… We share a common dream – to reach peace with our neighbors. There is good reason for me to hope, realistically, that in the next several weeks we will renew the peace process with the Palestinians without any preconditions. For some time, I have said that the international community has learned to recognize that Israel wants and is ready to renew the peace process. Since the moment that recognition was internalized, central players in the international arena have begun to accept the practical feasibility of such a step.
There is a saying: it takes two to tango. In the Middle East, sometimes it takes three to tango, or at least to start to tango. Later, I suppose, we will be able to continue on as two.
I hope there is a willingness on the Palestinian side – not only to build up the Palestinian economy and Palestinian institutions, but to begin to build the peace itself. The only way to achieve a peace agreement is to begin conducting negotiations towards a peace agreement. If this willingness really does exist now, we will see a renewal of the process in the next several weeks.
I know that one of my predecessors, Ariel Sharon, spoke from this podium about disengagement. Today I would like to speak not of disengagement, but rather of engagement: engagement with our heritage, with Zionism, with our past and with our future here in the land of our forefathers, which is also the land of our children and our grandchildren.
You are dealing with our people’s fate because it is clear today that the fate of the Jewish people is the fate of the Jewish state. There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state. This doesn’t mean that the Jewish state does not face tremendous challenges, but our existence, our future, is here. The greatest change that came with the establishment of the Jewish state was that Jews became more than just a collection of individuals, communities and fragments of communities. They became a sovereign collective in their own territory. Our ability as a collective to determine our own destiny is what grants us the tools to shape our future – no longer as a ruled people, defeated and persecuted, but as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as "a light unto the nations."
In order to continue ruling our own destiny, we must establish our collective ability in three main fields – in security, the economy and education. I do not intend to expand on the security field today, other than to say that we must continue nurturing and strengthening our military force. The weak do not survive in the geographically difficult space we live in, nor is peace made with the weak. The State of Israel is strong and can guarantee both our existence and peace with our neighbors. However, I want to be clear: our security needs can and will increase over the next decade, and even over the next two decades.
We are entering another world, one in which the aggressor has certain advantages. He can launch projectiles – not even missiles, just pieces of metal with a primitive engine, fuel and explosives – and for us to strike down this flying ball of metal, we have to make a huge investment. Sometimes, under such conditions, the aggressor has an advantage and we must work hard in order to negate that advantage. It is in our power to do so, but it will cost a great deal.
Security demands a strong economy. A strong economy provides strong security. Without a strong economy, we cannot meet the State of Israel’s security needs in the next decade, or our education needs, or our health needs or our need to fight crime and drugs and the plague of alcohol. All this demands money. Where will the money come from? It will only come from economic growth. There is no other source to fund these needs, and it will take billions.
Increased taxation is not the solution: it will only shrink our tax revenues. There is no better way than growing our GNP by 4% or 5% per annum over many years, as we experienced over the past decade. There is no better way to finance our security needs.
Can an economy that approaches a per capita income of $30,000 continue to grow year after year at the rate of 5% per annum? I believe it can. The way to ensure this is to constantly free up the economy. As long as there are limitations and competition in the economy, as long as our taxation levels are not the lowest or among the lowest in the world, we will have engines for growth. By freeing up the economy and reducing our tax rates, we are constantly growing and will receive tax revenues that will allow us to finance our existential needs, as well as our future ones.
In the coming weeks, we will present the government with a number of initiatives. First: a national transportation plan that will connect the entire country through a network of trains and roads and help people be mobile. Second: a revolutionary reform in planning and construction that will allow entrepreneurs to build in the north, the south, the center of the country, here in Herzliya – everywhere. It will no longer take years; it may take months. Plans won’t have to go through clerks or nerve-wracking procedures; a great proportion of the process will be done on the internet. Then the approvals will arrive, some automatically, and one just needs to report them.
We have already begun the planning and construction reform, the national transportation network and the freeing up of land, and have laid the groundwork to them. All these plans encourage growth, as will other plans I will detail in the next year. Strengthening the economy is an integral part of these plans. I want to clarify that the State of Israel is already considered a regional economic powerhouse, and in my vision, we will establish and fortify our position as a global technological powerhouse.
This is a necessary condition, but it is not enough, because a strong army and a strong economy are not enough of a guarantee for our existence here if we are not committed to being here from the outset. This, distinguished guests, can only be created through one thing – through education.
Education is the melting pot in which our national strength is forged. It has two parts: acquiring the tools and knowledge to deepen our children’s capabilities; and excellence – getting the most from each child and giving him the ability to learn math, to learn English, to learn computers, to learn science, to know how to compose a sentence, to put words together, express himself. All these abilities are essential, and they are what the Minister of Education is working so hard for. This is a central issue, but it is not the main thrust of my comments here tonight.
Tonight, I refer to something even more basic. I am talking about educating children about the values connected to our identity and heritage, teaching children to know our people’s history, educating young people and adults to deepen our ties to one another and to this place…
In other words, our existence depends not only on a weapons system, our military strength, the strength of our economy, our innovation, our exports, or on all these forces that are indeed essential. It depends, first and foremost, on the knowledge and national sentiment we as parents bestow on our children, and as a state to its education system. It depends on our culture; it depends on our cultural heroes; it depends on our ability to explain the justness of our path and demonstrate our affinity for our land – first to ourselves and then to others…
We must find the balance between integrating into the world at large and maintaining our identity and our uniqueness… We must get a much broader group of young people interested in our Zionist heritage and continually encourage them to identify with the people of Israel and the Land of Israel…
At the end of next month, on Tel Hai Day, I intend to present the government with a work plan that will reverse the neglect of heritage sites. We initiated a national plan to rehabilitate and strengthen infrastructure at heritage sites. I call it the "Heritage Plan." We are going to preserve tourist sites, archaeological sites, historic buildings and museums. We will also preserve less physical and tangible infrastructure, such as archives, photographs, films, books, songs and music. We will make all these available to the general public. We will utilize new technologies and free up these works so that they are accessible to every boy and girl in Israel, every house, every family, every citizen…
The plan of which I speak will be financed with government funds and will be spread out over five years. It will encompass a broad range of activities, projects, organizations, authorities and the education and information system – and it is only the first stage. Our commitment is to breathing new life into the Israeli experience. I am talking about rehabilitating those same assets that tell the story of the people of Israel and the Land of Israel; the story of the Jewish settlement; our artistic assets; our nostalgic spirit and memory. A significant portion of those assets are being destroyed or disappearing, and we will take them and preserve them, and fortify them and we will explain them in a way that is accessible to an audience, in simple and clear language. And all this will be integrated into the education system that serves the children of Israel.
We recently learned in a study that the teenagers who are highly motivated to serve in the military are those who have travelled the country extensively. The example I like to give, which is a highly successful one, is the Israel Trail. It has been a tremendous success. Within a decade, the project’s founders have succeeded in transforming this trail into a desirable destination, one that attracts a huge number of young people and not-so-young people. By travelling the Trail, they become familiar with the country and connect to it.
According to the plan I will present to the government, we will, within five years, inaugurate two additional trails alongside the Israel Trail. One is the historic Land of Israel trail, which will connect between dozens of ancient archaeological sites. Within our tiny piece of land, there are 30,000 ancient sites, 800 of which have clear national importance. Sadly, only 50 of those sites are open to the public, and even they are not in great shape. That is going to change on a huge scale. The second trail will be the "Israel Experience" trail. This trail will include the treasures of our country, and will serve as a living Land of Israel museum. It will connect between dozens of stops celebrating the history of the Jewish Yishuv [the Jewish community before the establishment of the State of Israel]. It will include historic buildings, settlement sites, small museums, memorial sites and personal stories – all of which are part of our Zionist heritage…
The second project, also a modest project, was one that fired the imaginations of young Jews. It was Baron Rothschild’s project. He established villages at several sites after the Palestine Exploration Fund had been here, from Rosh Pina to Petah Tikva. These new communities revived the ancient land though not on a huge scale; there were only several thousand people living there. However, this action ignited a blaze. One of the people who was carried away by this blaze was a young Jew who came here in 1898 – Benjamin Zeev Herzl. He visited all these places and understood what was here, and much more. He dared to dream about what could be. These two blazes are what ignited the greatest empire to rule the world and the new prophet of the Jewish people and many other young Jews – these two blazes merged together and became Zionism.
I won’t tell you that we don’t have tremendous tasks to undertake in all the important fields. We do have them, and we will undertake them. But we will do so only if we are committed to our past in order to ensure our future… Our purpose today is to reignite the flame, to introduce a new spirit into the blaze of our lives and reconnect with this land – our land – the unique and singular Land of Israel.