Precondition for Peace - Security

The Bible tells us that men cry out for peace, and there is no peace. Such has been the stark history of humankind. And nowhere is that tragic truth more evident and more long-lived than in the Middle East.

Israel's struggle for survival and security is a sad testament to the fact that no people on earth have been subjected to so much violence, vengeance and vitriol as have the Jewish people. Following the Holocaust the international community determined that Jews ought to have a sovereign state of sanctuary in a land of their biblical patrimony. Today, more than 50 years later, the effectiveness of that action remains at issue.

Last week I was privileged to lead the largest Congressional delegation in history on a visit to Israel and to Gaza. It was composed of 29 Democratic members of US Congress, representing some 19 million Americans.

Our delegation came to see and to learn. We came, as well, to express our solidarity with Israel's cause and its steadfast determination to survive and to succeed as that democratic sanctuary contemplated by the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and by the United Nations 30 years later on November 29, 1947.

For most Americans the terror Israel has faced since its birth was remote. That changed, however, on September 11, 2001, when Americans came face to face with the wrenching and senseless loss of life caused by terrorism motivated by hate. September 11 also confronted Americans with the fear that comes from being unable to identify enemies and threats, and the complexity and danger of confronting those who use terror and unconventional weapons against civilians indiscriminately.

In less than two hours on that fateful day, President Bush was required to reexamine his belief that America should not involve itself so directly or multilaterally in international peacemaking - or so-called "nation building." Shortly after this history-changing terrorist attack he called for a common cause by all nations to eliminate the scourge of terrorism and hold accountable those nations and individuals who facilitate, harbor, and encourage those who urge and use terror as a deadly tool to kill and intimidate the objects of their venom.

Congress has consistently and with large bipartisan majorities supported that cause - against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq; against al-Qaida and other like-minded terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad; and, most emphatically, against the use of terror to thwart Israel's continued existence and quest for security.

Earlier this year, I coauthored a letter with my Republican counterpart (Rep. Roy Blunt) - a letter signed by more than 300 House Members - that urged President Bush to adhere to the formulation for Middle East peace that was included in his speech on June 24, 2002.

We reiterated that any successful road map must be based on the premises articulated in the president's speech: an end of terror and the dismantling of terrorist organizations; the rejection of Arafat and the selection of new leadership for the Palestinian Authority; the establishment of democratic institutions by the Palestinians; and an absolute and unambiguous commitment to a secure, sovereign and Arab-accepted Israel.

Furthermore, our letter recognized as well that a Palestinian state - a state that is democratic and that rejects terror and terrorists - was in the best interest of the Palestinian people and of Israel. And it agreed with Bush that "permanent occupation threatens Israel's identity and democracy."

Our delegation was a diverse group of Democratic Party representatives who came from every region of America and the territory of Guam. More than one-third were members serving their first year in the Congress. Nearly one-third were women. The delegation included four African-Americans, a Hispanic and a Pacific-Islander. For many, it was their first visit to Israel.

Our visit included meetings with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and members of his cabinet, Labor Party Chairman Shimon Peres, and Speaker Reuven Rivlin and representatives of coalition and opposition parties in the Knesset; Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abbas; representatives of the academic, religious, press and medical communities. We also had the opportunity to see firsthand the security challenges and realities confronting Israel.

AT THE conclusion of our visit there existed a strong consensus on a number of the issues that had been discussed during the week. First, security is an absolute precondition for peace. In that context, the security fence, which has become such a focus, was felt to be a reasonable and acceptable attempt to reduce terrorist attacks that threaten the personal security of the Israeli people and make the accomplishment of peace much more difficult.

Second, while Abbas is viewed as a possible positive partner by Israel's leadership, Yasser Arafat continues to be the most virulent opponent of rejecting and dismantling terrorists and their organizations, and thus he makes problematic Abbas's ability to succeed in assuring the precondition for peace and security.

Finally, the plight of the Palestinian people is one which must concern us all. And, as I said in my press conference in Jerusalem, the Palestinians' plight has been undermined by the tactics of terror, the incitement to hate, and the refusal to seek peace - conditions which have characterized their leadership and others in the Arab world as well.

IF HUMANITY'S future is to be one we would wish for our children, it will be so because the international community demands that civilized norms be adhered to and because it has the courage and the will to accomplish that end.

A peaceful process is clearly the most positive alternative to achieve that objective, but a free society that cannot or will not assure an international community governed by law in which freedom can survive and thrive will not long endure.

As we have in the past, America stands ready to work with other nations to help attain a better life for the Palestinian people within their own land. But those who have undermined that objective must know that America will always be committed to Israel's survival, security and success as the haven and homeland for the Jewish people contemplated more than half a century ago by the UN.