Address by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
On Presenting the New Government to the Knesset
May 4, 2006
Mr. President and Mrs. Katsav,
Speaker of the 17th Knesset, MK Dalia Itzik,
Outgoing Members of the Government,
New Members of the Government,
Members of Knesset,
Congratulations to you, Madam Speaker, on your election to this prestigious role. This is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that a female member of Knesset is serving as Speaker. You are deserving of this position. For many years, you have served in senior positions in the Knesset and the Government. You are very familiar with the halls and procedures of this institution, the heart of Israeli democracy. Now, you have been given an amazing opportunity to shape its future proceedings, and determine, together with the members of Knesset, the patterns of work, relationships and content which will leave their mark on public life and the system of government of the State of Israel in the coming years. I wish you, on my own behalf and on behalf of the members of Knesset, luck in this important and demanding position.
Members of Knesset,
On April 6, 2006, the President assigned me the task of forming the Government. At the conclusion of the coalition negotiations, conducted with wisdom and responsibility by teams from the various parties, agreements were signed and the new Government's basic guidelines were drafted – they are now before you.
At the beginning of the week, I informed the President that I had succeeded in forming a government. In recognition of this great privilege and heavy responsibility, in modesty and humility, I ask today for the Knesset's vote of confidence in the Government that I am presenting.
In the outgoing Government, it was my privilege to serve as Acting Prime Minister for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. I stood beside him in times of uncertainty and fateful decisions, and I admired his courage, equanimity and powerful leadership. Even when everything around him was stormy and turbulent, Arik remained in the eye of the storm, quiet and confident, his hand holding the wheel steady and focused. His successful term as Prime Minister will be remembered as a founding chapter in the annals of the State.
Unfortunately, after he led the State of Israel as a loved and admired Prime Minister, and led us to remarkable achievements in a bold and far-sighted policy, Ariel Sharon's health failed. From here, on behalf of the Government of Israel, in the name of the Knesset and the citizens of Israel, I express my hope and prayer that Ariel Sharon will live to see the realization of his political vision.
Yesterday, the State of Israel celebrated its 58th Independence Day. How great is the difference between the situation that the people of Israel were in on May 14, 1948 and our situation today. At the time of the Declaration of the Establishment of the State we stood, only three years after the Holocaust, with our backs to the wall. With meager resources and weaponry, we stood in a desperate military defensive against an invasion, whose declared purpose was the eradication of the newly born state. We were but a step away from extinction. The pages of history of the State of Israel since then are full of heroism, sacrifice, magnificent creation, construction, settlement, massive immigration absorption and a free and enlightened democratic government. The cycle of hostility around us, the war and terrorism, bereavement and pain, did not cease for one minute and did not stop the bursting vitality and the progress and prosperity of the State of Israel. This miracle is unprecedented in the history of nations.
From its birth, the State of Israel advocated two founding bases – the Jewish base and the democratic base: the supreme value of a “Jewish state”, at the same time with the uncompromising demand that the democratic state of Israel will provide “complete social and political equality to all its citizens, regardless of religion, race or gender”. These two bases embody the core values of the renewed Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. If you take one and disconnect if from the state, it is as if you cut off its lifeline.
Therefore, those wishing to look directly into our past, see the reality of our lives and look to the future, must do so with both eyes open – the Jewish eye and the democratic eye. Only then, with both eyes open, do the colors of Israeli society come together into one clear, vivid and meaningful picture.
I, like many others, also dreamed and yearned that we would be able to keep the entire land of Israel, and that the day would never come when we would have to relinquish parts of our land. Only those who have the land of Israel burning in their souls know the pain of relinquishing and parting with the land of our forefathers. I personally continue to advocate the idea of the entire land of Israel as a heart's desire. I believe with all my heart in the people of Israel's eternal historic right to the entire land of Israel. However, dreams and recognition of this right do not constitute a political program. Even if the Jewish eye cries, and even if our hearts are broken, we must preserve the essence. We must preserve a stable and solid Jewish majority in our State.
Therefore, we must focus on the area in which a Jewish majority is secured and ensured. The disengagement from the Gaza Strip and Northern Samaria was an essential first step in this direction, but the main part is still ahead. The continued dispersed settlement throughout Judea and Samaria creates an inseparable mixture of populations which will endanger the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state. It is those who believe, as I do, in Jabotinsky’s teachings and in full civil equality between Jews and Arabs, who must understand that partition of the land for the purpose of guaranteeing a Jewish majority is the lifeline of Zionism. I know how hard it is, especially for the settlers and those faithful to Eretz Yisrael, but I am convinced, with all my heart, that it is necessary and that we must do it with dialogue, internal reconciliation and broad consensus.
This does not mean that the settlement enterprise was entirely in vain. On the contrary. The achievements of the settlement movement in its major centers will forever be an inseparable part of the sovereign State of Israel, with Jerusalem as our united capital. Let us come together around this consensus and turn it into a uniting political and moral fact.
The strength of this nation is in its unity. I will not help those wishing to cause a rift among the sectors of our nation. It is my intention to take all future steps through continuous dialogue with the wonderful settlers in Judea and Samaria. We are brothers and we will remain brothers.
From this podium, I again address the elected President of the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas. The Government of Israel under my leadership prefers negotiations with a Palestinian Authority committed to the principles of the Roadmap, which fights terror, dismantles terrorist organizations, abides by the rules of democracy and upholds, practically and thoroughly, all agreements which have thus far been signed with the State of Israel. Negotiation with such an Authority is the most stable and desired basis for the political process, which can lead to an agreement which will bring peace. This is what we desire.
The guidelines of this Government propose this. The parliamentary majority which will back the Government policy is committed to this process. These conditions cannot be blurred. We will not, under any circumstances, relinquish these demands as a basis for negotiation.
The Palestinian Authority must make fundamental changes in its patterns of behavior, its reactions and its commitments to the principles which are the basis for any future negotiations.
A Palestinian Government led by terrorist factions will not be a partner for negotiation, and we will not have any practical or day-to-day relations.
The State of Israel is prepared to wait for this necessary change in the Palestinian Authority. We will closely follow the conduct of the Authority. We will continue to strike at terror and terrorists. We will not hesitate to reach terrorists, their dispatchers and operators anywhere – I repeat – anywhere, but we will give the Authority an opportunity to prove that it is aware of its responsibilities and willing to change.
That said, we will not wait forever. The State of Israel does not want, nor can it suspend the fateful decisions regarding its future – until the Palestinian Authority succeeds in implementing the commitments it undertook in the past. If we reach the conclusion that the Authority is dawdling and is not planning to engage in serious, substantial and fair negotiation – we will act in other ways.
We will also act without an agreement with the Palestinians to create an understanding which will, first and foremost, be founded on a correct definition of the desired borders for the State of Israel.
These borders must be defensible, and ensure a solid Jewish majority. The Security Fence will be adjusted to the borders formulated east and west. The operational range of the security forces will not be limited, and will be in accordance with the security reality with which we have to deal.
The State of Israel will invest its resources in areas which will be an organic part of it. The borders of Israel, which will be defined in the coming years will be significantly different from the areas controlled by the State of Israel today.
This is the Government’s plan, it is the basis for its existence, it is the commitment made to the Israeli electorate whose trust we asked for – and received.
The agreement to which we aspire to shape the Middle East is based on consensus, broad consensus first and foremost within ourselves, and thereafter with our friends around the world.
No political process, certainly not one as fundamentally decisive and comprehensive as the one for which we are preparing, can be realized without the understanding of many officials in the international community. We have no intention of acting alone. We will consult, discuss, talk, and I am certain that we will reach understandings which will create a broad base of international backing for these steps, first and foremost with our ally and close friend, the United States led by President George Bush, and also with our friends in Europe.
Israel strives to improve the understandings and agreements with the countries of Europe. Today’s European leaders better understand the complexity of the situation in the Middle East. They understand that there are no simple solutions, certainly given the upswing in fundamentalist religious fanaticism in various countries in the Middle East, and the ascendancy of the pro-Iranian Hamas to the Palestinian Authority. We will deepen dialogue with Europe and strive to include its leaders in the dialogue process with the United States.
I aspire to deepen the ties with Arab countries. Egypt and Jordan, countries with which we have peaceful relations, have leaders who are inspirational. President Mubarak and King Abdullah the Second are welcome, credible and responsible partners – for those goals which I defined. I will do all that I can so that our relations with Egypt and the Jordanian Kingdom will continue to strengthen, and serve as a basis for diplomatic and open relations with additional Arab countries.
The threat emanating from Iran is casting a heavy pall over the entire region and is endangering world peace. The pursuit by this rogue and terror-sponsoring regime of nuclear weapons is currently the most dangerous global development, and the international community must do its utmost to stop it. The statements by the President of Iran should not be taken lightly – he means what he says. The State of Israel, which is targeted for destruction by the evil leaders of Tehran, is not helpless. However, only a decisive and uncompromising international stand against Iran's goals can eliminate this threat to world peace.
Members of Knesset,
The domestic arena in Israel necessitates in-depth transformation. The State of Israel must place at the top of its agenda the good of the citizen – the newborn baby, the pupil, the soldier, the student, the working man and the elderly. The citizens' right to live in dignity, to receive better service from the State institutions and to enjoy economic well-being by reaping the fruits of their labor, should always be borne in mind.
Following the Declaration of the Establishment of the State, Menachem Begin said: “In our nation, justice will be the supreme ruler, the ruler of all rulers. There will be no tyranny, the public servants will serve society and not dominate it. There will be no parasitism. There will be no exploitation. No one in our homes – be it a citizen or a gentile – will be hungry or homeless or unclothed or deprived of basic education. ‘And remember that thou was a servant in the land of Egypt’. This supreme decree will determine our approach towards our neighbor. "And thou shalt pursue justice” – this supreme decree will guide the relations between our people".
This concept will guide us in our attitude towards every citizen, either Jewish or non-Jewish. The rights of the minority are craving to be fulfilled, and we will act vigorously to fulfill them.
The gaps within Israeli society are unacceptable. The continued trend of widening gaps is a sure recipe for loss of social solidarity. The State of Israel will lose its moral standing if it evades its responsibility towards the weaker populations – the elderly, the pensioners, the Holocaust survivors, the disabled, the ailing, the children at risk, battered women and those targeted for illegal trade – all those needing protection and assistance, including the children of foreign workers who grow up among us and love our country, and wish to be part of it. It is not only our duty towards them. It is first and foremost our duty towards our moral standards. The Government will act tirelessly to reduce social and economic gaps. We will formulate a detailed plan to combat social hardship, act to improve the health system and particularly the health basket components. We will continue adhering to the correct economic policy, with the aim of diminishing unemployment and creating a climate which will enable more members of Israeli society to join the labor market and earn a decent living.
In recent years, harsh violence has become part of our daily routine – stabbings in places of recreation, hooliganism on Israel's roads and city streets, rapes, robbery and murders. Israeli society must defend itself. We must place the personal safety of the citizens of Israel at the top of our agenda. The Government will act tirelessly to uproot violence. We will combat crime and violence – which constitute domestic terrorism – with the same determination with which we fight terrorism from the outside. The Government will uphold the rule of law, and act to eradicate corruption from all areas of our lives, including corruption in government authorities and public apparatuses, and will protect, with all its might, those involved in enforcing the law, first and foremost, the courts, and especially the Supreme Court of the State of Israel.
Members of Knesset,
Road accidents are a national calamity. The Government will immediately begin implementing the national program to combat road accidents. We will make certain that the roads are a safe place for the citizens of Israel.
The Government will act to improve the education system, from nursery school to higher education. The education system must provide knowledge and skills which are instrumental to functioning in a modern world: analytical skills, creativity and teaching of the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We will also act to deepen and bolster Jewish education in State schools. We cannot speak of a Jewish state without having its content known to each and every student. In conjunction with formal education, we will strive to enhance informal education, primarily the Zionist youth movements which must regain their natural place as pioneers leading Israeli youth.
Over the last 15 years, the State of Israel has experienced a tremendous wave of immigration from countries belonging to the former Soviet Union. This immigration was a great blessing to the State of Israel. The immigrants from the former Soviet Union are now an essential component of the total strength of Israeli society. Their contribution is dramatic – culturally, academically, industrially, in technological innovation, security, medicine and education. We are proud of the immigrants, and embrace them to our hearts with love and gratitude. Continued immigration is an important element of the growth and prosperity of the Israeli economy and society and the consolidation of our national security. We will act to strengthen our bond with our Jewish brothers in the Diaspora, particularly with the younger generation.
Jerusalem as the capital of Israel will “be elevated above the chief joy” of the Government. We will work to transform Jerusalem into the political, cultural and business center of the State of Israel and the entire Jewish people.
The Government will act to develop the Negev and the Galilee and consider them as areas of national priority. The national plan to develop the Negev and the future plan to develop the Galilee will create a real revolution in these areas. It is a huge challenge which the Government takes upon itself, with a sense of mission.
The Government will continue to uphold the principles which guided its economic policy over the last few years, and will especially preserve fiscal discipline, maintain deficit growth of no more than 3%, and an overall spending ceiling yet be determined, which will, in any event, not deviate from the growth rate of the population of the State of Israel. Responsible economic management, integrating into the international economy, encouraging foreign and local investors, and changing social priorities within the framework of the total national expenditure – are the basis for the economic policy which will continue in the future.
Members of Knesset,
It is my pleasure to present the Government, which is, however, not final. I intend to expand it, and include additional partners in the coming days. I believe I can complete the negotiations, and reach an agreement with United Torah Judaism and Meretz. I wanted, and still want, the Yisrael Beitenu Party to join. Thus far, this has not happened.
These are the names of the Government members and their positions:
Ehud Olmert – Prime Minister and Minister of Welfare
Shimon Peres – Vice Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee, Responsible for Regional Economic Development
Tzipi Livni – Acting Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Amir Peretz – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense
Eli Yishai – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor
Shaul Mofaz – Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Transportation and Road Safety
Yaakov Edri – Minister (Liaison between the Government and the Knesset)
Ariel Atias – Minister of Communications
Rafi Eitan – Minister Responsible for Pensioners
Zeev Boim – Minister of Immigrant Absorption
Binyamin Ben-Eliezer – Minister of National Infrastructures
Yaakov Ben-Yizri– Minister of Health
Roni Bar-On – Minister of the Interior
Avi Dichter – Minister of Internal Security
Avraham Hirschson – Minister of Finance
Yitzhak Herzog – Minister of Tourism
Eitan Cabel – Minister (Responsible for the Israel Broadcasting Authority)
Yitzhak Cohen – Minister (Responsible for Religious Councils)
Meshulam Nahari – Minister
Gideon Ezra – Minister of the Environment
Ofir Pines-Paz – Minister of Science and Technology
Haim Ramon – Minister of Justice
Meir Sheetrit – Minister of Construction & Housing (Responsible for the Israel Lands Authority)
Shalom Simhon – Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development
Yuli Tamir – Minister of Education, Culture & Sport
I ask for the Knesset's vote of confidence in me and my Government.
And now, Madam Speaker, allow me a few personal words. It is customary to say that the responsibility entailed in filling the role of Prime Minister in a state such as ours is almost extraordinary when compared to a similar role in any other country in the world. I am aware of the weight of responsibility that I shoulder, if you place your trust in the Government, and the immense burden involved.
I will do my utmost to be worthy of this trust. I will mobilize all my inner strength for it, apply all the values I learned at home from my parents, Bella and Mordechai Olmert, who taught me and my siblings that there is nothing more important than the welfare, wholeness and prosperity of our small, tormented, brave and talented country.
For thousands of years, the life of the Jewish people has been an unending struggle for its right to exist. Exactly 58 years ago, we realized the generations-long dream of our people, here in this beautiful land, which is unlike any other. We established the State of Israel, and earned the privilege of sovereignty over our lives in our land.
Now, the responsibility to ensure its future has been bestowed on us. I wish my colleagues in the Government which I head and myself that we will be deserving of this great privilege granted us, that we will be wise, responsible and brave enough to know how make it secure, and protect it from those who wish it harm, that we will know how to maintain proper dimensions and necessary balances to strengthen the hope which beats in so many hearts, and to bring joy, peace and security to our country and its citizens.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.