Tonight, a portentous chapter in the history of the state was sealed. It is now incumbent on us, and on me as your leader, to shape a new chapter in the life of the State of Israel.

Dear Israelis, friends and partners,

Today Israeli democracy had its say, loud and clear: Israel wants Kadima!

From here, I extend a hand of friendship and conciliation to all those who participated in this long – perhaps overly long – tiring and important process, to all my friends and opponents, to all my critics and detractors.

Now, at the end of a stormy battle, we go back to being one people, united, without camps, joined by our infinite love for this land, which is like no other in the world.

Now, I lift my eyes and my heart to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, to the man who started it all – Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; even now, Prime Minister. To the man who had the courage, the power, the will and the stubbornness to see things differently and to change them. To the man who changed direction and inspired hope and offered a new way. To the man who created Kadima, and whose body failed him, just as he was about to see the fulfillment of his vision.

Thank you, Arik, on my behalf, on behalf of Kadima’s elected Members of Knesset, on behalf of Kadima voters and on behalf of the Israeli people. I send a warm embrace to his two loving sons, Omri and Gilad, who spend their days and nights at his bedside.

Tonight, a portentous chapter in the history of the state was sealed. It is now incumbent on us, and on me as your leader, to shape a new chapter in the life of the State of Israel.

First, we will aspire to unity among the people. Before we address the issue of how to shape peace and to live alongside our neighbors, the time has come to make peace among ourselves, with tolerance, mutual respect, restraint, love. Let us put aside our differences regarding the "first Israel" vs. the "second Israel", a "whole Israel" vs. a divided Israel, an Israel of minorities only vs. an Israel of Jews only, a religious Israel vs. a secular Israel, Ashkenazim vs. Sepharadim, new immigrants vs. veterans.

All of us – an Israel united, first, strong, successful, prosperous, decent and at peace with itself.

In the near future, we will aspire to set the permanent borders of the State of Israel, as a Jewish state with a permanent Jewish majority, and as a democratic state. We will act to achieve this through negotiations and agreement with our Palestinian neighbors. This is our wish and also our prayer. No alternative is better than a peace agreement; no peace is more stable than one based on agreement.

An agreement can be based only on negotiation, conducted on the basis of mutual recognition, compliance with past signed agreements, the principles of the Roadmap, and, of course, cessation of violence and disarming of the terrorist organizations.

I appeal this evening to the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, in the simplest and most direct way in which people talk to each other:

For thousands of years we have borne the dream of the whole Land of Israel in our hearts. This land, with its historic borders, will remain our heart’s desire forever. We will never give up our longing for the places that were the cradle of civilization, which hold our most precious memories as a people.

However, in recognition of reality and with comprehension of the circumstances, we are prepared to compromise, to give up parts of the beloved Land of Israel, where the best of our sons and fighters lie buried; to carry out a very painful evacuation of the Jews living there – in order to create the conditions which will enable you to fulfill your dream and to live alongside us, in your own state, in peace and tranquility.

I expect to hear a similar announcement from the Palestinian Authority.

The time has come for the Palestinian public and leadership to adjust their dreams to the reality of the existence of the State of Israel, as a Jewish state, at their side. The time has come for the Palestinians to resign themselves, as we have, to realizing only a part of their dreams; to stop terrorism and hatred; to create democratic, decent lives of their own, and to look towards a future of rapprochement, compromise and peace with us.

We are ready for this. We long for this.

I saying this here and now out of a belief in the enormous power of the State of Israel and the limitless courage of its soldiers, its military leaders and its security forces to strike every foe and to defeat every terrorist. From this sense of power, we must act with all our might to create hope for a different life for our younger generation and our Palestinian neighbors.

In so doing, I am following the path of David Ben Gurion, Menahem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon – all of whom were leaders who bore the highest responsibility for the fate of the State of Israel and showed courage and the willingness to make concessions, to compromise, to be appeased – in order to achieve peace.

I am encouraged by the personal example of Arab leaders, such as the great President Anwar Sadat, the eminent King Hussein, and their successors: Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah II. The time has come for the Palestinians to carve out of their ethos the powers necessary for the inevitable compromise; and better sooner than later.

If the Palestinians are wise enough to act soon, we will sit around the negotiating table to shape a new reality in our region. If not, Israel will take control of its own fate and – on the basis of broad national consensus as well as a deep understanding on the part of our friends throughout the world, especially the United States of America, led by President George Bush – we will act even without an agreement with them. We will not wait forever. The time has come to act.

In recent years, the State of Israel has taken some welcome steps towards economic growth and rehabilitation. The former Minister of Finance, Binyamin Netanyahu, contributed considerably to these important measures, under the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and with his full backing; and he can take pride in his achievements.

However, Israeli society today is still alternating between the rich and the hungry, between those with a high standard of living and those, like the elderly, who do not have enough to live their lives with dignity. Woe to a country in which citizens rummage through garbage bins for food and children are fed in soup kitchens. A country that does not show compassion to its poor, neglects its aged, and ignores the children of foreign workers who are condemned to living without rights, slated for expulsion. This was not our vision; this is not our way.

It is not possible to fix this in a year, or even in three years. However, it is my intention to act forcefully to reduce the social gaps, and already in the weeks to come I will present to the government a detailed plan to combat social distress, a plan that will require all of us to pay a price and to roll up our sleeves, in order to live in a more just society. We will act to correct the distortions in the basket of health services, to improve the health system, and to lay the foundations for equal opportunities for all citizens – sick and well, rich and poor, Jews and Arabs. Minority rights in the State of Israel are crying out for realization. It is about time.

We will fight corruption and immorality in all aspects of our lives, first and foremost in the systems of government and public administration. We will give our full backing to enforcing the law, and we will honor the bastion of the rule of law in Israel: the court system, headed by the Supreme Court of Israel. We will fight organized and individual crime and uphold the personal safety of all citizens everywhere.

And finally, we will take on the biggest, most important task for the future of the State – advancement of the educational system from pre-school through academic institutions. Israel’s educational systems are crying out for change. We, the Jewish people – who have always viewed education and the cultivation of excellence, the increasing of knowledge and study and scientific research as basic values in Jewish and Israeli society – we cannot afford to fall behind other countries and, even more important, behind the norms that characterized Jewish society for thousands of years, throughout the Diaspora.

We will allocate the resources, we will make the changes, with dialogue and coordination – and we will make education and scholarship something to be proud of.

And now, permit me to say a few personal words.

It has been three difficult, complex months since that night, the 4th of January. In all that time, I was not alone; I was surrounded by love, good will and infinite willingness to help me run the State of Israel.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me and was with me. First of all, my faithful aids, who have been with me for decades, with unlimited devotion; the staff and veteran advisors of the Prime Minister’s Office; Kadima members who joined me for this great challenge; and countless friends from every avenue of this wonderful people. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

My family, Aliza and my children, are here with me. For years, my family refused to take part in the public responsibility that I took upon myself. It was their choice – I, who love them all so much, respected their choice and their right to privacy. In this campaign, my opponents decided to put Aliza and my children on center stage. I am very sorry about this. I thought we had matured enough to delimit what is appropriate and what isn’t.

At this emotional moment, I hold in my heart the memory of my parents, Bella and Mordecai, good Jews, good Zionists, loving parents, who made aliya from faraway China and all their lives served as an example of modesty and love for the land.
I would like to take this opportunity to say to my family – my beloved brothers Ami, Jeremy, Yossi and their families; and mostly to my beloved children, Michal, Donna, Shaul, Ariel, and Shula, of course, and their spouses, and my grandchildren – thank you from the bottom of my heart. Your patience, your wisdom, your ability to disagree with me frequently, and your intelligence to agree with me infrequently – these gave me strength, enthusiasm, faith and hope.

Finally, lovely and beloved – Aliza, without whom I couldn’t have succeeded and with whom everything became possible, right and within reach. This moment belongs, more than to anyone else, to you.

Permit me to conclude with a passage from the Prayer for the State:

"Our Father in heaven, Rock and Redeemer of Israel, bless the State of Israel, the first growth of our redemption. Protect it in your loving kindness and spread over it the shelter of your peace. Send your light and truth to its leaders, ministers and counselors. Strengthen the defenders of our holy land and bestow on them, our God, salvation and adorn them in victory. And you shall grant peace in the land and everlasting joy to its inhabitants."