Zionism has won. Herzl yearned to see the State of Israel established and outlined its image. Today it is a global success story. The revival of our people is considered a wonder – just as Herzl’s contemporaries considered him a wonder: a prophet without a kingdom, a statesman without a state, who, like a lightning bolt lit up the dark skies of the Jewish existence in exile.
Herzl worked in a hostile environment. He internalized the dangers of anti-Semitism as no other person before him had. He repeatedly called attention to the disaster – that is what he called it – the disaster that would strike the Jews if they did not revive their country. He wrote about this disaster, “I cannot imagine what appearance and form this will take. Will it be expropriation by some revolutionary force from below?” In other words, would anti-Semitism come from the masses? Or, he asked, “Will it be proscription by some reactionary force from above?”, from the rulers. “Will they banish us? Will they kill us?” Herzl foresaw the destruction of the Jews of Europe with clinical precision, there is no other term for it, decades before it occurred.
And I must say here and, I am certain, on behalf of us all that to our great chagrin Herzl died too soon, and the country was established too late. Imagine how much more strength we would have had, Zionism would have had, if the six million were with us when the country was established, and the millions of their descendants would be with us today. Herzl understood the urgent need for a state for the Jews – a country, he said, that took shelter in the shade of a strong army. It is the duty of any responsible leadership to recognize the dangers in time, to warn against them and to prepare for them. Herzl did not get to see the state established in his short lifetime, but he did transform us, he transformed Zionism into a political power that had to be taken into account.
He met with very powerful rulers, and he was always unapologetic and filled with faith in the justness of our path, and he never once allowed for self-doubt or self-recrimination – another thing we should learn from him. Herzl wanted to create a partnership of shared interests with the leaders of the world powers, a partnership that would allow the Jews to leave their countries and come to their national homeland. He shook the dust of exile off us and instilled us with a belief in our strength. He imbued us with national pride. He encouraged us to take our fate in our hands, to see ourselves not as a diaspora, but rather as a people, one people. Herzl poured the foundations of the state and we are building the State of Israel, tier by tier.
I ask myself, as many of you most certainly do as well, what Herzl would say if he could see the tremendous construction, the paving of roads, the economic growth, the absorption of immigrants, the scientific and technological innovations, even the fact that the Jewish state just discovered gas in the ocean and will remove it from there, to the benefit of all our citizens.
Following in Herzl’s path, we are expanding our ties with countries around the world. Of course this is not reported, but every week, every day, high-level officials visit here and they are very enthusiastic about what we have accomplished in the 68 years of our independence. They are profoundly impressed by our prosperous country. Yesterday, I met with the Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and his government. We sat with the ministers of the Israeli government, and he emphasized his great appreciation, as well as our countries’ shared interests, the need to cooperate in a range of fields – technology, science, cyber, the economy, energy, medicine, agriculture, everything. That is just one country, but the situation repeats itself several times a week. It will repeat itself in several weeks, when I travel to four countries in Africa – only four because I can’t travel to a dozen or even twenty. All of them are impressed with the creation that is the State of Israel.
Members of Knesset, today I met with the Prime Minister of France, Manuel Valls, who is a friend of Israel, and I emphasized that our government wants peace. I told him that I seek to advance the political process with the Palestinians, based on the outline of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, with the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. I am ready to take steps, brave steps, with our neighbors, with the help of additional partners in the region – the Arab countries with which we are also strengthening our ties. The Palestinians will be able to establish their own country, but such a state must be demilitarized and recognize Israel at the nation-state of the Jewish people.
These two principles – demilitarization and mutual recognition – are not conditions for beginning peace negotiations. I do not impose conditions on opening negotiations. The opposite is true. I believe that only by adopting these two principles, can we bring about a successful conclusion of political negotiations. However, the process must be direct and bilateral negotiations without preconditions and without international diktats.
In order to guarantee our ability to deal not only with the challenges we face, but also with the various opportunities that are the result of the changes to the geopolitical situation, and because of the different attitude towards us from various Arab countries, I am doing everything I can to expand the government. I said I would do so when we formed the government last year, and I continue these efforts to establish the broadest government possible. The door is open to anyone who wants to provide support for the benefit of the country. We have no other land and we also have no other country. We have one country, a wonderful country, that we must protect and advance. We are proud of it, and I am certain our children and grandchildren will also be proud of it. There is still much to do and much more to mend, but I must say that there is no justification for the perpetual whining by certain circles. Israel is a stable country. Look at the surrounding region; it is almost the only stable country and it is modern, innovative and democratic, and the Knesset proves it. It is a country that spreads light in a dark region.
Two weeks ago, on the eve of Independence Day, near the grave of the visionary of the State, Benjamin Zeev Herzl, on Mount Herzl, another Herzl stood – Herzl Biton. He lit the torch in honor of the citizens of Israel, who have stood strong when faced with over a century of terror attacks. He said enthusiastically, “In honor of the people of Israel, who are unparalleled in the entire world, and for the glory of the State of Israel.” I saw Herzl Biton, we all saw him, and I was nearly moved to tears. It was an uplifting moment, a moment of clarity, of purity. Herzl Biton reflected a simple truth: Herzl’s vision has been realized and we are fulfilling it.
Herzl lit the spark; we have nursed the flame into a light that will never go out. We will safeguard Herzl’s memory, we will cherish his great contribution to our people, to our country. May his memory be blessed.