Farewell Address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Likud Central Committee Meeting, Tel Aviv
May 27, 1999

My friends,

I came here tonight to say one thing: thank you.

Thank you for your support, your backing, your assistance. Thank you for the years of working together toward our common goals. Throughout these years, you were the first to lend me a hand, the first to offer a shoulder.

I thank you and thousands upon thousands of citizens for the warm words of recent days, the letters, the telegrams, the phone calls — for everything. I appreciate this and I cherish you.

The nation has pronounced its verdict at the ballot box, and we respect its decision. This is the essence of the democratic system, and it is the only way to maintain our unity as a people amidst internal divisions.

Of course, we also bear in mind that nearly half the nation expressed its confidence in us and in our course.

Only three years ago, before the last election, the people of Israel were gripped with fear. The Oslo Accords and the way in which they were implemented brought about the creation of terrorist bases in the heart of the country. The level of personal security on our streets was intolerable. Israel was caught in a vicious cycle of terror attacks and Israeli withdrawals in exchange for nothing.

We have done great things in the past three years. We based Israel’s foreign and security policy on five firm foundations.

First, we restored security to Israel’s citizens, to its streets and marketplaces. We established the proper linkage between peace and security. If there is no security there is no peace. Security is a condition for achieving and maintaining real peace.

Second, we instituted the principle of reciprocity. Instead of repeated one-sided concessions by Israel, we insisted that the other side comply with its obligations as a condition for progress in the peace process. This too is essential for achieving real peace.

Third, we insisted that any political arrangement should safeguard what is sacred to the Jewish people, chiefly a united Jerusalem and the Jewish communities in the eternal domains of our homeland.

Fourth, we significantly reduced the extent of territory which was slated to be handed over to the Palestinians under the Interim Accords, and this too only under the clear and explicit condition that they fulfill their obligations.

Fifth, we strengthened Israel’s strategic ties. We signed a special Memorandum of Agreement with the United States to bolster Israel’s deterrence against the threat of ballistic missiles and non-conventional weapons. We consolidated a response to these weapons and acted against Iranian rearmament. We strengthened ties with key states in our region to promote regional stability.

With these principles we paved the correct path for conducting the fateful negotiations on peace agreements with our neighbors.

In the economic sphere, we constructed a free and open economy. We drastically reduced the national deficit, cut inflation to its lowest point in 35 years, attracted a record level of foreign investment, transformed the shekel into an accepted currency worldwide, introduced competition into monopolistic sectors, doubled the number of high-tech graduates from our universities, and privatized at an unprecedented rate.

In short, we created new and opportune conditions to launch the Israeli economy into the next century.

In the social sphere, we acted to reduce the gaps in Israeli society. We passed laws to provide free education for the very young, and a long school-day for older children; and we advanced the Computer for Every Child project. We began implementing these programs among the economically weaker sectors of our society so that their children too could obtain the tools needed for integration into a modern economy.

We did all this in a very short time, while overcoming difficult obstacles and endless disruptions. We are bequeathing to the new government a country in incomparably better shape than we found it. And I can only wish for the State of Israel that the new government will build on the foundations we have laid.

My friends,

In the coming years, I believe already in the months ahead, Israel will more than ever face the fateful question: How do we achieve a genuine peace for our nation?

Notice that I am not speaking about a peace treaty, which is quite easy to achieve: Give in to the Arab demands, and you will quickly have a peace treaty, perhaps many treaties.

But in this century we have already seen many instances in which nations signed peace treaties that did not bring peace. On the contrary, they often served as a prelude to new wars.

I am speaking of real peace, a peace that lasts, one that does not remain a dead letter but materializes in real life. It is not easy to achieve such a peace, but it is possible. We began to follow such a path, whose aims and direction were clear to us and to the Arabs.

The primary principle of our diplomacy was this: the more we reduce the inflated expectations of the other side and its ability to threaten us, the closer Israel gets to a durable peace. And the more we let the other side raise its expectations, the more we weaken ourselves with egregious withdrawals, the more we distance ourselves from peace.

I know this approach clashes with the notion that peace is achieved by satisfying the demands of the other side. But that notion is completely mistaken. The truth is that the more we yield to the Arabs’ extreme demands, the more far-reaching those demands will be. Real peace requires that our negotiating partners limit their demands and accept the fact that Israel cannot agree to terms that endanger its welfare and existence.

But we are told the Arabs will agree to make peace only if they get an independent state in all the territories or in the lion’s share of the area, and if they achieve the dismantling of Jewish communities, the return of the Arab refugees, and a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem.

Our critics say: the Arabs will not agree to make peace if they do not get everything they want.

And I say: the Jews will not agree if they are asked to give what they cannot give.

This is how we moved forward toward negotiating for a final settlement – prudently, responsibly, while keeping in our hands most of the territory of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, strengthening our hold in Jerusalem, and reducing Arab expectations.

But now, after the elections, Arab expectations are on the rise again. If Israel accedes to unrestrained Arab demands, it will soon find itself shrunk and shriveled with its back to the sea. Such a reduced state will once again invite aggression and terrorism. Israel is likely to find itself with much international sympathy, its leaders will receive many compliments and perhaps even Nobel Prizes, but it will not have lasting peace and security.

For after a series of painful withdrawals in the north and the establishment of an Arab state in the heart of the country, the Arabs will say only one word: "More! This is not enough for us. We want more!"

And if we do not give them more, they will try to obtain it with threats and terror attacks.

To avoid reaching such a diplomatic and moral crisis we must strengthen the nation’s will, reinforcing its opposition to extensive withdrawals and to the establishment of an Arab state which will endanger Israel’s security.

It is not true that everything has been decided. Much remains in our hands, in the hands of the people.

We have always believed that strengthening the State of Israel is the key to peace with the Arab world. Only a strong Israel can achieve and sustain real peace. The Likud and the national camp have an historic mission to insist on these principles, to safeguard the land, and to assert our just demand to achieve peace with security.

I stood at the helm and I assume responsibility accordingly, without rancor, without reproach toward anyone. I announced my resignation from the post of Likud Chairman, and this evening I am announcing my resignation from the Knesset.

But in no way am I resigning from the struggle for the country’s future. I will continue to act in my own way to secure this future, and I will continue to serve the national idea as I have done over the past twenty years.

I have faith in the strength and wisdom of this nation and in its ability to understand a simple lesson: those unwilling to struggle in negotiations will ultimately find themselves struggling on the battlefield. I believe that I contributed much to spreading the view that we must show firmness to achieve peace, so that this conviction is now held by most of the people.

But not by all. I have no doubt that there will be a sharp debate over the path to peace. That debate must be conducted with mutual respect, an attentive ear to the opponents’ arguments, and above all, an understanding that there are no separate fates for the Right and for the Left.

We are all brothers and sisters, and we all share one common Jewish destiny.

My friends, the course we have embarked on will ultimately prevail.

We shall yet see it triumph.

With God’s help, we shall return.