I listened attentively to your remarks. Some of them sounded familiar because four years ago, I stood here at the beginning of the previous term and people explained to me that any second now the coalition would fall apart, in three months the government would fall. Three months passed and they said, "The government will fall in three more months". The government did not fall, and not only did it go on – it went on and did a great deal in four years.
I thought that perhaps people would be more careful in their estimates. I remember that people said that the components of the government were disconnected from each other, that there was no glue holding the different parts together, that there was no common path, etc. Well, I can tell you as I am a veteran in this house that with the establishment of any government – and any government is a coalition of constraints unless you have 61 members of Knesset, which has yet to happen – at the beginning of any new coalition, especially one with so many new members of Knesset, nearly 60, including young people – which I welcome because there is a lot of vigor, energy and initiative. However, at the beginning of every coalition there are labor pains.
In any event, and although you do not compel me to do so, at the 40 Signature discussions it is my custom to look back at what the government has accomplished, as well as the Knesset. So I would like you to note what the coalition, the government and the Knesset have accomplished in less than three months despite these labor pains. First of all, we pasted the Open Skies reform. We reformed the automobile market. We passed a budget in the government. We approved a new law that will assist us in removing illegal infiltrators seeking jobs from Israel.
Let me remind you that in May of last year there were thousands of illegal infiltrators. This past May, there were two. Of course, they did not enter Israel's cities. And we are also working to return the illegal infiltrators to their countries of origin or other countries, in agreement. So far, 4,000 have left; 56,000 remain. I estimate that if we had not taken these actions, with the Knesset's assistance – through legislation, the fence and other means that we are exercising – we would face a flood of hundreds of thousands of illegal infiltrators.
So I say now to the members of the opposition: I understand what you are saying, some of you in the opposition, and I think you are mistaken. There is no right for illegal infiltration into the State of Israel. There is the question of refugees and we respect that – we are working in accordance with our humanitarian and international commitments. However, we have no duty – no duty – to absorb hundreds of thousands here. And I want to tell you that I speak with leaders around the world. Many of them come here, a great many – heads of state, foreign ministers. In the framework of my duties as Minister of Foreign Affairs, I meet with dozens of foreign ministers and many leaders as well. I meet them and many of them tell me "what a pity" it is that they did not act as we did in time to prevent illegal infiltrators who arrived in such large numbers that it changed their country's fate. I refer to the actions we undertook over the past four years, including the past three months. It is praiseworthy and it is important.
We also formulated an outline to equalize the burden, something people have waited for for 65 years, and I tell you, members of Knesset, and not just you but to all your colleagues and to the public at large: we will do so while respecting the ultra-orthodox public, through dialogue, as we have for the past four years. Allow me to remind you, there were 300 ultra-orthodox who joined the Israel Defense Forces in 2007, if I am not mistaken. That rose to 1,500 in 2012 –and that is in the IDF, not national or civilian service. And we intend to continue in this vein of dialogue and mutual respect in order to reach our target of several thousand more, and I think it is important to us and it is important to every section of this house. We do not have the privilege of causing rifts among the people, to tear the people apart. We see rifts among the people in countries surrounding us. Rifts, implosions and explosions, fissures and outbursts all across this region – from Morocco to Pakistan. The only stable countr people would believe anything about the Jews – including people considered great figures in history.
Herzl had one solution. Like Twain, Herzl believed that only with the return of the Jews to their homeland, which he expressed during his visit here in 1869 – only if the Jews returned to this land, would they be reborn in larger numbers. However, here Herzl parted ways with Twain who believed that the Jews would be victorious in any situation and under any conditions. Herzl was more cautious, much more cautious. He wrote: "No people may be saved except by itself, and the Jewish question can only be resolved by the Jews". And to this end, he demanded that the powers grant the Jews sovereign and settlement rights that we could defend with a Jewish army. Why an army? He understood very well why an army, and because of this demand, he was branded a crazy person. Demanding a Jewish army at the end of the 19th century!?! He understood very well that there would be a struggle here.
He also called for a policy that would rule out relying on the kindness of other peoples and countries, but not because he was an isolationist. He was far from an isolationist. He was cosmopolitan in the best sense of the world, but he was also a realist. The State Visionary saw the country in his vision, but first he saw the dangers and the path to creating a national force to defend us from the ongoing danger.
In his speech before the Maccabean Club in London, Herzl emphasized the point of accumulating private strength. Don't rely on the help of strangers and don't rely on their generosity. This will soften the stones because even the most charitable people give donations that humiliate the individual – and stones never grow soft. A people that wishes to be reborn, he said, must take care of everything on their own – be independent materially, spiritually and in terms of strength. This was not a dream. It was the most realistic, reasonable prognosis that could be made at the time.
Now the Jewish state has been established according to Herzl's vision, and it indeed unified Jewish knowledge as it was during Herzl's time. The Nobel Peace Prize was established at the end of the 19th century, and since then, the Jews have continued contributing to humanity – more than 20% of Nobel Prizes have been awarded to Jews, as if there were a billion Jews in the world and not 14 million. And the State of Israel has more Nobel Prize winners than any other country in relative terms given our population size. The contribution to humanity continues, but there still is a fundamental realization that tikkun olam, fixing the world, does not protect us – it simply does not protect us because the beliefs against us persist.
In a survey conducted by the BBC, they asked which country had the most positive effect on humanity and which country had the most negative effect. Israel was named in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and today – I am not the bearer of good tidings, although there has been a certain improvement over the past two years, the past four years. But we are continually on the bottom of that list alongside Iran and it does not matter what we do. It does not matter what we contribute. It does not matter because we are not dealing in facts.
The blackening of the State of Israel, the description of us as rejecters of peace, as warmongers, as a dark country that aspires to cs house, and he said something very true. He said that our economic situation is good, and it is very good in relation to other western countries, which did not weather the economic crisis as we did. And if you talk about the problems they have, they would happily switch places with us.
Growth here is among the highest in western countries. Unemployment last year was the lowest it has been in 30 years, and more than 300,000 jobs were added to the labor market. The gaps have also narrowed over the past two years, a change in trend that we must fight to continue. We have a problem I am not ignoring; we have a problem with our deficit which we will fix. We had larger deficits in 2009 and in 2003 – and we took care of them. Together with the Minister of Finance and the other ministers, I am committed to reducing the deficit so that Israel's economy will succeed. We will all continue to work together to improve the quality of life, but first we must ensure life itself.
The State of Israel is stronger today than ever, and when necessary, we act strongly and decisively to defend ourselves. There are considerable threats surrounding us. I heard one of my colleagues here ask why I say that we are the most threatened country in the world. Why? Because it is true, because there are tens of thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israel's cities, and not only at our cities, and we must provide a defensive solution to this. No solution will ever be perfect, but we must take the offensive.
I never had the attribute of closing my eyes and glamorizing reality; that is not why I became Prime Minister. In order to deal with the complex security reality that surrounds us, we must act in three areas. First and foremost, we must make every effort and we must mobilize the international community to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. All the problems I just described, which are substantial, dwarf in comparison with the challenges we will face if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. To date, Iran has accumulated more than 180 kilograms of 20% enriched uranium. Little more than six months ago, they had 110 kilograms, and today they have more than 180 kilograms. They still have not crossed the red line I laid out at the UN, but they are methodically moving closer to it.
I call your attention to what recently happened in another part of the world, when a rebellious nation entered the nuclear age. It cannot happen in Iran. And I ask that no one delude themselves: the election results in Iran will not change anything. And alongside Iran's arms race for a nuclear bomb, it continues to arm Syria, the Hezbollah, Hamas and Global Jihad. Israel will continue to make every effort to prevent advanced weapons from reaching Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations. This is the policy I set and we are continuing it.
I say here and I have said to all the leaders of the world – to President Obama when he visited Jerusalem and in talks we held afterwards, to President Xi of China in Beijing, and to President Putin of Russia during the meeting we held recently in Sochi; and I get the impression that the world's leaders take what I say seriously. They take it seriously first and foremost because we stand behind our words as best we can. They take it seriously also because the Syrian arena is very volatile and it changes with the blink of an eye. We are witness to the horrible slaughter of civilians that is occurring there, and we follow with great concern the reports of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. When dangerous weapons reach the hands of dangerous groups, there is no guarantee they will not use them. We are familiar with the well-known saying that when you see a gun in the first act, it will probably show up again in the third. And therefore our policy is to prevent such weapons from reaching these dangerous hands. We are doing so with a great deal of discretion, experience and determination.
The citizens of Israel want security and they want peace, and I want security and peace. I speak with Secretary of State Kerry several times a week. All those who are privy to the talks know that Israel is not the side evading negotiations, placing obstacles to renewing negotiations. There is a side that is moving closer and there is a side that is pulling away or to be more precise, evading. I think the most important thing is not to try to exhaust the negotiations before they even start, not to conduct endless negotiations about the negotiations, not to impose preconditions, but rather to begin negotiations.
By the way, we are attentive to any initiative; the Arab initiative was mentioned. We are attentive to any initiative and we are ready to discuss any initiative that is proposed and that is not a dictate. We are in favor of immediate negotiations without preconditions. These things are said in public and they are said in private through diplomatic channels.
So I call on Abu Mazen to put aside the preconditions and come to talk. You know, since he doesn't speak Hebrew and my Arabic is not very good, I will appeal to him in a language we both know and I say to him in English: Give peace a chance. Give peace a chance. Now, how will you give peace a chance? How do you do it? Don't miss the opportunity. Don't miss the opportunity.
In order to complete these negotiations, we need to address two fundamental problems, and they are recognition and security. I heard the members of Knesset say that reality has changed; let us not miss the opportunity. Please: the reality has changed; let us not miss the opportunity. Reality changes so rapidly that we need to ensure that after we sign something, we will be able to defend the peace and ourselves. Our security demands are very well defined, very clear and we raise them in various forums. However, I do not impose them as a condition to entering into negotiations, and I say to Abu Mazen: You too have demands; you too have positions; do not impose them as conditions to entering into negotiations; otherwise we will waste another four years.
During my three terms as Prime Minister, I made numerous difficult decisions in the fields of the economy, foreign policy and above all security – and now too, I am ready to make difficult decisions to advance peace, but not those that will endanger the security of Israel's citizens. And we not only need to make difficult decisions, the Palestinians will also have to do so as well. I know this, only I am not afraid to begin negotiations here and now with no preconditions. I hope Abu Mazen will accept this invitation. I was asked by members of Knesset, "Why don't you say this? Why don't you invite him?" I invited him at the UN; I invited him in Washington; I invited him from the Knesset podium. Time after time after time, and here I am doing so again. Over the past four years, we have only spoken for several hours. Not including the 18 years of negotiations that were conducted before that – only a few hours. This is not how to achieve peace. We need to sit down, raise the various demands and positions of both sides and try to reach genuine peace.
Sources: Prime Ministers Office