Inauguration Speech of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Knesset

Jerusalem, March 7, 2001

The Honorable President of Israel, Mr. Moshe Katsav,
Mr. Speaker, MK Avraham Burg,
Members of Knesset,

At the beginning of my remarks I would like to once again thank the many people of Israel who put their trust in me during the elections that took place a month ago. I will do my best to justify that trust and successfully meet, together with the other members of my Government, the great challenges that lie ahead.

I also wish to thank the outgoing Government and Ministers, and in particular Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a brave fighter and commander. We had many strong policy differences with the outgoing Government – but never on the firm desire to work for a better future for us all.

During the election campaign and afterwards I repeatedly promised to establish a National Unity Government. This is what we are doing today. This Government will serve its full term until November 2003. I also promised that we will amend the law for direct election of Prime Minister – and we passed that today as well.

The difficult security situation, and the challenges in the international arena, the deep rupture between the people, baseless hatred – all these call for national unity. Not just a verbal unity. Not just the joining of different political forces and various beliefs. We have an urgent need for real unity, unity of the hearts. National reconciliation.

We all share the same destiny. Our children share the same future. We have between us here a Jewish and democratic state, after 2000 years of exile and persecution. This is the only place in the world where Jews can defend themselves, by themselves. We have one of the most advanced countries in the world – in science, technology, education, law, and culture.

If we do not have the wisdom to unite – all the wonderful things which we built here stand in danger. Let’s make no mistake, what we share that which we hold dear, is much greater that what separates us. In the past few years we sunk into needless internal disputes. Now is the moment to change direction. Now is the time to show maturity and national responsibility.

This kind of responsibility was exhibited by Shimon Peres – a leader with many merits and a wealth of experience, and by the Labour Party as a whole, that, in the face of the challenges before us, overcame differences of opinion, and decided to work together with us in the national struggle for security and peace.

The unity that has been achieved is a national asset and it is incumbent upon us to make every effort to safeguard it.

The government that I will present here tonight will win the wide support of the Members of Knesset and the Israeli public. The security situation obligates us to speed the formation of the government. I intend to continue and try to bring other parties to the coalition. I view with utmost importance the establishment of the widest possible government, in order to join together all the forces against the threats and challenges, and meet the chances and opportunities that still lie ahead.

During the coalition negotiations I opposed disqualifying any person or party. Anyone willing to harness themselves to the decisive struggles before us to achieve security and peace for Israel, and to close the social gaps – is welcome to join.

I also intend to establish dialogue and an open exchange of information with the parties that will not join the coalition and with the head of the opposition, MK Yossi Sarid, as required by law.

I believe in ongoing dialogue between publics, in an attempt to reach agreements wherever possible, instead of trying to impose upon others.

We also must know how to debate: we need to change the culture of public discussion, to lower the tones, and to behave towards each other with mutual respect.

I also call on the Members of this House – let us prove to the people that we can behave differently: with courtesy, good will, mutual respect, and civility. I am convinced that if we serve as an example to the public – there will also be a different atmosphere of reconciliation and understanding.

Members of Knesset,

The guidelines of this Government and the coalition agreements are before you.

The foundations of this Government were written in an attempt to garner wide national agreement, while keeping in mind the differences of opinion that exist between the components of the coalition.

The supreme mission of the new Government is bolstering Israel’s security, and acquiring personal security for the citizens of Israel while conducting the struggle against violence and terror, and striving to achieve stability.

I would like to call upon our Palestinian neighbors:

The ongoing conflict between us has caused heavy suffering to both peoples. The future can and must be different. Both our peoples are destined to live together side by side, on this small piece of land. This reality we cannot change. But I do believe that we are capable, if there is a desire on both sides, to veer away from the bitter and bloody path that we are heading towards. We extend our hand towards peace. Our people are committed to peace. We know that peace entails painful compromise for both sides.

Unfortunately, despite considerable concessions we made on the way to peace – by all Governments of Israel – in the past few years, we still haven’t found a willingness for reconciliation and true peace on the other side.

These days it is important to recall: at the basis of the peace process stands the principle of solving disputes by peaceful means while avoiding the use of violence. We will firmly stand on this basic principle. We will demand of the Palestinians that they renounce violence, terror, and incitement, and of the Palestinian Authority that they fulfill their obligations and combat terrorism directed against Israel, its citizens, and soldiers.

We will conduct negotiations with the Palestinians to achieve political agreements – but not under the pressure of terror and violence.

I understand the suffering of the Palestinian people. I believe we can gradually advance towards peace through an approach based on mutual respect and confidence building between the two sides. We are willing to examine different ideas to advance the dialogue, the peace, and to ease the hardship of the Palestinian people. But this cannot be done under the pressure of terror and violence.

If our Palestinian neighbors choose the path of peace, reconciliation and good neighborly relations they will find that I and the Government I lead are honest and faithful partners.

We are fed up with battles and wars imposed upon us, and we all know and appreciate the value of peace. The broad spectrum of the new Government will express this yearning for peace and work towards achieving peace by means of realistic political agreements.

I also would like to strengthen the peace, good neighborly relations, and normalization with Egypt and Jordan, and to strive towards real peace with the Arab countries, primarily Syria and Lebanon.

The Government under my leadership, will be committed to do all that is possible in order to restore security and stability. But we are not misleading ourselves or the public as to the difficult days that still lie ahead. We will all need to muster the stamina and mobilize the steadfast national will which characterizes our people.

I was privileged to serve in the governments of the late Menahem Begin whose leadership was an example of national pride, a stern resolve and the drive towards peace.

A day after the establishment of the State, when the Arabs rose up to destroy it, Mr. Begin had the following things to say:

"It was difficult to establish our State, but it is clear that it will be even more difficult to maintain our state… We need, each and every one of us, the spiritual strength to be able to endure, without hesitation, in the face of heavy losses; the weapon of steadfastness, without retreat, in the face of threats and temptations."

In the days ahead we will also require determination, the ability to endure and the power of our spirit. In the days ahead we will continue to believe that we will live here in peace with our neighbors and work towards a better future for our children.

The Government I head will raise the banner of Zionism – in education, immigrant absorption and settlement.

I believe wholeheartedly that the State of Israel has no greater resource than themselves, the Jewish people. We shall strengthen the bond and connection with the Jews of the Diaspora and the Zionist education of our education system. We will work towards bringing masses of Jewish immigrants to Israel and their absorption in the country. We must educate our children towards values: to respect for others, to equality between people, to national pride and love of country.

A short time after the establishment of the state, the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, of blessed memory – with whom I had the privilege to work for the nation’s defense – said the following: "The State of Israel was not founded for engaging in battle and military conquest. It was not even intended to guarantee the peace and wellbeing of its citizens alone. The State of Israel was given a very special responsibility, at least in our generations, without which it has no right to exist: the building of the country and the ingathering of the exiles, building communities and large-scale immigration – these are the primary tasks of our State."

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the generations of our parents and grandparents, whose Zionist vision brought them to the homeland. Here they walked and, with their ten fingers, established a mighty settlement enterprise. I was born and raised in one of these settlements, in Kfar Malal, and I am an inseparable part of it. It is important to the State of Israel and personally dear to me. I will make every effort to preserve and strengthen it.

We shall work toward deepening our special relations with our great friend and ally, the United States, and we shall endeavor to nurture and strengthen the ties between the State of Israel and the nations of the world.

The State of Israel is a nation based on law, and this a source of its strength. By creating a law-based government, and safeguarding the independence of the judicial system, by guaranteeing the Israeli democratic system, we – all the members of the government – must endeavor to maintain proper government, public administration that works for the welfare of its citizens, while ensuring that the government’s activities are always within the boundaries of the law.

While striving for peace, security and stability, the government will attend to the social and economic needs, and the distress of the weaker segments and strengthening its social cohesiveness.

I see education as a primary means of reducing the social gaps and creating a more equitable society.

My government will turn over a new page in its relations with the non-Jewish citizens of Israel, with the purpose of creating a true partnership and a feeling of equality among all citizens of the state. I would like to take this opportunity to send my best wishes to Israeli Arabs on the occasion of the Id el-Adha holiday. And I would like to extend my very best wishes to our friend – Minister Salah Tarif – the first non-Jewish minister in the history of the country, who has come from the Druze minority community.

The closing of the gaps in Israeli society is dependent, among other things, on our ability to achieve sustained economic prosperity. The Israeli economy has the abilities and the talents to guarantee the prosperity of Israeli society. It is the responsibility of the government to allow them to lead Israeli society to economic prosperity.

This prosperity will be achieved only if we manage a responsible state budget. We will divert resources to investment in infrastructure and education. We will endeavor to reduce the tax burden placed on the citizens of the state, and enlarge its base. We will advance privatization and structural change in the economy. This is how we will establish an open and modern economy, which can become integrated and compete in the global economy.

For the purpose of obtaining these objectives, I intend to establish an economic cabinet.

Members of Knesset,

Every government has its diplomatic, defense, economic and social programs. But every government, first and foremost, has the utmost responsibility of safeguarding the eternal assets of the nation, which constitute the connecting link with our national existence.

Jerusalem is the great dream, for which the Jews yearned for and prayed for in every generation. If we turn our back to it – to its symbols and our sacred places – we will put a question mark on our very future and destiny.

The Late Yigal Allon, the commander of the Palmach and one of the most brilliant commanders of the War of Independence, said: "A people that does not respect its past has a barren present and its future is shrouded in uncertainty."

Jerusalem was and will be the eternal capital of the Jewish people. Israeli Prime Ministers have always reiterated this commitment in their inauguration speeches, including the late Yitzhak Rabin. So,

too, in the words of the vow: "If I forget thee of Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning…"

My positions regarding the importance of the Golan Heights, the Jordan Valley and other security zones, in which Jewish settlements were established during the various Israeli governments – are well known. At the same time, I am aware that in the new government there are other viewpoints, and the guidelines of the government state that during the term of this government no new settlements will be established.

Even during these festive moments, we must also remember those who fell in Israel’s wars, and the victims of terror and their families. I would like to take this occasion to express the government’s commitment to do whatever possible to bring about the release of the prisoners and the missing in action, and for all those who worked on behalf of the nation’s security and bringing them all back home.

Mr. Speaker, I would like to now present the Knesset with the composition the government (alphabetically in Hebrew):

  • Ariel Sharon – Prime Minister; Minister of Immigrant Absorption
  • Shimon Peres – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Eli Yishai – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior
  • Natan Sharansky – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Housing and Construction
  • Silvan Shalom – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
  • Shmuel Avital – Minister without Portfolio, responsible for coordinating social affairs
  • Asher Ohana – Minister of Religious Affairs
  • Dalia Itzik – Minister of Industry and Trade
  • Benjamin Ben-Eliezer – Minister of Defense
  • Shlomo Benizri – Minister of Labor and Social Affairs
  • Nissim Dahan – Minister of Health
  • Tzachi Hanegbi – Minister of the Environment
  • Matan Vilnai – Minister of Science, Culture and Sport
  • Rehavam Ze’evi – Minister of Tourism
  • Salah Tarif – Minister without Portfolio
  • Ra’anan Cohen – Minister without Portfolio
  • Tzipi Livni – Minister for Regional Cooperation (the portfolio will be entrusted to her for the time being; she will be entrusted with other responsibilities in the future)
  • Limor Livnat – Minister of Education
  • Avigdor Lieberman – Minister of National Infrastructures
  • Uzi Landau – Minister of Public Security
  • Dan Naveh – Minister without Portfolio, responsible for coordination between the government and the Knesset
  • Eliyahu Suissa – Minister without Portfolio, responsible for Jerusalem affairs
  • Ephraim Sneh – Minister of Transportation
  • Reuven Rivlin – Minister of Communications
  • Meir Sheetrit – Minister of Justice
  • Shalom Simhon – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

    Members of Knesset,

    The government I just presented before you is the most diverse government, representing the various sectors of Israeli society. A small and more homogeneous government would have been easier to run, but I am afraid that the price we would have to pay, in many areas, would have been much heavier.

    I know that there will be difficulties and disagreements. I hope that we will find within ourselves the strengths and patience to move towards agreement and preserving this unity.

    And I want to say this in the clearest way possible: We will work as partners. If we stand together "as one person with one heart" – we can face all of the challenges ahead of us.

    These are very meaningful moments for me. My life has been dedicated to serving the nation and its security. I take office with sacred awe, and see it as a part of the chain of history of a great people.

    Today I reread the second inauguration speech of the American President, Abraham Lincoln. These words were, of course, said under different historical circumstances, on March 4, 1865, and they express to a great extent my feelings and intentions as I assume the position of Prime Minister.

    "With malice towards none, with charity for all; for firmness in the right, as God gives to us to see the right, let us drive to finish the work we have at hand… to do everything which would foster real peace between ourselves and other nations."

    I cannot conclude without recalling my late wife, Lily, of blessed memory, whose birthday is today. Lily stood by me and supported me at every moment, the difficult ones and the happy ones, and throughout all of the struggles. At this moment Lily is greatly missed by me and my family.

    Thank you.