Address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the Opening of the Knesset Winter Session
Jerusalem, October 14, 2002

Mr. Speaker, Members of the Knesset,

A year and a half ago, I introduced my government to this house, the national unity government. Many did not believe at the time that this government would last, and assumed that the national unity would not withstand the pressures of dissension and contention.

They have been proven false. It became apparent, as I always said, that in fact national unity embodies great strength. It has the strength to face enemies and threats. It has the strength to overcome crises at home and abroad. It has the strength to give in when possible and to stand tall when necessary.

It has the strength because unity is what the people truly want. A people who, at this time especially, prefer unity rather than factionalism, national agreement rather than contention, strength rather than weakness.

National unity is an expression of the national responsibility, a responsibility for the fate of the country and the lives of its citizens. There is no unity without responsibility. Every one of us – ministers, Knesset members, public officials – bear this responsibility. I was elected by a large majority in order to shoulder this responsibility – and I shall. I intend to maintain this national unity, the source of our strength – but I will not do it at the cost of irresponsible behavior on a national level.

National unity cannot be void of substance. It cannot be the result of political arrangements by interested parties alone. Our unity should be, must be, unity with purpose, unity with direction and unity of deed.

We all strive to end the terrible, bloody conflict with the Palestinians. We can – we can – achieve peace.

But will the present Palestinian leadership want to abandon their scheme to eliminate Israel, and instead, chose to live with us in peace?

Even a Palestinian child knows the real answer in his heart: the bands of terrorists and murderers that have taken over the lives of the Palestinians with the encouragement, agreement, and at the initiative of the Palestinian Authority that controls them, do not want peace – not for us and not for the Palestinians. They are an obstacle to peace. In order to reach peace, their murderous regime must be removed and replaced with one of peace.

This is the truth – even if it is bitter. This is reality – even if it is harsh. Too many times we have buried our heads in the sand. No more.

From here, at this Knesset podium, I call on the Palestinians, and say to them: Your terrible pain is unnecessary. Your sacrifices are unnecessary! The blood you have spilled has been spilled in vain. Say: "Enough!" Change the regime of tyranny that leads you from defeat to defeat, from disaster to disaster.

I believe that every Palestinian knows the truth. I believe that there is a real chance that the coming year will be a year of change. I believe that the hand we extend in peace will not be ignored forever. I believe that our Palestinian neighbors will, of their own accord, reach a moment of historic change in their relationship with the State of Israel. I promise you that this government will monitor of every sign of change, and will know how to use every opening or even hint of change in order to realize the hope of generations, and to make peace.

Members of Knesset,

The threat to the security of the State of Israel does not stem only from the conflict with the Palestinians. It also stems from the existence of dark regimes in our region that make every effort to arm themselves with weapons of mass destruction, in order to bring about our elimination.

Israel does not face the foreign threat empty-handed.

I hear the voices of alarm reverberating in the media, I see the headlines of fear. I hear the reports of anxiety. Anyone observing us from the outside would think that we are being led like lambs to the slaughter.

From here I would like to address all the citizens of Israel, and tell them: Do not be afraid. There is cause for concern, but Israel is prepared and ready for any scenario that our enemies are planning. There is no cause for panic or for the talk that creates it. We must stay united, act together, quietly, determinedly, and responsibly, and do whatever is necessary.

The threats of mass destruction and mass terror are not only directed at us. The United States, the leader of the free world, is determined to uproot this threat and to neutralize it. Israel is part of the free world, an ally of the United States, and we welcome its leadership in the struggle against the forces of evil.

Knesset members,

In addition to our security problems, the State of Israel is in the midst of a difficult economic crisis, which has largely been the result of the international economic crisis over the last two years. These economic difficulties have been aggravated by the security situation which, on the one hand, makes it difficult for us to develop the economy, and on the other hand demands enormous resources from the pockets of every Israeli.

Again this brings to light, as did the security crisis, the strength of Israeli society. The same dedication and sacrifice required to cope with the one, are also needed to deal with the other.

Our primary task as elected representatives, is to show responsibility and sensitivity. At this critical hour we cannot have everyone demand that we "give", because we have nothing to give. We cannot accept the fact that every interested party which is backed by some political power will fight for a piece of the public purse. It is empty. We cannot accept the fact that implementation of solutions for renewed growth are blocked by bureaucracy.

If the Knesset acts irresponsibly, and allots public funds without limit, Israel will be on the verge of financial disaster. If budgetary restrictions are broken the outcome can only be that inflation will increase, prices will rise, the value of the Dollar will soar, and small savings will go up in smoke. The first victims will of course be the underprivileged. That which is difficult – even very difficult – today, will become impossible tomorrow.

I am determined to present the Knesset with a budget which reflects national responsibility this month. To be frank: a budget implies painful compromises for everyone. Many necessary things will have to be postponed. Important activities will be reduced.

However, it is inconceivable that we are prepared to make painful compromises with the Palestinians for the sake of peace – and are not willing to make any painful compromises with each other for our very existence and livelihood. Therefore I am appealing to all those who are now on strike – it is necessary to give up:

– To give up on demands – however justified they are – for higher salaries and budgets. – To give up on past achievements, which cannot be maintained today. – And especially, I am asking all of you to forgo the opportunity of attacking each other, to show who is more just, or who brings more benefits, and who is more populist.

Those who cannot show national responsibility and make compromises cannot constitute a part of our national leadership.

This budget contains the ingredients necessary to remedy our severe social distresses, and to pave the road for growth and a way out of this economic crisis. We will achieve the target deficit of 3%, which will show credibility to all markets of the world. We will start by reducing income taxes for workers. This year too, we will add 1 billion shekels to the infrastructure budget, which will make investment in infrastructure greater than ever. It is in our hands, and we will accomplish it.

Knesset members,

Next year will be election year. Each one of us will be judged by the voter: first in our separate parties, and then in national elections. Election year is a difficult year of difficult decisions. Nevertheless, Israel will also be forced to make difficult decisions this year.

I will make every effort to ensure that the elections will be held on the target date. Israel needs security. Israel needs economic growth. To achieve both, Israel needs stability. We have had enough political crises, the sole purpose of which was to temporarily score points in public opinion. This is the time for all of us, who sit in this house, to demonstrate national responsibility.

I will not stray from my path. We will continue to make the right decisions – the difficult decisions – even with elections on the horizon. I will insist that the decisions of the majority of the government are carried out, and I will not tolerate any deviation from the rules of orderly government.

This year, the national interest will again be more important than party or personal interests, no matter how important or popular they may be.

This is what I have committed myself to doing – and I will. I know that many of you, from the coalition and from the opposition, are of the same opinion, and will act accordingly.

Mr. Speaker,

With your permission, I would like to end on a slightly different note.

In the coming days the people of Israel will mourn, with heads bowed in grief and shame, the most despicable act in the history of the State of Israel: the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, may his memory be blessed.

Unfounded disagreements, unfounded hatred, impatience, intolerance of other opinions, unwillingness to give in a little, fanaticism, reviling – all these led to horrific violence. Three bullets murdered a man – and assassinated our spirit.

Yitzhak Rabin was my commander for many years. He was my friend for many more years. He was my prime minister – the prime minister of those that voted for him and those that did not. He was a man who always strove to rise above immediate interests, personal interests, and party interests, and served what he believed to be the national interest. Even when I disagreed with him on this or that, I knew that his actions were motivated by what he believed was right, what he believed was proper.

May his memory be blessed!

Members of Knesset,

Let us look ahead and act together – beyond the disagreements of the moment; we will act together in our beliefs, to increase security, to bring peace, and to propel our country to well-being and prosperity.

Thank you.