France and Israel see eye to eye on a number of issues of strategic importance on the agenda.
I arrived here today from Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of the Jewish people and the State of Israel forever. I am pleased to be here with you today and sense the strong connection between Israel and the Jews of the world. We are one nation, united. We share a common history, as well as a common future.
The Jews of France have always been important partners of the State of Israel. In recent years, when terror was running rampant in Israel’s streets and the hostility towards Israel in the world reached its peak, you stood by us with determination. The people of Israel are grateful to you for that. Thank you for all your help to us.
Tomorrow morning I will return to Jerusalem, after a very successful visit here. During my political meetings with President Chirac, as well as the French Prime Minister and the French Foreign Minister, I could feel the friendship and understanding being formed between the two peoples. France and Israel see eye to eye on a number of issues of strategic importance on the agenda.
In recent weeks we have witnessed a wave of grave and brutal terror attacks throughout the world. Today it is clear that terrorism is not only Israel’s problem. There cannot be any compromise with terror.
The enlightened world must join hands in a joint campaign against radical Islamic terrorism. France currently plays an important role in the framework of the international community. It is leading a global campaign for the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon and the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, as well as a determined diplomatic campaign against Iran’s nuclear armament. In these instances, France, under the leadership of Chirac, understands the dangers embodied and is demonstrating courage and determination in leading this campaign.
During my visit, I expressed appreciation for the significant steps which France has been taking in the fight against anti-Semitism. I believe that the activity of the Government of France to eradicate anti-Semitism – which has recently been rearing its ugly head – should serve as an example to other governments in Europe and the world. President Chirac and I decided to enhance the relations between our countries. At the President’s initiative, we decided to establish a joint fund to mutually improve the image of both our countries in the eyes of our peoples and further enhance the excellent commercial relations between Israel and France. You, the Jews of France, have an important role in cementing these ties between our countries.
I wish to note here the special role played by Israel’s Ambassador to France, Nissim Zvili, who has been working hard to enhance the relations and improve them for the future. I am a Jew, and to me, being Jewish is the most important thing. To me, the most important question is what will happen with the Jewish people in 30 years, in 300 years, and, with God’s help, 3,000 years. This future can only be guaranteed by a strong Jewish state – the State of Israel.
In its short existence, the State of Israel has reached tremendous achievements. We absorbed millions of Jewish immigrants from 102 countries, speaking 82 languages, and today they all speak or learn Hebrew, the language of the Bible. We have research and academic institutes that are among the best in the world and agriculture which is envied everywhere. We have more engineers per capita than any other country, and we belong to the small and prestigious club of countries which have launched satellites into space.
And I want to tell you: never again will we be helpless victims. Never again will the Jews be left to the mercy of a hostile world. Israel is a small, tiny country. But it is blessed with talents. A brave nation. One must remember that Israel is the only place in the world where Jews have the right and the ability to defend themselves by themselves. I, as a Jew – and to me, being Jewish is the most important thing – know that it is my responsibility to defend and protect the Jewish people.
The primary means to secure the future of the Jewish people is aliyah to Eretz Israel (I was hoping that everyone would run home now to pack their bags). Israel is the only place in the world where Jews can live full Jewish lives. Only in Israel can a Jew be certain that his children and grandchildren will be Jewish.
Just as I call upon all Jews everywhere in the world, I call upon you as well: immigrate to Israel.
My government has set a goal to bring to Israel, during the next 15 years, another million Jews. When I appointed the new Chairman of the Jewish Agency, who spoke here today, I told him that his primary mission would be to deal with the immigration of Jews from all over the world to Israel. He will not be able to escape this issue (not that he wants to), because I will be working on this issue together with him.
The future of the Jewish people depends also on Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state. It is in this spirit that we initiated the disengagement plan. A difficult plan. Very difficult. And painful. This plan will improve our security and international standing and will provide an opportunity to begin a political process with the Palestinians. It will guarantee the Jewish majority in the State of Israel. It is thanks to this plan that we can make certain that important parts of the cradle of the Jewish heritage will remain part of Israel forever.
The decision on the disengagement was very difficult for me. I know the Gaza settlers well. As a farmer, I followed their agricultural achievements with appreciation. As a soldier, I followed their bravery with admiration. It is a difficult decision, perhaps the most difficult one I ever had to make in my life, but it is a vital decision, and I must do what is best for the future of Israel.
To my right is the Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office. He is now in charge of the difficult and complex task of providing a solution to each and every one of the settlers who live there today.
Thanks to this plan, Israel has gained unprecedented political achievements: a guarantee that Israel will have the right to defend itself by itself against any threat and enjoy safe and defensible borders; a guarantee that the major population centers in Judea and Samaria will remain part of Israel in any final status agreement; and that there will be no return to the ’67 borders and no entry of Palestinian refugees into Israel.
Israel is a peace-seeking country. We are willing to make painful compromises for the sake of true peace. And I believe that all of us, the Jewish people and the entire world, can see how difficult these compromises are.
But there is one thing on which we will not compromise – not now and not in the future. We will not compromise on the security of the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel. Never.
I made it clear to the White House in the United States, I made it clear to European heads of state, and now when I was here, I made it very clear to President Chirac and the other heads of state with whom I met. I said this to President Putin, the President of Russia, and other heads of state.
I told them one thing: I was willing to make a difficult step. I am not willing, under any circumstances, to make any compromise, even the slightest one, on the security of Israel. And there will be no such compromise.
Not only will there be no such compromise, but I also clarified that it is Israel’s duty alone, and only Israel can determine the level of security needed for Israel. I told them on this subject, I said it here also – with regard to the security of the citizens of Israel and the security of the State of Israel, I will make no compromise. Not now and not in the future.
I clarified to them that I cannot be pressured on this subject, because on this matter, I stand with my back against the wall. And there will be no such compromise, not now and not in the future.
This does not mean that after we reach a settlement, the Jewish people will be able to rest on its laurels. The Jewish people is “a nation unto itself” and I am certain that there will be those who will be very happy if Israel continues to make concessions. In general, people love it when Jews make concessions. If we make concessions all the time, we will be loved by the entire world, but this is not my intention. And it is not what Jews should do. It is very very important that we know these things, and that we all stand together.
In two weeks we will all be marking Tisha B’Av, the day of the destruction of the Temple. The Second Temple was destroyed because of a war between brothers. Throughout history, when we were united, we overcame any challenge and any obstacle. And when we were divided, we suffered the worst of our defeats.
The coming period will be one of the most difficult periods which the State of Israel has known since its establishment. But I am confident that just as the Jewish people overcame difficult challenges in the past, we will succeed, with God’s help, in emerging from this test strong and united. I thank you again for standing behind the State of Israel so determinedly during its difficult period.
I want you to know that we have always needed you, but now we need you more than ever.
What we are doing now to strengthen Israel is important to you no less than it is to us. If Israel, God forbid, is weakened, then the Jews in the world will not be able to live the lives they live today. And this fact must be remembered. It is therefore your responsibility as well.
Thank you all. We are waiting for you in Israel, and we have no intention of “letting you off the hook” on this matter.