Address to the Knesset by
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
on the Presentation of the New Government

Jerusalem, February 27, 2003

Honorable President Moshe Katzav and Mrs. Katzav,
Chairman of the Knesset, Reuven Rivlin,
Members of Knesset,

First of all, allow me to reiterate my wholehearted gratitude and appreciation to the large number of Israeli citizens who put their confidence in me and the Likud Movement under my leadership.

In this period of difficulties, challenges and dilemmas, this was an exceptional and binding vote of confidence.

I deeply cherish, and am personally grateful to, all those citizens who gave the widest representation in the sixteenth Knesset to the movement and path which I have the honor of leading.

At the same time, I want to express my sincere appreciation to all those citizens who participated in the free democratic process, and in following their conscience, voted for other parties. I see myself committed not only to my movement or the parties comprising the coalition, but to all the citizens of Israel.

The government that I present today will serve the entire people. It will be guided exclusively by the good of the entire country and people.

The past two years have not been easy. The people and State of Israel have been forced to confront brutal waves of terrorism. But terrorism has not – and could never – defeat the people of Israel.

This is a strong and ancient people.

A people of great spirit.

A people who, during the last century, learned the importance of its right and duty to defend itself by itself.

It is a people who returned to its ancient language and historic homeland and staked a strong claim to this land – a claim which we will never relinquish.

Always true to the command given by the angel to Jacob our Father when he crossed the Yabuk passage on his way from Haran to the land of Israel: No longer will it be said that your name is Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with the Divine and with man, and have overcome!

This has always been the destiny and trademark of our people: to withstand – and survive. To confront – and overcome. To fight – and triumph. To withstand strong tests – human or divine – which no other people has faced, and to emerge strengthened in spirit and deed.

There is nothing more precious to me than the confidence shown by this people and I will do everything in my power to justify it and to successfully confront the complex challenges ahead.

During and after the election campaign, I pledged to do everything in my power to establish the broadest possible National Unity Government. I have always felt, and more so these days, that the security and economic situation, the political challenges and the need to heal the rifts between the various sectors of the population, require unity. Based on this belief and true to my promise, I approached all the Zionist parties and suggested that we make an effort to join forces to tackle the difficult tests and historic decisions ahead of us. Based on this approach, I refused – as I have done in the past – to disqualify any person or faction during the negotiations.

I regret that the Labor Party decided to avoid even a serious negotiation on joining my government.

An honest and important attempt to clarify central problems in the life of the state and its citizens was made during the negotiations, with the aim of reaching agreements and forging new paths. As a result of this joint effort, different parties, with varying viewpoints, joined the new government.

During the talks on the composition of the government, great efforts were made to find a common denominator and bridge the gaps on issues of religion and state, political subjects, subjects relating to the nature of the Israeli government, etc.

Of prime national importance was the will and ability demonstrated by the parties who joined the new government to find common denominators and to bridge disagreements.

One of our duties, for example, was to find fair and reasonable solutions to the problem of numerous citizens who cannot marry and divorce according to the Halacha. Among these many citizens are some of the best and bravest of our soldiers. The solution formulated does not infringe on the usual course of all those who can marry according to Halacha. It is intended to solve the problem for those who cannot do so. I believe that no country – let alone a Jewish state – should tolerate a situation whereby its citizens have no legal option to marry in their own land.

If we persevere with this responsible approach, we can lead the State of Israel to great achievements and create a different atmosphere in public life.

No party to the talks received everything it desired. That is why all the partners gained the upper hand. In understanding that compromise is desired and necessary, they demonstrated maturity and national responsibility. We will act together to preserve that same spirit in the future – a spirit of constant dialogue between sectors, in an attempt to reach agreements, instead of constantly trying to override each other.

Members of Knesset,

My new government’s primary mission will be to confront the economic situation, in an attempt to maintain market stability and return to the path of growth and prosperity.

I believe that the members of the new government share a common denominator – in recognizing the importance of this confrontation and in their outlook of the economic path that should be followed.

The economic situation, which has, in the past few years, been affected by the situation of the global economy and the terrorist campaign against us, requires us to make difficult and painful decisions. We will all have to mobilize for this effort. Each one will be required to make concessions and compromises.

I am confident that with the proper cooperation of all of us – the Government, the Histadrut, the employers and employees – we can end the economic recession and return to the path of growth.

It will not be easy. But this government was not elected to make easy decisions.

The failure of the war of terror which was waged against Israel, will hopefully open the door to a responsible political process based on an agreement to solve the dispute peacefully. We are determined not to compromise on the security of the State of Israel and its citizens, and demand mutuality in implementing political agreements. In my speech at the Herzliya Conference last December, I outlined such a responsible political process.

In conversations with U.S. President George W. Bush and senior officials in his government, we reached an understanding regarding the necessary conditions to initiate a political process, as well as the need for a gradual outline to resolve this long-lasting and complex conflict between the Palestinians and ourselves.

Before returning to a political track, the Palestinian Authority must stop terror and incitement, implement far-reaching reforms and replace its current leadership.

A political process which will lead to genuine peace must be based on lessons learned from the failed attempts of the past decade.

The people of Israel seek peace, and I am convinced that there is a willingness to make painful concessions. Creating a Palestinian State under limited conditions in the framework of a political process is controversial among members of the coalition. I have clarified my position on this matter many times in the past. I have announced as well, and have included in the coalition guidelines and agreements, that before undertaking practical negotiations towards a political agreement – should it include the establishment of a Palestinian State – the topic will be discussed and decided upon by the Government.

Thirty-three years ago this month, the poet Nathan Alterman passed away. In light of the developments in Israel and the region, it is worth noting what he wrote in one of his poems:

"… in order that the peace which arises
will not quietly ripen into a new war
it is necessary that the peace itself
become an unending war,
a war against any completion or complexity
against any abuse of law by individual or nation,
and even guarding the peace, as needed,
from the guards of peace themselves…"

Any political settlement achieved in the future must ensure the historic, security and strategic interests of Israel, primarily Palestinian renunciation of the groundless demand for "The Right of Return" the sole purpose of which is to allow the entrance of masses of Palestinians into Israel. Furthermore, the agreement should include security and buffer zones, and preserve the unity of the Capital of Israel – Jerusalem.

My Government will act to achieve breakthroughs in other important aspects of Israeli existence.

The central and most important goal of the new Government will be mass immigration to Israel. Aliyah is the lifeblood of Zionism. It is the engine which drives the economy. We must open up new horizons in this field, and can achieve this objective.

We will work towards strengthening the pioneering endeavor of settling the entire country. Jerusalem, the united and undivided capital of Israel will remain a focus, and we will work to expand the city, develop it, and emphasize its centrality in the lives of all Jews, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

I reiterate the vow I made in my last swearing-in, the vow made by every Israeli Prime Minister when sworn in, including the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, he of blessed memory. The vow is as follows:

"If I forget thee, Oh Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill, let my tongue adhere to my palate, if I fail to recall you, if I fail to elevate Jerusalem above my foremost joy."

We will work to complete a constitution which can be agreed upon by enacting the missing basic laws: the basic law to anchor the identity of Israel as a Jewish State, and its national symbols; basic laws to complete the rights of the individual, such as freedom of expression and the freedom to assemble; legal and social rights, etc.

The completion of the constitution must be based on wide public and political agreement, and not on force.

I believe that this can be achieved if we take into consideration the interest and sensibilities of the various groups within Israeli society.

We will act to strengthen governmental stability in Israel (which has been absent over the past few years and has become a primary national problem). In addition, we will examine the necessary governmental reforms by raising the voting threshold in the elections for the Knesset, in order to reduce the divisiveness within the political system.

We will formulate a plan to unite local authorities in order to increase the efficiency of the local governmental mechanisms.

We will enact an equal and just division of the burden of military service and taxation. We will continue to act determinedly to bring the captured and missing soldiers home, and ensure the release of Azam Azam.

I take this opportunity to call upon Israeli Arabs: our children and ourselves will always live here, side by side. The rift between the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel harms us all. I intend to open a new chapter in the relations between the State and its Arab citizens.

Mr. Speaker, I would now like to present my new Government to the Knesset:

  • Ehud Olmert – Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Industry and Commerce
  • Benny Elon – Minister of Tourism
  • Tzahi Hanegbi – Minister of Public Security
  • Eliezer Sandberg – Minister of Science and Technology
  • Yisrael Katz – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
  • Tzipi Livni – Minister of Immigrant Absorption
  • Limor Livnat – Minister of Education, Culture and Sport
  • Uzi Landau – Minister without Portfolio
  • Avigdor Lieberman – Minister of Transportation
  • Yosef Lapid – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Justice
  • Shaul Mofaz – Minister of Defense
  • Yehudit Naot – Minister of the Environment
  • Dani Naveh – Minister of Health
  • Benjamin Netanyahu – Minister of Finance
  • Gideon Ezra – Minister without Portfolio
  • Avraham Poraz – Minister of the Interior
  • Yosef Paritzky – Minister of National Infrastructure
  • Meir Sheetrit – Minister without Portfolio
  • Silvan Shalom – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Ariel Sharon – Prime Minister, Minister of Religious Affairs, Minister of Construction and Housing, Minister of Labor and Welfare and Minister of Communication.
  • Natan Sharansky – Minister without Portfolio, responsible for Jerusalem Affairs, Society and the Diaspora.

    Members of Knesset,

    The Government which I am presenting today is different from my previous Government. While establishing it, I had to make a series of difficult decisions and resolve a series of ideological issues.

    I must admit, it was not easy for me. However, I am convinced that the Government which I present today is the best Government to confront the difficulties and tackle the challenges facing us.

    For most of my life, I have served the Israeli nation as an IDF soldier and commander, and as a Minister in various Israeli Governments. Today, as I enter my 75th year, I have only one aspiration: to lead this nation – which has known so much hardship and suffering and deserves so much – in a new path, a path of quiet, a path of prosperity, a path of peace.

    Last night I reflected on the famous prayer uttered by King Solomon: "May you grant your servants an understanding heart… to distinguish between good and evil, for who can judge this formidable people of Yours."

    I again thank the Israeli people for trusting me to lead them in these trying times, and I pray to God that I will be found deserving of that trust.