The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1995Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Speech in Jerusalem – 12 March 1995

Below is the transcript of Mr Major’s speech which was made in Jerusalem on Sunday 12th March 1995.


Prime Minister, Mrs Rabin, Mr Mayor of Jerusalem, Distinguished Guests. Over the years I have attended many formal occasions. I must tell you in the confidence of this private meeting that they don’t always seem to me to be like a family occasion. But I think tonight is different. Looking around this room I see a very large number of familiar faces, so many old friends that I feel very much at home here in Jerusalem, and for Norma and I it is a real pleasure to be with you here this evening.

To come to Israel, to come to Jerusalem at any time is a very special event. Norma and I do so together for the first, but I hope and pray not for the last, time. It is a very rare moment for us and one that we will always treasure.

I have often thought of Jerusalem, thought of it perhaps like millions of other people in the words of the song “Jerusalem the Golden”, a holy city, a place of pilgrimage, a place of devotion. It means many different things, some expressible, some perhaps to individuals inexpressible, to people who come from many different parts of the world. But whatever their background, for everyone they can agree that Jerusalem is unique. I share that feeling again this evening.

In my country one of our great poets, William Blake, wanted to see the sanctity and the beauty of Jerusalem in our own green and pleasant land in England. His poem “Jerusalem”, familiar I think to everyone in this room, is sung each year at the end of the Promenade concerts in London, and many of you will know it as an enthusiastic and an inspirational event.

But Jerusalem of course is a great deal more than that, it exerts a very powerful sense of history, a history stretching back through many thousands of years, a proud history but in many ways a tragic history, but above all a history of hope and this year above all years we look back particularly to the terrible period 50 years ago of the Second World War. We have recently commemorated the liberation of Auschwitz. In April we will commemorate the liberation of Belsen by British troops, British troops who were deeply affected by what they found when they arrived there. Many of the survivors of Belsen live in Israel today, many of them no doubt in Jerusalem, others live in Britain. The horrors of the past make for a shared understanding and remembrance for the future.

In May we shall give thanks for the end of the war in Europe and four months later we shall commemorate the cessation of hostilities in the Far East. There are many people here in Israel, some of them beyond doubt here this evening, who participated in those battles. We remember the contribution of your pilots, one of whom is now your President. We remember the heroic contribution of your parachutists dropped behind enemy lines. And some of you of course fought in the British Army under the Star of David flag, marching together as Churchill memorably expressed it in that high comradeship for freedom and for the deliverance of mankind.

Tomorrow I shall go to Yad Vashem, a place of special pilgrimage for all mankind, to remember six million Jews murdered in the holocaust. The struggle of the survivors to rebuild their lives, so many of them here in Israel, attest movingly to the capacity for hope, ultimately for hope to triumph against the most appalling despair. Very probably, in all history, there is no greater testament for hope than the fact that so many people from that terrible background, from those terrible memories, were able to look forward and build a new life for themselves, so many of them here in Israel where they felt perhaps for the first time in their lives at home and I hope safe.

We owe it, I believe, to those who died or suffered to find ways to carry forward that hope, to promote mutual respect, toleration, peace and reconciliation. But as we plan for the future, unless we are prepared to remember what happened in the past and take action against it, we may find ourselves condemned to re-live that past again. So we are constantly tested. The scourge of terrorism, as you said Prime Minister, has afflicted both our countries. I believe there can be no place for violence in any democratic society. I know that you share this view. We agree that terrorism is the common enemy and whatever the cost it must be implacably opposed. We must persevere in the search for lasting solutions to long-standing divisions.

I remember with affection our last meeting sometime ago in Downing Street. And yet only hours after that meeting on a particularly dark and dank October afternoon last year, another terrorist atrocity in the heart of Tel Aviv shocked the world. That tragedy was followed by others. Our hearts in the United Kingdom have gone out to the people of Israel. The bombers’ intention by their actions must be perfectly clear to anyone who thinks about it for about a second, it is to derail the peace process, to damage the people who seek peace, to end the prospect of trying to produce a future that is without violence and with hope. They seek to use terror for their own purposes.

It is to your credit, Prime Minister, and that of your government and of the people of Israel that they have not succeeded in that aim. And in the future they must not be allowed to succeed, they cannot be allowed to succeed, and I have no doubt that that is a view that you and I share very deeply indeed.

I stand today in Israel among a people for whom the yearning for peace is fundamental to their very instinct, it is symbolised in the olive branches that form part of your national emblem. In my country the people of Northern Ireland have the sane yearning. But we also know, both of us Prime Minister, that you cannot have peace without security, that you cannot make peace without patience, without tenacity, without courage and. without the will to seek it, to take it and to hold it. We know that and I believe that will is here in Israel and that it will prevail in the future.

Relations between the United Kingdom and Israel go back of course, as you said, to the very foundation of the State of Israel and to the Balfour Declaration. You, Prime Minister, reminded me some time ago that your own father joined the British Army’s Jewish Legion as a result of that declaration, that he came here as a British soldier in 1918, which is why you yourself were born here.

Let me speak for a moment about British/Israeli relations, the seven strands of our shared interests: in politics, defence, culture, education, science, trade and investment. Our countries have had their disagreements in the past, at times with painful and with tragic consequences. But Britain and Israel, despite those disagreements, whatever they may have been, however hard the hurt might have been at the time, Britain and Israel have always been bound together by a huge network of family ties and close personal friendships, and that is reflected in the large party of businessmen, parliamentarians, educationalists and academics who have come with me to Israel from the United Kingdom today.

Those historic differences I believe are behind us and we are bound now by friendship, respect, cooperation and understanding. Our political relationship, as both of us have made clear again today, has never been as warm as it is tonight, we have never had so much content and so much common ground, and it is my wish, Prime Minister, and yours, that we keep that valued effect and build on it in the future.

Since you took office, Prime Minister, there has been a marked and very welcome increase in high-level political contacts in both directions and I am delighted that you personally, Foreign Minister Perez and many of your Cabinet colleagues have been frequent and welcome visitors to London. Most recently, my friend and colleague, Malcolm Rifkind, made the first visit to Israel by a British Defence Secretary and in that context I remember with gratitude your cooperation with the Allies during the Gulf War and the resolution of your people under missile attacks.

The fears and the uncertainties of that time, the gathering of every family in its sealed room, that made a very strong impression upon us in Britain. I vividly remember personally long nights in the Cabinet Room at Downing Street as reports arrived of further Iraqi Scud missile attacks on Israel. We waited anxiously as your people donned face masks in case the Scuds were chemically-tipped as we feared they well might be. We felt deeply for the innocent Israeli victims of violence. We rejoiced in the success of the Patriot batteries and I also authorised certain measures from London to cut off those attacks.

In what developed into their largest and most significant operation since 1945, the United Kingdom Special Forces were charged specifically with countering the threat posed by the Iraqi Scud missiles. Those Special Forces achieved very remarkable success; significantly fewer Scuds took to the air as a direct result of their efforts. In carrying out their tasks, the Special Forces and the air crews supporting them showed a determination and a courage of the highest order. In little more than one month, Prime Minister, some forty gallantry awards were won by those involved in those operations on land and in the air and in this country of all countries in the world that so well understands the meaning of courage, the value of that contribution needs no further underlining.

Since the Gulf war, the United Nations Special Commission has made great progress in detecting and destroying Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and this has been achieved by the firm and sustained pressure of the sanctions regime. Mr. Prime Minister, sanctions must continue until their objectives are met and met in full. Last year’s threat to Kuwait, to which the United Kingdom responded very firmly, was a timely reminder. Saddam Hussein continues policies of harsh repression to Iraq’s people, he continues to threaten the stability and the security of the whole region and there are still very serious questions to be answered about Iraq’s biological weapons capability. United Nations sanctions come up this week for renewal. The international community must not be gulled by Saddam’s tactics of evasion and deception. I can assure you that the United Kingdom will not be deceived. We shall continue with good reason to approach sanctions rigorously in the interests of Iraq’s people and of the Middle East as a whole. We are determined to ensure that the whole of Iraq’s biological capability is detected and once detected is then destroyed before there can be any question of adjustments to the sanctions regime.

At the other end of the spectrum, Prime Minister, is our common cultural heritage. I was pleased to hear that the Royal National Theatre showed you their skills last year. Next year, the Royal Ballet will be with you and meanwhile the British Council will be bringing to Israel a host of other actors, actresses, dancers, writers, musicians and painters. There are also intense and longstanding links between us on the academic field, many of them assisted by remarkably generous private philanthropists and many of you have studied in Britain and I want similar opportunities to be available for future generations.

With that in mind, we are providing ever more scholarships and study grants, we are training your teachers of English, we are encouraging university links. We shall be working with and helping your Ministry of Education in running English-language summer camps in Northern Israel this summer and tomorrow I shall be announcing a scheme of British awards for excellence in English.

This evening, I can tell you that we are going to double the science and technology fund established last year for joint work on subjects where we are both pre-eminent. We are also establishing with you a new, special arts training programme which will build upon the Israeli love for British drama and British music.

These links, Prime Minister, are underpinned by a fast-growing trading relationship that now amounts to over £1.5 billion a year. Israel is Britain’s third-largest market in the Middle East and among our top twenty five worldwide.

I have brought with me on this occasion a team of businessmen and industrialists that I believe is beyond doubt the highest-powered business delegation ever to travel abroad with a British Prime Minister. Tomorrow, they sit down with their Israeli counterparts to discuss how the rapid development of our economies can best be tapped to our mutual advantage.

Trade and investment go hand-in-hand. The United Kingdom now has one of the highest growth rates in Europe, rising employment and low inflation and that is recognised in every part of the world with possibly the single exception of the United Kingdom itself! [Laughter] But I live in hope!

We are unencumbered by many of the high, non-wage labour costs that burden business in the rest of Europe. We have privatised and we have deregulated. The benefits, I believe, are self-evident. Britain welcomes investment from abroad and Britain likes to invest abroad. We have more external investment per head of population than any other nation anywhere in the world. I believe the chance to boost mutual interests is very great. Investment in the British economy of course is not only profitable in itself, it gives access to the largest single trading market in the world and I believe investment in Israel is a prudent investment for the future.

Prime Minister, no British Prime Minister can come to Israel without being acutely conscious of the wider political changes that face you. The United Kingdom is not a party to the peace negotiations but we are determined supporters of those negotiations. The role of a friend is to support, to offer private advice and public help. We all recognise that in the longer term Israel and her neighbours must reach an accommodation and Israel must take her rightful place in the region. We welcome and we firmly support the peace process and we applaud the courage which Israel has shown in pursuing it. You have made great strides: first, in 1980, peace with Egypt; now, a peace treaty with Jordan. Difficult negotiations lie ahead with Syria and Lebanon but the goal of a lasting peace is unanswerable, it is surely right to keep on trying however difficult, however frustrating, however hard the road may be and however many setbacks you may encounter upon that road. Meanwhile, negotiations with the Palestinians will remain essential to Israel’s future and those negotiations are bound to be complex, they are bound to be difficult, they could scarcely be anything other, While you continue with that process of seeking peace, the terrorists will go on trying to destroy that process of seeking peace; that is the nature of terrorism but that violence and that extremism serve nobody’s end.

I would say, if I may, as an external observer of what has happened, surely it can be in neither side’s long-term interest to turn back from the progress that has been made. Substantial progress has now been reached; Palestinian self-rule now includes control of their own agriculture, education, tourism and taxation and to all those like the United Kingdom who wish the peace process well, there is a great deal to be welcomed in what has already been achieved and I believe it is starting to bear a wider fruit. Israel’s contacts in the region are widening, the Arab boycott is visibly decaying, the international community widely supports your search for peace. Of course, difficulties will arise, setbacks will be inevitable and steady nerves will be needed as you carry the process forward. I have no doubt, Prime Minister, that you have the steady nerves that are necessary and the United Kingdom will stand shoulder to shoulder with those who continue that search for peace.

Very soon, you will be celebrating the Festival of Purim. It is a happy time, a time of giving gifts, a time for charity, a time for joy, a time for revelry, a time to celebrate historically the defeat of evil, a time to remember that evil can be defeated, a time to recall that across the centuries people have arisen to destroy the Jewish people but they have failed to destroy the Jewish people. The celebration reminds us of your survival and your strength as a nation.

If I have a wish as a visitor to your country, as a friend, I hope, of your country, it is that the spirit of happiness and rejoicing that is characteristic of that celebration will always be here in Israel, that the spirit of peace will flourish in the region, that the drive for peace – so hard to achieve but so hard-pushed for so long – will succeed. That, I think, is a prayer that all the friends of Israel and all friends of the Middle East can willingly subscribe to.

Thank you for inviting Norma and I to join you at this dinner this evening. Thank you for inviting us to Israel for what is already turning, out to be a memorable visit. We looked forward to it before we came and I believe the reality is matching up to our expectations.

May I, as your guest, ask you to rise for the toast that I would wish to propose: a toast to the Prime Minister of Israel, to the United Kingdom-Israeli relationship and to the future success of the peace process for all the people of Israel. [Applause]