Thank you very much. Thank you. I would first like to thank Dr. Ziad Asali for that wonderful introduction. But more importantly, I would like to thank you for your leadership and for your commitment to this very important cause, and for your friendship and counsel over my time as Secretary of State. Thank you very much for all that you do.
Now, before I go any further, let me wish you all Ramadan Karim to those of you here tonight, and to the millions of Muslims in America and across the world, who are now celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
I am honored that Senators Carl Levin and John Sununu are here joining us tonight, along with many members of the diplomatic corps. In particular, I would like to thank and welcome Saudi Ambassador Prince Turki al-Faisal for being here. And I know that you will make remarks later. Thank you very much.
Finally, let me congratulate the distinguished Palestinian-Americans whom we are honoring tonight: Governor John Sununu, a good and longtime friend; Mr. Jesse Aweida, and Professor Mujid Kazini. These three individuals remind us of the great contribution that Palestinian-Americans are making to our nation – adding not just to our country’s diversity, but to its character. I applaud the American Task Force on Palestine for highlighting the success of Palestinian-Americans, and for your continued support of all who work for peace in the Middle East.
Now, as I imagine most of you know, I traveled last week to the region. I consulted widely with our many friends and allies. And I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with you my sense of where we stand in the Middle East, particularly on the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
These are, without a doubt, difficult and challenging times. And I know that the past few months have been especially trying. In many places across the region – from Lebanon and Iraq, to the Palestinian territories and Israel – the images of violence, the stories of suffering, the deaths of innocent people are hard for all of us to bear. They're hard for me and I know that they are for you.
But let me also say that it is in times of testing that courage and perseverance are needed most by the people of the Middle East who deserve our support. It is my belief, and that of President Bush, that when we look at the recent actions of radicals in Hamas and Hezbollah, or at the violence of terrorists and militias in Iraq, or at the policies of governments like Syria or Iran, we are witnessing a campaign of extremism – not always commonly planned, but sharing a common purpose: to roll back the promise of a hopeful Middle East, where security, and freedom, and opportunity can expand.
If peace and dignity are to prevail in the region, then it is absolutely essential for leaders to be able to show, for moderate leaders to show, that their ideas, and their principles, and their vision for the future can offer a better alternative than violence and terrorism. That is why President Bush asked me to travel last week to the Middle East – to confer with moderate voices, with moderate Arab governments and with moderate leaders, to build a support for those people who are trying and who need our help more than ever now, leaders like Prime Minister Siniora in Lebanon, Prime Minister Maliki in Iraq, and most especially, of course, President Abbas in the Palestinian territories, from whom we have just heard.
Last month, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, President Bush reiterated his deep conviction that the Palestinian people deserve a better life – a life that is rooted in liberty and democracy, uncompromised by violence and terrorism, unburdened by corruption and misrule, and forever free of the daily humiliation of occupation. It is this belief that led President Bush, in June of 2002, to become the first American president to make it a matter of policy that the creation of a Palestinian state, with territorial integrity, with viability, living side by side with Israel, in peace and security, would indeed strengthen peace and security, not just in the region but the peace and security of us all.
At that time, President Bush pledged that, as Palestinians stepped forward to build a peaceful, responsible state, they would find no greater partner in this endeavor than the United States. Today, we are endeavoring to keep our promise.
First, we want to help the Palestinians to lay the political foundations of a successful state. We supported the free and fair election in January 2005, in which millions of Palestinians elected Mahmoud Abbas as their president. In the days and months that have followed, we have worked to assist his government in the long and difficult process of building effective democratic institutions. When it was time for parliamentary elections earlier this year, we again supported the Palestinians’ right to choose their own leaders, and as you know, a plurality of voters cast their votes for Hamas.
At the time of the election, there were those who criticized our support for the election. And many still do. But I would ask everyone, "Is there a better way than to allow people to express their views, to have a role in choosing those who will govern them? And now look at how things are changing. For decades, Hamas dwelled in the shadows, able to hijack the future of all Palestinians at will, without ever having to answer for its actions. Today, however, the Palestinian people and the international community can hold Hamas accountable. And Hamas now faces a hard choice that it has always sought to avoid: Either you are a peaceful political party, or a violent terrorist group – but you cannot be both.
All the members of the Quartet – the United States, the United Nations, the European Union, and Russia – are holding firm in our conviction that a Palestinian partner for peace needs to accept three principles: the disavowal of terror and violence, the recognition of Israel's right to exist, and the acceptance of all previous agreements between the parties, including the Roadmap, which is the only internationally agreed-upon framework to create a Palestinian state. At the same time, we fully support President Abbas, and the growing number of his fellow citizens, who are urging Hamas to put the interests of the Palestinian people ahead of their own rejectionist agenda.
Now, we in the international community recognize that the past several months have been really hard for the Palestinian people. We know that living conditions have deteriorated, and that many are in need of assistance.
So we are working to ensure that the Palestinian people receive the food, and the medicine, and the humanitarian relief that they so desperately need. That is why the United States recently increased our direct assistance to the Palestinians to $468 million a year, with much of that going to meet basic needs. We've also worked with our foreign partners to create a temporary mechanism to channel international donor assistance directly to the Palestinian people. We and our European allies are now expanding this mechanism into a new international assistance program to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable Palestinians.
Second, we want to help the Palestinian people to lay the economic foundations of a successful state. The Palestinians are some of the most talented, best educated, and hardest working people in the Middle East. What they need more than anything are opportunities to prosper. And last November, I personally worked with parties to create an opportunity – an Agreement on Movement and Access, to help the Palestinians travel more freely and transport their goods to market. It is important that we continue to work so that Palestinians and Israelis can implement this agreement.
Finally, we want to help the Palestinians establish the environment of security and the rule of law that a successful state requires. In his speech at the United Nations last month, President Bush specifically charged me with helping the Palestinians on this front, and that was one of the key purposes of my recent visit. Together with Lt. General Keith Dayton, who is leading our efforts to help the Palestinians reform their security services, I spoke with President Abbas about how we can help him stem the violence in the West Bank and Gaza. And we are working on a new initiative, along with our allies such as Egypt, and Jordan, and the European Union.
I realize that the continuing problems of security are also a great challenge for many Palestinian-Americans living in Gaza and the West Bank – and for so many others, including many of you, who travel there often, who work for greater tolerance and understanding, and who invest your time, and your knowledge, and indeed your capital in the Palestinian territories. People like you have a vital role to play in the Middle East, and I will continue to do everything in my power to support your good work, and to ensure that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment.
You see, ladies and gentlemen, our government cannot by itself meet the historic challenge that we now face in the Middle East. To empower moderate men and women in the Palestinian territories and across the region, to help them build lives of peace and dignity, we in government need the full support of private partners: our businesses, our universities, our non-governmental organizations, and our fellow citizens like you.
Recently, President Bush formed a partnership with leaders of four major American companies to support the government and people of Lebanon. A presidential delegation traveled to Beirut last month. And together, the State Department and America’s business community are now raising millions of dollars in new assistance and investment, which will help the Lebanese people rebuild their country and revitalize their economy.
This partnership can, and should, become a model for efforts to support the Palestinian people and the government of President Abbas. So let us mobilize the full energy of the Palestinian-American community. Let us find new and more determined ways to realize our shared vision of two states, Palestine and Israel, living side by side in peace and security. And let us focus our efforts to strengthen and support moderate men and women throughout the region, who simply long for peace, and development, and dignity.
I know that sometimes a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel must seem like a very distant dream. But I know too, as a student of international history, that there are so many things that once seemed impossible that, after they happened, simply seemed inevitable. I've read over the last summer the biographies of America's Founding Fathers. By all rights, America, the United States of America, should never have come into being. We should never have survived our civil war. I should never have grown up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama to become the Secretary of State of the United States of America.
And yet, time and time again, whether in Europe or in Asia or even in parts of Africa, states that no one thought would come into being, and certainly not peacefully and democratically, did. And then looking back on them, we wonder why did anyone ever doubt that it was possible.
I know the commitment of the Palestinian people to a better future. I know firsthand the commitment of President Abbas and moderate Palestinians to that future. And I know the commitment of the people in this room and of the American Task Force on Palestine that one day indeed there will be a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.
I can only tell you that I, too, have a personal commitment to that goal because I believe that there could be no greater legacy for America than to help to bring into being a Palestinian state for a people who have suffered too long, who have been humiliated too long, who have not reached their potential for too long, and who have so much to give to the international community and to all of us. I promise you my personal commitment to that goal.
Thank you very much.