- Translation -First, I am sure that the members of Knesset and all of Israel’s citizens join me in sending condolences to the family of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, of blessed memory, and his many followers, as we mark seven days since his passing. Rabbi Ovadia was one of a long line of Jewish scholars who devoted their lives to studying the Torah and adapting halachah to the ever-changing needs of the people of Israel. Many of us, and I too, were moved to see how he continued to labor over the scriptures until the very end, even when his health deteriorated, knowing that he was making his contribution to the eternal heritage of the people of Israel.
Members of Knesset, during the summer break, three dramatic international developments took place in our region – in Iran, Syria and Egypt.
First, Iran. For years, we have been successful in creating a broad international front against Iran’s attempts to develop nuclear weapons. Under our advocacy and thanks to the efforts of the United States and many other countries, harsh economic sanctions were imposed on Iran. Due to this pressure, Iran’s economy is currently very close to its breaking point. But we must admit that despite the pressure, the regime in Tehran has not relinquished its goal to develop nuclear weapons. But it has done something: it has changed its tactic to achieve this goal. It is now willing to make insignificant changes to its nuclear program, changes which would leave it with the ability to develop nuclear weapons, in return for easing up the sanctions, which could bring about a collapse of the entire sanctions regime.
Now, due to its systematic violations of the Security Council’s resolutions, Iran can rapidly enrich uranium from a low 3.5% to 90%, which is the enrichment level required to create fissile material for nuclear weapons. Therefore, Iran is willing to give up enrichment to the mid-level 20%, which it no longer needs, for a significant ease in the sanctions. This is to say that Iran is willing to give very little and to receive very much, if not everything.
My friends, there is no reason to allow this Iranian move to be successful. There is no reason why we should back down from Security Council resolutions which require Iran to suspend its enrichment capabilities and its heavy water project in Arak, which, by the way, has only one purpose – nuclear weapons, not civilian energy. Anyway, why does Iran need nuclear civilian energy when it has so much oil, so much gas, for generations to come.
It would be a historic mistake to ease up the pressure at this time, a moment before the sanctions achieve their objective. Now, more than ever, we cannot let up and we must continue the pressure. We must remember that international pressure is what brought about the internal shift in Iran, it is what caused Iran to offer any concessions at all, it brought them to the negotiating table, and it is what could lead them to actually abandon their military nuclear program.
I will tell you one more thing: Despite common conceptions, easing up the pressure will not strengthen the trend of moderation in Iran. On the contrary, it will actually strengthen the unyielding perception of the real leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and will be taken as a significant victory on his behalf. I believe that many around the world understand that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran does not threaten Israel only.
Mr. President, you were right when you said that Iran continues, unobstructed, to develop intercontinental missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, which is the sole purpose of these missiles, they have no other objective. These missiles can reach any part of the Middle East, Europe, the United States and other parts of the world. The entire region would be under grave danger as would global peace. However, there is no doubt that nuclear weapons in the hands of Iran would be aimed at us first. The Iranians openly declare that to be their intention, and that is why Israel will not allow Iran, who has made our annihilation its mission, to obtain nuclear weapons.With regards to Syria, for many years we said that a rogue regime which has unconventional weapons could purposefully use it one day. We also said that a combination of economic pressure together with a credible military threat could bring such a regime to surrender these weapons.
My friends, both of these things have happened in Syria. The regime in Damascus used chemical weapons against its citizens, and due to an American military threat, was forced into accepting measures to destroy these weapons. This procedure of dismantling the chemical weapons in Syria is important, positive and vital, but only if it is done to its fullest extent. Therefore it is important that any country that can help with this, does whatever it can on this matter, as will Israel.
But I want to ask you something: What would the international response be if Syria would propose disposing of 20% of its chemical weapons and keep all other capabilities? That is exactly what Iran’s offer is. Just as we must ensure that Syria does not deceive the international community and that it completely dismantles its chemical weapons, we cannot allow Iran to continue its military nuclear program and leave it with nuclear breakout capabilities. At the same time, we will continue our policy which prevents Syria from transferring dangerous weapons to Hezbollah.
With respect to Egypt, we attribute great importance to our peace with it. Our peace with Egypt is an anchor of stability in the heart of the Middle East. Nobody knows as well as we do how important any anchor of stability is. The peace between us is based, first and foremost, on solid security arrangements and on international understandings, understandings that must be maintained at all costs.
The events that have been unfolding in our region prove that the radical Islam’s assumption of power is not inevitable nor irreversible. Two years ago, the start of the “Arab Spring” brought about a sense of euphoria. I did not share it, and some of you, or even many of you, also had your doubts, but on the other hand, there was a concern that the victory of radical Islam was inevitable.
Gentlemen, it is not inevitable, because many of the peoples in the region have a deep desire to shake off the radical power of Iran, of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaida and their proxies. I think that this is an important development and I would go as far as saying, a development with historic significance.
For the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel, a growing understanding is taking root in the Arab world, and it is not always said softly. This understanding, that Israel is not the enemy of Arabs and that we have a united front on many issues, might advance new possibilities in our region. I also hope that it might help the peace process between us and the Palestinians, which I will discuss shortly.
But I can say that at this point in time, many countries in the region look to us with hope, because they sense the consistency and decisiveness of our positions and our willingness to act to defend ourselves if necessary. Today, many understand that it is good that we did not get swept up in that Arab Spring euphoria, and that we were smart enough to lead the State of Israel outside the regional turmoil responsibly and with discretion.
My friends, my job is to see the reality as it is, certainly the reality of the region. The citizens of Israel and their safety is constantly before my eyes, and it is my responsibility to ensure that they can continue their routine lives of calm and prosperity in this stormy region.
Besides the turbulence and trouble we must deal with, every now and again, we also have moments of pleasure and national pride. A few weeks ago, an Israeli company was sold to Google for a billion dollars, and today another sale was announced of another company being sold to Facebook for hundreds of millions. Despite the unfortunate reports of impending dismissals, we must remember that Israel’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the Western world.
Although we are opening the winter session today, I remind you that we are still benefitting from summer savings time. The citizens of Israel appreciate the fact that facing the worst turbulence in our region since the establishment of the State of Israel, our security situation has improved in the last few years, and despite a global economic crisis, Israel’s economy continues to grow. I promise the citizens of Israel: we will continue to improve the quality of life, we will continue to work to lower the cost of living so that we all may live with economic welfare and be proud of our country. We are required to adopt a clear-headed responsible policy on internal matters, which we were also told to do by the President and the Speaker of the House, and rightly so.
We have several missions ahead of us during this winter session: to bring about a change in the system of government, which will strengthen governance; to pass a referendum law, so that the people of Israel can make the decision on any peace agreement; and to distribute the burden more fairly, without siccing one population on another, and maintaining unity among the people. I intend to hold discussions with the heads of the coalition parties to enable passing these laws, and yes, I also intend to get support, as much as possible, from members of the opposition, in part at least.
But before all this, I see before me matters of defense and border security. Our decisive security policy has been reflected in many anti-terrorism missions, not all of which are reported, and in the Pillar of Defense Operation. This policy is proving itself, and the present calm, the most quiet we have not had here for over a decade, is proof of that. However, Members of Knesset, we take the recent terrorist acts in Judea and Samaria very seriously, and we are acting swiftly to bring the perpetrators to justice.
In regards to securing our borders, we have completely stopped the illegal immigration. In the last six months we have had no border infiltrators, zero. Israel is in fact the only Western country to have completely succeeded in stopping illegal infiltration of its borders, which was threatening the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel. First 3,000 came, then 6,000 every month. Multiply that by 12 and you have 80,000 per year. You all know the meaning of this. It would pose a threat to the future of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and this is an important achievement.We will continue to work to return the tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who crossed the border before we completed the border fence in the south. I am aware of the suffering of the citizens of the South, southern Tel Aviv and other places in Israel. I was in Eilat before the fence was built, and in other places, and I spoke to the local people who cried – there is no other word. I promise you that just as we stopped the border infiltrations we will also make sure we remove those who came in before we put a stop to it. One must also understand that the fence was not the only thing that stopped the infiltration, but also economic legislation, intensive international activity, holding facilities and others. If need be, we will present new legislation that will conform to the ruling of the High Court of Justice, and that will ensure one thing – complete control over our borders.
Meanwhile, we will continue the economic development of the State of Israel, including developing new and important markets, headed by China. I was there on a visit that started cooperation on a very high level with the Chinese Government. Ministers go there and my economic adviser, Prof. Eugene Kandel, was there now. We are moving forward because we only need a tiny slice of a vast market to fulfill the growth needs of the State of Israel, and we need growth for the welfare of our citizens and also for our security needs. Many countries appreciate how Israel functions economically, many of these countries’ economies are far less successful.
But we are doing another thing, and you probably see it, Members of Knesset. We will continue to create new ways to bring the center of Israel closer to the periphery and the periphery, closer to the center. We will do this by continuing to invest in roads, bridges, overpasses and railways. We are determined to break out of the area spanning between Hadera and Gedera, and we have already brought this message to other regions of the country. Largely thanks to Government investments, the Negev is becoming alive, but, my friends, the big leap forward is still ahead of us.
The fastest growing part of global economy grows in relation to the internet. It is not linear growth, it is growing at a remarkable pace and the internet requires protection – from individual hackers, organizations, countries. The State of Israel is a great power in that field. When we established the National Cyber Bureau two years ago, I said that we would be among the five cyber superpowers in the world. Members of Knesset, I am telling you that we are there, and we are not number five. I doubt if we are as low as number four on the list.We know that when we decided to move IDF bases to the south, we decided to realize that decision that we had discussed, to finance it. We are giving to Beer Sheva, the university, the train station there, we are bringing the intelligence units, IDF’s elite units and the defense system, the Cyber Bureau, everything will be there. Next to the university, with an industrial park, and Beer Sheva and its suburbs will become a globally leading cyber metropolitan. Mark my words. Leading cyber companies in Israel and the world are already moving to Beer Sheva and many others are on their way. This is my vision – basing the development of the Negev on Governmental infrastructural support and on business. Combining these two things is key, otherwise it remains a dream.
This is our way to turn the vision into reality. This is already affecting all the communities and towns I visited yesterday and many others – Netivot, Ofakim, Sderot, Dimona, Yerucham – they will all benefit from this. The Arab villages too, everyone will benefit from it. The railway to Eilat will no longer be a vision for the distant future, but an executable project. On Shabbat, I read the Haftarah from the book of Isaiah. It reads: “Clear ye in the wilderness… make plain in the desert a highway…” We are doing just that in practice. The journey from Tel Aviv to Eilat will take only two and a half hours. That will be a transportation revolution, the scope of which has never occurred in Israel’s history.
And in the other direction, in the North, the medical school which we opened in Tsfat was a welcome addition to the entire Galilee. So are the highways and overpasses we are building and the railroad tracks we are laying in the north. An advanced bio-technology center is being built near Tsfat, which will give a significant push to the northern part of Israel and all its residents. My vision is to abolish the periphery and have an Israel that is connected from Metula to Eilat and have the development towns finally become developed towns.
Members of Knesset, we share another goal – to achieve peace with our Palestinian neighbors. We all want genuine peace, stable and safe and not an agreement that will fall apart as soon as it is signed. This peace is based on two foundations: security and mutual recognition.
In the area of security, it is becoming clear how important our assertion that under any agreement Israel must be able to defend itself by itself against any threat, and that it will not lean of foreign forces. And mutual recognition – how can it be that while the Palestinians demand that Israel recognize the Palestinian nation state, they refuse to recognize the Jewish nation state? The Jewish people has been around for almost 4,000 years. And why should a people like ours not deserve the have the right to our own nation state in our historic homeland recognized? Why is it so difficult to accept this simple historical fact?
My friends, the question is not why we raise this basic demand, but why our Palestinian neighbors insist decisively and consistently not to recognize such a logical demand? I do not raise this demand because we need our national identity ratified, but so that the Palestinians withdraw from all of their national demands of us, and a genuine agreement requires the end of all demands, including their national demands from the State of Israel. Recognizing Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people means completely abandoning the “right of return” and ending any other national demands over the land and sovereignty of the State of Israel. This is a crucial component for a genuine reconciliation and stable and durable peace.
I understand that the Palestinian Authority’s official media broadcasts that Palestine spans from Metula to Eilat and that an agreement with Israel will be signed without recognizing the nation state of the Jewish people. As I have said before on another subject: The first part is not true, and the second part will never happen.”
Members of Knesset, we are making a genuine effort, I want you all to know that. We are making a genuine effort to end the conflict between us and the Palestinians. I do not delude myself that it will be easy, but I am determined to try. But as I try, I will not give up on our national interests in order to get a favorable headline in a newspaper, or to receive accolades from the international community. These are temporary, but we must guard our vital interests forever, and so we shall.
Facing the tremendous tumults in our world, I tell you, Members of Knesset, that the State of Israel continues to be a great success story. More than ever, I am convinced that we will overcome all of the challenges that I mentioned: we will strengthen our national resilience, we will build our country, we will develop our economy and bring success, security and peace to the people in Zion.