Jerusalem, May 14, 2002
Members of the Knesset,
We are here two days before the eve of the festival of Shavuot. "And you shall observe the Feast of Shavuot, even of the first fruits of the wheat harvest." [Exodus 34:22]
In ancient times, our ancestors would make a pilgrimage on this festival to the Temple Mount, here, in Jerusalem, bringing the first fruits of their agricultural produce. And thus they would fulfill the precept from Deuteronomy 26:1-3:
"And you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from your land which the Lord your God gives you; and you shall put it in a basket and shall go unto the place which the Lord your God will choose to cause His name to dwell there. And you shall come unto the priest that shall be in those days and say unto him: ‘I profess this day unto the Lord your God, that I am come into the land which the Lord swore unto our fathers to give us’."
This link – so deep – between the people of Israel and its Land continues to this day, thousands of years later.
"Whether good or bad, whether easy or difficult, whether cheap or expensive – this is my Land," said Zeev Jabotinsky at the beginning of the previous century, adding, "Israel and the Land of Israel – are one." There is no power on earth that can come between the people of Israel and its land. There is nothing more moral or more just than the success of the people of Israel, after 2,000 years of exile, in returning to its homeland in order to establish a sovereign state of its own.
Before I was elected prime minister, I promised the Israeli people that I would bring security and peace. This is my goal and I am making every effort, along with the members of the government, to achieve it. I have – on previous occasions – made it clear from this podium that in order to reach a true peace, a peace for generations, we will be ready to make concessions, painful concessions; however, we will not make any concession regarding the security of Israeli citizens.
The first goal of the national unity government which I head is to protect the state and assure its existence, maintain the security of the citizens of Israel, and promise a better and more secure future for our children. The security of the citizens of Israel was foremost in our minds when the government, during Passover, decided to embark on Operation Defensive Shield.
From here, I would like to send condolences to the families of the soldiers and civilians who were killed during and after the operation, and wish the wounded who are still in hospital, a speedy recovery.
Operation Defensive Shield was an important and vital stage in the struggle to defeat the infrastructures of terror, in the war to defeat terror wherever it may be found.
During the operation, over 2,000 fugitives were detained, some of them very senior; considerable sections of terrorist infrastructures in the various towns was destroyed; explosives laboratories were blown up; and stores of weapons, war materiel and sabotage equipment were seized.
The operation’s achievements have enabled the continued taking of quiet steps – on the basis of intelligence information acquired during the operation, the results of which speak for themselves. Precise, timely action, which the enemy does not hear of, but feels very well, in his cities, in the concentrations of terror in which he barricades himself, in his centers.
We have not finished the work. Our struggle against terror goes on and will go on. The principles for action which were outlined immediately upon the conclusion of Operation Defensive Shield are enabling us to continue dealing with the infrastructures of terror, via entry into the Palestinian Authority areas, locating suicide-terrorists and foiling attacks in their preliminary stages.
There can be no hiding place for terrorists, those who aid and abet them, those who dispatch them, and all those whose goal is terror. During all these actions, we have maintained the important principle which guides us during this period – avoiding both escalation and a regional war.
On the northern front as well, we are working in accordance with the same principle of avoiding deterioration and escalation. US Secretary of State Colin Powell’s visit to Damascus led to a relaxation in the situation for two weeks, but since then, we have witnessed Hizbullah’s repeated attempts to bring about an escalation, encouraged by Syria.
Despite Hizbullah’s attempts, Israel is continuing to exhaust all diplomatic moves in an attempt to calm the situation on the northern border. However, it is clear to all that Israel will be unable to sit idly by if the provocations and terrorist attacks on our citizens and soldiers on the northern border continue. Last week, during my most recent visit to the United States, my fifth since taking office, I raised the issue in my conversation with US President George Bush.
Members of the Knesset,
The government that I head, a national unity government, knows how to take careful and responsible consideration regarding both security and diplomatic matters. The government that I head understands that in order to maintain Israel’s strength, we must maintain our network of relations with our friends around the world, especially the United States, our greatest friend. Our current network of relations – which is based on trust, common values, principles and mutual interests – with the US administration is, perhaps, as good as it has ever been.
My most recent visit to the US – during the course of which I met with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleeza Rice, Vice President Richard Cheney and, of course, President Bush – was an integrated effort involving staff work by several bodies that deal with various political issues: detailed documents prepared by Minister Danny Naveh, which showed Arafat’s links to terror and his direct involvement in encouraging, dispatching and financing terror; information materials prepared by Education Minister Limor Livnat, who accompanied me on the trip, regarding Palestinian terror against Israeli children; and reports on funds that Saudi Arabia has transferred to the families of suicide-terrorists, which were presented in the US by IDF officers. Police Commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky and other senior police officers met with many groups and key people in Washington. Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who also accompanied me on the trip, provided considerable assistance. All of these people contributed to the success of the trip.
In my meetings in Washington, we discussed a wide range of bilateral issues that stem from our common values – freedom, liberty and democracy – and our common interests – striving for peace, security and stability in the Middle East.
We discussed the aspiration that is common to us all – the securing of a true peace, a peace for generations.
Members of the Knesset,
The Israeli people are a peace-loving people. Our aspiration for peace stems from our desire to live securely in our land and develop it for our benefit and that of the region as a whole.
In my talks in the US, I made it known that Israel wants to enter into peace negotiations and will do so as soon as two basic terms for the establishment of a genuine peace process are met:
- The complete cessation of terror, violence and incitement.
- The Palestinian Authority must undergo basic structural reforms in all areas – security, economic, legal and social – while maintaining complete transparency and organizational responsibility.
Whoever wants peace must understand that there is no choice – there can be no peace with a corrupt, rotten and dictatorial regime of terror. It must be a different Authority.
When these two basic terms are met, we will be able to enter into a settlement in stages, including a lengthy intermediate stage in which relations between us and the Palestinians will be determined. Afterwards, after we see how the Palestinians build their society and self-governing administration, after we are convinced that they desire a true peace – then we will be able to advance towards discussions on determining the character of the permanent settlement between us and them. Only then will we be able to gauge what guarantees will be necessary in order to be sure that the agreements will be honored. Only then will we be able to sign a peace agreement, the permanent peace that we all hope for.
Members of the Knesset,
Security matters have a direct bearing on the economic situation not only in terms of the direct costs of the complicated security operations that we have been carrying out but also in indirect effects on state incomes from taxation.
In order to prevent the collapse of the economic system, we must show national responsibility in the economic sphere as well. Yesterday, here in the Knesset, we tabled an economic plan, the goal of which is to deal with the present difficult situation and prevent the economy from deteriorating into a dangerous situation.
I know that it is not an easy plan. Many groups are liable to see themselves as being hurt by it – but it is our duty in light of the situation. We must all do our share and show the public responsibility incumbent on us as MKs by supporting the plan.
Members of the Knesset,
In recent months, the Israeli people have shown their greatness. In the face of difficult battles, which many mistakenly believed would lead to the crumbling of Israeli society, the citizens of Israel knew how to unite and stand together in the struggle, every person in his task, every person doing his share.
As MKs, as the public’s representatives, we must also be a part of this.
We must remember that many eyes are upon this house, and we must act accordingly. We must continue the public debate, which is the heart and soul of Israeli democracy, but must avoid steps which could undermine the public’s confidence in it. And above all, we must remember that in spite of our differences of opinion, we are all united in our aspiration to continue living here in our Land, in peace and security.
I believe that if we all act responsibly, with consideration and tolerance, while maintaining our unity, we will continue to do so.
From here, let us wish the Israeli people a happy Shavuot.