Address by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a Special Knesset Session
marking the first anniversary of the formation of the government

(Translated from Hebrew)

February 16, 2004

Mr. Speaker,
Members of Knesset,

Today’s discussion marks the first anniversary of the current Government, which I head. One year is a short time for summations. But we can certainly discuss things which have been done and future directions of activity.

During the past year, we have confronted difficult situations of crisis, in both the security-diplomatic sphere and the socio-economic sphere. In these two spheres the Government acts determinedly to stabilize and resolve these crises.

We approached fundamental problems which many Governments avoided. In the two previous speeches I delivered here, one addressing the political sphere, and the other addressing the socio-economic sphere, I listed a series of determined actions taken by the Government during the last year, in both of these fields. In the security-political field, by spreading Israel’s stand that "only security will lead to peace" – the other options have been tried by other Governments, and in the economic field, by addressing fundamental problems pertaining to the structure of the work market and pensions, the tax structure, the structure of the capital market, etc. I have also discussed the great efforts we are making in the field of infrastructures and in bringing the periphery closer to the center.

In my speech here on January 19, I said that we are currently in an interim period, and, as such, it is of course difficult. It applies to both of these spheres. However, I also explained that we can already see the first signs of the success of this Government’s policy. I believe that the data publicized today by the Central Bureau of Statistics which show a product increase of 1.3% for 2003, including an increase of 2.6% in the last quarter of the year, are a proof of the success of this Government’s policy.

Since I already discussed here a month ago the two principal spheres of the Government’s policy, I wish to take this opportunity to say a few words about the steps we are taking and intend to take in the realm I would call "Shaping the Future Character of the State of Israel". This is a dual effort pertaining to the relations within Israeli society and the relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry.

I know that often when such topics are raised, one expects to hear a mixture of "pretty words" and actions for bringing people closer together. Such words and actions are very important, but I feel that if this is all the State does, it is as if nothing has been done. In both cases, an initiative must be taken which will significantly change reality. Such an initiative should be at the focus of our efforts, in addition to all the other important steps I mentioned.

One of the subjects which concerns me personally is the continuous erosion in the sense of equality between the citizens of Israel, particularly with regard to sharing the burden of responsibility for the entire society.

Only too small a number of individuals shoulder the burden and accept responsibility for the entire society. I am not referring merely to military service – both compulsory and reserve. Many teenagers serve in the military framework, and do so most impressively. In many aspects, they surpass me and my generation when we were their age. But the Israel Defense Forces are not open to all. Large sectors do not enlist into the army – some for understandable reasons, some for less understandable reasons. The gap in the sense of equality and shared responsibility constitutes a tangible threat to the character of Israeli society.

We are currently exploring the possibility of opening the national service institute, alongside the military service. National service means that each youth will be asked to contribute a number of years for the benefit of the community – whether by serving in the security forces, mobilizing into the police force, or receiving training and working in community institutes, such as hospitals, community centers or underprivileged sectors.

Instituting national service to all – whether as a compulsory or voluntary framework – can change the face of Israeli society. It can provide the opportunity particularly for young men and women from the Haredi and Arabic sectors to be integrated into the State of Israel by making a worthwhile contribution, thus enhancing Israeli partnership and solidarity.

However, even this is not enough. We must take an active initiative to reduce the gaps. Thus, for example, we are acting to reduce the number of gaps in the Civil Service. In my speech here last month, I spoke of the goal we set to have at least one Arab, Bedouin, Druze or Circassian serving on every governmental Board of Directors. Since then, we made a further resolution which sets the goal of at least 10% Arab, Druze, Bedouin and Circassian employees in the Civil Service within five years, and doubling their numbers in the three coming years. This is a symbolic action which serves to indicate a direction of integration rather than separation, active improvement rather than contentment with the status quo.

Active initiative is also necessary in the connection between the State of Israel and the Jewish people. All of us are familiar with the difficult state of affairs regarding the resurgence and growth of anti-Semitism, along with a deepening in the processes of assimilation, which threaten the situation and future of the Jewish people. Our answer must be clear: a new Zionist enterprise renewing Jewish Aliyah to Israel.

Simultaneously, with the efforts in the field of Aliyah, we must take further actions to strengthen the bond between Israel and the Diaspora. The Government is currently advancing an initiative, in terms of which every Jewish youngster will be invited to live and serve in the State of Israel for one year. We propose that every young man and woman give at least one year in the service of their people, to experience life in Israel.

I believe, on the basis of the plans we are advancing with the Jewish Agency and communities around the world, that by 2008 we will reach a situation in which at least 20,000 Jewish youths, which constitutes one-fifth of their Jewish age group worldwide, will come and live in Israel for one year. This will have an enormous impact in strengthening the Jewish identity of Diaspora youths.

This is not a dream – or perhaps it is a dream, but it is in our power to realize this dream.

Members of Knesset,

I admit I would gladly go on and on about these issues. However, since I feel that the Opposition "fell in love" with this method of discussion, I am certain that you will provide many more opportunities for me to report to the Members of Knesset on the progress the Government is making on these issues.

As these issues cross conventional inter-party disagreements, I hope you will join us in implementing them.

I am a great believer in the power of national unity. We have proven many times that together we can achieve remarkable things. National unity is not only expressed in a wide political coalition, although it is always desirable. Its true expression is in building a wide national consensus and joint mobilization, beyond personal and party disagreements, for the public, for society, for the future and prosperity of the State of Israel.

I call on all the members of this house, and all the citizens of Israel, to take part in this effort which is so important to us, and primarily to our children and grandchildren.

Thank you.    

 Address by PM Sharon at a Special Knesset Session marking the first anniversary of the formation of the government-Feb 16- 2004
 Address by PM Sharon at a Special Knesset Session marking the first anniversary of the formation of the government-Feb 16- 2004
Address to the Knesset by PM Sharon on the Presentation of the New Government – Feb 27, 2003