Despite elections, life in the State of Israel does not stop and the country’s interests cannot be shelved. There are still borders to secure and security challenges to address.
Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the opening of the Knesset Winter Session
Honorable President Shimon Peres,
Madam Speaker of the Knesset,
Traditionally, at every opening Knesset session, the Prime Minister delivers a speech which presents the coalition and opposition members with the Government’s goals and the agenda it intends to lead during the months ahead. Due to the unusual political circumstances created and the upcoming election break, I have chosen to deviate from this tradition and settle for a short announcement.
Over the past month, negotiations were conducted on the formation of a government. I value and appreciate the worthy efforts made by Acting Prime Minister, Knesset Member Tzipi Livni, to form a government, and I regret the circumstances which led to the failure of the negotiations.
Approximately two months ago, I informed the Israeli public of my intention to resign following the establishment of a new government. It was my hope and expectation that such a government would be formed by the winner of the Kadima primary elections, before general elections. Since the die has been cast and it appears that the political system is heading towards elections, I will remain Prime Minister until the formation of a new government after the elections. I will do so with the same sense of responsibility and prudence with which I have acted so far, and thus, the appropriate distance will be maintained between the turbulent politics which characterize the election period, and the need to address the critical matters of state.
My friends, Knesset Members,
While the members of our Legislature will soon put their parliamentary lives on hold for a fixed period of time in order to prepare for the elections, life in the State of Israel does not stop and the country’s interests cannot be shelved. There are still borders to secure and security challenges to address. The security threats against the citizens of Israel do not wait for the political processes. The fear of terrorism cannot be postponed just because some of us are engaged in an election campaign. Hamas’ continued military buildup and the smuggling of weapons in the north and south do not stop just because we’re in the middle of an election campaign. Iranian leaders do not sit still, but continue to threaten and prepare destructive weapons – even during an election period in Israel. To all those I highly recommend not to try our patience or put our ability to the test.
Children continue to go to school and students want to return to their academic benches at the beginning of next week; there are still burning social issues, and the internal security problems call to us from newspaper headlines every day; the police must protect the citizens and their property – in their homes and places of residence – on a daily basis. Too many citizens are attacked without having anyone protect them properly. Too many road accidents exact a painful price in human life. We cannot abandon this responsibility while waiting for people to take time off from their busy political schedule.
Gilad Shalit is still held hostage by his brutal captors in the Gaza Strip and not a day goes by that I do not deal with this issue of the fate of Gilad Shalit. As in the past, I will not go into details, or provide explanations and will not enter into argument with all those concerned about Gilad’s fate. I will continue to work quietly, patiently, with determination as I have done until now, even if, unfortunately, his merciless captors still refuse to release him.
The sense of a pre-election stalemate is misleading – there are decisions to be made and a nation to run. Decisions will be made and the country will continue to be run.
Members of Knesset,
Allow me to dedicate a few words to the challenge which can affect the life and future of each and every Israeli citizen – the economic situation. It is no secret that the acute crisis which the global economy is currently undergoing could affect the Israeli economy, particularly if we do not exercise extreme caution. This situation compels both the Government and the Knesset to make preparations, even if the Government is a transitional one and the Knesset is heading towards elections. This is what the public expects, and it is exactly what we, as elected public officials, are committed to doing.
In fact, Israel began confronting the global crisis during the years which preceded the outbreak of the crisis, through a number of measured, responsible steps taken by the Government, which have turned the Israeli Shekel into one of the world’s most powerful currencies and allowed an unprecedented level of growth in this country.
Together with the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Israel, we initiated a socio-economic agenda for the State of Israel and acted toward increasing growth, encouraging export and productivity and raising the rate of employment to the highest it has ever been in the State of Israel. Indeed, the recent years have been the best years ever in the history of the Israeli economy.
Over the past three years, my Government has acted to ensure that the weaker strata of society would also enjoy the fruits of growth. We have done so primarily through employment. We have worked with those populations which are not part of the work cycle – the elderly, Holocaust survivors and those which struggle daily with economic difficulties. I have said before and I say it again: the fruits of growth must be used for minimizing social gaps, and also for development. We have no natural resources apart from one major resource – the human resource. It is therefore my intention to solve, within the next several days, the higher education crisis, and to allow the academic year to start as planned.
The fact that the situation of the Israeli economy is relatively better than that of other leading economies in the world does not relieve us of the duty to take steps to ensure that the global crisis will exact the minimal possible price from the State of Israel. The global crisis is not over and its shadow still threatens not only stock market investors and large or small companies, but the entire public. Our job as elected officials is to make sure that the public’s assets and economic security remain solid. And this is what we will do!
It is my intention, to hold consultations together with the Minister of Finance and the Governor of the Bank of Israel, with representatives of the various parties, including opposition members and representatives of various economic sectors, in order to ensure that we can continue managing Israel’s economy in the best, most responsible manner and minimize the effects of the global crisis on Israel. Together, we will discuss a series of necessary steps for the coming months, in order to guarantee the stability and strength of the Israeli economy. We will not tolerate recklessness and will continue to exercise strict fiscal discipline. I expect all members of this House to enlist and unite for the sake of this shared interest.
Thank you very much.