Saturday, April 04, 2009

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech 31 March 2009

From Benjamin Netanyahu's web site:

Speaker of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin - congratulations again, my friend,
Honorable Outgoing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert - thank you for your words,
Members of the Outgoing Government,
Members of the Incoming Government,
Former Members of Knesset,
State Comptroller, Micha Lindenstrauss,
Mrs. Aviva Shalit,
Mrs. Karnit Goldwasser,
Mrs. Esther Waxman,
Members of Knesset,
Distinguished Guests,

As the poet in Psalms wrote: “Lord, my heart was not proud, and my eyes were not haughty, nor did I pursue matters too great and too wondrous for me.”

Members of Knesset,

It is not with the elation of the victorious that I stand before you today, but rather with a feeling of heavy responsibility. However, these are not ordinary days. I ask for your trust at a time of global crises, the likes of which have not been seen in years. I speak out of a feeling of concern, but also of hope and faith, and mostly in recognition of the seriousness of this challenging hour. For Israel faces two enormous challenges: the economic challenge and the security challenge. These result from dramatic international developments; huge thunderstorms are raging around us. It is not our actions or failures of the past that are the root of these crises, but our actions and decisions in the near future that will determine if we will prevail. On this day I would like to express my full confidence that the people of Israel will be able to successfully deal with the challenges we face. The State of Israel was established during its most difficult hour, an hour during which the words of the Declaration of Independence echoed in our ears: “The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books. After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to its land and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.”

Members of Knesset,

There is no more wondrous a journey in history than that of the Jewish people. There is no struggle more just than its struggle to return to its homeland and build a life here as a free and sovereign nation. There is no question mark, not about the right, not about the justice and not about the existence of the people of Israel and its country. There is no question mark, and we will not allow anyone or any country to raise a question mark over our existence. The 20th century proved that the future of the Jewish people is dependent on the future of the State of Israel, and therefore it is our duty to do all that is necessary to ensure the security, strength and prosperity of our country. It is within our power to do so and overcome any obstacle or impediment as long as our will is steadfast and as long as we are united, and it was my sincere and stated aspiration to establish a government at this difficult time that would unite all the centrist forces among our people. I saw this as the order of the day and invested ongoing and consistent efforts to achieving this goal. I am pleased that the Labor Party, a movement with deep roots and of great contributions to the history of Zionism and settlement, eventually made the responsible decision for the good of the country to join hands with the Likud Movement and our other partners.

I wish to express appreciation to the members of this house who understood the enormous responsibility we are facing, and took the decision, not without hesitation, to extend a hand and provide support for the unity government.

Members of Knesset,

The security crisis we are facing originates from the rise and spread of radical Islam in our region and in other parts of the world. The greatest threat to humanity, and to the State of Israel, stems from the possibility that a radical regime will be armed with nuclear weapons or that nuclear weapons will find a home in a radical regime. I wish to distinguish fundamentalist Islam from the overall Muslim and Arab world, which is also threatened by the extremists. The Islamic culture is a great, rich culture, with many connections to the history of our people as well, and we have known periods of cooperation; of Jews and Arabs living together and creating together. Today, more than ever, Israel strives to achieve full peace with all the Arab and Muslim world. Today, this ambition is also backed by a shared interest of Israel and the Arab world that are facing a wave of fanaticism which threatens us all. While we may not be the only ones threatened by radical Islam, we are first and foremost threatened by it. It is true that it strives to eradicate all the Arab regimes and bring all Muslims in the world under an autocratic, narrow-minded, reactionary regime. It is also true that it threatens governments in the West and in the East with terrorism and deadly missiles. However, all its different manifestations share one common objective - to wipe the State of Israel off the face of the earth.

It is a mark of disgrace for humanity that several decades after the Holocaust the world’s response to the calls by Iran’s leader to destroy the State of Israel is weak, there is no firm condemnation and decisive measures - almost as if dismissed as routine. However, the Jewish people have learnt their lesson. We cannot afford to take lightly megalomaniac tyrants who threaten to annihilate us. Contrary to the terrible trauma we experienced during the last century when we stood helpless and stateless, today we are not defenseless. We have a state, and we know how to defend it. It was the concern for our national security that was the first and main reason that my friends and I strove to achieve national unity at this time. Terrorists from radical Islam now threaten us from both the North and the South. We are determined to curb terrorism from all directions and fight against it with all our might. Those who want peace must fight terror. However, in order for there to be peace, the Palestinian partner must also fight terror, educate its children towards peace and prepare its people for recognizing Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people. Over the past two decades, six Israeli prime ministers failed to achieve peace, and through no fault of their own. To the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, I say: if you truly want peace, peace can be obtained.

My Government will act vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority to achieve peace on three parallel tracks: economic, security and political. We strive to assist with the accelerated development of the Palestinian economy and in developing its economic ties with Israel. We will support a Palestinian security mechanism that will fight terror, and we will conduct ongoing peace negotiations with the PA, with the aim of reaching a final status arrangement. We have no desire to control another people; we have no wish to rule over the Palestinians. In the final status arrangement, the Palestinians will have all the authority needed to govern themselves, except those which threaten the existence and security of the State of Israel. This track - combining the economic, security and political - is the right way to achieve peace. All previous attempts to make shortcuts have achieved the opposite outcome and resulted in increased terror and greater bloodshed. We choose a realistic path, positive in approach and with a genuine desire to bring an end to the conflict between us and our neighbors.

With regard to the global economic crisis, it is indeed of an unprecedented scope. It affects each and every one of us and it threatens the livelihood of thousands of Israelis. We do not yet know how and when it will end, but I am convinced of one thing: the Israeli economy has clear advantages that enable it to confront the crisis better than other economies. Our primary advantages are entrepreneurship and innovation, coupled with the ability to adjust rapidly. In this case, the fact that we are a small state is an advantage that will enable us to extricate ourselves quickly from the crisis. It is the reverse of having a quantitative advantage. The Israeli economy can be likened to a small racing boat sailing among large ships. It is easier to change the direction of a quick racing boat than that of a large ship. I intend to personally lead this change of direction. I will be the one to navigate Israel’s economic strategy. My Government assumes the responsibility of protecting - to the best of our ability - employment, solving the credit crisis and maintaining a responsible macro-economic policy. These are not three contradictory objectives, although there is some measure of friction between them. The three of them can be obtained through cooperation and dialogue between all the central economic forces - the Government, the Labor Federation, the employers and social organizations - the driving force behind all of us being the good of the country. Now, more than ever, we will open our hearts to the unemployed, the elderly and the weak. We must see before us the worker who was laid off on the eve of Passover, whose livelihood is destroyed, and the thought of how he will support his family torments him. The need to address the economic and social crisis is the second reason that prompted me and my friends to strive to achieve national unity.

There are additional challenges that our government will place at the top of its list of priorities. It is time to carry out a real revolution in education. We are the People of the Book. From the “Heder” students to Nobel Prize laureates, no nation has contributed more, relative to its size, to human knowledge and civilization. We cannot accept that our children will not be amongst the world’s leading students. Therefore, the goal we are setting today is to bring the children of Israel back to the world’s ten leading countries in international tests, within a decade.

Alongside with excellence, we will also bring Zionism back. We will teach our children the eternal values of the people of Israel, and forge values of Jewish and Israeli culture in our country’s spiritual kaleidoscope.

We will also generate a fundamental change in public safety. It was the Jewish people who bequeathed to the world the Commandments: thou shalt not steal, and thou shalt not kill. Even when we were scattered in exile, we maintained a high level of morality between man and man and between an individual and the community. It is therefore inconceivable that when we returned to being a free, sovereign nation in our homeland, crime organizations and criminal syndicates are emerging among us, dealing in theft, murder and trafficking in women, and fighting against each other with guns in the streets of our cities. It is intolerable that parents in Israel should be afraid to send their children to school or to the beach. We must put a stop to this. We will stiffen the penalties against criminals, advance important reforms in the police force and strengthen the Israel Police in its battle against crime.

At the beginning of my speech, I mentioned the opening section of the Declaration of Independence. I am committed to the Declaration as a whole, including the promise for complete equality between all the citizens of the State, regardless of religion, race or gender. Our concern will be for all the citizens of Israel: Jews, Arabs, Druze, Muslims, Christians and Circassians.

To the Arab citizens of Israel I wish to say: you will find in me a loyal partner to your integration into Israel’s society and economy. I believe in this aim, and I will act in this direction.

This is a time of crisis. Our government system is unsuitable to meet the challenges of today. The large size of the Government presented to you today reflects the necessity for national unity at this time, but it also reflects a certain deficiency in the existing government system - a deficiency that can be corrected, and will be corrected.

At the same time, the Government that will be leading Israel in the years to come, is expecting neither pleasures nor luxury. On our shoulders rests an enormous, overwhelming responsibility, and a duty to make decisions, with clarity of mind and purpose, on those issues that will determine the fate of Israel.

I would like to thank the outgoing Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, for his service to the nation. When you were only just elected, Ehud, I told you that very soon you would discover what difficulties and responsibilities were placed on your shoulders. Indeed, you discovered them. At numerous important crossroads of which the public are still not fully aware, you worked to strengthen Israel’s security and made brave decisions. Ehud: thank you.

Members of Knesset,

We are on the eve of the Passover holiday and the Seder. At our national table, there is an empty chair: that of Gilad Shalit. I will do everything in my power to quickly return him healthy to the bosom of his family, and will act to return all our missing soldiers.

Citizens of Israel, I asked myself how best to express the depth of my feelings at this event, on the eve of Passover 2009. I chose to read an excerpt from one of the final letters written by my late brother, Yoni, approximately one year before he fell during the operation to rescue the hostages in Entebbe: “Tomorrow is Passover,” wrote Yoni. “I always saw it as our most wonderful holiday; it is an age-old holiday celebrating freedom. As I sail backwards on the wings of history, I travel through long years of suffering, of oppression, of slaughter, of ghettos, of ostracism, of humiliation; many years that, from an historic perspective, do not contain one ray of light; but that is not the case because of the fact that the core remained, hope existed, the idea of freedom continued to burn through the fulfillment of the tradition of the ancient holiday. This, in my opinion, is a testament to the eternalness of the aspiration for freedom in Israel, the continuity of the idea of freedom. The Passover holiday,” he wrote, “awakens in me an emotional affinity, also because of the Seder which, like it does for all of us, reminds me of forgotten moments from our personal pasts, my past. I clearly remember the Seder we held in Talpiot, Jerusalem when I was six. Among the participants were a number of elders like Rabbi Binyamin and Professor Klausner, and my father was also there. There was a large table and there was light. I find myself in my past, but I do not only mean my own personal past, but also the way I see myself as an inseparable link in the chain of our existence and independence in Israel.”

Citizens of Israel, at this difficult time, let us all see ourselves as an inseparable link in the chain of our existence and independence in Israel. From this podium in Jerusalem, our eternal capital, I pray to G-d Almighty that our work will be blessed, and that the unity with which we begin our journey will be a good omen and the promise for our future.

Happy holiday of freedom.
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