Remarks by Secretary Andrew Cuomo
American Jewish Press Association
Satellite Broadcast from Jerusalem
June 23, 2000
Shalom from Jerusalem. It is my pleasure to join you today by these somewhat extraordinary means. I usually tell audiences when I address them by satellite that I would rather be there with you in person, but that�s not true in this case. I am very glad that I am here during this very extraordinary time, in what is truly a magical, magical place.
This is my first visit to Israel; I only wish now that I had come sooner. This is truly an outstanding, special country. It is at the same time both an historic treasure with its great heritage for the Jewish people, and also a modern day wonder with its transformation and what it is doing in new technology as the "Silicon Valley of the East".
I had the pleasure of meeting Prime Minister Barak just a few hours ago. He shared with me his hopes for a lasting peace within the region and his thoughts and feelings on the peace process. I told him how strongly President Clinton feels about his commitment to Israel, how the ties to Israel for the United States are unbreakable, and that the United States will walk every step of the way with Israel on the road to peace.
We also spoke about long term development and growth. We established a Binational Commission which will establish a strong foundation. We initiated a new binational effort which establishes a U.S.-Israel Binational Commission on Housing and Community Development. I signed the order at the direction of President Clinton. This is the first ever institutional partnership on these issues between our two nations. The Commission will bring together some of the best minds in the world on the matters of housing, economic development, and community development.
Those of you in the United States know how much experience we have had with housing and economic development strategies, both positive and negative. But I am confident our experience can be of benefit to Israel, and I am also confident that we can learn from Israel on these issues of housing, economic development and community development: how we can work together with environmental concerns, on sustainable development, and how we incorporate immigrants into our society.
Specifically, Housing Minister Yitzhak Levi, who heads the Ministry here in Israel, and I agreed to partner on a number of specific issues which Israel is facing�namely, privatization of their public housing stock, the development of more of a rental housing stock, which we have a proficient supply of in the U.S. and which doesn�t exist now in Israel, and also economic development strategies.
We have done much in the United States bringing private sector companies into the construction of affordable housing. One of the devices that is working very well now in the United States is something called a REIT - a Real Estate Investment Trust -- which has private companies coming in to invest in housing. We hope to bring that to Israel to help them develop that model.
We agreed to begin work right away. We don�t want to waste any time, and HUD will host the first Israeli delegation on July 5th. So we are getting off to a great and quick start. I also had the honor of sitting with a number of additional leaders and heroes of the country including Shimon Peres, Natan Sharansky, and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.
During my meeting with Nobel Laureate and Minister of Regional Cooperation Shimon Peres, I was very impressed with his energy and his vision for a regional and global economic development plan. We agreed that HUD would do everything we could to work with him and with the Shimon Peres Center for Peace on the development of ideas that could benefit both countries.
I also met with the Minister of the Interior and human rights hero Natan Sharansky. The Ministry of the Interior in Israel is much like our Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is the main department that is responsible for relations with the municipalities. We spoke about setting up a binational project for urban development which will create "Sister Cities" and explore ways to foster models that bring strong city-federal relations.
I will meet with Chairman Arafat this afternoon. We�ll visit the Old City tomorrow. We�ll have a reception at the Ambassador�s residence and then I will be on my way back home. In America, our founders used the expression E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. In Israel, David Ben-Gurion believed that in order to succeed, this new nation must marry the discoveries of modern science with the ethical teachings of the ancients to serve others and think of the community first. I quote, "It is only by the integration of these two," he wrote, "that the blessings of both can flourish."
I think that is very true and that is very much the ethos of Israel today and I want to share one final thought. I am from New York -- I am a lifelong New Yorker. And Jewish culture in New York is very close to Israel, as you know. I was very familiar with the history and heritage that Jewish people have endured. But coming here, and seeing the sights, and seeing the spot where Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, and visiting museums has touched me in a way that I did not appreciate before I came. There is something about being here that brings the experience�that brings the history-- to life.
Going through Yad Vashem was such a powerful experience that it has really brought my understanding of these issues to a new level and my understanding of how important peace is, that we work for it day and night, and that we reach it. A good, long-lasting, secure peace. And we will do all we can to make that possible.
I also had the opportunity to go through the American National Forest and planted four trees. One for my wife, Kerry, and one for each of my three daughters, Cara, Mariah and Michaela, and I hope that those trees will symbolize the long and healthy growth of our mutual families and our mutual countries.
I wish you a Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem. Enjoy the conference and I hope to see you soon.
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