Musharraf was greeted by a standing ovation by hundreds of U.S. Jewish leaders, who gathered to congratulate the Pakistani leader for opening public diplomatic contacts with Israel following the disengagement from Gaza and the northern West Bank.
Musharraf was clearly moved by the reception, saying he "never expected a Pakistani leader to be greeted by this community with this sort of ovation."
The dinner began with two blessings, one Jewish, one Muslim. The imam who gave the Muslim benediction translated part of his words:
"Muhammad was told by the one, almighty God to accept the Jews, the children of Abraham. Almighty, blessed God told the Prophet Muhammad to open a dialogue between Jews and Muslims. I pray to God that he accept our efforts, our prayers and our blessings," he said.
Israel-Pakistan: not natural enemies
In his speech, Musharraf spoke about Pakistan-Israel relations, and said there is no natural enmity between the two countries.
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"Pakistan has no direct conflict with Israel, and we are not a threat to Israel's security. We believe Israel represents no threat to Pakistan's national security. But our people have deep sympathy for the Palestinian people, and their legitimate desire for a state," he said.
"In response to Sharon's courageous decision to pull out from Gaza, Pakistan has decided to establish formal ties with the State of Israel. With the progression of the peace process towards the establishment of a Palestinian state, we intend to take further steps toward normalization, collaboration and the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel, "Musharraf said.
The Pakistani leader stated he is convinced that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute constitutes the central, though not the singular, cause for terror in the Middle East.
"Because of the great impact this problem has, the international community, and the United States in particular, are responsible for securing a peaceful resolution in the region. The Israelis and the Palestinians must strive for reconciliation," he said.
Self-defense, political realities
Musharraf also acknowledged Israel's right to self-defense, but said it must also come to terms with the geopolitical realities of the region.
"The Palestinians aspire for independence and a strong state as much as any other country," he said. "We welcome Israel's decision to withdraw from Gaza, and now the peace process must continue, as stated and agreed in the Road Map peace plan."
Musharraf stressed that Jerusalem's fate represents the most sensitive issue within any future resolution.
"Nothing is more sensitive than the fate of the holy city of Jerusalem, al-Quds or al-Sharif as we call it. This city is holy to the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims," he said. "Any future settlement in Jerusalem must consider and respect Jerusalem's cosmopolitan character, as well as international law and decisions made by the Security Council."
Expanding the process
The Pakistani leader said he hopes that the disengagement plan will signal the outset of a wider process.
"We hope Israel will soon withdraw from the West Bank, a move which will enable the establishment of a Palestinian independent state. Respecting Palestinian aspirations will grant Israel the security it yearns for," Musharraf said.
"I am convinced that a just peace will end this sad chapter in Middle Eastern history. It will also revive the historic relation between Islam and Judaism, and uproot the rage and frustration that motivate extremism and violence," he said.
"What better signal for peace could there be than if countries like Pakistan established delegations in Israel?"
'Jewish Congress must use its influence'
Musharraf thanked the World Jewish Congress President Edgar M. Bronfman for holding the event, describing it as "an exceptional opportunity."
"The sad events of recent years had created tension between people of the three faiths, and therefore this is a historical occasion. I feel privileged to deliver my speech in front of so many of the United States' most respected and influential community."
The President of the Jewish Congress, Jack Rosen said that "tonight's event represents the outcome of a two-year's effort." Rosen said he discussed the initiative with President Bush several weeks ago, stating that the president was thrilled about it, and said he considered it to be a significant opportunity.
Musaharff concluded his speech by calling on the members of the Congress to use their influence for putting an end to the dispute.
"I have always believed that it takes much more courage to settle and reconcile than it does to fight. I call on Israel to demonstrate this kind of courage. I call on the World Jewish Congress, and the entire Jewish community, to exercise their great influence for putting an end to the Palestinians dispute once and for all, so that we can begin an era of peace in the Middle East, and maybe in the entire world," he said.
"Failure is no longer an option."