Address to the Kennedy School of Government by the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom (Excerpts)

March 7, 2005

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Old enemies of freedom such as Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein are gone, and their demise has brought free elections, which offer the prospect of positive change for their peoples. Libyan leader Muammar Khaddafi is seeking closer relations with the West, while Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, has also acknowledged the change in the public spirit - by opening up the forthcoming Presidential elections to more than one candidate. And then, there is the remarkable response of the Lebanese people to the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and to the decades of Syrian occupation - a popular response now backed by key Arab states and publics. In short, the people of the Middle East are choosing freedom.

At the same time, this choice is raising fears as to the consequences of such openness. Fears that democracy will bring power to the extremists.

The elections in Iraq brought to power, for the first time in the Arab world, a Shia government, rather than a Sunni one. There are fears now that a coalition of Shia states may emerge to threaten the more traditional balance of regional power. Many remember also, that when Khomeini came to power in Iran, his was claimed to be a moderate Shia regime. Nevertheless, despite these concerns, I do not believe that we have the right to say, that certain peoples should not enjoy the freedoms of democracy. On the contrary. The more that democracy and its open institutions take root, the stronger will be the defences, against the very extremism which threatens it today. Giving people the right to make their own choices, is preferable to tyranny.

Of course, there are those for whom any change is anathema, and who will do everything in their power to stop it. First, the global network of terrorist organizations, led by al-Qaida, whose sole purpose is to sow hatred and destruction, where hope and cooperation might thrive. And second, regimes - like that of Bashar Assad in Syria and the Ayatollahs in Iran - for whom there is no greater danger than the emergence of free societies.

Regimes which actively support and bank-roll the terror of Hizbullah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, because they seek to perpetuate the conflict in the Middle East, not least so that their own shortcomings, can always be blamed on others. Regimes - and here I am focusing on Iran - whose drive to acquire nuclear weapons - coupled with their extreme Islamic ideology - endangers the stability, not only of the Middle East, but of the entire world.

It was once said of America's economic clout, that if America coughed, the whole world caught a cold. In today's globalized world - where the flow of information across the internet and 24-hour TV is unstoppable - this is true now for any phenomenon, particularly those of a more destructive nature. As a result, the old paradigm of national security is changing.

No longer can states presume to provide for their security and well-being, without regard for the security of others in more distant lands. Today, the security of others - even those far away - is critical to our own.

In navigating these uncertain waters, leaders today must choose between two competing strategies - between preserving stability as a goal in itself, and taking the initiative to promote positive change. I believe that we must choose the latter.

For too long, the free world has tended to leave the initiative in the hands of those who oppose our way of life - be they the terrorists or the anti-Semites, or the nuclear proliferators, or just the plain racists and bigots. Even the need to defend our values and ideals from these threats has been questioned in some quarters - particularly when these dark agendas are hidden in the flag of the struggle against occupation, and such like.

The current state of the international system offers a real opportunity to carry the banner of democracy forward. We must seize this opportunity. It is not enough merely to react. We must be proactive. We must harness the new beginnings of change in order to ensure, that they prevail over the extremism which seeks to engulf them - and us with them.

Every effort must be made, to empower the moderates and to weaken the extremists. Every effort must be made to ensure, that the voices calling for freedom, will prevail.

These are not merely abstract ideas. There are tangible steps that all countries must take:

• First, to deny the terrorist organizations and their affiliates the ability to raise money, and other resources for their activities. This is why Israel is calling on the European Union and others, to place Hizbullah on their list of terrorist organizations.

• Second, to hold states like Iran and Syria to account, for their ongoing support for terror.

• Third, to stand up in support for the calls of the Lebanese people to rid themselves of Syria's occupation, and to demand full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. Almost two years ago, the students of Iran waited for the western world to come to their aid, as they demonstrated against their oppressive government, but the West was nowhere to be found. We must not make the same mistake now. Partial withdrawals are not enough. Syria must give the Lebanese people, the freedom they seek. And when they do so, I have no doubt that Israel and Lebanon will be able to reach a lasting and productive peace.

• Fourth, the international community must also act to bring to an end, Iran's reckless drive for nuclear weapons, which will radically alter the regional and global balance of power, setting off a terrible arms race.

• The world must also unite as one, to combat the new rise in anti-Semitism and racism, in all its forms. Each and every expression of such hatred, poses a clear danger to the fabric of civil society everywhere, and the very pluralism, which lies at the core of our democratic values.

• And finally, in the Palestinian context - the world must unite in the effort to help the Palestinians build democratic institutions and practices, which will ensure that they can indeed be a true partner for peace.

This requires full reform of the Palestinian security apparatus, the establishment of an effective legal system and comprehensive financial reforms. The Palestinians must take urgent and effective steps to shut down the terrorist groups that have taken Palestinian society hostage, and to remove the culture of terrorism and violence, that still fills children's text books and television.

Words are not enough. We need to see results. Sadly, and despite his welcome and positive rhetoric, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has yet to show, that he is ready to take such measures. He has yet to take the strategic decision to end - once and for all - the Palestinian resort to terror. Instead, his ceasefire with the terrorist groups leaves the fate of the process in their hands, instead of the hands of the peacemakers. None of us - including the Palestinians themselves - can afford to do that.

Israel sees itself as a partner to the United States, Europe and the free world, in the effort to defend and promote our shared values. We have been at the forefront of the battle against terror, for many years. Indeed, it is only in recent years that the international community has stopped seeing terror in the Middle East - together with Iran's nuclear ambitions - as Israel's problem alone.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

In all the years of authoritarian rule in the Middle East, perhaps the greatest denial, has been the denial of hope. The one thing that has made the recent changes in our region possible, is the renewal of hope, that things can be different. That they can be better. People no longer fear the extremists, as they once did. They are beginning to realize that the benefits of freedom, can also be theirs. The tyranny of terror - and the terror of tyranny - are being broken. And as societies open up, to the values and institutions of democracy, so will their security - and ours - become even stronger.

In a world where governments are accountable to their people - the lies and incitement which turn the Twin Towers into the enemies of Islam, cannot survive. The move towards greater democracy and greater accountability in the Middle East and beyond, will not always be smooth. But I am convinced, that it is the only way to ensure the greater freedom, greater security and greater prosperity, that we seek for all. The challenge the free world faces at this time, is to live up to the responsibility of defending our values.

Israel has always believed - together with America - that freedom must be protected. I believe that we are now at a moment of true hope, and real opportunity, in the service of this cause. If we all act with wisdom and courage, we can fulfill this great mission, and achieve what every one of us dreams of - peace for our children, that will last for generations.

This is the vision, the dream, which guides us.

Thank you.