EHUD BARAK is Chairman of the Israel Labor Party.
This article is adapted from a speech given by Mr. Barak to the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations in Indianapolis, Indiana, on November 17, 1997.
Israel is not just a country; it is an idea and an ideal. Israel's strength after a half-century of independence can be attributed to the determined efforts of its population and to the admiration, caring, and support of countless others around the world. My experience over the past 50 years has shaped my outlook for the future. I am a proud son of the kibbutzim, of the early immigrants who planted the seeds of nationhood. I am also a proud soldier of three
decades and more, from the Six Day War to the continuing battle against terrorism. I have led dozens of combat operations, and I have seen brave young Israelis give their lives in defense of the nation. I am not prepared to give up the security they have won. I have been shot at from close range, and I do not want the next generation to live with indefensible borders that are endless free-fire zones. I have led counter-terrorism raids in Beirut and elsewhere. I have seen the price paid by our commandos--and by citizens struck down or blown apart in the streets of Jerusalem and the villages of Galilee--and I am resolved that Israel will never accept any settlement that gives sustenance or sanctuary to terrorists.
Seeking a Secure Peace
When I graduated from my training as an officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1962, it was Yitzhak Rabin who pinned the officer's bars on my shoulders. I deeply believe in, and I will relentlessly pursue, the guiding vision which that soldier-statesman brought to the negotiating process: the purpose of peace is the security of Israel, and the guarantee of that security is the precondition of peace. Rabin was struck down by an extremist as he left a rally lit by a hundred thousand candles of hope. But his hope has not been extinguished--and I believe the people of Israel are determined that Yitzhak Rabin shall not have died in vain.
At decisive times in our history--and our young nation has faced many fateful decisions--we have had a leadership equal to our destiny. The Rabin-Peres government showed us that the path today, as in other critical hours, must be the path of strength and steady purpose. The Israeli leadership must be in command--leading a united party and a united government in a consistent direction, toward clear goals, with a realistic and tough-minded policy.
The window of opportunity is open. We do not have to live forever by the sword and see our children, generation after generation, die by the sword. But in a few years, this window could close--if fundamentalist regimes arise in neighboring states, and if they acquire nuclear weapons. We may have less than a decade to forge a final settlement. We cannot wait for another generation, or even for the next election. So even out of power, the Labor Party must and will be a beacon leading the way.
And every step of the way, we will follow a central principle: Israel must control its own destiny, its own future. Israel must be in control of the peace process, not pressured or manipulated by others, nor blackmailed by threats and violence. We must direct the process to serve our national interest. We will not trade security for peace; we seek peace to enhance our security.
We Israelis know war--we win wars--but we prefer peace. Nonetheless, we will not accept a peace that degrades others or endangers ourselves, nor will we accept an armistice that is in reality only a preparation for further conflict. That kind of peace would defeat us as surely as any defeat in war. We reject that kind of settlement that President Kennedy called "the peace of the grave or the peace of the slave." We will fight if we have to, as we have fought before. Rather than accepting reduced security, Israel will fight. …