I know we have the desire to advance the political process, and I hope that the Palestinian Authority will also demonstrate such a desire.
Note: By law, 40 Members of the Knesset are needed to summon the Prime Minister for a discussion in the plenum on a subject of their choice. This may be done once a month.
Next week, I will travel to the United States for the annual meeting of the Jewish Federations of North America… Of course, I will also meet with senior officials of the US administration, including Vice President Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I greatly appreciate the efforts being made by President Obama’s administration to find a way to advance the political process. I know we have the desire to advance it, and we are taking action, as we have in the past. I am certain that the United States shares this desire and they too have taken and continue to take steps.
I hope that the Palestinian Authority will also demonstrate such a desire, and that they are not looking for excuses to avoid talks with us that would advance security and peace between us. There are countless preconditions that could be imposed as an obstacle to talks. We put them aside, and we expect the Palestinians to put them aside as well.
I will give you an example of what I mean from our side. This morning, the Cabinet held a discussion. During the discussion, work being carried out for almost six months was presented, work that is led by Minister Yaalon, to try and measure as objectively as possible the level of incitement in the Palestinian Authority. There are some unpleasant things happening there. I do not refer to the statements by this or that individual. I am talking about official schoolbooks, about the media controlled by the Authority.
The most serious characterization that arose from the materials the Minister showed us was not an argument about borders or certain settlements, but rather the negation of the State of Israel’s right to exist in any borders. This is not expressed in one single article or unusual statement, but all the time. To say the least, this does not advance reconciliation between peoples or increase our desire for a peace agreement. This is no small matter. This too was an official obligation that the Palestinians made.
By the way, the Wye Agreement, and later on the Roadmap, both outline a series of obligations. I mention this here not to dwell on this matter, but rather to demonstrate the fact that preconditions could be brought up and could be tied to all sorts of previous agreements. This could be done. We chose not to do so, and I am not doing so now. I promise you that I have brought up and will continue to bring up this matter, and it should be mentioned. It too must be given a real answer in the framework of the peace process. For now, I raise this to demonstrate the fact that we need to begin talks without preconditions and to complete them, or at least try to complete them.
Anyone with any common sense can see that this process demands fairness and telling the truth. It did not fail because there was a lack of activity by the Israeli government. If it failed, it failed because of an assumption made by the Palestinian Authority that perhaps they could circumvent or avoid the need for direct negotiations by moving straight on to international dictates or coercion, out of the assumption that they would get the credit, despite the actions taken and statements made by the Israeli government, simply because they believe that there is an international choir which would perhaps be joined by people within Israel who say: "Don’t confuse me with the facts. Israel is guilty of something or other, and therefore we don’t have to enter into this process." I believe that we all share a national need to change the Palestinians’ perception, to clarify to them that there is the broadest possible consensus in this regard and that we will seriously examine whether or not we have partner for peace and security, because these two things go together, as I said here on many previous occasions…
The most important problem that Israel is facing is the attempt to negate our legitimacy.
People say: "It is not unjustified to say that the willingness to enter into this process somewhat weakens the attempt to delegitimize Israel," although in my opinion it is not just a procedural matter, but should be fully exhausted and lead to an agreement. There is some truth to this statement. If one has to pay endless costs just for the luxury of having a process, it is like a man standing on a street corner. What I’ll tell you now is a recipe for immediate popularity. Stand on a street corner. If you have some money in your pocket, try this: give 100 shekels to the first person passing by, and to the second and the third. Everyone will crowd around you and everyone will come to you and pat you on the back and tell you you’re a heck of a guy. But soon enough, you’ll be in a situation where you’ll be bankrupt.
Therefore, this effort, the negotiations we are conducting over this piece of land where we are standing, from which we grew and where our future is – we cannot be spendthrifts, overly generous or frivolous. There must be a stance in the face of the claims constantly being waged against us, without just cause. This does not mean we cannot use certain tactics. However, I believe that we know the truth. It is the truth. The truth is that there is great willingness on Israel’s part for a genuine peace process. The truth is that there is not a similar willingness on the part of the Palestinian Authority.
I believe that, given the assumptions I outlined, and hopefully not because of a desire to avoid decisions and genuine compromises with the State of Israel, the desire to confront that same propaganda and incitement I mentioned, to face it as we have had to do with our own people, and say: this is the cost of an agreement – and the cost of an agreement is first and foremost to recognize that we will be here. We have not seen these conditions ripen. I hope we will be convinced otherwise. However, in order to know if it can happen, we need to enter into the process, and there need be no argument about this, and there certainly should be no self-flagellation or blame laid on us or about us, because it is simply not appropriate or right.
Mr. Speaker, I was here three weeks ago, during the opening of the Winter Session. Since then, we passed a two-year budget on the first reading. A wage agreement that I welcome was achieved between the government and the Histadrut, between Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz and Histadrut chairman Ofer Eini. I believe this is an important step; it prevented the same strike and confrontations we have witnessed in other places in the world. This stability, both of the budget and of labor relations, are very important for the Israeli economy.
We must ensure our economic strength, and we still face a number of problems. We will have to act and approve a list of steps in various fields. I have previously said that first and foremost, we must confront the problem of real estate. This is the growth engine. In order to overcome this problem, I will need the help of the members of Knesset to pass the third, critical stage – the reform of increasing construction, as well as transportation, including paving roads north and south in the Galilee and the Negev. In addition to the reform of the Israel Land Administration, the reform of planning and construction is a central component of resolving the housing problems in Israel. Without the land reform, no lands will be made available.
Regarding two other topics that have been raised by the media over these past three weeks since we spoke. First, higher education: we just invested NIS 1.3 billion as a first step for the next two years, in the framework of the NIS 7.5 billion we are going to add over the next five years to higher education, above and beyond the regular budget. This is a very large allocation, and I cannot recall a similar one over the past decade. It could generate a real revolution in higher education for the benefit of students and all the people of Israel. We also passed, at the initiative of Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, a resolution introducing a plan that would provide former soldiers and graduates of the National Civilian Service in the Galilee and the Negev free academic tuition for one year.
Finally, with regard to the married full-time yeshiva students: I have already said that regarding university students, we did something that has not been done in the past ten or even 20 years. However, with regard to the yeshiva students, the same arrangement has been in effect for the past thirty years… The most important thing we can do is encourage this public to work… This public must be brought to the understanding that they must begin or continue on the path towards assimilating into the labor force.