Mr. Speaker, Members of Knesset,
I listened attentively to your remarks. Some of them sounded familiar because four years ago, I stood here at the beginning of the previous term and people explained to me that any second now the coalition would fall apart, in three months the government would fall. Three months passed and they said, "The government will fall in three more months". The government did not fall, and not only did it go on – it went on and did a great deal in four years.
I thought that perhaps people would be more careful in their estimates. I remember that people said that the components of the government were disconnected from each other, that there was no glue holding the different parts together, that there was no common path, etc. Well, I can tell you as I am a veteran in this house that with the establishment of any government – and any government is a coalition of constraints unless you have 61 members of Knesset, which has yet to happen – at the beginning of any new coalition, especially one with so many new members of Knesset, nearly 60, including young people – which I welcome because there is a lot of vigor, energy and initiative. However, at the beginning of every coalition there are labor pains.
In any event, and although you do not compel me to do so, at the 40 Signature discussions it is my custom to look back at what the government has accomplished, as well as the Knesset. So I would like you to note what the coalition, the government and the Knesset have accomplished in less than three months despite these labor pains. First of all, we pasted the Open Skies reform. We reformed the automobile market. We passed a budget in the government. We approved a new law that will assist us in removing illegal infiltrators seeking jobs from Israel. Let me remind you that in May of last year there were thousands of illegal infiltrators. This past May, there were two. Of course, they did not enter Israel's cities. And we are also working to return the illegal infiltrators to their countries of origin or other countries, in agreement. So far, 4,000 have left; 56,000 remain. I estimate that if we had not taken these actions, with the Knesset's assistance – through legislation, the fence and other means that we are exercising – we would face a flood of hundreds of thousands of illegal infiltrators.
So I say now to the members of the opposition: I understand what you are saying, some of you in the opposition, and I think you are mistaken. There is no right for illegal infiltration into the State of Israel. There is the question of refugees and we respect that – we are working in accordance with our humanitarian and international commitments. However, we have no duty – no duty – to absorb hundreds of thousands here. And I want to tell you that I speak with leaders around the world. Many of them come here, a great many – heads of state, foreign ministers. In the framework of my duties as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I meet with dozens of foreign ministers and many leaders as well. I meet them and many of them tell me "what a pity" it is that they did not act as we did in time to prevent illegal infiltrators who arrived in such large numbers that it changed their country's fate. I refer to the actions we undertook over the past four years, including the past three months. It is praiseworthy and it is important.
We also formulated an outline to equalize the burden, something people have waited for for 65 years, and I tell you, members of Knesset, and not just you but to all your colleagues and to the public at large: we will do so while respecting the ultra-orthodox public, through dialogue, as we have for the past four years. Allow me to remind you, there were 300 ultra-orthodox who joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2007, if I am not mistaken. That rose to 1,500 in 2012 –and that is in the IDF, not national or civilian service. And we intend to continue in this vein of dialogue and mutual respect in order to reach our target of several thousand more, and I think it is important to us and it is important to every section of this house. We do not have the privilege of causing rifts among the people, to tear the people apart. We see rifts among the people in countries surrounding us. Rifts, implosions and explosions, fissures and outbursts all across this region – from Morocco to Pakistan. The only stable country and the only real, functioning democracy, with all the problems we have to resolve – and we do have problems – is the State of Israel. And the last thing we want is to tear ourselves apart. This will not happen.
We have a great number of tasks ahead of us: to reduce to cost of living, first and foremost of housing. I wanted to appoint Moshe Kahlon, and before the elections, I had hope that I would get more Knesset seats and then we would have given the Ministry of Housing to the Likud and the Israel Land Authority and the Prime Minister's Office. That was the plan, to appoint Moshe Kahlon under those conditions. What happened? We got fewer Knesset seats and we transferred the Ministry of Housing to our coalition partners. The Israel Land Authority also did not stay in the Prime Minister's Office. I agreed with Moshe Kahlon that under these conditions, where he was not directly subordinate to me, he would be less effective that what we had conceived of earlier and therefore he did not take the job, and I respect that. I told him that I agree with this approach, and I totally agree with it.
Our tasks are numerous and diverse, but any task that you may bring up has one necessary condition in the long-term – and that is continued economic growth. We excelled in the past several years, the past decade, in that we are one of the only countries that experienced growth of between four and five percent, and our goal is to continue this growth. However, when we have per capita income of $32,000– at this rate, it is very difficult.
There are four paths that I envision for continuing growth. First of all, to continue the structural reforms, and the most important reform that we will introduce shortly to this house is the large-scale reform of Israel's ports. Yes, it is the most important, clear and simple – the most important.
The second thing is that we are a small economy. We need to obtain a market share, I could even say a very small share of a huge market, and therefore we intend to significantly increase our exports to China. We currently sell $2.5 billion to China. That is not a lot. We must – can and must – increase exportation, and to that end, during my recent visit to China we agreed upon establishing two high commissions from both countries, from China and Israel, to try to connect Israeli companies and experts with the governmental sector, which in China is huge, 60%. So we are working to increase exports to China.
Third, we will also open the gas market. This is essential to the economic and social future of the State of Israel.
Fourth, as I said, we want and are working to increase the integration of the ultra-orthodox and Arab publics into the labor market in Israel.
These are the four conditions for continued growth. By the way, they are all available to us, and by implementing them, by advancing them, we can, unlike other countries that have a relatively high standard of per capita income, continue our growth, and continued growth will allow us to deal with social issues, with narrowing gaps, with education, health and all the other cases with which you are familiar.
We can do these things because we are beginning from a good starting point. Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fisher spoke here in this house, and he said something very true. He said that our economic situation is good, and it is very good in relation to other western countries, which did not weather the economic crisis as we did. And if you talk about the problems they have, they would happily switch places with us.
Growth here is among the highest in western countries. Unemployment last year was the lowest it has been in 30 years, and more than 300,000 jobs were added to the labor market. The gaps have also narrowed over the past two years, a change in trend that we must fight to continue. We have a problem I am not ignoring; we have a problem with our deficit which we will fix. We had larger deficits in 2009 and in 2003 – and we took care of them. Together with the Minister of Finance and the other ministers, I am committed to reducing the deficit so that Israel's economy will succeed. We will all continue to work together to improve the quality of life, but first we must ensure life itself.
The State of Israel is stronger today than ever, and when necessary, we act strongly and decisively to defend ourselves. There are considerable threats surrounding us. I heard one of my colleagues here ask why I say that we are the most threatened country in the world. Why? Because it is true, because there are tens of thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israel's cities, and not only at our cities, and we must provide a defensive solution to this. No solution will ever be perfect, but we must take the offensive.
I never had the attribute of closing my eyes and glamorizing reality; that is not why I became Prime Minister. In order to deal with the complex security reality that surrounds us, we must act in three areas. First and foremost, we must make every effort and we must mobilize the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. All the problems I just described, which are substantial, dwarf in comparison with the challenges we will face if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. To date, Iran has accumulated more than 180 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium. Little more than six months ago, they had 110 kilograms, and today they have more than 180 kilograms. They still have not crossed the red line I laid out at the UN, but they are methodically moving closer to it.
Members of Knesset, my colleagues,
I call your attention to what recently happened in another part of the world, when a rebellious nation entered the nuclear age. It cannot happen in Iran. And I ask that no one delude themselves: the election results in Iran will not change anything. And alongside Iran's arms race for a nuclear bomb, it continues to arm Syria, the Hezbollah, Hamas and Global Jihad. Israel will continue to make every effort to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. This is the policy I set and we are continuing it.
I say here and I have said to all the leaders of the world – to President Obama when he visited Jerusalem and in talks we held afterwards, to President Xi of China in Beijing, and to President Putin of Russia during the meeting we held recently in Sochi; and I get the impression that the world's leaders take what I say seriously. They take it seriously first and foremost because we stand behind our words as best we can. They take it seriously also because the Syrian arena is very volatile and it changes with the blink of an eye. We are witness to the horrible slaughter of civilians that is occurring there, and we follow with great concern the reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. When dangerous weapons reach the hands of dangerous groups, there is no guarantee they will not use them. We are familiar with the well-known saying that when you see a gun in the first act, it will probably show up again in the third. And therefore our policy is to prevent such weapons from reaching these dangerous hands. We are doing so with a great deal of discretion, experience and determination.
The citizens of Israel want security and they want peace, and I want security and peace. I speak with Secretary of State Kerry several times a week. All those who are privy to the talks know that Israel is not the side evading negotiations, placing obstacles to renewing negotiations. There is a side that is moving closer and there is a side that is pulling away or to be more precise, evading. I think the most important thing is not to try to exhaust the negotiations before they even start, not to conduct endless negotiations about the negotiations, not to impose preconditions, but rather to begin negotiations.
By the way, we are attentive to any initiative; the Arab initiative was mentioned. We are attentive to any initiative and we are ready to discuss any initiative that is proposed and that is not a dictate. We are in favor of immediate negotiations without preconditions. These things are said in public and they are said in private through diplomatic channels.
So I call on Abu Mazen to put aside the preconditions and come to talk. You know, since he doesn't speak Hebrew and my Arabic is not very good, I will appeal to him in a language we both know and I say to him in English: Give peace a chance. Give peace a chance. Now, how will you give peace a chance? How do you do it? Don't miss the opportunity. Don't miss the opportunity.
In order to complete these negotiations, we need to address two fundamental problems, and they are recognition and security. I heard the members of Knesset say that reality has changed; let us not miss the opportunity. Please: the reality has changed; let us not miss the opportunity. Reality changes so rapidly that we need to ensure that after we sign something, we will be able to defend the peace and ourselves. Our security demands are very well defined, very clear and we raise them in various forums. However, I do not impose them as a condition to entering into negotiations, and I say to Abu Mazen: You too have demands; you too have positions; do not impose them as conditions to entering into negotiations; otherwise we will waste another four years.
During my three terms as Prime Minister, I made numerous difficult decisions in the fields of the economy, foreign policy and above all security – and now too, I am ready to make difficult decisions to advance peace, but not those that will endanger the security of Israel's citizens. And we not only need to make difficult decisions, the Palestinians will also have to do so as well. I know this, only I am not afraid to begin negotiations here and now with no preconditions. I hope Abu Mazen will accept this invitation. I was asked by members of Knesset, "Why don't you say this? Why don't you invite him?" I invited him at the UN; I invited him in Washington; I invited him from the Knesset podium. Time after time after time, and here I am doing so again. Over the past four years, we have only spoken for several hours. Not including the 18 years of negotiations that were conducted before that – only a few hours. This is not how to achieve peace. We need to sit down, raise the various demands and positions of both sides and try to reach genuine peace.
This is my goal and I hope it will be the goal of the Palestinian leadership. If so, I estimate that we can create an opportunity that will even surprise you, MK Zeev.