Address by PM Netanyahu to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors-Excerpts


Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters archive photo)

Our economy is growing rapidly. Israel has become a regional economic power and a global technological one, and we will continue this way, and this creates for us two great resources.

The first resource that it gives us is the money to pay for our defenses. You can only be a military power if you have a strong enough economy. We’re not a large people, but we have a robust economy. And the only way we can meet our defense needs is by having an economy that opens up individual initiative so that we will have the necessary resources to do so. But the second thing that a larger economy gives us is the ability to start channeling funds for the maintenance of Jewish identity and Jewish connection and Jewish support for Jewish education in the Diaspora. And so we’re doing both.

This unity is important not only in matters of internal identity. It’s also important in matters of external policy – what we communicate to the rest of the world, how we address the great challenges we face, and I think this is particularly important on two issues that are critical for us externally. The first is our unity in opposing strongly and asking the international community to oppose strongly Iran’s ambitions to arm itself with nuclear weapons. And the second is our common approach to peace with the Palestinians.

I maintain that in fact the overwhelming majority of Jews in Israel and outside Israel – Israelis in Israel and friends of Israel outside Israel – agree on the basic framework of peace assuming we had a peace partner who wanted to make peace with Israel. I outlined this basic consensus in my recent speeches in the Knesset and in my speech before the American Congress. And I know that I expressed a vision of peace that is in these speeches that is supported by the overwhelming majority of Israelis.

Now here’s what this vision is founded on. Here are the principles upon which most of us unite. The first is that we seek to achieve a peace and mutual recognition between two nation-states for two peoples: a Jewish state, which means the nation-state of the Jewish people, Israel and a nation-state for the Palestinians. We point this out right up front because this is the core of the conflict. This conflict is about the Jewish state. It’s about the persistent refusal to accept that the Jews have a right for a nation-state of their own in any boundaries. It precedes the question of boundaries; it precedes the question of territorial dispute. It is a dispute against our very right to exist as a sovereign Jewish state. It has always been that. It’s just been masked, but it explains why this conflict extended itself for half a century – from 1920 till 1967 when there were no "territories"; no Israeli soldiers in Judea, Samaria or Gaza; no refugees for half that time; and Jerusalem was divided. Half of it was in Arab hands, but there was for fifty years this horrible conflict. What was it about? It was about our existence as a Jewish state, a refusal to accept this idea of Zionism before the establishment of the state and a refusal to accept the idea of a Jewish state after it existed. And that has not disappeared.

So I believe even though Palestinian society is split now between those who actively are prepared to use force, violence, terror and war to wipe us out and those who refuse to stand up to that first half. That’s basically the division there. This remains the heart of the problem. And I address this problem. I understand that we will have to have a historic compromise which is very painful. So I stood before my people, people of Israel and I said numerous times that I will accept a Palestinian state. Now President Abbas must stand before his people and he has to say these six words, "I will accept the Jewish state," He has to say it. And I will repeat this over and over and over again because it’s the attempt to fudge and evade and obscure this essential component of peace; the removal of this basic obstacle to peace that is required and this is what the international community must face up to.

And the only way that it’s going to happen is by the external pressure that says to the Palestinian leadership: Just say it. In many ways, all that pressure has been accumulated on Israel to arrive at painful understandings. That is understood. That is repeated, every day, twice a day – every newspaper you read for a year, for a decade, for decades. And yet the core of the conflict is hardly addressed. Well, I address it, and you should address it, and any fair-minded person and any peace-loving person should address it and say to the Palestinian leadership: Just say the six words – "I will accept the Jewish state". Because once they say it, we will move inexorably towards peace.

The second point derives from the first, and that is that the refugee problems are settled in these two respective states – the question of Palestinian refugees will be resolved in the Palestinian state and not in Israel. Just as the question of Jewish refugees caused by that same Arab assault on Israel in 1948, was resolved within the Jewish state. The Arab attack, the attack of five Arab armies, with the Palestinians, on the embryonic Jewish state caused two refugee problems. About 650,000 Palestinian refugees and a somewhat larger number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab states. Tiny Israel absorbed all the Jewish refugees and the vast Arab world refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees, and neither justice nor common sense mandates that 63 years later, the Arab world or the Palestinians will come to us and say: Now, absorb the great-great-grandchildren of this part of the refugee problem that we created ourselves.

The solution to the refugee problem, both in a practical sense and in the question of justice has to be addressed in the Palestinian state and not at the expense of the solitary, the one and only Jewish state. That’s the second point.

The third point is, of course, the demilitarization of the Palestinian state. We don’t want a repeat of what happened when we withdrew from Gaza or from South Lebanon. I believe that this will require for Israel to maintain a long-term military presence along the Jordan River. There will be arguments about sovereignty, about territory, but I think that the question of demilitarization and a long-term military presence along the Jordan River are essential to guaranteeing any peace. A peace you cannot defend will not hold. A peace you can defend will.

The fourth point is to incorporate what are called the settlement blocs, these large, urban communities that are fairly dense and concentrated alongside Greater Tel Aviv and Greater Jerusalem, and other areas of critical, strategic and national importance in the final borders of Israel. We believe also that Jerusalem must remain united, under Israeli sovereignty. It’s the only time in its millennial history that it has assured the free and unfettered access of all three monotheistic religions to their holy places.

And the last is, of course, the ending of the conflict, the ending of the claims. By that I mean that if we shall make – as I hope – an agreement based on these principles, and these are not preconditions to entering negotiations, these are the foundations of achieving a durable peace if we can exit the negotiations, once we enter and finish the process. But the main point is that what we have to achieve is an end to conflict. Not to create a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel to continue the conflict and try to dissolve Israel by flooding it with refugees or by inducing irredentist pressures on the Arabs of the Galilee or the Negev, or the idea of a binational state – but actually end the conflict, accept the Jewish state and alongside it a Palestinian state so that we may have peace for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren and for future generations, and not a continuation.

These are, I believe, principles that coalesce the overwhelming majority of Israelis today. They transcend political and partisan differences – not all of them, but most of them. They’re not easy. They’re hard, extremely hard for me and for many others, but they are the conditions that we, I believe, could set out and agree to if we had a Palestinian leadership that was courageous and bold, and actually lanced the boil and spoke the truth to its people as we speak the truth to our people.

I think it’s important to unite behind these principles, both inside and outside Israel, and to speak with one voice as I believe we should speak with one voice about how we achieve this peace. Not merely our conceptions, and by the way the Palestinians can have different conceptions, but here’s a most important principle that we have to put forward – that these competing visions of peace can only be resolved through negotiations. They cannot be resolved by imposition. We cannot have a fiat, a UN declaration or a UN resolution that will resolve the problem, because it won’t. In fact, instead of advancing peace, it will push peace further back by hardening Palestinian positions. That’s exactly what happened with Resolution 194 and the refugees. It hardened Palestinian positions for decades, for over half a century. It’s still hardened.

So the adoption of unilateral and one-sided pro-Palestinian resolutions does not advance peace, it pushes peace backward and I hope that there will be, I would call it, the coalition of the responsible countries that will put forward this contrary view that I believe is the right view. I don’t have any great expectations in terms of our ability to actually win a vote in the General Assembly. It’s not exactly a place where Israel is used to getting a fair hearing. But we do hope that responsible countries will not support the efforts to bypass negotiations, because you want to negotiate a settlement with a Palestinian leadership committed to peace. And I can only hope that President Abbas breaks his pact with Hamas and sits down to negotiate peace with us. It’s as necessary for his people as it is necessary for us.

As we pursue the peace, we’ll continue to strengthen and develop Israel. We never believed, the founding fathers of Israel in 1948, and actually before in the decades that preceded the founding of the state, and then in the 1950’s and ‘60’s and ‘70’s and ‘80’s down to the present – the leaders of Israel and the people of Israel always wanted peace, strived for peace, prayed for peace. But they never said that the future of Israel should be put on hold just because the Palestinians are unwilling to negotiate peace. They continued to develop the country. That’s how we are and where we are today. Through several wars and the bouts of terrorism between the wars, we developed the country. Now we’re going to develop the country, not only in the general principles of a free economy that I described to you, but also by developing the country.

We’re stretching fast roads right to the Galilee and to the Negev. Israel is going to be finally what it is – a small country. I mean, it shouldn’t take long to get from one side to the other. Let’s use our small size to our advantage. And we’re putting rail lines and we’re connecting Eilat, the Negev, with a railway to Tel Aviv.
And we’re going to build the country: build it in education in a great reform that we need. Israel’s great strength is the dynamism of its people and the brilliance of its children. We have put billions in higher education to arrest the slide and maintain our excellence. We’re getting people to come back to Israel in centers of excellence. We’re changing education in the grade schools and in high schools with revolutionary ideas.

We also have to protect it, so we’re building a multi-layered missile defense to protect the Jewish state against incoming threats of rockets and missiles. It’s true that there is the defense of offense, the defense of deterrence. That we never give up. But there is also the defense of defense, and that we’re building in spectacular ways. And we’re going to add a new field which I’ve launched last month – which is a national cyber center. That is important for us – for any country – both for defense but also as a great source of business, because Israeli companies are producing tremendous innovations in this field, and so we’re connecting our defense needs, our industrial capacity and our academic qualities. We’re putting them all together as one hub, and we’re putting money there.

So we are developing the country, protecting the country, building the strength of the country as we seek peace, and I believe that, at the end of the day, we can continue to defy the iron rules of history.