Opening Session of the 15th Knesset
Address by the President of the State of Israel Mr. Ezer Weizman

June 7, 1999

Members of the Knesset, Distinguished Guests:

Today, Monday, the 23rd Sivan 5759, 7th June 1999, I am honored to open the first session of the 15th Knesset.

A feeling of awe is present in us on this festive occasion. The eyes of the whole nation are fixed on you today. The expectations are great, the hopes are high and the challenges are crucial.

During your term of office our Israeli character must be determined, without losing our Judaism. It is our duty to see to the formation of a Zionist-Jewish state, while giving equal status to our non-Jewish citizens. Since the establishment of the state we have succeeded in building here an outstanding country, and this, despite all the internal and external problems.

From an historical point of view, which is measured in hundreds and thousands of years, 51 years is not a long time, but in the life of our nation this period was a crucial one in the formation of its character and that of its society.

We have a healthy economy and we have attained great achievements in the fields of technology, agriculture and science. We have met the Zionist challenge of absorbing immigrants. An Israeli society has developed here with an active cultural and spiritual life. The State of Israel is made up of a mosaic of Jews from various communities, and it also has members of other faiths. The whole world admires our achievements, but we suffer, to no small extent, of exaggerated self- criticism. Sometimes it seems to me that one has to go abroad only in order to learn how much respect is felt there for Israel. We have much to be proud of and, without doubt, there still remains much to be done.

The future of Israel depends on our strength. The strength of our country is not only expressed in planes, tanks and political achievements, but first and foremost in the number of residents and in their ability to live peacefully with one another.

Nearly five million Jews live in Israel. The goal of Zionism is to bring the entire Jewish people to Israel. As an intermediate goal, we must strive so that in the next few years, this country comes to hold the largest Jewish population in the world, and we must reach a population of eight million. At the same time, we must strengthen the connection of the Jews in the diaspora with Israel.

As regards the Arab citizens of the state (Muslims, Christians, Druze, Bedouin and Circassians) we must assist and do everything to enable the attainment of full equality between the communities and their integration into the systems of the state. We must live together in this country and in this region, because this is our destiny.

During your term in office, progress in the peace process is to be expected. Twenty years have passed since the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt, and since then we have come a long way: We have signed a peace treaty with Jordan and we have also arrived at agreements with the Palestinians. But the road is still long and difficult. Peace is essential to us and we must do everything to achieve it. The political negotiations will definitely result in bitter arguments, and I want to strengthen you and the new government in your undertakings on behalf of peace.

Your task, Members of the Knesset, is, first and foremost, to strengthen and consolidate the State of Israel.

Lawful government and the supremacy of the law is the main bond of Israeli society in which there are many social fissures. The Supreme Court is the institute which has the faith of the Israeli public. Harming the judicial system and judgments damages the most vital part of our society.

The questions which must concern you are, first and foremost, how to bridge the differences and cracks in the nation. Recently the cracks have widened and have reached worrying proportions, especially in the period before the elections.

You, Members of the Knesset, must be a personal example for all of us. Show the people that, despite differences in opinion, you succeed in working with each other in a civilized way, while respecting your fellow men and the rule of law – in the government, in the Knesset and in all public institutions. Be an example of honesty and brotherhood.

We have a country with a great past, with a controversial present, but with a promising future. Let us stop criticizing ourselves. Let us look ahead proudly to the 21st century and to success in the future on the basis of our activities.

We must invest great efforts in education, in infrastructure and in the development of agriculture and industry, and, in this way, contribute to reducing unemployment as much as possible.

We have in this country a wonderful young generation, and these young people deserve that we do everything for their future. I hope that during your term the educational budget for each and every young boy and girl will be equal, whatever their origin. Hopefully the educational budget will exceed the defense budget. During the six years of my presidency I have met many of the young generation in schools and especially in the IDF. I have noted that among a high percentage of the youth there is a deep inner willingness to serve the country. Unfortunately, I have seen this, in particular, during my visits in hospitals; most of the injured among the soldiers who were there expressed their wish to return quickly to serving in their fighting units.

Members of Knesset,

You do not have an easy task to turn the State of Israel into an attractive magnet for millions of tourists to come to visit, for new immigrants to come to settle in large numbers, including Jews from the western world, and for the many Israelis living abroad to return to us quickly.

The election campaign, which ended about three weeks ago, was a certificate of honor for our society and for Israeli democracy. Despite the deep differences between the parties and the candidates for Prime Minister, the elections passed quietly and the results were received, even among the losers, with understanding and respect.

This is an opportunity for me to thank the outgoing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for his contribution to the state, and I wish him luck in whatever he turns to in the future.

To the elected Prime Minister Ehud Barak I convey best wishes for success on being elected the 10th Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The eyes of the whole world are on you and all wish you success, which is also ours.

May you, dear members of the Knesset, veterans and newly elected, be blessed in your work.

I wish to conclude with the words of the Prophet Isaiah (52:7): "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger of good tidings, that announceth peace, the harbinger of good tidings, that announceth salvation."

May you be blessed.