2006 Speech

Prince Turki's keynote address to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Conference
Saudi Ambassador to the United States Prince Turki Al-Faisal today delivered the keynote address to the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Conference: “Politics and Diplomacy: Next Steps in Arab-Israeli Peacemaking”.
  Prince Turki Al-Faisal

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. 

I would like to thank the Woodrow Wilson Center for cosponsoring this event, along with the American task force on Palestine.  The issues we discuss today are no less complex than they were when President Wilson first took office.  But today, the dangers that are present in the world are far greater.

Mankind’s incessant conflict and today’s technology and weapons that can be used to inflict unthinkable harm against one another has made the world a far more dangerous and unstable place. 

So, greater understanding is needed to help find resolutions to the issues that divide us.  And I am glad forums such as this exist to promote discourse and dialogue. 

President Woodrow Wilson, speaking to the people of this city and the world, at his first inaugural address said: “Nowhere else in the world have noble men and women exhibited in more striking forms the beauty and the energy of sympathy and helpfulness and counsel in their efforts to rectify wrong, alleviate suffering, and set the weak in the way of strength and hope.”

And today, for the second time in my life, I have the privilege of living in this great city.  From the time I first attended university here at Georgetown, I have come to understand the strength of the American character.  Recently, I have had the honor of being invited to visit many of your major cities and small towns. And at each stop, from New York City to Manhattan, Kansas; I have been overwhelmed by the warmth and hospitality with which I have been received.

And in return, I extend my warmest greetings and the good will of the Saudi people. To all of you, I offer an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia so you can come to know our country as many of my countrymen have come to know and appreciate America.

In my travels, I must confess, I have also been struck by something else.  That is, the strong aspiration Americans have to seek out and right the injustices that exist in the world.  This is very powerful because justice is the greatest interest of man on this earth. It is the glue that holds civilized people and nations together.  As President Wilson said: “Justice, and only justice, shall always be our motto.”

The beginning of this millennium has brought much attention and focus on justice and the urgent need to correct injustices. Many injustices have been slowly eroding our global society.   The killings in Darfur, the epidemic of AIDS in Africa, and the conflict between Palestine and Israel, are just a few of the injustices with serious consequences for peace among nations.

Not too far from where we are right now, another great American President, John F. Kennedy, delivered a speech about global strategies for peace.  He said: “our problems are man-made. Therefore, they may be solved by man [because] no problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.”

Today, I take solace in President Kennedy’s words.  I think we all should.  He was right.  And because, like President Kennedy, we desire a world in which we can live with one another in mutual tolerance.  And we should know that this goal is not beyond our God given abilities.

Today we face a brand of global conflict called terrorism, with new rules and new threats.   Terrorism is disdain for human dignity, contempt for human justice and abandonment of God’s true word. But in the war on terrorism, there are no traditional frontlines.  The grounds for these battles are not fought over geography or traditional military lines; they are fought over the hearts and minds of the people.

Because every individual can be an actor for peace or perpetuator of hate, based on how we spread tolerance or how our adversaries manipulate new or existing fears and misunderstanding.

So how we win this war is not by simply defeating new enemies; but also by healing old wounds.  It has become a global imperative to bring people together, provide them with a path to peace and prosperity, and open their hearts to understanding.

The global community will not be able to continue to confront new challenges if it is weakened from within by existing pains.  Longstanding conflicts around the world sap our collective strength, and feed the frustrations that spawn the terrorist acts that continue to torment us.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is a primary example of this.  We cannot ignore that it is one of the root causes of radical anti-American sentiment in the Arab and Islamic worlds, on which terror organizations like Al-Qaeda thrive.

For too long, the Palestinian people have endured great injustices and hardships.  Many thousands live in hopeless poverty and thousands more have been uprooted from their homes and forced to live in Diaspora.  All have been deprived of minimum human and national rights. Their plight has been an open wound constantly irritated by unjustifiable acts of terrorism, painful oppression, and deep-rooted enmity.

Beyond being a conflict between two peoples, the situation with Palestine and Israel has become an excuse – a way for deviants to justify their evil acts, recruit others, and spread violence, ignorance, and oppression.  And so it has moved from a regional desire to a global necessity to promote a peaceful resolution to this dispute.

As the local problems of yesterday have become the global problems of today, nations of the world need to address them together – and address them completely – lest we breed a new order of aggression for tomorrow. 

And I am hopeful that we can solve these problems.  I am confident that we can take advantage of our cooperation in the war on terror.  I believe we can run with the tide of our successes and be comprehensive in our vision of a new world.  

But I remain realistic about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

So, first, we must accept where we have succeeded and failed trying to secure a resolution. Then we must recognize the roles each actor plays in supporting the peace process – whether it is Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the Russian Federation, the European Union, the United Nations, or other members of the global community.  Then we need to adhere closely to what is asked of us.  And then we need to take concrete actions to support our agreements. 

Only then will resolution be at hand.

In Saudi Arabia, we desire peaceful coexistence between a Palestinian state and an Israeli state, and peace between Israel and the entire Arab world.  We believe it is in all of the world’s interests. 

As King Abdullah has made clear: “Only within the context of true peace can normal relations flourish between the people of the [Middle East] region and allow the region to pursue development rather than war and destruction.”

What is promising is that, as the contours of the conflict have evolved over past decades, it has become clear that the vast majority of the Israeli and Palestinian people desire a peaceful solution as well.  Many polls taken recently verify that this is especially true now.

And what is even more important is that the majorities of both peoples are also in agreement on the parameters of what a just and equitable peace would look like – much like the terms agreed to by both Palestinian and Israeli negotiators at Taba, Egypt in late 2000.

This is something that could not have been said a decade ago. 

But what is worrisome – and has been worrisome – is that it seems whenever we get to a hopeful period, our hopes are so easily dashed, by the intemperance of leadership – on both sides, by the malevolence of terrorism, or by ill-thought-out military actions, or by surrendering hopes to extremists – on both sides – who seek unreasonable demands or worse.

What is certain is that the Israeli and Palestinian people have not been able to sort out this dispute, despite repeated attempts. As the world can see, rather than showing steady forward progress, the peace process has been dealt one blow after another – by Israelis and Palestinians. 

Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination was followed by the election of Benjamin Netanyahu, who set out deliberately to undo the Oslo accords.

President Clinton’s bold efforts at camp David II were not reciprocated by Yasser Arafat.  And despite later attempts by both Palestinians and Israelis, those efforts could not be successfully resuscitated – especially after Ariel Sharon stoked the passions of extremist Palestinians in September 2000, and went on to assume the position as prime minister. 

And now, at a time when the Israeli electorate has shown more of a commitment than ever before to quit major portions – but certainly not all – of the West Bank, elections in Palestine have produced a Hamas government that has not yet shown interest in any measures that would build confidence in a peaceful agenda.

The tendencies of the bodies politic in both Israel and Palestine to take as many steps backwards as they have been able to take steps forward underscores the fact that, left to their own devices, the parties will not arrive at peace. 

Since peace is manifestly in the interests of the region and the world at large, it is that much more incumbent on leading powers, including Saudi Arabia, in the region and the United States in the world, to be consistent – and insistent – in moving the parties ahead towards the known outlines of a durable settlement.

Saudi Arabia, ladies and gentlemen, understands its role.  We cannot mediate between parties.  And we cannot act as real estate brokers.  But what we can do, and what we have done, is to act as a voice of reason and moderation. And we have worked to bring the Arab world together to support the peace process.

Starting a quarter of a century ago, Saudi Arabia, under the leadership of then Crown Prince Fahd, began to offer a simple vision:  If Israel and the Palestinians can find a peaceful territorial compromise along the lines of UN resolution 242 and 338, under which Israel would withdraw from the lands it occupied in the 1967 War, and make peace with a Palestinian state, then the Arab world would not only accept Israel’s existence, but have full diplomatic relations with it.  

Beginning in earnest with the Fez Declaration by the Arab league in 1982, and culminating at the Arab Summit in Beirut in March 2002 with then Crown Prince, now King, Abdullah’s peace initiative, the Kingdom has succeeded in offering significant solutions to the conflict.

The Abdullah Plan has received unanimous support from the 22 nations of the Arab League and has been embraced by the United States, the European Union and more than 60 countries.

The plan calls for the following:

Consequently, the Arab countries affirm that they will:

The Abdullah Plan generated world-wide support because of its simplicity: it went to the heart of the matter – land for peace – and defined them in terms acceptable to both sides.  It included an “end of conflict” agreement to ensure that no more claims would be made in the future, and it committed the whole Arab world to it.  It incorporated virtually everything Israel has been asking for since the beginning of the conflict, without abandoning any legitimate Palestinian rights.  What is left is for reasonable minds on both sides to look at this historic offer objectively and without emotions, and to work to put it in place.

This has been the Saudi role, and we recognize that the role of the United State has shown promise too.

The U.S., under the leadership of President Bush, made an important move in 2002.  For the first time, the U.S. recognized the two-state solution, and then put forth the agreed upon Road Map for Peace.  While this will, in my opinion, be critical to a positive outcome, it needs to be supported. President bush must – and I cannot emphasize this enough – must continue to support the process of disengagement from Gaza and the West Bank, and do so, as he has said he would, during his term in office.   And the United States must continue to keep the process of the Road Map moving forward.   Accountability and monitoring should be the hall marks of implementing the Road Map.

We need to take advantage of the global objectives and moral imperatives that we all share – if we want to win the war on terrorism, if we want to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East, then we must achieve a two-state solution for Palestine and Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen.  The time is now.  We have willing peoples on both sides – both Israelis and Palestinians.  We have a framework for reconciliation that is outlined in the Road Map for peace.  And we have a goal that is articulated in the Abdullah Peace Plan. We simply need the parties to make a move with confidence within this framework. 

And I believe that it would behoove Israel, by virtue of its position – not only of military strength, but by territorial control – to extend a hand to the Palestinian people.

As the French philosopher jean Jacques Rousseau once wrote: “The strongest is never strong enough always...unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty.”

It would be regrettable if Israel sat with arms folded while pursuing a policy of isolation, cutting off the Hamas government, and turning its back on the Palestinian people.  Continuous dialogue and engagement is one sure way to have a positive effect.  And there is a range of policy options within the framework from which the Israelis can pick to continue support of the peace process.

For example, Israel could work to strengthen the position of president Mahmoud Abbas, who has proven to be a man of peace and has repeatedly condemned acts of terrorism and has prescribed civil disobedience as an alternative to violence.  Israel could, today, empower president Abbas as a peace partner by undertaking initiatives such as selective prisoner release and the easing of roadblocks, which hinder and humiliate the Palestinian people. 

The point is to provide Abbas with a pathway to peace and provide Palestinians with hope, not show them a future of submission and despair. 

The Saudi government also understands there needs to be gestures forthcoming from the new democratically elected Palestinian government.  Saudi Arabia has conveyed to representatives from the Hamas party that if they want to be a viable governing body, they must do at least three things:

First: As any new governing body should, the new government needs to abide by existing agreements made by the former Palestinian government.  Second: they must, like the previous Palestinian government before them, accept the Arab Peace Initiative adopted at the Beirut Summit in 2002 and the Road Map. And, finally, they must abandon violence. 

The situation today is not perfect.  It never has been.  It never will be.  But life does not offer us perfection.  That can be found, as the Qur’an tells us, only in god’s being.  And to move towards some peace, and towards some semblance of resolution, we will need God’s help.  We will also need the support of the global community, as today our neighbor’s peace, prosperity, and security are as important as our own.

As King Abdullah has said: “In this age there is no room for glory without strength and no strength without unity.”

We have the power to fix the problems we create.  With every strike against injustice, with every action of humanity that improves the lives of others, we send out rays of hope and opportunity.   So let us take up our roles in finding the solutions, and perhaps some day, we will achieve a lasting peace.

As we say in Arabic – Ashkurukum shukran jazeelan – thank you all very much – and barak Allah feekum – and god bless you all.