It is not by chance that the portrait of the State visionary, Benjamin Zeev Herzl, hangs here, on the wall of the Israeli Knesset. In 1896, Herzl wrote in his book, The Jewish State: “The Jews who are seeking a state will have a state. Finally, we will live as free people on our own land.”
I mentioned these things at the beginning of yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, along with several other key sentences from the history of our country, and because of their importance, I would like to repeat them here at the opening of this session of the Knesset of Israel.
In 1947, 51 years after Herzl, on the eve of the establishment of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion wrote in his diary: “The state that will be established will be Jewish in its purpose, designation and objective; not a state of those Jews who reside in the country but a state for the Jews, for the Jewish People.”
In 1992, in the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the Knesset determined the following: “The purpose of this Basic Law is to protect human dignity and liberty, in order to establish in a Basic Law the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
Members of Knesset,
The State of Israel is, therefore, both the nation-state of the Jewish people and a democratic country for all its citizens, Jews and non-Jews alike, enjoying full equal rights.
There is no country in our region that protects the individual rights of its citizens and the rights of their minorities like Israel’s democracy does.
The Zionist movement established an exemplary democracy and established an exemplary nation-state, a country that balances the national needs of our people with the individual rights of each and every one of Israel’s citizens.
There is no other democracy in the Middle East, and there is no other Jewish state in the world.
The combination of these two values – a Jewish state and a democratic state – expresses the foundation of our existence and the essence of the State of Israel.
I will expand on this point later on.
My fellow Members of Knesset,
During the Knesset Winter Session, we will continue dealing with the great tasks the State of Israel faces.
We intend to pass a second two-year budget in the State of Israel. We succeeded in returning the economy to the path of growth and stability. An additional two-year budget will help us continue these trends.
We are moving forward with the transportation revolution, developing a road and train network in the Galilee and the Negev. You all travel the nation’s roads. You see this revolution taking shape, the tremendous amount of work being carried out in order to connect the South and the North and to ease traffic jams in the center of the country.
We are beginning to implement the land reform, as a result of which hundreds of thousands of families in Israel will move from leasing their apartments and homes to full ownership of them.
We will continue to advance legislation regarding the planning and construction reform in order to finally alleviate the bureaucratic complications that hinder the increase in the supply of land, and which provide a constant incentive to practice nepotism and corruption.
The land reform, the planning and construction reform and the work being carried out in transportation will provide additional growth of between one and two percent per year, and I believe even more, to the GNP. This means that we will have the resources to invest in the national needs that rightly interest the members of this house, especially two needs: security and education.
We are launching a program to rehabilitate education, including higher education, in Israel. Higher education in Israel is in desperate need of resources. Within six years, we will add NIS 7.5 billion to higher education.
This year, we will establish four centers of excellence at the universities out of the eventual 30 that will be established over the next several years. These centers will gather together the most brilliant minds in Israel and abroad. We are dealing with what is called “returning and nurturing minds” in the fields of the future, four in particular that we decided to focus on: finding fuel alternatives; the computer- and cyber-world; brain research; and unlocking the genetic code in order to cure diseases.
We are beginning to adapt the elementary education system to the 21st century. In the next two years, teleprocessing systems will be introduced into 900 elementary schools in the North and South, with an overall investment of NIS 420 million.
We are not only teaching excellence, but also Zionism. We are beginning the project to restore 150 heritage sites. We have already begun work on historic sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and on kibbutzim, including the cemetery near the Kinneret where the poets Rachel and Naomi Shemer are buried? and the auditorium where the Declaration of Independence was presented, on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.
I will visit these two places in the next week. All Israeli children should visit them. As always, knowing our past is the key to our future. However, there is a need to deal with the pressing problems of the present as well.
During the Winter Session, we will begin erecting the land obstacle in the south to prevent the massive infiltration of illegal job-seekers, something that threatens that character and identity of the State of Israel. This is a necessary step to preventing the country from being flooded by parties that undermine our economy, as well as the unique structure we have built here.
In the coming months, we will begin implementing the urban policing plan in order to promote law and order in all areas of the country, first and foremost in Lod.
Last week, I visited Lod. I heard the Jewish and the Arab residents beg for protection from crime families and from violence. They want to send their children to school without fear; they want to go out in the evening without fear for their lives.
They’re right. Every Israeli citizen – Jew and non-Jew – deserves to enjoy personal safety.
Soon the Government will hold a special meeting in Lod. We already decided to set up a web of cameras there and make it the pilot in the City Without Violence Project. We did these two things in nearby Ramla, and vandalism and violence was reduced by approximately 50%.
At the same time, we will begin investing in developing infrastructure in the non-Jewish sector, investing an overall amount of NIS 800 million. We will invest an additional NIS 250 million in order to create special programs encouraging the non-Jewish sector to acquire higher educations.
As we promised, we are making significant changes to the economy, society, infrastructure, education and domestic safety.
We will, of course, continue to do so and we will continue in our efforts to return our abducted soldier, Gilad Shalit, to his family and to his people.
Now, Members of Knesset, I will move on to the political arena.
From the first day of the Government’s tenure, I called on the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to enter into direct peace talks with us without preconditions. In my speech at Bar-Ilan University, I outlined the principles for a peace agreement with the Palestinians: a demilitarized Palestinian state which recognizes the state of the Jewish people and lives beside it in peace.
I believe that under the right conditions, the establishment of a Palestinian state could bring about peace, but if it is done in an irresponsible manner, the establishment of a Palestinian state could also be the cause for a worsening of the conflict and an increase in terror.
In order for the compromise to lead to peace and not war, it must be accompanied by two fundamental components: recognition, and security arrangements.
When I say recognition, I mean Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. This is not just stubbornness. This is the root of the conflict and therefore a central foundation for resolving it.
For 100 years, the Palestinians have taught entire generations to believe that there is no Jewish people, that this land is their homeland alone.
The refusal to recognize the rights of the Jewish people and its historic connection to its land is the root of the conflict, and without dealing with it, there will be no end to the conflict.
As to security, any peace agreement between the Palestinians and us must be based on strong security arrangements in the field. We left Lebanon and Gaza without such security arrangements, and we suffered thousands of rockets fired at the Negev and the Galilee.
I am not willing to make do with peace on paper. The citizens of Israel are also not willing to make do with that.
UN Security Council Resolution 1701 from the end of the Second Lebanon War, withdrawal from the Philadelphi Route after the Disengagement, the positioning of international forces in the North and the South – none of these things prevented the firing of thousands of missiles at Israel, and the smuggling of tens of thousands of additional missiles by Iran into hostile territory surrounding us.
I will not allow Iranian missiles to be positioned 500 meters from Kfar Saba, or scant kilometers from Ben-Gurion Airport.
We live in a small country – very small. Our small dimensions pose existential security problems – problems that are unique to Israel. We must not take these security problems too lightly, and we must not allow ourselves to be tempted by the illusion that a peace agreement, in and of itself, will resolve them.
We once had peaceful, normal relations, relations which included exchanges of delegations, contact between leaders, trade relations, especially of petroleum, with an important country. That country is called Iran.
We also had wonderful, friendly relations with another country, with military cooperation, with full diplomatic relations, with visits by heads of state, with 400,000 Israeli visitors to that country. That country is called Turkey.
I still hope that we can rehabilitate and restore those relations, which have deteriorated against our will. Things have changed in Iran and, unfortunately, in other places as well, almost overnight, and no one can promise us that, despite our desire, a similar thing won’t happen after the establishment of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Therefore we must insist on strong security arrangements in the field, with determination and without fear, in order to ensure that the peace will be upheld in practice, and also in order to defend our existence in the unfortunate but possible case that the peace is violated.
Peace and security are interwoven, and they are the principles which guide me. I firmly insist on the need for both of them, and I see that an understanding of our security needs has finally begun to penetrate international debate, beyond general statements. I speak of our specific needs. I believe, Members of Knesset, that if we stand together on this front, united around these principles, I am convinced it will help us achieve a peace agreement. I believe that the unity surrounding these principles, which are so basic, so important and so real, can greatly advance our ability to achieve a peace agreement.
Although the Palestinians did not answer my call to begin direct negotiations for over a year, we took action.
We removed hundreds of roadblocks and checkpoints. We encouraged impressive growth in the Palestinian economy – impressive by any standards, especially given the fact that at the same time the entire world was mired in recession and economic crisis.
And as you know, we also suspended new construction in the Jewish settlements for ten months. We did so with a heavy heart. We knew that this step would weigh heavily on our brothers and sisters, good and loyal Israeli citizens, taxpayers, who serve in the reserves, law-abiding citizens. As the U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated, it was an unprecedented move that no other government in Israel had taken before.
But we said we would do it and we did it. We enforced the moratorium with determination and without compromise. For ten months.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians wasted those ten months as well.
Now they demand that we continue the moratorium as a condition to continuing the talks. I hope they are not doing so to avoid making the real decisions necessary for a peace agreement.
Because they too will have to make difficult decisions. I don’t belittle that. I know what kind of decisions we will have to make, but I also know what kind of decisions they will have to make. The only way to reach a peace agreement is to try, through direct talks, to bridge the gaps and make decisions.
However, as Prime Minister of Israel, I am committed and want to advance towards an agreement, one that will bring an end to the conflict and achieve peace between us and our Palestinian neighbors.
I know, Members of Knesset, that one can argue a great deal as to the path to achieving peace – but there is no argument that we will not achieve peace if we don’t try.
During the past several weeks, I have explored every path to ensuring the continuation of the talks. I asked myself – what could convince the government and, more so, the citizens of Israel, that the Palestinians are truly ready to live with us in peace? What would show that there has been a genuine change on the Palestinian side – something that would demonstrate to us, the majority of the public, that they are not only demanding concessions by Israel, not only issuing dictates, but that they are ready to take a meaningful step towards us.
There is one thing. I transmitted the message through quiet channels during the past month, and I am now saying it here, publicly: If the Palestinian leadership will unequivocally say to its people that it recognizes Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, I will be ready to convene my government and ask for another suspension of construction for a fixed period.
Because the Palestinians expect us to recognize the Palestinian state as their nation-state, we can expect them to recognize the Jewish state as our nation-state. I am not insisting that this recognition serve as a precondition for talks. We will continue the negotiations in any event, without any conditions.
However, there is no doubt that such a move by the Palestinian Authority would serve as a trust-building step, one that would open up a new horizon of hope and trust among broad sections of the Israeli public who, in light of the events of the past decade, have lost their confidence in the Palestinian’s desire to end the conflict.
Unfortunately, so far the Palestinians have not answered this call, and the United States is attempting other means to ensure that the talks take place. The United States has made various suggestions, and we are seriously and responsibly considering them, in accordance with Israel’s national interests, first and foremost security.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We do not lack for difficulties and challenges, but I am convinced that we will overcome them. We must only think of the obstacles we have overcome since Herzl expressed his vision.
The ancient Jewish people, so experienced in suffering, returned to its historic homeland at the turn of the previous century and found it destroyed, neglected and desolate, full of swamps and malaria.
For over one hundred years, we built it with sweat and blood, and we established a magnificent country.
Those reverberating words of the Declaration of Independence, read by David Ben-Gurion, still touch our souls today: “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in the land of Israel to be known as the State of Israel.”
This is the secret to our national existence, and recognition of this has always been and will always be the true foundation for peace.