Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spoke on Monday,March 19 at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington,D.C.,imploring the Jewish-American students in attendance to come to Israel and lend their support,while blaming the Arab nations surrounding Israel for the current instability in the region.
His motorcade arrived amid both severe criticism and genuine praise as protesters lined one side of the street outside the Washington Hilton Hotel and supporters lined the other. Police were on hand for crowd control and security was tight,but nothing deterred Sharon from speaking at the conference's “Salute to the 107th Congress” banquet.
“We need you,all of you,in Israel right now,” Sharon said to the student conferees. “The future of Israel is not just a matter for the Israelis that live there. Israel belongs to the entire Jewish people. And Israel would not be what it is today if it were not for the efforts of all Jews worldwide…Our destinies tie us together and remain firmly bound. Now I turn to your generation to stand by Israel at this critical hour…But if you can not,it is also the time to visit…to learn and study Israel.”
To the general audience,which included,among others,U.S. Sens. Hilary Rodham Clinton,D-N.Y.,and Mary Landrieu,D-La.,Sharon listed specific reasons for the breakdown in the Middle East peace process.
“A new wave of international terrorism is on the rise from Afghanistan to Lebanon,some of it state-sponsored. Most recently,acts of terror instigated by the Palestinian Authority,coupled with deliberate incitement,have become one of the primary sources of instability in the Middle East,” Sharon declared. “Regional security is eroding in the wider Middle East. Iraq has not been under [United Nations] monitoring for more than two years and sanctions have been increasingly ignored…Iran today is providing unprecedented support for terrorism. It…seeks to arm and train Palestinian organizations like…Islamic Jihad that are planning attacks within Israel and against Jewish and Israeli targets abroad…Syria is looking east to its ties with a resurgent Iraq and Iran,instead of better relations with the West.”
By comparison,U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's address earlier that day was more generalized,as he recognized Middle East countries that were involved,but did not bring out a laundry list of countries that he felt were to blame.
“Even now,however,it is apparent that certain aspects of Iranian government behavior – the support for terrorism,repression of the rights of the Iranian people,especially those of Jewish descent,unfairly charged and harshly imprisoned – are of deep concern to the United States and to the American people…The impact [of the violence] has also been traumatic for Palestinians. Thousands have been injured,hundreds have died. For every one of those losses,a family grieves; for every one of [those] losses,a dream is destroyed. The Palestinian economy is in shambles with unemployment skyrocketing and growth absent.”
But while Powell drew a dramatic picture of the suffering of the peoples on both sides of the conflict,Sharon only touched briefly on the citizens not directly involved in the conflict. “Let me emphasize that I draw a clear distinction between terrorists and their supporters,on the one hand,and the general population on the other.”
The one thing both agreed on was a need for an end to the violence. “Arafat needs to understand that [he] will gain nothing through violence,” Sharon said to a cheering crowd.
He ended with a note of hope. “Together we can make the Jewish people secure,make Israel safe,and assure for generations an Israel which is a true island of democracy at peace,with a united Jerusalem as its eternal capital.”