Note: By law, 40 Members of the Knesset are needed to summon the Prime Minister for a discussion in the plenum on a subject of their choice. This may be done once a month.
[Translated from Hebrew]
Iran and talks with the Palestinians
This week, something very significant happened with regard to the Iranian issue because the European Union imposed harsh sanctions on Iran, first on Iran’s oil exportation, but also on its central bank. I think that, although Iran has yet to stop is nuclear program and we do not know if it has already had an influence, this is definitely a step in the right direction. Yesterday I called the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, and I congratulated him on his leadership in passing this decision – one that is not simple for Europe – and he played an important role in it. Several hours earlier, I spoke with David Cameron, the Prime Minister of Britain, and I congratulated him as well for his important role in passing this decision. I have spoken and will speak with other leaders, and I thank them for mobilizing to this global effort.
Last night I was at an event at the Chinese Embassy in Israel marking the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Israel and China. I congratulated China for also reducing its importation of oil from Iran, but I called on them to continue this policy until they reach a situation of independence from their reliance on Iranian oil. This reality is possible today in cooperation with other parties. Ten days ago, I spoke with the Foreign Minister of India about this topic as well. We hope that other countries, such as South Korea and Japan, will act in a similar fashion. Such a thing could surely be influential. I do not know if it will be decisive, but it can influence.
I certainly will raise these topics in China. Yesterday the Chinese government announced that they were inviting me to visit China. It will be one of the main topics we discuss with the Chinese government, but certainly not the only one. We are working in a broad front in order to increase the international pressure on Iran. This is certainly an issue of supreme importance. At the same time, we continue our talks with the Palestinians, and we call on them not to abandon these talks – I do not want to call them negotiations yet, but we will not abandon the talks. They continue to take place despite the obstacles that someone, not us, is piling up. I truly appreciate the efforts by King Abdullah, King of Jordan.
I sincerely hope that the Palestinians will understand that it is in their interest to continue on the path of talks, because eventually it is only the path of talks and negotiations that will lead to progress in settling the conflict and providing a solution to the conflict. The solution must take into account what is occurring around us – the speed at which reality changes when the threats increase, and they are increasing. Israel needs a very strong layer of security arrangements on the ground in any future accord, but in order to reach a future accord, we must talk.
The Israeli economy
One of the reasons we did not break the budget while implementing the decision on free education and others, is because the government members bear the responsibility for supporting and realizing the order of priorities they determined. This order of priorities requires one to decide, and indeed a 4% cut in the budgets of other ministries will certainly help, although this will not cover everything.
There was also willingness on the part of the defense establishment to make structural changes that Israeli governments discussed for years. These changes are not easy. Some of these reforms will not be easy for the defense establishment. However, the combination of reforms, structural changes that we are introducing and budget cuts will allow us to remain in the budget framework. It will not only allow us to stay within it, but rather than reducing the defense budget, we will increase it.
Today I can summarize the economic figures for 2011: firstly, we had a growth rate of 4.8%. A growth rate of nearly 5% is very impressive. I do not suggest that we rest on our laurels with regard to any of these figures. We are going into a very difficult year and we will need to find ways to increase the GDP’s rate of growth. Our target is to try to increase growth next year beyond the forecasts which today call for around 3%. In order to increase growth, we need a tiny sliver of a huge market, which is why I will travel to China.
Speaking of the Chinese, we are discussing with them a project to connect Asia with Europe. We are currently examining the possibility of transferring the energy in the sea by pipeline from the Mediterranean Sea, from Ashkelon to Eilat and from there, since there is a great deal more than we need, inter alia to China and India in order to create a strategic interest in the State of Israel among the rising powers.
Another interest we are discussing with the Chinese is something that we will bring to the government to discuss during the next Cabinet meeting. We are going to officially decide on laying train tracks to Eilat. The significance of such a move is that we will be able to reach Eilat from Tel Aviv within two and a half hours or two hours and 15 minutes. These tracks will have two purposes. The second part will be to transfer containers from Asia to Europe. We are speaking with the Chinese government and with Chinese companies about partnering with us in carrying this out.
I want to create a strategic interest in the State of Israel among the rising powers, and it is time we utilize our geo-political location. This fact should service the State of Israel. In did in ancient times, and there is no reason it should not work in the modern age as well. Right now our economic growth does not include it. This growth also led to a decrease in the unemployment rate to 5.6%, which is the lowest it has been in years.
For comparison, the unemployment rate in the Euro Bloc is 10.1%, nearly double ours. The unemployment rate in the United States is approximately 9%. One more very important figure – there are many figures – is the debt/product ratio. The debt/product ratio in 2011 was 74%, which is a reduction compared with 2010 (which was 76.4%) and it is significantly lower than the OECD average which is 97.7%.
As I said, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must increase our exports to Asia, continue to pave roads, lay train tracks, the National Housing Committees, construction – we are currently building at a rate of 50% higher than the average of the past decade: 45,000 new apartments compared with 30,000.
Over the past several months, Standards and Poors, which is the leading credit rating agency in the world, has decided to lower the credit ratings of 10 countries, including very important countries like the United States, France and others. This company decided to increase Israel’s credit rating to A+.
We are maintaining the budget, while reordering our priorities – education and security. We are working to develop infrastructure; we want to connect Asia and Europe and the Mediterranean with Asia through new infrastructure projects.