective fingers from the trigger. The question for us today is how to arrive at that point of balance – through the continued ruthless exercise of power or under the umbrella of a cease fire.
Two months ago, Prince Saud, our Foreign Minister, brought a letter to President Bush from King Abdullah, advocating an end to the process and instead, an implementation of peace. The President expressed excitement and willingness but, alas, there was no follow through.
Currently, Saudi officials are working diligently to generate support for a cease-fire and a lasting resolution. Prince Saud and others have been meeting with world leaders. One week ago, Prince Saud delivered another letter from King Abdullah to President Bush requesting he act to help save Lebanon and its people from the terrible ordeal they are suffering. The actions of the U.S. in this matter are of vital importance. And we continue to press for an immediate peace.
And certainly, we cannot stand by as our neighbors and friends suffer brutal transgressions born of a war not of their own making.
So to help alleviate the misery, Saudi Arabia has been providing aid to the affected areas. Last week, King Abdullah approved $50 million for emergency relief assistance for the Lebanese people. In the last few days, an additional $500 million was earmarked for a grant to form the nucleus of an Arab and international fund for the reconstruction of Lebanon. The King has also directed $1 billion to be deposited with the Lebanese Central Bank to support the country’s currency and liquidity. And the Palestinian people will receive a $250 million grant from Saudi Arabia for reconstruction and relief.
The Kingdom is doing what it can – brokering peace and providing aid. We understand that we live in an age in which the problems of one nation or one people are the problems of the world. It is, therefore, critical that we truly consider how our political decisions impact the people – not just of our particular nations – but those of the entire global community. In the Middle East, today, this consideration is truly important. Let us now recoup and look at the problem holistically. The Israeli occupation of Shabaa and Palestine is the casus belli of all that is happening today in Lebanon and Palestine. Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine have captured three soldiers of the vaunted Israeli army, whose incompetence was clearly displayed by these captures. The same vaunted Israeli army has struck back with surgical accuracy in killing innocent civilians and UN observers in both Palestine and Lebanon, further demonstrating their ineptness and brutality.
The Arab world has offered the most comprehensive peace plan to Israel, The Abdullah Peace Plan of 2002. The plan offered Israel, the end of hostility and normalization of relations in return for total Israeli withdrawal from Arab occupied territories, including Jerusalem. The United States must play the role of pacifier and lead the world to peace and not be led by Israel’s ambitions.
The poet Yuhuda Amichai wrote: “They’ll beat swords into plowshares and plowshares into swords, and so on and so on, and back and forth. Perhaps from being beaten thinner and thinner, the iron of hatred will vanish, forever.”
We can only hope this will be the case. In the mean time, let us all continue to work tirelessly to promote peace, tolerance and understanding among our neighbors and friends.