… These basic rights of the Jewish people are under constant attack.
Note: The English translation was only today published by the Prime Minister's Office.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech to the Opening Session of the Knesset, Winter 2009
"The Right to Self-Defense"
The right to sustain a Jewish state and the right to self-defense are two foundations of our people's existence. These two rights are intertwined. Without a state of our own, we would be unable to defend ourselves and, without the ability to defend ourselves, we could not maintain our state.
These basic rights of the Jewish people are under constant attack – an attack which has grown even more intense since the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead. Our primary task must be to thwart this attack.
January 12, 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, the United Nations General Assembly appointed a committee to investigate what it called "violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying
Israel, against the Palestinian people." Pay attention to the wording: the "occupying
Israel". Such language was used after we withdrew from every inch of
Gaza! This distorted report, written by this biased committee, undermines the very essence of
Israel's right to self-defense. This report encourages terror and endangers peace.
I want to be very clear here:
Israel will not take any risks for peace if it is not able to defend itself.
This report brands
Israel's leaders and IDF commanders and soldiers as war criminals. But the truth is exactly the opposite:
Israel's leaders and soldiers are the ones who defend the citizens of
Israel against war criminals.
And they are indeed war criminals. Hamas has openly declared its goal to destroy us. According to the UN Charter, issuing a call to commit genocide constitutes a war crime – war crime number one. Hamas fired thousands of missiles on our civilians – war crime number two. They hid behind Palestinian civilians, exploiting them as human shields – war crime number three. And after kidnapping Gilad Shalit, they have held him in captivity for over three years without allowing the Red Cross to visit him – in defiance of the Geneva Convention – war crime number four.
Despite this: "The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other Army in the history of warfare." These are not my words; they belong to the former Commander of British Forces in
Afghanistan. And every objective observer knows that this to be true.
Israel does not claim that the rules of war don't apply to us. On the contrary: not only does the IDF uphold them, but they do so more than any other army in the world. There are those today who would prosecute
Israel's leaders and IDF soldiers who have done nothing but fight a just war using just means against blatant war criminals; we are witnessing a complete reversal of justice and truth.
We will not tolerate a situation in which Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni – who mobilized soldiers to protect our cities and our people – are called to stand trial in
The Hague. We will not tolerate a situation where IDF commanders and soldiers, after defending the citizens of
Israel, with dignity and heroism, against a cruel and nefarious enemy, are denounced as war criminals.
The Government of Israel, the Knesset and the citizens of
Israel all categorically reject this absurdity! We are in complete agreement over this crucial matter. It concerns our ability and right to defend ourselves, something that touches the very root of our existence and connects to the tumultuous journey that our people have travelled throughout history.
The first and most terrible upheaval for the Jewish people was the reversal from a proud people who fought for its freedom in ancient times, to a downtrodden, stateless and helpless people in exile. In ancient times, our people were prepared to fight to the bitter end for their freedom and existence under courageous leaders like Joshua and Gideon, Saul and
Judah the Maccabee and Bar Kochba.
Even when they were not victorious, the Jews were always respected by other nations as a people determined to defend their freedom and homeland. But the dynamism of Jewish resistance began to fade when we lost our independence and our land. For almost 2,000 years of exile, the Jews lived as a defenseless nation, entirely at the mercy of others.
We know the result: the fall from a deep pit into an even deeper pit, from tragedy to tragedy – until our very existence was put at risk.
The second great reversal in the history of our nation took place with the establishment of the State of Israel. In the period leading up to the establishment of the state, the Jews rediscovered their ability to defend themselves: From the Shomer, Haganah, Irgun, Lehi and the Palmach, to the creation of the IDF, the Jewish people rediscovered their ability to defend themselves.
And so I pledge: We will never return to a situation where we are unable to defend ourselves and our state.
Over the past few months, I've drawn attention to the fact that the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize the Jewish state lies at the root of the ongoing conflict between us. For 62 years, the Palestinians have said ‘no' to a Jewish state. I call upon our Palestinian neighbors – say ‘yes' to the Jewish state!
Make peace with the nation-state of the Jewish people, a state which is the national home of the Jewish people, while guaranteeing full rights for all its non-Jewish citizens.
I know that this is a not a simple thing for the Palestinian leadership. It requires real courage. But I call on the leaders of the Palestinian Authority to tell their people the truth, because we cannot achieve peace unless
Israel is accepted as a Jewish state.
It is also time for other Arab leaders in the region to tell their people the truth, explicitly and in public: The Jewish state is not the enemy of Islam;
Israel is a peace-seeking country with which they should make peace. But if the road to peace with the Palestinians was easy, we would have achieved peace long ago.
It would have been achieved by a long line of Israeli prime ministers dating back to the start of the peace process. They were ready to make generous concessions for peace, but the Palestinian leadership rejected them time after time. Just last year, senior officials of the previous Israeli government offered extensive and far-reaching concessions to the Palestinians. They held countless discussions and meetings, and set up an large number of negotiating teams – all of which came to nothing.
Why? Because the Palestinian leadership was not prepared to declare an end to the conflict and to their claims, and to unequivocally recognize the Jewish state once and for all – something that is necessary for peace.
We want peace. We hope that the Palestinian Authority leadership will be a genuine partner for peace. And, we are prepared to work hard for peace.
During the first six months of my government, we forged a national consensus on the principles for peace, as expressed in my speech at
a. Palestinian recognition of the Jewish state;
b. Resolution of the refugee problem outside the borders of the State of Israel;
c. The effective and recognized demilitarization of the Palestinian state;
d. An end to all further claims against
We have also taken action – of a scope not seen for years – to improve conditions for our Palestinian neighbors in
Samaria. We have dismantled roadblocks, eliminated checkpoints and removed barriers. We have facilitated free movement, encouraged trade and extended the operating hours of the Allenby Bridge Terminal.
We are not just talking. We are acting.
We have contributed to the impressive expansion of the Palestinian economy. I believe that, given time, prosperity can only reinforce peace by strengthening the moderates and weakening the extremists.
But there can be no substitute for the courage that is required of Palestinian leaders who must recognize the Jewish state. This recognition will penetrate the hearts of an Israeli public that seeks peace – and this has always been, and will remain, the real key to peace. I have already said that I will not impose any pre-conditions to peace talks with the Palestinians, and we continue working with President Obama and his administration to ensure that our joint efforts will lead to resuming talks as soon as possible.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Members of Knesset,
I know that many Israelis have stopped believing in peace. They have seen sixteen years of talks with the Palestinians not bring about peace. They have also seen that unilateral withdrawal, an alternative to talks, does not bring peace either. Contrary to the promises, the unilateral withdrawal brought thousands of missiles down on our communities. Again, contrary to what was promised, it did not increase international support for our right to defend ourselves, but actually eroded support for that right.
They promised us that their vision and their path would bring peace. But that only brought war. In spite of this, I say: We must not lose hope.
We strive for peace, soberly and realistically. We are working to promote the prosperity of our neighbors because it is vital to creating an atmosphere of peace.
We stand united around the values that unite our people. A united people can achieve peace more easily. We are taking practical measures to bring prosperity to our neighbors. And finally, we are addressing the real root of the conflict between us and the Palestinians. This is the only way that peace will be achieved.
But until peace is achieved, we cannot forestall the development of the State of Israel.
We have to strengthen our economy and improve our children's education now. We have to make our streets safe now, and we have to narrow the social gaps between the periphery and the center now. We have been working on these problems since this government was formed.
The passage of a biennial budget and steps taken to curb spending have already helped to stabilize the Israeli economy. And so there is a distinct possibility that
Israel will emerge from the international financial crisis quicker than most of the developed world.
The State of Israel must have the necessary resources to meet the great challenges of the coming decade. Defense needs have increased, as have basic education, higher education and science. To meet these needs, we have to accelerate growth.
And to accelerate growth, we have to remove obstacles to competition and mobility. The State of Israel has been in gridlock for many years.
There's enormous congestion on the coastal strip between Gedera and Hadera.
There's an enormous bureaucratic logjam facing anyone who tries to buy an apartment, register an asset or obtain a building permit.
There's an enormous traffic jam when you reach Wadi Ara, and have to crawl for hours on old-fashioned roads.
And so, we are working vigorously to remove these obstacles.
The change we are bringing will have three pillars: making land available, building a network of fast roads and trains, and revolutionizing the Planning and Construction Committees.
First, making land available: We passed the Israel Land Administration Law during the last Knesset session. There will be no real danger of losing control over national land when the reform is complete because 89% will still be owned by the public.
Releasing land for private construction will reduce land costs which are an major factor in high apartment prices in sought-after areas. Finally, almost every family in
Israel will be able to own their most valuable asset – an apartment or home – and will finally be free of the suffocating bureaucracy.
Second, we will submit a bill during this Knesset session to simplify and shorten the endless procedures of the Planning and Construction Committees. Israelis go through seven degrees of hell to get building permits today – committee after committee, license after license, "macher" after "macher".
Corruption and ineptitude rule, as young couples, discharged soldiers and students are crushed by the rising prices of apartments. Contractors complain about their inability to build a simple house in
Israel, not to mention a factory. This is going to end.
Our plan will simplify the process to obtain a building permit and make them transparent. All Planning and Construction Committee meetings will be filmed and broadcasted live on the internet. The public will see, with its own eyes, that reforms won't be just for individuals, wheeler-and-dealers, or personal friends. This reform will benefit all Israelis.
Third, public transportation: I'll be visiting the
Galilee tomorrow, among other things, to promote highway construction that will connect the North to the center of the country. The Yokneam Interchange will become what I call the "Northern Fork".
And we will extend Highway 6 northward from Yokneam to Nahariya and north-eastwards to Kiryat Shmona. Over the next few months, the government will approve national transportation plans for both the
Negev and the
This is the real way to connect the periphery to the center and to connect the center to the periphery. The traffic of Israelis from the center to the north and the south is important for our society, for our economy and for our security.
In the field of education, the government is working to give our children all the necessary tools to succeed in a competitive world and, equally important, to teach our children the eternal values of the Jewish people. While exposing our children to the world, we will also teach them Bible, Jewish history, Zionist history, Hebrew literature, Hebrew poetry and Hebrew language.
The time has come!
Our government will fight crime and keep criminals away from society. During this upcoming session, we will be submitting legislation to stiffen prison sentences in
Israel. And we will pass new laws to combat the plague of alcohol and prevent it from being sold to our youth and children.
This is the thrust of my government's agenda for this next Knesset session.
But our top priority will remain security and addressing threats to the State of Israel – the most serious of which is
Iran's attempts to arm itself with nuclear weapons.
Indeed, the true face of Iranian despotism has been exposed during the past few months:
This is a regime that oppresses its people, threatens its neighbors, conducts acts of terrorism, calls for the destruction of
Israel and constructs concealed plants to manufacture nuclear weapons. President Obama and the US Government recently reiterated their commitment to prevent
Iran from obtaining such weapons.
At our last meeting in
New York, President Obama told me that an
Iran equipped with a nuclear weapon would pose a danger to the entire world, not just to
Israel. All responsible members of the international community must come together and make clear to the Iranian regime that they will not accept its program to develop weapons of mass destruction.
My Friends, Members of Knesset,
Today, at the start of the Knesset's winter session, I want to tell you and everyone in
If there is one thing that will let us be successful in meeting these challenges, it is the recognition of the State of Israel as the only home of the Jewish people.
Israel can the Jewish people live as a free people, defend themselves and guarantee their own future.
We Jews have no other country, and we do not we want another country – just the State of Israel, as a Jewish and democratic state living in peace with its neighbors.
With God's help, we will work to bring security, prosperity and peace to
Israel. With God's help, it will endure forever.