Jerusalem, April 8, 2002
Members of Knesset,
Our dead lie in a long row: women and children, young and old. And we stand facing them, facing the vacuum created by their murders, and we are speechless.
On the recent evening of the Seder, while I was sitting with my family at the table, I received the terrible news of the massacre in Netanya. There is no more dreadful moment in the term of a Prime Minister, than that horrendous moment when the telephone rings, or a note is passed during a meeting, and carrying Job’s tidings.
And then the sights and sounds come rushing in, the sights of destruction, the cries of the wounded, the sirens. Then the awful silence of the funerals, the faces and human stories which stare at us from the newspapers: the face of Rachel Koren, whose husband and two children were buried on the same day, side by side; a short distance from her, the face of Karmit Ron, forever separated from her husband, 21-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old son; the face of Adi Shiran who was buried while both her parents are unconscious, fighting for their lives in the hospital; the face of Zahava Vider – a true heroine of the people of Israel – who lost her husband, daughter and son-in-law at that Seder, and during the seven days of mourning agreed to donate her husband’s organs to a Palestinian family in Shuafat. She is living proof of the fact that, even at the most trying times, we remain humane.
Victims of coexistence, those whose worlds fell apart while eating at an Arab restaurant in Haifa – their blood mixing with the blood of Israeli Arabs who were sitting beside them. Entire families, Jewish and Arab, are destroyed in the heat of the murderous insanity which has taken hold of our Palestinian neighbors. And thus the killers and dispatchers intend to destroy the hope for peace, hope for the future and hope for a normal life.
It is not a coincidence, Members of Knesset. It is not cruel fate. The murderous gangs have a leader, a purpose, and a directing hand. They have one mission: to chase us out of here, from everywhere – from our home in Elon Moreh and from the supermarket in Jerusalem, from the cafe in Tel Aviv and from the restaurant in Haifa, from the synagogue in Netzarim – where the murderers slaughtered two over 70 worshippers, walking in their prayer shawls to morning prayers – and from the Seder table in Netanya.
And there is one dispatcher: Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. He is the man who, in a series of agreements, promised to abandon the path of terrorism, refrain from committing murder, use his forces to prevent it – and betrayed all his promises. Because of his promises Israel agreed to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. That is why Israel agreed to transfer security responsibility in the areas given to its control. Thus, Israel agreed to the establishment of Palestinian security forces. We hoped that the Palestinians would understand, as they promised, that ruling does not mean a license to kill, but rather the assumption of responsibility for the prevention of killing.
But what was merely apprehension at the beginning, and intensified into suspicion, has turned into solid facts which nobody can deny. In the territories under his rule, Arafat has established a regime of terror, which nationally and officially trains terrorists and incites, finances, arms and sends them to perpetuate murderous operations across Israel.
There is overwhelming evidence, accepted by all serious people in the world. For example, in a chilling document, which was found in Arafat’s offices, terror tariffs are displayed. For those who haven’t seen, here are the documents.
Mr. Speaker, I admit that ordinarily it is not customary to present a document to the Knesset, but the horror, malice, brutality and deception revealed here are alarming. I will not show the document, but I am allowed to read it, Mr. Speaker. Here is a letter signed by Yasser Arafat, addressed to him as "the President, warrior, brother Abu-Amar, God protect him", and requesting that he "kindly allocate funds in the amount of $2,500 to the following brothers: Ra’ad el-Karmi (I hope you still remember him), Ziad Muhammad Ash, Ammar Ka’adan." There are additional documents which incriminate murderous terrorist elements, some of whom – thanks to our security system – will not be inflicting any more harm. There is also a letter signed by Marwan Bargouti addressed to "the President, brother Abu-Ammar, God protect him," asking him to instruct that $1,000 be earmarked to each of the "fighting brothers", with the same list mentioned earlier.
And there is another interesting document, detailing the cost of murdering a Jew. We have a financial report from the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades to the person who served as the liaison between Arafat and the Iranians – Fuad Shoubaki. The report specifies the cost of an explosive belt – 700 NIS, stating: "We need 5-9 charges each week for the groups in the various areas". There are complete details as to the cost of each deadly weapon aimed at murdering innocent civilians in cold blood.
Such and such an amount for a suicide attack, such and such an amount for a charge of explosives, such and such an amount for an explosive belt. The document contains the "bloody" accounting in the handwriting of Arafat’s treasurer – the man who paid for the attempt to smuggle Katyushas and rockets, and who, today, sits with Arafat in Ramallah and enjoys his personal protection. This is the bill for the price of Jewish lives at Yasser Arafat’s organized bureaucracy of murder.
Members of Knesset,
For eighteen months Israel has been under bitter and bloody attack, initiated by our Palestinian neighbors. We have paid a high price in blood, solely because of our honest wish to live in peace with them, and because of our belief that they want the same.
The infrastructure of terror against Israel was established before this government took office. The main purpose of our National Unity Government was to achieve a cessation of violence and incitement as a vital and essential condition for the resumption of our efforts to achieve peace in the region. This is the essence of this government’s existence.
On my first day in office, I sent a personal letter to Arafat. I offered a practical proposal to the end the violence, and reiterated our wish for peace. I promised that we did not intend to harm innocent civilians, and suggested ways to ease their suffering. I extended my hand in peace, and my hand was rejected.
Since then we have made an endless number of efforts to reach a cease-fire: we tried to ease security measures – and each time we lifted a closure, opened a road and withdrew the IDF, we were immediately answered with horrific terrorist attacks; we accepted the Mitchell Plan which includes painful compromises for Israel; we accepted the Tenet Plan; we even waived the most elementary demand for seven days of quiet – we did not even get seven hours free of an attempt to perpetrate a murderous suicide attack; we cooperated with General Zinni – and I take this opportunity to thank him for his continuing efforts – but Arafat rejected all his proposals and carried on with his reign of terror.
We remained patient and moderate as one atrocity followed another. Despite the fact that we knew of our power to act, we hoped that we would not be forced to use our forces, and rejected extreme suggestions of all sorts. We gave many opportunities to world leaders, those who promised over and over again that they were capable of stopping terror by means of persuasion or pressure on Arafat.
We have not given up on direct dialogue, to bring about an end to violence. Minister of Foreign Affairs Shimon Peres has left no stone unturned in his efforts to find a partner for dialogue. I have personally hosted several Palestinian Authority officials, and reiterated our proposals for a cease-fire and the resumption of political negotiations.
In talks with various world leaders, I presented our ideas for the political settlement possible after the cessation of terror. We presented Israel’s honest wish for a peace that will bring honor, prosperity and security for both peoples.
However, Arafat chose a different path. We know which path his is. He assumed, and still assumes, that he will be able to defeat Israel and break its spirit. In our sensitivity to the sanctity of human life and in our openness for political debate, he sees basic weakness. By way of blood and horror he wants to force Israel into a unilateral withdrawal to its 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, thereby achieving his aims through violence, and he is not averse to using any means.
The Government of Israel has thus decided to instruct the IDF and other security forces to embark on Operation Defensive Shield, which has one goal: uprooting the terrorist infrastructure which Arafat built to continue attacking us.
IDF soldiers and officers have been given clear orders: to enter cities and villages which have become havens for terrorists; to catch and arrest terrorists and, primarily, their dispatchers and those who finance and support them; to confiscate weapons intended to be used against Israeli citizens; to expose and destroy terrorist facilities and explosives, laboratories, weapons production factories and secret installations. The orders are clear: target and paralyze anyone who takes up weapons and tries to oppose our troops, resists them or endanger them – and to avoid harming the civilian population.
All the aforementioned should have been carried out by the Palestinian Authority, according to its agreements with Israel, and as they were requested to do by all the responsible leaders in the world. Only when it transpired that the Palestinian Authority was not willing to fulfill its promises, that it is infested with terror, and that it has factually turned into an authority which is actively involved in terror – only then, having no other choice, were we forced to act.
The IDF has achieved great successes, thanks to the intelligence and courage of its officers, and the determination and perseverance of its soldiers. The IDF has taken the territories according to plan. Over 1500 fugitives have been arrested, including over 500 with Israeli blood on their hands. Dozens of terrorist facilities were discovered and destroyed. Terrorist organizations have stopped functioning and their members are on the run. We have foiled terrorist plans and prevented many casualties in the heart of our country.
During these days we are seeing the People of Israel at its best – a proud people whose spirit will not be broken, a people determined to protect its home, while extending its hand in peace. Every day we see new expressions of courage, volunteers and mutual assistance.
I wish to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to our soldiers and officers, to those in compulsory service and the reservists; to the families on the home front who are the real backbone of the army, to the anonymous security personnel, to policemen and border guards, to civilian rescue units – Magen David Adom, to the fire brigade, the "Zaka" (identification of disaster victims squads), security of guards, civil defense volunteers, and to each and every one who in spite of the worries and understandable fear, still continue our lives.
To all of you – thank you, from the bottom of our hearts.
Members of Knesset,
From the outset, this IDF operation was planned be temporary, lashing for the span of time required to complete the actions I described. These actions have not yet been completed, and the IDF will therefore continue to operate, as speedily as possible, until the mission has been accomplished, until Arafat’s terrorist infrastructures are uprooted and until murderers holed up in various places are captured – including those in the Church of the Nativity, in Bethlehem, since we have no intention of desecrating the site, unlike the murderers who have commandeered the church and are holding the clergymen hostage. We expect the international community to demand that they lay down their weapons and leave the holy site. Until that time the IDF will remain there to prevent them from escaping justice.
We never intended and do not intend to permanently reoccupy Palestinian cities. After the IDF completes all its missions, it will withdraw, in accordance with the instructions of the Government, to defined security zones. In my talks with President Bush, and recognizing his sincere wish for peace in our region, I have promised to make every effort to accelerate our military activities, and to withdraw our forces from those places in which our actions have been completed.
In these security zones, our forces will deploy to constitute a buffer between Palestinian territories and our territories, in order to prevent any penetration into Israeli communities, attacks on Israeli citizens, and threats to our security. Correspondingly, our forces will be prepared to precisely target anyone who tries to contrive this war of terrorism against us, regardless of his identity, status or position. The IDF will carry out its missions from within the security zones, making a genuine effort to distinguish between the perpetrators of terrorism and the civilian, non-belligerent population. We have no quarrel with the Palestinian people and we want to see the Palestinians, like us, live in peace, security and dignity.
But peace can only be attained if, once we evacuate the territories, we find a responsible Palestinian leadership, willing to accept the primary responsibility of every regime – to prevent the use of its territory for the purpose of killing and murdering its neighbors. Peace negotiations can commence and move forward only after terrorism has ceased.
Accordingly, Israel accepts and warmly welcomes the important initiative of U.S. President George W. Bush. Since the horrific attack on September 11th, exactly one year after the outbreak of the Palestinian terrorist campaign against Israel, the United States has been leading the world in a heroic struggle to uproot terrorism as well as the regimes which support and sponsor it.
Israel is proud of its friendship with the United States and of America’s leadership in the moral and historic, political military struggle against the forces of evil which have risen up against the civilized nations. Since that deadly attack in September, the partnership between Israelis and Americans has, unfortunately, become a "partnership of blood" between victims of terror. We are partners to the principle set forth by President Bush in his most recent speech, and I quote:
"Terror must be stopped. No nation can negotiate with terrorists. For there is no way to make peace with those whose only goal is death."
If such a Palestinian leadership should arise, it will find in Israel a hand extended toward peace and negotiations. I, who have seen all the horrors of war, refuse to extinguish the hopes for peace and the faith that the Palestinian people will recover from the myth of bloodshed forced upon them by their current leaders, and will find the way to peace and good neighborly relations.
Peace is important to Israel, but not only to Israel. It is important to the Palestinians, because only through peace will they find their way to existence as a nation in dignity and prosperity. Peace is important to all the peoples of the Middle East, because the continuation of terror and violence encourages fundamentalist elements and regimes to try and achieve their goals through violence.
Israel will do everything in its power to repel these threats, avoid escalation and maintain regional stability. In this spirit, we are noticing the first buds of a transformation in the long-time Arab trend to deny the very right of the State of Israel to exist. Despite the extreme demands included in the resolutions of the conference of Arab leaders in Beirut, I welcome the fact that an important Arab leader such as Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has, for the first time, acknowledged Israel’s right to exist within secure and recognized borders.
There is a positive component of the Saudi initiative, but the details must be negotiated between the parties themselves. Peace negotiations cannot be dictated. They must be based on mutual respect and a genuine attempt to reach a compromise. In the absence of open dialogue between the parties, this initiative will remain devoid of any real content.
No party can enforce unilateral conditions. UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 affirm Israel’s right to exist in peace, and in secure and recognized borders, free from any military threat, like any other nation in the region. These borders and the way to ensure Israel’s security in the face of any military or terrorist threat must be directly negotiated between the parties. Israel cannot discuss the return of Arab refugees – a consequence of a war forced upon Israel by the Arabs – to its territory, as it would effectively terminate the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state.
That is why I offered to go to Beirut to meet with the leaders of the Arab states. A mere willingness to make peace is meaningless without the willingness to meet and negotiate. I take this opportunity to reiterate my proposal to meet immediately with moderate and responsible leaders in the Middle East. I am willing to go anywhere, without any pre-conditions from any party, to discuss peace.
The United States can and should be a leading and driving force behind such an initiative, just as it spearheaded the negotiations leading to the convening of the Madrid Peace Conference over a decade ago.
US Secretary of State Colin Powell will be arriving in the region this week. I intend to discuss methods of achieve an end to terrorism and advancing my initiative to meet with regional leaders, in order to restart the negotiating process on the framework for peace in the Middle East.
What is the outline through which a comprehensive peace in the Middle East may be advanced?
Personally, I am skeptical as to the prospects of "leaping" from the current violent conflict directly into a permanent agreement that will bring a complete and final end to the conflict. Such an approach would rapidly return us to a dead-end. After all, the Palestinians rejected the previous government’s proposals which included far-reaching concessions, refused to negotiate over them, and chose to try and enforce their will upon Israel through terrorism. Only when they come to the realization that this attempt has failed will we be able to achieve a real cease-fire. It is from that point that I propose to move forward toward a long-term interim agreement, which will determine the character of the neighborly relations between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is in this situation that the Palestinians will be able to build an independent society, free of any traces of occupation, and rebuild their ruined economy. We can and are willing to generously assist them in preparing their people for peace and good neighborly relations. Such an interim agreement would put an end to the ongoing suffering of the Palestinian population, those who wish to live in peace and prosperity.
The further the relations and coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians evolve, and as damaging fanatic elements are increasingly relegated to a corner, the sooner we will reach a situation in which we can determine the final borders between us and reach an agreed compromise on all outstanding issues.
The history of the political relations between Israel and the Arab States is proof of the advantages of a gradual approach. We were in a state of ferocious war with the Egyptians. We went through five terrible wars. The war ended with an agreed cease-fire, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions 338 and 339. Since that cease-fire came into effect, not one bullet has been fired between the Israeli and Egyptian armies. Shortly afterwards, we proceeded toward long-term interim agreements, which led to the commencement of direct negotiations and to permanent agreements between the parties.
Peace with Egypt has been sustained because it was predicated on the solid foundations of peace alongside painful concessions. Although the situation with the Palestinians is more complicated, the outstanding issues are more difficult and the bitterness is greater, together, we can build a vision of a better future for both our peoples.
Members of Knesset,
From here, I address the Palestinian people. On behalf of the people of Israel, I tell you: we have no quarrel with you. We have no desire to control you or to dictate your fate. We want to live side by side with you in peace, as good neighbors, helping and respecting each other.
But in order for this to happen, you can and must take your fate into your own hands. If you want to seize a place of honor among the family of nations, you must eschew terrorism, the murder of children and the elderly, the terrible violence, the murderous hatred and incitement. Do not surrender to those elements among you who have brought you one disaster after another over the past 55 years, because those same forces – they and not us – will guarantee your next disaster.
From here, I address the leaders of the Middle East. Terrorism threatens not only Israel. It threatens you as well. It does not lead to peace – terrorism is the enemy of peace and stability. Just as I am willing to focus on the positive rather than the negative aspect of your recent resolution, I implore you to accept my initiative for a meeting between us.
From here, I address the leaders of the free world. You must remember that leniency toward terrorists is the same as a green light to terrorists, who have already proven that they do not distinguish between blood and blood, between a Jewish victim and any other victim. You cannot fight terrorism on the one hand, and condemn the victims of terrorism on the other. There is absolutely no equivalence between those who send teenage suicide bombers to kill and maim, and those who take self-defense actions and try to uproot the infrastructure of terrorism. Only your stand against terrorism and actual sanctions against its perpetrators in the Palestinian Authority, and primarily Arafat, will enable you to make a real contribution to the advancement of peace in the Middle East.
From here, I address the people of Israel. This battle will not be easy. Unfortunately, I cannot guarantee that there will be no more victims, and that we will know no more grief and bereavement.
But we will overcome this challenge – first of all, because we are an ancient nation, a nation which is all too familiar with pain and hardship, a nation which has overcome the greatest of tragedies. Secondly, because we are united and we stand together. We are one people. Indeed there are different opinions and different sentiments among us, but that which unites us is greater. It is my understanding of this crisis that has led me to struggle for the establishment of a National Unity Government, and in order to maintain unity I am sometimes willing to forgo my own pride. This is not weakness, but strength. I make every effort to maintain this unity and to bring in additional Zionist elements.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I hereby announce that, in accordance with Article 33 (c) of the Basic Law: the Government, the following ministers will be added to the government:
1. Mr. Efraim Eitam
2. Rabbi Yitzhak Levy
3. MK David Levy
And in accordance with Article 3 (c) of the Basic Law: the Government, I request the Knesset approval of these appointments.
Members of Knesset,
These are important additions to the government, especially at this time. The NRP and Gesher factions have demonstrated national responsibility, taking the ongoing campaign and the upcoming challenges into consideration, and agreeing to join the government and the coalition.
Each of the new ministers will undoubtedly make their own unique contribution to the government.
My friend David Levy, for whom I have the highest respect, has gained vast experience during service in Israeli governments over many years, and his judgement in political matters will undoubtedly assist in the crucial and complicated decisions ahead.
Rabbi Yitzhak Levy has served as a minister in several governments. He is a public servant with high ethical values, one of the most loyal sons of the Land of Israel.
Mr. Effi Eitam, a former military officer, will make an important contribution with his military expertise.
Furthermore, Mr. Speaker, in accordance with Article 37 (a) of the Basic Law: the Government, I hereby inform the Knesset that I have appointed MK Naomi Blumenthal to the position of Deputy Minister in the Ministry of National Infrastructures, in place of her position as Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Mr. Speaker, Members of Knesset,
Unity is our greatest asset in this struggle which has been forced upon us, and in our path toward peace and security. This is not an easy path, but it is nevertheless a necessary one. I call upon each and every one of you to maintain this unity, not to stretch the boundaries of argument, rivalry and dispute, but rather to strengthen the sense of unity, lend a helping hand and demonstrate a spirit of volunteerism and good will.
With the help of God, together, we can and will triumph.