President of Israel Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin, was today (Thursday), officially awarded the Scholar-Statesman Medal by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The Scholar-Statesman Award celebrates outstanding leaders who, through their public service and professional achievements, exemplify the idea that sound scholarship and a discerning knowledge of history are essential to wise and effective policy and the advancement of peace and security in the Middle East. Previous recipients include US President Bill Clinton, Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice, former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, and King Abdullah II of Jordan who sent a special video message to President Rivlin on his award.
In bestowing the award on President Rivlin, the Institute’s executive director Dr. Robert Satloff said that it was a privilege to honor President Rivlin for his “commitment to integrity, commitment to tolerance, to unity, and to hope”.
The President then spoke in conversation with Dr. Satloff via Zoom, which was broadcast to the Washington Institute’s supporters and a wide audience of leading policy, academic and media figures, in place of the annual dinner which could not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic. The president thanked Dr. Satloff and all at the Washington Institute, for the award, which he noted was a great privilege to receive.
In their discussion, the president spoke about the resilience of Israel’s democracy, the recent seismic changes in the region, and about his hopes for a future end to the conflict with the Palestinian Arabs based on mutual trust and respect.
President Rivlin explained the importance of democracy in Jewish tradition, “Democracy is democracy. When we talk about a Jewish democracy, the Talmud Rabbis, the Talmud philosophers had a lot of differences of opinion to say the least, and the decision was the decision of the majority.”
He added, “Israel is a Jewish democratic state. Not less Jewish, and not less of a democracy. Even 120 members of the Knesset, the whole Knesset, cannot change the nature of Israel as a Jewish state, and cannot change the nature of Israel as a democracy.”
Speaking on regional developments, the president welcomed the recent normalization agreements and spoke of the need to build trust with the Palestinian Arabs. “Without confidence, we cannot get to any kind of agreements and understanding, to bring to an end the tragedy that we are living in, and sign a real peace,” he said, and noted, “I spoke to the president of the Palestinian people, President Abbas, and told him, you see when corona, or when somebody out there decides that he can endanger all of us, there are no borders.”
The president stressed, “We have to find a way in order to understand: we are not doomed to live together, we are destined to live together. We have peace with the Egyptians for more than 40 years, we have peace with the Jordanians for the last 27 years – we have peace with the King, with the president, with the administrations, sometimes we have peace with the armies when we need to uphold the security of the whole region. But we don’t have peace between the peoples, and as long as we don’t have peace between the people, it is really something that cannot bring us to real peace, to real understanding.”
On the Palestinian Arabs the president said, “We can talk about ‘two states for two people’, ‘one state for all the people’, federation, confederation – but first of all we have to build confidence. I tried to say so to every American president, that we need to find the way in order to build confidence. I tried to convince President Trump that confidence, building confidence, you cannot get it by making a deal. You have to have confidence with somebody. He understood, but we have no one who understands it in the region."
The president spoke about the important role of the Israeli Arab population in acting as a bridge to Israel’s neighbors, and of Israel’s responsibility to their well-being as a community. “I am doing a lot in order to bring the Israeli Arabs to be the real bridge between the populations. I would like the Israeli Arabs to become the real bridge between us and all the Arab people. We have no war whatsoever with Islam. Never ever have we had a war with Islam. We had war, unfortunately, with the Arab states who rejected the very idea of creating a Jewish state. But I really believe that the Israeli Arabs will go to Abu Dhabi, and they will be asked where they are from, and they will say “we are Israelis”, then we will have found the right way to create real confidence between everyone in the region.”
President Rivlin spoke of the deep appreciation of the Israeli people for President Trump, and expressed his congratulations to President-elect Biden, with whom he spoke by telephone this week.
Noting the importance of the deep friendship between Israel and the United States, he said, “We are not Republicans and we are not Democrats – we know we have a friend in the American people – bipartisan. We know that the friendship between the Americans and the Israelis goes beyond politics. Everyone who will be elected or was elected to become the president, we would like him to hear us, because we know that first of all he not only respects us because of our values, and our way of thinking, and our behavior, but also because we know we have a real strategic partnership in many fields.”
Earlier, the president was presented the medal in person by representatives of the Institute in Israel, Mrs. Robin Neustein, of the Board of Trustees of the Washington Institute, and former IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot who commented, “President Rivlin, you are a man of ideas, and a man of the people. A scholar whose knowledge of where your people have come from guides you in asserting a path for their future. A statesman whose honesty and integrity are above reproach. At a time of anger, division, and intolerance, you are a powerful voice of tolerance, unity and hope.”