Watch and analyze the conference speeches
Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara delivers a speech deeply critical of Israel during the Madrid conference. Credit: Moshe Milner, Israeli Government Press Office

Some important moments at the Madrid peace conference take place behind the scenes when people who have been strangers and enemies make personal connections. But the speeches during three days of plenary sessions represent official government positions and reveal how far all the sides must go to achieve regional peace.

The presidents of the United States and Soviet Union open the proceedings, then entrust their foreign secretaries to oversee the conference. Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan are represented by their foreign ministers, as is the Netherlands, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Community. The Palestinians, lacking a government structure and barred from sending members of the Tunis-based PLO leadership, are led by a well-known Gaza activist.

Alone among the Middle Eastern participants, Israel sends its prime minister.

What does it say that Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, not Foreign Minister David Levy, leads the Israeli delegation? Does it demonstrate a readiness to deal, as Menachem Begin, the only previous prime minister from Shamir’s Likud part, did at Camp David in 1978? Or is Shamir, who rejected a plan for a regional peace conference negotiated by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres in 1987, determined to prevent progress behind his back?

Click on each name to view the speech; click on “full text” to read the transcript. Oct. 30, 1991: Welcome Speeches From the “Neutral” Parties

  • U.S. President George H.W. Bush (full text) — “We seek peace, real peace. And by real peace, I mean treaties, security, diplomatic relations, economic relations, trade, investment, cultural exchange, even tourism. … A Middle East where normal men and women lead normal lives.”

  • Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (full text) — “It is essential to fracture the logic of so many millennia, and particularly the logic of this century, persistently and patiently, to shape a new logic of interdependence, interaction, and cooperation. … Even here at this conference, ghosts of the old thinking, sometimes unnoticed, are still present among us.”

  • Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, European Community acting president (full text) — “We hope to find ourselves in a Middle Eastern landscape … where the legitimate security needs of all have been met, where peoples give shape to their own future and a new life beckons for the region as a whole, and in particular for the Palestinians, who have been the principal victims of the Arab-Israeli dispute.”

  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa (full text) — “The West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights are occupied Arab territories subject to the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 242. They are not also conquered territories. They are not lands promised to other peoples. They have their legitimate sovereigns.”

Oct. 31, 1991: Opening Speeches of the Delegation Heads

  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (full text) — “As an examination of the conflict’s long history makes clear, its nature is not territorial. It raged well before Israel acquired Judaea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan in a defensive war. There was no hint of recognition of Israel before the war in 1967. … The issue is not territory but our existence.”

  • Jordanian Foreign Minister Kamel Abu Jaber (full text) — “If this conference does anything, it must end Israel’s self-righteous attitude to live by its own rules alone. … The Nazis and others unleashed the passions of injured Zionism for which the Palestinians and Jordan have paid the price. God only knows the price we continue to pay for the sins of others.”

  • Head of Palestinian delegation Haider Abdel al-Shafi (full text) — “Israel must demonstrate its willingness to negotiate in good faith by immediately halting all settlement activity and land confiscation while implementing meaningful confidence-building measures. Without genuine progress, tangible constructive changes and just agreements during the bilateral talks, multilateral negotiations will be meaningless.”

  • Lebanese Foreign Minister Fares Bouez (full text) — “The situation is further exacerbated when citizens are uprooted from their homeland, their birthplace, under various unrealistic slogans, cut off from their environment, their culture, the soil they tilled, their achievements, to be forced in their hundreds of thousands to leave wide expanses of land and faraway continents in order to be settled on a narrow bank of territory which is the object of contention and fighting, a country they did not know and to which they are not realistically linked. By this I mean the Soviet citizens who are being pushed into emigration.”

  • Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara (full text) — “It is no exaggeration to state that the continuing intransigent Israeli position, which is bereft of any justification, is the one that places the world on the brink of incalculable dangers and prevents the region from enjoying peace. … Had Israel’s policies not been settler-colonialist, Palestinians languishing under Israeli occupation since 1967 would not have been denied all their fundamental rights.”

Nov. 1, 1991: Closing Speeches

  • Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir (full text) — “We can respond to each and every charge, to every misrepresentation of history and fact. … We, too, can cite morality, justice and international legality in our favor. But is this what we have come here for? … Syria is the home of a host of terrorist organizations that spread violence and death to all kinds of innocent targets. … The Palestinian Arab spokesman made a valiant effort at recounting the sufferings of his people. But let me say that twisting history and perversion of fact will not earn them the sympathy which they strive to acquire.”

  • Jordanian Foreign Minister Kamel Abu Jaber (full text) — “The negatives embodied in the Israeli address were in stark contrast to the willingness on the Arab side to negotiate an honorable settlement. Again Israel said no to Palestinian self-determination; no to withdrawal from the West Bank, including Arab Jerusalem; no to withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, Jordanian territory as well as the Lebanese south. Bluntly and publicly Israel effectively declared its intention to maintain its illegal position and continue its settlement program.”

  • Head of Palestinian delegation Haider Abdel al-Shafi (full text) — “The issue is land, and what is at stake here is the survival of the Palestinian people on what is left of our olive groves and orchards, our terraced hills and peaceful valleys, our ancestral homes, villages and cities. … We, the people of Palestine, hereby offer the Israelis an alternative path to peace and security: abandon mutual fear and mistrust, approach us as equals within a two-state solution, and let us work for the development and prosperity of our region based on mutual benefit and well-being.”

  • Lebanese Foreign Minister Fares Bouez (full text) — “A clear difference emerged between Arab positions, which sought to overcome hate between countries and the residue of the past in order to open a new page in regional relations founded on wisdom and reason, and that of an Israeli position which maintained its traditional ideas and allegations, which have been clearly proven to run counter to the peace process in the region. … We wonder why Israel continues to occupy Lebanon, why it continues to incite violence in Lebanon, why it continues to denigrate the dignity of our people.”

  • Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara (full text) — “The head of the Israeli delegation, who has just left, paying no heed to this historic conference and to the peace process, has taken a different course from the chief subject on whose basis the conference is held, which is the achievement of just, comprehensive and lasting peace. … He reaffirms occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem, Golan. Anybody who looks carefully into this will find out the truth. The Arabs are the only people who lived in Palestine over millennia.”

  • Egyptian Foreign Minister Amre Moussa (full text) — “We cannot and we should not continue arguing, trading accusations and recrimination. Old arguments and archaic strategies should be left at the wayside the moment we leave this conference. We have listened especially today to some passionate speeches which manifest once again how acute the conflict in the Middle East is and how the change in attitudes, change in content, is badly needed. And I address Israel mainly. Speeches such as the one we heard today do not help the process of peace.”

  • Soviet Foreign Minister Boris Pankin (full text) — “Let us be realistic. This conference only offers a chance to come to a settlement. … It is important after the plenary sessions to turn to the discussion of specific issues in the bilateral working groups. We are convinced that this should be started here, in Madrid, without losing the pace we have developed.”

  • U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III (full text) — “The unwillingness of the parties to take confidence-building steps has been disappointing. You have dealt successfully with formulas and positions. You have agreed on terms of reference that are fair and equitable. You have launched a process of negotiations that can succeed. But you have failed to deal adequately with the human dimension of the conflict.”

Speeches are effective tools for voicing opinions, rallying support, influencing others and conveying positions. Speeches can serve as windows to personal motives and national interests. Sometimes it is informative to consider what was not said. Select two speeches, whether from the same speaker or two different speakers. Consider the following:

Who is speaking? How do this person’s position, rank, experience or personal views or motives affect the speech?

Who is the target audience? How does the speaker address the intended recipients’ expectations, concerns and questions? How does the speech affect listeners outside the target audience?

What is the context? How do events or circumstances leading to the speech frame the need for and purpose of the speech? Does anything change before and after the conference?

Where does the speech take place? How do the physical setting and geographical location affect the delivery and acceptance of the speech?

What is the content, and how is it presented? How does the speech open and end? What are the main points in the speech? Which techniques (metaphors, examples, statistics, anecdotes) are used, and how much time does the speaker devote to each topic? What can be gleaned from the content, the omissions and the presentation about the speaker’s views, intentions and interests?

How does the presentation affect the speech’s impact? How do body language (eye contact, posture, gestures), visual aids and intonation add to or detract from the impact?

Why is the speech significant? Is the speech impactful? Does it fulfill its purpose or create a new reality? Are terms coined or ideas introduced? How do others react to the speech?