Head of the opposition MK Shelly Yachimovich to Prime Minister Netanyahu: “Be brave. We are your rivals on the one hand, but fate would have it that we are also here to protect you. On my word, we will not let you fall.”

The Knesset Plenum held a discussion with the participation of Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, after 40 MKs signed the Arab League’s initiative for a land swap as part of the Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

MK Zahava Gal-On (Meretz) opened the discussion and addressed the Prime Minister: “I called for this discussion along with the other opposition parties, because we are at a critical point in time. This is the time when your government must make historical decisions and we want to know what you plan on doing. We have a window of opportunity because of a moderate Palestinian leadership that is supported throughout the Arab world and because of an American government that is willing to help with negotiations; and your government is dragging its feet and placing sticks in the wheels of this process. You are stretching the rope and bringing the situation to a breaking point. Your ministers are suggesting dangerous and surreal options and your government is building in settlements and in East Jerusalem. Obama and Kerry’s messages that Israel must decide if she will cease to be a democratic country have fallen upon deaf ears. You tell the world that Israel does not want peace. The Arab initiative is a chance to start a multi-sided and regional process. How is it possible that everyone sees this as an opportunity, while the Prime Minister did not even take the time to verify about the change in the Arab opinion? You see every initiative to advance the political process as a threat and not as an opportunity. You must tell the Knesset whether you plan on responding to this outstretched hand by slamming the door on it. And if this is what you plan, you had better give the public a full account, because this decision will take a heavy toll on the whole public. Two previous leaders of the Likud saw things differently, Menahem Begin and Ariel Sharon. Now it is your turn. You have the responsibility and I hope, for all of our sakes, that you will pass this test. We, as the opposition, will expect actions, not words. Will you accept the Arab initiative? The answer is either yes or no, whether Israel will finish the occupation before the occupation finishes her.”

Deputy Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud Yisrael Beitenu) responded: “Today, the Israeli Government’s stance is that we want a negotiation. In order for this to happen, we need a second side. If this other side does not come, you can make peace with yourself. The formula the Left has posed has been tried in the past and has failed. During the Disengagement, we implemented this formula. We used a one-sided withdrawal, and yet still today people claim that Gaza is under the occupation. If you are interested in missile attacks on the whole population, tell that to the public and it will decide. In Gaza we have retreated to the ’67 borders. We have tried your dogmatic, distorted and not-thought-out ideas. Open your eyes. Since 1917 there have not been such changes in the region. You are familiar with history. Open your eyes and see what is happening. The government’s policy is to renew talks with the Palestinians at this very moment. You preach that we should return to the ’67 borders in the Golan Heights. MK Gal-On mentioned Begin, who made peace with Egypt. This wasn’t achieved by the Alignment, Meretz, Kadima or any other left-wing party. Begin made peace with a country that wanted peace. If, on the other side, there stands a leader who wants peace, we will make peace. There is no such leader. What more can we do?”

MK Binyamin (Fouad) Ben-Eliezer (Israel Labor Party) stated: “We live in a Muslim world that is more extreme and hates Israel more than ever, and that is engaged in internal conflicts between the Sunnah and the Shi’a. We cannot forget this. I am not one that condemns you. This is your chance, Prime Minister, to give our children and grandchildren an answer and to say: ‘Tomorrow morning I am sitting down with Abu Mazen.’ If you are willing, do it. If he isn’t interested? Let the world know that he’s not interested. Invite him tomorrow morning to your house on Balfour St. Let him say no. Then you can recruit the world to support you. The Americans are fighting for stability in the Middle East. Is stability possible? No. But we can separate our problem and start negotiations tomorrow.”

MK Aryeh Deri (Shas) said, “The esteemed Rabbi Ovadia Yosef supported peace with Egypt, but there needs to be mutual peace, otherwise there is no peace at all. There is no doubt that the circumstances of the past 15 years have shown that ‘I speak for peace, they speak for war.’ Peace in the form of the Disengagement? Modest farmers lived there, righteous men and women, the salt of the earth. They embodied the People of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the State of Israel all at once. And what have we gotten in return? Tens of thousands of rockets. This is stupidity. Therefore, the balance between longing for peace and making sure of Israel’s safety is the government’s responsibility. Yitzchak Rabin told me when he formed the unusual government of the Israel Labor party, Shas and Meretz, that before we make peace with our enemies we need peace within ourselves. We need inner strength in order to hold talks. I am sorry to say that this government, though it may have a legitimate structure, its results, the incitements by some ministers, the decrees [are not]. More than a million citizens do not sleep at night not because there is no peace but because they are poor.”

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) stated: “The government that leads to war is engaging in a war against the people, with budget cuts that wage war against the lower and middle classes but do not take anything from companies. You have lowered taxes on corporations in the past decade. The tax on large companies must be raised to what it was in the past and we must take from the tycoons to benefit the people and to stop cuts to services. We must make housing projects for those who cannot pay the rent, and give solutions for the development towns and the Arab sector.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded at the end of the discussion: “We have many tasks: lowering the cost of living, first and foremost with regard to housing. All these tasks have one condition- continuing growth. We have succeeded in the past years – we are one of the only countries that has grown by 4-5%. The goal is to continue. With a GNP of 32,000 per person this is very difficult. There are four ways to proceed: The first is to continue the structural reforms, the most important of which is the reform on the sea ports. Second, is to receive a large cut from the market. This is why we plan to expand exports to China, that stand today at 2.5 billion dollars. We can and must expand exports. There will be two committees from both countries to connect Israeli experts with Chinese government officials. Third, we will develop the gas market. Fourth, we are acting to increase the integration of the Haredi and Arab sectors into the job market. Everything is available. By advancing these topics we can sustain growth, which will enable us to minimize the social gaps. We can do all of this because we stand at a strong starting point. Stanley Fischer said that our financial state is good, and very good as compared to other western countries that have not ridden the depression as well as we have. Our growth is among the highest in all western countries. There is a deficit. There were large deficits in 2003 and 2009. I, along with the Minister of Finance am committed to minimizing this deficit. We will continue to work towards improving the standard of living. ”

Netanyahu also said that Israel is stronger than ever. “When it is necessary, we defend ourselves. There are threats. I have been asked: Why do I say that Israel is the most threatened country in the world? Because it’s true. Tens of thousands of rockets are pointed towards Israeli cities. We have to provide defense solutions that will never be perfect, along with an offensive solution. I do not close my eyes or try to paint the reality brighter than it is. In order to deal with reality we must act in three areas: We must recruit the international community to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. All other problems will be dwarfed if Iran arms herself with nuclear weaponry. Iran has 180 Kilos of 20% enriched uranium. They haven’t yet crossed the red line I drew before the UN but they are close. I ask you to turn your attention to another part of the world, a volatile country that is becoming nuclear. This cannot happen in Iran. The elections in Iran will not change a thing. Along with the arms race there is the continuing Jihad. Israel will continue to prevent advanced weaponry landing in the hands of terrorists. Syria is ever-changing and could blow up at any moment. There is an atrocious slaughtering of its citizens. We are following the reports on the worrisome use of chemical weapons. When dangerous weapons come into the hands of dangerous forces, there is no guarantee they will not use them.

“The citizens of Israel want peace, and so do I,” added Netanyahu. “I speak with Secretary of State Kerry a number of times a week. Anyone familiar with the secrets of negotiations knows that the Israeli side is not the one avoiding and placing traps. There is a side who is coming forward, and there is a side moving away and avoiding. Most importantly, we mustn’t exhaust the talks before they’ve started. We mustn’t hold endless negotiations about beginning negotiations. We listen to every initiative and are willing to discuss any motion that is not a requisition. These things I’ve expressed are being told in the public sphere and in the diplomatic channels. I call upon Abu Mazen to set aside his pre-conditions and to come and talk. I will use a language we both understand and say: Give peace a chance. How will you go about doing this? Don’t miss an opportunity. In order to complete negotiations we will need to address two problems: Recognition and defense. They say the reality has changed. The reality here changes so quickly, that we must make sure we can defend ourselves after we’ve signed an agreement. I am not requiring anything as a condition to begin talks, do not do this either. Otherwise we will waste another four years. I have made many difficult decisions regarding defense, and now I am also willing to make such decisions, but not ones that will endanger us. We are not the only ones who must make difficult decisions, the Palestinians must also. I hope Abu Mazen will respond to my invitation. I have invited him in front of the UN and the Knesset, and here I do so once more. Despite all this, in the past four years we have only spoken some single hours.”

Leader of the opposition, MK Shelly Yachimovich (Israel Labor Party) responded to the Prime Minister: “Enough with the threats. We have not been annihilated, nor will we be in the future. There are many powers advancing the two-state solution, the main one being you. You are advancing this by doing nothing, by fumbling, by not taking initiative. This leads us, in reality, to actualizing the script of the two state solution. Your actions do not match up with the Zionist dream, not to be a victim of the circumstances and rather to conduct our fate. This is not the national camp but rather the dual-national camp. The security of the state is dependent upon leaving this frozen status.

“It is not as if suddenly the world has fallen in love with us, however the axis of Iran, Syria and the Hezbollah gives us the chance to weaken those who want to wipe us off the map and to strengthen those who oppose them. While doing this, we can also advance negotiations with the Palestinians. To reach an agreement and a two state solution. This is a very lofty goal, and no one is under the allusion that we will reach it tomorrow. It is allowed to be critical about our abilities to reach this goal, but we must set this goal, and in the meantime, reach interim agreements. Although they set pre-conditions and are not fully ready to talk – we are. Why should we be their captives? Every achievement and agreement strengthens us so much, so what is it that makes you so closed? We can obtain strengthened ties, recognition. We will get rid of the burden of being one of the four most hated countries in the world. We were never there in the past. Our credit ratings will rise and investors will come to us happily, even without bizarre tax cuts.”

Yachimovich added that the new political map creates an equally strong opportunity as the one the geo-political changes creates. Yachimovich quoted MK Yitzhak Cohen`s (Shas) letter to Netanyahu: “’The Arab League’s initiative grants Israel de facto recognition as the Jewish state, along with cautious hope for reaching an inter-religious truce… I call upon you to leave no stone unturned and to inspect the initiative.’ The initiative grants an opportunity and we are for it. It must be adopted, not as is, but as an important declaration of interests. On the day of elections I received an SMS from Yair Lapid personally promising a political negotiation. This message was probably not only sent to me, but I have no doubt that he will fulfill his promise. He clearly stated that ‘I will not sit in a government that will not hold talks.’ Add to this the Minister of Justice, who is in the government solely for this purpose.”

Yachimovich stated that, “As head of the opposition, I am offering you a coalition of shadows, so to speak, that doesn`t want to join the Government, doesn`t want portfolios or jobs – the coalition of your dreams, in which will be the overwhelming majority of the opposition and most of the members of your coalition. I am placing this offer at your doorstep like a ripe fruit that is waiting for you to use. Be rational, realistic, pragmatic. Be brave. Make it so that your last term as prime minister will be remembered. See the global and national opportunity that is before you and take advantage of it. You can stop at any stage, you can always return to your old ways and opinions. The members of your coalition and party are making your life miserable anyway, so what have you got to lose? We may be your rivals, but as fate would have it, we are also here to protect you.”

”Though we are not able to disengage from the world, this is not the reason we should take this new opportunity. We should not do it for the empires, but for ourselves. We must start by realizing our fate is in our hands. People told me to say that this is our last chance. Why do I need to scare you? We are strong. History shows that the Jewish people have inner strength and the ability to weather any storm. We should not take this opportunity out of fear. We have the tendency to look at the region as a set of interests. We must be strong, but at the same time, we must see the hope. We mustn’t say ‘a day may come’. We must bring that day about. The biggest dreamers barely exist anymore, but the depth of skepticism is the same depth of our longing for peace. Rabin, Begin and Sharon were no less patriotic than you, yet each of these men chose bravery and hope. Enough with the horror scenarios. We deserve more,” concluded Yachimovich.

50 MKs supported the Prime Minister’s announcement, and 40 opposed.