Speech by Prime Minister Ehud Barak on the Presentation of the Government to the Knesset

Jerusalem, July 6, 1999

Your Excellency President and Mrs. Weizman,

Mr. Speaker, our friend Avraham Burg, please accept my heartfelt congratulations on your deserved election as Speaker of the Knesset.

Today, the legislature acquires a new, young and energetic leadership, the product of a Torah and Avodah philosophy, which will undoubtedly put its stamp on this House. All of us send you our very best wishes for success – and with you, to your parents Dr. Yosef and Rivka Burg.

I would also like to thank the outgoing temporary Speaker, MK Shimon Peres, who has led the Knesset in the last few weeks with a practiced, experienced and steady hand, and with him, to all the Knesset members who have left the House, this seat, and particularly to Knesset Speaker Dan Tichon, who guided the Knesset in a manner which added honor to the House and to Israeli democracy.

Let me begin with a personal comment. I have been a soldier for practically all my adult life. I have known the pride of victory, but also the pain of failure. And as one whose only clothes, for decades, were olive-drab uniforms, I tell you today that, in the words of the poet Hillel, "We — the gray soldiers, whose hands are blackened with war, whose nostrils reek with death, whose throats are hoarse — we cry love to inside your souls."

I am not alone here today on this podium. Together with me are generations of IDF soldiers who withstood the most severe trials of fire in order to secure our liberty. Together with me are those who returned at dawn from the nighttime inferno, carrying on their shoulders the silent stretchers bearing their lifeless comrades.

I am not alone here today on this podium. Together with me are the white-coated hi-tech people in Herzliya and the struggling unemployed, without a livelihood from Dimona, Ofakim and Hazor, rabbis and secular Jews, fieldworkers, gardeners and construction workers. I am not alone.

I am not alone today. Together with me are the mothers who do not sleep at night and the fathers tormented by anguish. Together with me are all the dreamers and the fighters.

And speaking for myself and the entire Israeli government which is setting forth today, I assure you that we have not closed our eyes in the last month, and we will not close our eyes as long as is needed in the future so that mothers in Israel sleep peacefully in the coming years.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset:

In the annals of the Knesset there are turning points, ends of eras and beginnings of new ones. Today a new government in Israel starts out, resting on the broad-based confidence of the House and most of the people.

I believe that this day will be chronicled as a milestone and turning point — a time of reconciliation, unity and peace.

Eight weeks have passed since the people had their say at the polls.

As I begin my address, I would like to again express my profound appreciation to the masses of Israelis who placed their confidence in me, and my appreciation of all citizens, regardless of outlook, who participated in the democratic process and expressed their choice and free will.

I am duty-bound to express my full appreciation for the outgoing government for the efforts it invested and also for the achievements during its tenure. I express my appreciation to all the ministers, and in particular to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who since receiving the decision of the electorate, has behaved in an exemplary and statesmanlike fashion.

And I wish to add a personal comment. Even if, on a political level, we disagreed, very often on matters of style, on the personal level our relationships were hardly ever affected. And as one who has accompanied the Netanyahu family, including Benjamin Netanyahu, for decades, I hope and believe that we will be able to be friends in the future as well.

I already said on the evening of the election that, from the moment I was elected, I view myself as an emissary of all Israeli citizens. I shall act with all my strength on their behalf, and for their sake, together with my colleagues, out of a profound recognition of responsibility and mission, in order to guide and lead the country forward to its great objectives and a promising future. There is an ancient prayer in my heart, the prayer of Solomon: "Give your servant a discerning heart… to distinguish between good and evil, for who is able to judge your great people?"

Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset,

I am proud to submit to the people and the House a new, broad-based, good, representative government, supported by the large majority of Knesset members and the citizens of the state. It was not in vain that I took advantage of the full time allotted by law to form the government. I did not take the easy way. The lessons of Jewish history and the depth of the social and political chasm in Israel today required me to choose the long and patient way in order to achieve the goal which I had set for myself: to form a government which will act during a time of difficult national decisions, through consent and balance between most sections of the people. I did not accept any disqualification of any side.

During the negotiations I seriously examined the possibility of expanding the basis of the coalition even further. This was not possible and in retrospect, this may have been best. In a democratic system, there is great importance to the role of a parliamentary opposition, and it is my intention to express my recognition of this by maintaining ongoing contacts with, providing information to and holding consultations with the heads of those factions which are not members of the coalition. I expect substantive and constructive criticism from the opposition which will also enable consideration of its opinion in managing affairs of state.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

The basic guidelines of the Government and the coalition agreements are before you. Everything is open and fully disclosed. Nothing is concealed, there are no secret agreements, no "under-the-table" understandings, and as you have seen, there are neither financial commitments nor favors to specific sectors or groups.

I will not go into the details of all the Government guidelines. The guidelines constitute the identity card of the government, the principles of its policy and its declaration of intent. All previous governments had good intentions. Not all were equally successful in putting them into practice. I know that the Government will be judged by its actions, not its intentions. I will try will all my might to ensure that the gap between its good intentions and its actions is as narrow as possible.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

The Zionist idea which was proclaimed in Basel over 100 years ago has brought about a revolution in the life of the Jewish people and restored it to the stage of history as a sovereign, independent, strong and prosperous people.

The Ingathering of the Exiles, the settlement of the land, the revival of the language, culture, and scientific and intellectual life, the creation of a splendid educational system and Torah institutions, the establishment of a strong national economy, an exemplary defense force and security services, sophisticated infrastructure systems and advanced health and welfare services, the creation of a democratic, free and diverse society based on the supremacy of the rule of law — all of these are achievements which are utterly unparalleled in the history of nations. They were achieved despite the Holocaust, which wiped out a third of our people, and during an unrelenting struggle and a bloody war in which the best of our children and comrades gave their lives. It is because of them that we are here — determined and confident and aspiring to historic acceptance and an end to wars and enmity.

We embrace the bereaved families and the families of the MIAs and POWs, the disabled and wounded of the security establishment. May peace ease their suffering. We know that the victory of Zionism will not be complete until the achievement of genuine peace, full security, and relations of friendship, trust and cooperation with all our neighbors. And therefore, the Government’s supreme goal will be to bring peace and security to Israel, while safeguarding the vital interests of the State of Israel. The great historic breakthrough to peace took place 20 years ago, through the vision and courage of two outstanding leaders: the late Menahem Begin and the late Anwar Sadat, may they rest in peace.

A further milestone was the Madrid Conference during the tenure of Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Renewed and far-reaching impetus was imparted by Yitzhak Rabin, the courageous and unswerving leader, from whom I learned so much, and who was assassinated during the struggle for his path, the path of peace, and with him, by our friend Shimon Peres.

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu indeed opened with the Hebron Agreement, but it was unable to implement the Wye accords which it had signed.

Now it is our duty to complete the mission, and establish a comprehensive peace in the Middle East which has known so much war. It is our duty to ourselves and our children to take decisive measures to strengthen Israel by ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. This government is determined to make every effort, pursue every path and do everything necessary for Israel’s security, the achievement of peace and the prevention of war.

We have an historic obligation to take advantage of the "window of opportunity" which has opened before us in order to bring long-term security and peace to Israel. We know that comprehensive and stable peace can be established only if it rests, simultaneously, on four pillars: Egypt, Jordan, and Syria and Lebanon, in some sense as a single bloc, and of course the Palestinians. As long as peace is not grounded on all these four pillars, it will remain incomplete and unstable. The Arab countries must know that only a strong and self-confident Israel can bring peace.

Here, today, I call upon all the leaders of the region to extend their hands to meet our outstretched hand, and toward a "peace of the brave," in a region which has known so much war, blood and suffering. To our neighbors the Palestinians, I wish to say: the bitter conflict between us has brought great suffering to both our peoples. Now, there is no reason to settle accounts over historical mistakes. Perhaps things could have been otherwise, but we cannot change the past; we can only make the future better. I am not only cognizant of the sufferings of my people, but I also recognize the sufferings of the Palestinian people. My ambition and desire is to bring an end to violence and suffering, and to work with the elected Palestinian leadership, under Chairman Yasser Arafat, in partnership and respect, in order to jointly arrive at a fair and agreed settlement for co-existence in freedom, prosperity and good neighborliness in this beloved land where the two peoples will always live.

To Syrian President Hafez Assad, I say that the new Israeli government is determined, as soon as possible, to advance the negotiations for the achievement of full, bilateral treaty of peace and security, on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.

We have been tough and bitter adversaries on the battlefield. The time has come to establish a secure and courageous peace which will ensure the futures of our peoples, our children and our grandchildren.

It is my intention to bring an end to the IDF presence in Lebanon within one year, to deploy the IDF, through agreement, along the border, and to bring our boys home while also taking the necessary measures to guarantee the welfare and security of residents along the northern border, as well as the future of the Lebanese security and civilian assistance personnel who have worked alongside us, over all these years, for the sake of the residents of the region.

I wish to take advantage of this opportunity to praise the residents of Kiryat Shmona and communities along the confrontation line for their firm stand in the face of the Katyushas. From here, on behalf of us all, I offer my support to them. Their determination and the strength of the IDF are what will enable us to create the new situation.

Mr. Speaker, distinguished Knesset,

These two missions — arriving at a permanent settlement with the Palestinians, and achieving peace with Syria and Lebanon — are, in my eyes, equally vital and urgent. One neither outranks the other, nor has priority over it.

The Governments objective will be to act, at the same time, to bring peace closer on all fronts, but without compromising on Israel’s security needs and most vital interests — first and foremost among them, a united Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel, under our sovereignty. We will not be deterred by the difficulties.

I know very well that difficult negotiations, replete with crises and ups-and-downs, await us before we reach our desired goal.

I can only promise that, if the other side displays the same degree of determination and good will to reach an agreement as on our side, no force in the world will prevent us from achieving peace here.

In this context, I attach the greatest importance to the support of our partners to peace treaties: Egypt and Jordan. I believe that President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah can play a vital role in creating the dynamics and an atmosphere of trust so needed for progress toward peace. They can also advance education for peace among the children of Egypt and Jordan, the Palestinians and, in the future, also of Syria and Lebanon — education for peace, which is a condition for any long-term, stable peace. I am convinced that King Hassan of Morocco can also contribute to this, as can other countries who already, in the past, opened channels of communication with Israel, cooperating with the peace process in various spheres. My aspiration will be to firmly resume these contacts in order to create a favorable regional atmosphere that can assist the negotiations.

It goes without saying that the assistance of the United States is a fundamental condition for any progress toward resolving the conflict in the region. The friendship of America, under the leadership of President Clinton, its generosity and the intensity of its support for the peace process in the Middle East constitute a vital component in the chance to achieve our goal. I will soon leave for the United States, at the invitation of President Clinton, a loyal friend of Israel, in order to discuss the gamut of issues facing us, first and foremost, the renewal of the peace process on all tracks, and the fortification of the strength and security of Israel.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

The guarantee of the peace agreements and their implementation lies in the strength of the Israel Defense Forces. As such, we will attend to bolstering the IDF, the quality of its commanders and soldiers, its equipment — with the best educational and technological systems — training and fitness, its ability to always be prepared to deter and provide a response to distant and near dangers, and to all kinds of threats, whether conventional or otherwise. But security is not only provided with tanks, planes or missile boats. Security is, first and foremost, provided by individuals. It is they who shape the integrity of the society and of the national strength of Israel. Therefore, together with the promotion of security and peace, and foreign policy, and with no less urgency and importance, the Government is obliged to contend with the challenges of society, the economy and the needs of the citizen.

Israeli society is a unique society: a fascinating mosaic of hues and opinions, cultures and creeds — veteran residents and new immigrants, people from different Diasporas, religious and ultra-Orthodox, traditional and secular, Jews and Arabs, Druze and Circassians. Together, equally, they are Israel. A society where none are better or less good, but where, as in every human society, there are fringes of poverty and backwardness. There are weak sectors of hundreds of thousands of agonizing citizens who are unable, without growth or stimulus, to maintain the rapid pace of progress. We must not rush forward and leave them behind by the roadside.

The Government, under my leadership, is committed to waging war on the unemployment and poverty threatening to undermine and unravel our social fabric, and to struggling toward the strengthening of the health system and the improvement of the welfare services in the State of Israel. We will introduce a new national order of priorities.

The most important mission which the Government will take upon itself in the social sphere is the positioning of education as its top priority. I always viewed education as the most correct and worthwhile long-term investment. Therefore, we will aspire to provide the best possible education to every single child and adolescent in Israel, from kindergarten through university. The government will allocate resources and efforts in order to bring about a change and breathe a new spirit into the entire education system — by expanding the knowledge base, fostering curiosity and directing the potential of the talents of the young generation toward creative channels. And to the same extent, the Government will work to education toward values, personal morality, work ethics, social responsibility, volunteerism, assistance to fellow human beings, justice, respect for the law and a loathing for injustice and violence.

The Government will place a special emphasis on an uncompromising struggle against the growing violence among youth. We will not accept a situation in which parents are afraid to send their children to schools and playgrounds.

I wish to say something to those citizens who are members of minority communities in the State of Israel: I wholeheartedly believe in the equal value of all humankind, in equality between people and between citizens, without distinction. The State of Israel has not always been sufficiently wise to grant all its citizens a sense of equality and partnership. The disparities are great, and the sentiment of bitterness is not unjustified. I know that you have heard innumerable slogans and promises, and I pledge today that the Government, under my leadership, will make every effort to gradually bridge the gaps, dissipate the alienation and provide equality for all sectors of the population in Israel. The Rabin and Peres governments began a focussed effort to bring about this change. We will continue along this path with renewed vigor.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

Emphasizing the social aspect of Government policy is not in contradiction with a policy of free and productive economics, free from unnecessary government interference. An economy which will act as a magnet for foreign investment, and be increasingly based on hi-tech industries and domestic research and development which will put Israel at the forefront of scientific and technological progress — because there can be no healthy society without a healthy economy, and vice versa. The creation of 300,000 new jobs in the next four years — as I pledged in my election campaign — is a concrete and possible objective for reducing the shame of unemployment and strengthening the entire economy. At the same time, this goal is contingent upon imparting a new impetus to the economy, as a result of restored confidence in a future of peace for the region and the country.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

We are living in an era of the global economy and immediate world-wide communications, being exposed to the cultures of all nations through television screens, the internet and computers. In this open world, there is no possibility of enclosing oneself in an impenetrable armored shell or being sequestered from the outside world, even if its influences are not always positive.

The world is changing so rapidly that those who cannot cope or adjust to the new reality will find themselves dragged back, like Alice in Wonderland.

It is our mission to prepare the new generation in Israel for the new, open and global era of the 21st Century, while also reinforcing and strengthening the components of its national and Jewish identity, its sense of attachment and its bonds to Israel. The way to this is through deepening historical awareness, acknowledging our heritage and faith, building a society based on solidarity, internal cohesion and what is called — with no cause for embarrassment — "national pride." Not arrogant pride, condescending to others, but pride which recognizes values, and identification identity with the historical collective memory of all Jewish ethnic groups, with the heritage of the generations and with the awesome contribution that our nation has made to human civilization.

Identification with the struggle for rebirth and with those who have fallen in Israel’s wars, identification with the goals of the State — anchored in the vision of the Prophets and the Declaration of Independence. With the very name "Israel," which expresses courage, determination and victory. As the angel’s blessing to Jacob in Genesis: "Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with man — and have prevailed."

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

This government for which I seek your confidence is a government directed toward peace and security, education, health and welfare, directed toward full civil equality and social justice, directed toward a free and prosperous economy, growth and the eradication of unemployment and poverty, directed toward immigration and strengthening the ties between Israel and the Diaspora, directed toward the fortification of democracy and the supremacy of law. This is a government in which people will go hand-in-hand, combining their strengths.

The primary consideration which guided me in composing this government was the need to find the broadest possible common denominator in order to responsibly bring together representatives of parties and sectors from various, even opposing, sides of Israeli society. This is not simple, and it comes at a cost. We will first have to make the painful compromises among ourselves, via a policy which is the fruit of a broad-based, sober and realistic consensus — an honest policy, confident in our strength, which is not conceived of wishful thinking and vacuous arrogance, of haste, hesitation and missed opportunity, of vacillation and the intoxication of power, but which is marked by great love for all parts of our homeland and the painful acknowledgment of the ties of others as well.

This government will not turn its back on any group, portion, sector or ideological stream in Israeli society. This will be a government of constant dialogue, openness and attentiveness, a government that will aspire to a "new national consensus," but not shirk from decisions or resign itself to paralysis and be stalemated. I know and understand exactly where the government must head and the destination it must reach, and I intend to lead this march to the finish line.

Ultimately, as I have pledged, if and when cardinal historic decisions are required, the entire public will be called to take a decision, in accordance with its sovereign will, in a referendum.

I believe that bearing responsibility together will bring the extremes closer, blunt the contrasts in society and will require consideration, attentiveness and mutual balances — since it has already been said in the Torah, and about our Torah: "Its paths are paths of pleasantness, and all its ways are ways of peace." In this way, we will be able, together, to face the tests and decisions which await us. In this way, we will be stronger and more united, despite the disputes and the diversity of opinion among us. Perhaps we will become wiser, because we will be guided by shared wisdom.

The sun is about to set on this millennium. In the entire world, there is great anticipation of the coming millennium. The Hebrew calendar does not recognize this, and for most of us the change of date between 31 December and 1 January is not a day of celebration. But we are part of the world, and this new government will cross the line into the next millennium. It is my hope that the sense of a new beginning will not neglect over the Middle East, and that the start of the third millennium will also bring an atmosphere of reconciliation and momentum for peace to our area.

The Government of Israel will be there, prepared for the challenge, attentive to expectations and aspiring to bequeath a better future to our children.

Mr. Speaker, I would now like to present the composition of the new government to the Knesset: Ehud Barak — Prime Minister and Defense Minister, Dalia Itzik — Environment Minister, Yossi Beilin — Justice Minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer — Communications Minister, Shlomo Benizri — Health Minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami — Public Security Minister, Eli Yishai — Labor and Social Affairs Minister, Avraham Shohat — Finance Minister, Yitzhak Cohen — Religious Affairs Minister, Ran Cohen — Industry and Trade Minister, David Levy — Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Mordechai — Transportation Minister, Eli Suissa — Infrastructure Minister, Shimon Peres — Regional Cooperation Minister, Haim Ramon — Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, responsible for Jerusalem, Yossi Sarid — Education Minister, Natan Sharansky — Interior Minister, Yitzhak Levy — Housing and Construction Minister.

The following ministries, for now, will be under the purview of the Prime Minister: the Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry, the Absorption Ministry, the Tourism Ministry and the Science Ministry.

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

This, for now, is the current composition of the Government. In the coming days, I will bring before the Knesset a proposed to change the Basic Law: The Government, for an increase in the number of ministers, as required by the size of the coalition and the composition of the Knesset. In any form, this is the best government for the State of Israel at this time. We are the bearers of the torch which our predecessors have transferred to us, and we assume full responsibility for moving forward.

Today, the Government requests the confidence of the 15th Knesset in the knowledge that the eyes of all Israelis are focused thereon, in prayer and with great hope.

Today, millions of eyes in Israel, millions of eyes of Jews around the world, and millions of eyes around the whole world are focused on us, praying that we will know to lead the country, with determination and a sure hand toward a new path, momentum and a new page in the chronicles of the State of Israel. A new page of peace in an arena which, in recent generations, has known mostly pain, bereavement and suffering.

Accompanied by the blessings and concern of everyone, we embark today on the long and arduous path. I would be most appreciative if you would express your confidence in the Government today and wish it well and Godspeed.