This Knesset Session will have to make important decisions, even if we can say that this session opens at a time when Israel’s situation has improved in many areas. 

 President Peres addresses the opening of the the Knesset Session

 

President Shimon Peres (Archive photo: Reuters)

Knesset Speaker,
Prime Minister,
Madame, Head of the Opposition,
Valued Guests,
Honorable Knesset,
Welcome back in peace to the Knesset.

Sir, Knesset Speaker, I thank you for inviting me to open this Knesset Session.

Let this speech line the walls within this house.

Members of Knesset,
This session opens in hopes of a good year for all of Israel, in prayer for peace in Jerusalem, in hopes of Gilad Shalit’s release, and in praise of Ada Yonath’s recent Nobel Prize.

This Knesset Session will have to make important decisions, even if we can say that this session opens at a time when Israel’s situation has improved in many areas. 

For example, Israel recovered first, nearly alone, and without a deep recession from the economic crisis that afflicted our world recently. The economic leadership acted with caution.  Fortunately, Israel bustles with the talents of all its citizens. And it seems that our economy is taking off again with renewed growth. Without vanity, it can be said that our country, with its small area, won something great – the capabilities of its people.

Israel’s population is one thousandth of the entire world’s. Its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) three thousandths of global GDP. Nevertheless, the road ahead is still long and full of work.

Members of Knesset,
Two central challenges face us in the future: security and education.

Regarding security – in my opinion, Israel’s construction is not complete so long as the peace process remains unfinished. I am aware of those that argue we lack an Arab partner. Indeed, we have no partner for emotional peace. The peace we have, and the peace that will come, will not be romantic. It will not come from love. It will come from necessity. We prefer such a peace to and endless process with no visible end. Enough with the process, the time has come to reach final conclusions. 

In a few days we will mark 15 years from the peace treaty with Jordan, and next month we will mark 32 years since the historic visit to Israel of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. I know, the peace with Egypt and the peace with Jordan are not based on love. We do not fall into each other’s friendly arms. And we even hear incitement against us. We did not wish for such a peace – but we must contend with what exists. And what exists is no different than that between the rest of the world’s countries, which show little sympathy to their neighbors.

For 30 years in Egypt, and at least 15 years in Jordan, there have been no wars at the border. Combat has ceased. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) can focus on other objectives. Most importantly, there are no wars to take away our children; no black frames in the newspapers, no tears.

Colleagues, this is peace. We may desire more, but this is always a better alternative to bloodshed. We have saved generations of Israelis, Egyptians, and Jordanians; other Arab countries have also had to relinquish their swords and prevent their own suffering.

In our current situation, we must choose between two options. To be alone, isolated, and solely responsible for all the territories while facing hostility from Palestinians and Arab states, as well as increasing criticism from many other countries. This risks a de facto single state with two nations. Or, we can continue to negotiate with Palestinian Authority until we find an acceptable solution.

I say to the government and Knesset, here and now, don’t slow down the negotiations, look for every break, try every option in order to put an end to more than 100 years of quarrel and bloodshed.  I am sure the people will be with you. Without negotiations Hamas will strengthen and ambush the Palestinians, Jordanians, and Egyptians, undermining their situation, and trying to destroy any hope for peace in our region.

There is choice – less war, and there is choice – less peace. Of course we prefer peace. All the more so when the gap has narrowed between the Palestinian position and the Israel position; a change caused in part by the Prime Minister’s Speech at Bar-Ilan and the improvement in the territories.

Members of Knesset,
The miracle drug we seem to have invented for all our sickness is mere explanation. We believe that if we explain the situation, solutions will suddenly bloom, or there will be need for them. We will not win through explanations. We will win with actions.

In my opinion, if we move forwards with peace and make peace with the Palestinians, and if we start negotiations with Syria and Lebanon, we will remove the main pretext for the Iranian madness – against us and against the other residents of this region.

The majority in Israel already accept a two state solution. We cannot withdraw from it, and there exists today no alternative solution. I appeal to you, Prime Minister, and I urge you, members of Knesset, that despite hesitation on the part of Palestinians do let give up on the Israeli dream. Call on the Palestinian Authority to establish a state on our side that does not threaten. So that neither we nor the Palestinians have to live under the shadow of Hamas.

We cannot miss this opportunity and go back to what has happened the past 16 years, during which we let incitement, violence, rejection, and anti-Semitism fill the void.

We wish the contribution to peace would be symmetrical –  between us and the Arabs. But the situation is not symmetric. We must give up land and the Palestinians must stop terrorism. The process is not symmetric at the start but will in the end, offer symmetry to both sides – it will grant them both peace. The Palestinians will achieve a state of independence that does not threaten and Israel will gain both security that doesn’t depend on the mood and normal relations with the Arabic world.

Hamas has been rubbing its own hands. It sees in the Goldstone Commission Report a tail wind, because the Report looks for “war criminals” in the defenders and ignores the real and permanent crime, the aggressors’ crime of terror.

Out of the 26 suggestions that the Commission made, none deal with how to fight terrorism. The Goldstone Commission Report says that the Palestinians have the right ‘to forceful resistance based on the right of self-determination.” What is “the right to forceful resistance?”  To fire on civilians? A one-sided report will not determine our fate.

We are proud of the IDF. We are proud of its commanders and soldiers. The IDF protects the historic right of our nation, a nation that more than once others tried to annihilate. Sweden cannot not prevent the terror. The IDF does.

To conclude my point – do not stop working for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, with the assistance of the United States to get to the possible peace.

Members of Knesset,
Education is another challenge. And it is no less important than achieving peace and security.

We have no capital except for human capital. This type of capital cannot be inherited, it can only be produced to be bequeathed to our children. Only a just distribution of this capital can produce justice and equality for all of Israel’s citizens. Providing primary and secondary education, free, for all of Israel’s youths, promises the best future for this country.

Israel cannot accept the present decline in learning. Nor can it accept the rise in ignorance.  The violence amongst the young in our country is an epidemic we must stand against.

Schools are Israel’s melting pot. They are the shared foundation for the secular and the religious; the poor and the rich; the Sephardic and the Ashkenazi; the Jews, the Muslims, the Christians, the Druze, and the Circassians living in our country. This shared foundation must not slip out beneath our feet, such as when state education becomes independent and private. There exists no fundamental contradiction between religion and science. Maimonides already proved that the laws of Halakhah and scientific knowledge make not a strong combination, but a genius one. We cannot accept the brain drain from this country, and we must and can ensure the return of brains to Israel. 

I mention with appreciation the efforts by Education Ministry to deal seriously with this challenge. With your permission, I would like to add to this effort some ideas and challenges, because good intentions alone will not improve education. I suggest that the bulk of revenue collected from the recent economic growth and discovery of new natural resources, like gas, will go to education and science.

I think that it’s time to spread science across the entire country; to manufacturing and utilities, to agriculture and industry, and first and foremost to the security network; to allow these sectors to rise from elementary school levels to the university levels. Hi-tech can be applied in each of these areas.

The IDF has moved the past few years from an army of soldiers to an army of minds. Thus, we must, in my opinion, provide academic instruction for all IDF soldiers. Increasing the academic foundation of the IDF will raise the general level of science in Israel. This process already occurred in high-tech: the defense initiated it and it spread across the country. Israel can and should be the first in the world to have an army that trains and studies at the same time.

And in the IDF today the solider already learns how to work, manage, control, and defend the country as a citizen in uniform. He or she can also learn and prepare the country for a new future. It is our duty to create a new model army, ready for combat and intellectually capable, that will train across the country in camps and schools.

The IDF exists ready today to connect military training with university campus. And Israel has the necessary financial and intellectual resources. The universities can and should act as partners in this change. They will develop new opportunities including fostering more research and development, alongside teaching and education

For this reason I suggest, that in addition to private donations, all the organized donations that come from the Jewish people to Israel go to research and development in universities and research institutes. 

Israel’s scientific potential is priceless. Science and technology must hold a central part in building Israel’s future. A country does not grow, its wisdom grows. That is, a country with little land can be a country with a lot of science.

And already today, Israel has begun to head in the right direction. In the five innovative global industries – energy, water, biotechnology, teaching, and internal security – Israel is one of the leaders.

To take one industry as an example, one that will likely grow substantially in the future, let us look at the industry the will develop from research into stem cells. I know you will smile if I tell you that today the world is looking for way to manufacture replacement parts for the body, and even brain cells. Israel today already occupies a respectable position in the relevant research. Israel is second after the United States, alongside Britain. And from the 20 most important scientific articles in this field from the past year – 10 came from Israel.

Today science is the leading power. It offers solutions that dwarf all dreams. Scientific achievements surpass all imagination. And who like us, Israelis, knows how to achieve dream. “All the achievements of man begin in a dream” said Herzl. And across the entire world we are known as dreamers and those that achieve our dreams.

Finally, investing in education and striving for peace, if we succeeded in these two missions we will be a country that produces a lot from very little, we will be a ‘light unto the nations’, as dreamt David Ben Gurion.

We must have faith and vision. Belief in our abilities and a vision for our actions. Together, they need to produce the necessary changes – even if they are difficult and demanding – and even if they are not many. We turn our faces to the future, to our main resource = the young generation.

Members of Knesset,
History is sometimes like a galloping horse. When it passes by your house, you had better jump on its saddle, because that horse can gallop also without you. I hope that from this house will emanate the great news. May you have a productive year.