PM Netanyahu’s remarks at the opening of the Knesset winter session

The last time I stood here was before Operation Protective Edge. During that operation to defend against criminal terrorist attacks, the State of Israel showed the entire world what decisiveness, force and unity are. These values found supreme expression among the people and the army and above all in our soldiers who were injured, our soldiers who fell and their families.

I know that I speak on behalf of the Knesset and the entire nation when I stand with you in your heavy grief, my brothers and sisters in the family of the bereaved. I know that I speak on behalf of us all when I send our wishes for a full and speedy recovery to our injured soldiers. I visited them in the hospitals, like many of you did, and I was deeply moved by their courage and their desire to return quickly to their friends on the battlefield.

During this fight, during Operation Protective Edge, our soldiers stopped a multi-pronged attack that had been planned by Hamas over many years. This attack was intended to inflict mass casualties on the citizens of Israel, to kidnap our soldiers and to hold our citizens hostage. Hamas launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and tried to attack us through raids on land, at sea, in the air and underground. We stopped the vast majority of them. We intercepted the rockets; we destroyed dozens of tunnels; we killed hundreds of terrorists; we toppled terror towers; and we killed many of the terrorist commanders. We dealt Hamas the heaviest blow it has ever been dealt and we conveyed a very clear message: whoever tries to harm our cities and citizens will pay a heavy price.

I would like to thank again the soldiers and commanders of the Israel Defense Forces, as well as the members of the Israeli Security Agency and the other branches of the defense establishment. Thank you, soldiers of the IDF, for your heroism and courage. We are proud of you. You defended the country in a military campaign and the country will defend you in the legal and public diplomacy systems. As I did recently in the United Nations, we will expose the lies and deceitful libels directed at the IDF, the most moral army in the world, which in Operation Protective Edge fought the most just war. Israel will continue to stand tall, secure in the justness of its path, proud of its people and its army.

The heroism demonstrated by our young soldiers – which some people doubted – their heroism and the unity of the people when faced with extremely difficult conditions, when Israel stood alone against the forces of radical Islamist terror, the fact that we stood together and fought as we did, that we came together, is a tremendous source of hope: Hope for security, hope for the future, and yes, hope for peace as well. This strong and unified stance allowed us to soundly reject Hamas dictates which would have endangered the State of Israel.

What we need today in the diplomatic campaign is that same decisiveness, that same strength and that same unity. Because here too there are those who wish to dictate terms to us that will endanger our security and our future and will push the peace that we so long for further away. Because what the Palestinians demand from us is the establishment of a Palestinian state without peace and without security. They demand a withdrawal to the ’67 borders, the entry of refugees and the division of Jerusalem. And after all these unrealistic demands, they are not ready to agree to the fundamental condition for peace between our two peoples – mutual recognition. While they expect us to recognize their nation-state, they refuse to recognize our nation-state. They also are not ready to agree to long-term security arrangements that would allow us to protect our country.

Instead of conducting bilateral negotiations without preconditions, they act unilaterally at the UN and in the international arena in an attempt to dictate the establishment of a Palestinian state to us – not in order to end the conflict, but rather to continue it. It won’t help them. Peace is only achieved through negotiation by both parties; any other path will only undermine stability. Israel will not agree to a Palestinian state without a real peace agreement – an agreement in which Israel is recognized as the nation of the Jewish people; an agreement that will include solid and long-term security arrangements on the ground, through which Israel will be able to defend itself by itself when faced with any threat.

There are those who tell us, ”Give up land ahead of time, draw a map and only later determine the security and other arrangements. It’ll be fine!” And I ask them, ”It’ll be fine? Like it was fine after we withdrew from Gaza? Like it was fine after we withdrew from Lebanon?” I am not a prime minister for whom the phrase ”it’ll be fine” is enough. I ask a simple question: What is the point of defining a border if we do not know what country we will get on the other side of that border? Will we get another Gaza? Another Iran? Or perhaps we will get several sub-states, raging, stormy countries, as is happening right now in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, almost everywhere. Perhaps some ISIS republic? I know that these questions do not concern various parties in the international community and apparently in our national community here. I know they do not concern parliamentarians in Europe, but as the Prime Minister of Israel responsible for the wel l-being of eight million citizens of Israel, they concern me incessantly.

And with regard to security, I am not willing to compromise. I am not willing to make do with vague statements about commitments to Israel’s security, statements that have no practical validity in reality. Because what will determine the outcome is not pretty words on paper, but rather the soldiers in the field. So I ask: Who will these soldiers be? Who will prevent the manufacturing of rockets in Nablus and Jenin? Who will prevent the digging of terror tunnels from Tulkarm and Qalqilya towards Israeli cities? Certainly not UNIFIL. According to you, which forces will ensure the peace and prevent terror attacks from the territories vacated? That is the question. Well, I think you will agree with me that it will not be UNIFIL. UNIFIL was supposed to prevent the arming of Hezbollah after our withdrawal from Lebanon and Hezbollah has armed itself ten times over. It will certainly not be UNDOF, which abandoned its positions in the Golan Heights a nd escaped to Israel. By the way, I am not complaining about any of these bodies. It is not their job to fight terrorist armies. It is not their mission or in their skillset.

But the question is: who can we trust? Well, there are those who say – and I hear it here – perhaps we can trust the Palestinian Authority’s security forces. These are the same forces that were defeated within hours, days, several days, by the terrorist forces of Hamas. This is reality and therefore I do not think I am saying anything you haven’t already heard before when I say that in defending Israel, there is no replacement for the soldiers of the IDF. This is a simple fact and it is joined by another fact: Over the past 20 years, since the rise of radical Islam, any territory we vacated was seized by these forces who attack us from the territories we left. Therefore, when faced with radical Islamist forces that repeatedly knock on our door from all sides, when faced with Abu Mazen’s incitement and his cooperation with Hamas, there is no alternative to taking a strong stand in our demands – including a long-term security presence in the J ordan Valley and our right to act anywhere there is a danger to our security.

I reiterate for my colleagues in the Knesset: I do not want a binational state, but I equally do not want the establishment of another Iranian proxy that would endanger our very existence. I said previously and I repeat: A peace agreement is possible when the following formula is present – a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. To that end, the Palestinians must recognize our basic need for a nation-state of our own. They need to accept mutual recognition and genuine security. Experience has shown us that if we relinquish these demands and follow the ”it’ll be fine” method, then nothing will be fine. There is no doubt that we will receive many compliments; we will be praised, as will I, for two days, two months, perhaps even two years, but within a short period of time we will pay an unbelievably heavy price and we will continue to fight for our lives under much worse circumstances. And therefore we have no choic e but to stand firm and strong against all pressure.

I address you, MK Herzog. What I just said is not popular in several world capitals, but we must stand up for the truth because peace cannot be built on a foundation of lies and illusion. The truth is that the root of this conflict was and remains the refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders. Buji, one of the people I greatly admire who did the exact same thing is your father, the late president, Chaim Herzog. As Israel’s ambassador, he stood at the podium in the UN and tore up the resolution equating Zionism with racism. That was a great moment for the people of Israel. I thought of your father when I heard Abu Mazen stand at that same podium and call us not only racists, but perpetrators of genocide – no less. I wish to say to you, Buji, and to all of you: Standing up for the truth is not a political matter, related to the coalition and the opposition. It is a national matter. It is also an international matter in light of all th e baseless slander directed against the State of Israel, Zionism and the IDF. I expect that you will stand with me against anyone calling our people racists, our soldiers perpetrators of genocide, or our citizens defilers of Jerusalem. These statements encourage the escalation we are witnessing in Jerusalem, and we will use all the tools at our disposal against this escalation until quiet is restored.

We are maintaining the status quo and allowing everyone access to the holy places, and we will continue to do so. There is broad consensus in the public that Israel has the full right to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem and the settlement blocs. This is the basis of consensus, or at least I thought so. All Israeli governments over the past 50 years have done so. It is even clear to the Palestinians that these places will stay under Israeli sovereignty in any future agreement.

The French build in Paris; the English build in London; the Israelis build in Jerusalem. To say to the Jews not to live in Jerusalem – Why? Because it will ignite the situation? For some people there is no convenient time to build houses for Jews in Jerusalem or in other part of our country, and if it were up to them we would not have built a single house over the past 65 years because it was never the right time.

Let me tell you something: In the eyes of certain parties in the area, our existence is what is igniting the situation. So do we stop existing? For thousands of years, the Jews have been praying ”Next year in Jerusalem”. And you are telling us not to build? Not now? If not now, then when? And the answer will be ”never”. Well, we are building as we have built from the very establishment of the state and even before then – as we built Har Homa, as we build today, and we are building today as governments of Israel have built before and there should be broad consensus about this.

There is one misconception that must be uprooted: Violence is not the result of
building in Jerusalem. The cruel terror that struck at a three-month-old baby for whom her parents had waited for so long, a baby in her stroller on the way back from the Western Wall with her parents who wanted to pray and thank God that she was born – this terror is not the result of building in this or that section of Jerusalem. It is the
result of our enemy’s desire that we not be here at all – nowhere, in no part of Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv either, not in Haifa, not in Beer Sheba, nowhere.

For this reason, since the birth of Zionism, building has been the natural and decisive answer to those who plot against our existence and want to uproot us from our land. They seek death while we build lives here. There must be a desire for peace on the Palestinian side as well. Unfortunately, at this time I do not see this desire and I also do not see any pressure on the Palestinian side. On the contrary. I only see pressure on Israel to make more and more concessions without receiving anything in return and without any assurances. Let me be clear: No pressure from without or from within will do any good. I will not concede our fundamental demands for life and peace, and first and foremost security.

Israel will never lose hope for peace, but that does not mean that we must be swept up by false hope. If we were to follow every haphazard and irresponsible initiative offered every other day, Hamas would already have dug tunnels to Kfar Saba and it would have fired thousands of mortars at Ben-Gurion Airport. So ladies and gentlemen, have some patience and a lot of responsibility because there is hope. Change is taking place slowly but surely – important change – among the leading countries in the Arab world, which agree with Israel in regard to many of the challenges we face. They understand that the greatest dangers we share come from radical Islam. We will continue to examine possibilities with them to advance regional solutions that can also help resolve our conflict with the Palestinians. People always say that an agreement with the Palestinians will lay the groundwork for our relations with the Arab world and there is some truth to tha t. But there is another truth: That an agreement with the Arab world can help us regularize our relations with the Palestinians. A regional agreement would be best for everyone.

Just recently Israel and Jordan signed an agreement to supply natural gas. Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the signing of the peace accord with Jordan. Such agreements in the fields of energy, transportation, trade, agriculture and medicine are practical; some are already being implemented and they can serve Israel and the moderate states in the Middle East in the goal of creating a common front to seizing opportunities and deflecting dangers.

Members of Knesset, there is no greater danger to the future of our region than Iran’s attempt to become a nuclear threshold state. In the fight between radical Shi’ism and radical Sunnism, the greatest danger is that one of the sides will become armed with nuclear weapons. I reiterate: Beating ISIS and leaving Iran as a threshold state is winning the battle and losing the war. I hope that the international community will not make a historic mistake by easing the sanctions imposed on Iran and leaving it with the ability to enrich uranium for a nuclear bomb in a short period of time. Let me be clear: Israel, which Iran is threatening to destroy, will always maintain its right to defend itself.

Members of Knesset, one can recognize these challenges, but one can also chose not to see them. They can be swept under the rug, put to the side and we can deal with other things, some real and some fabricated, but what I said here cannot be removed from reality. These are real things and we must deal with them. However, even when looking at all these challenges, I am not overcome with pessimism. I am not pessimistic at all because I see our strength; I see our progress; I see the fact that Israel is a modern, civilized and advanced country whose strength increases from year to year.

I see it in our breaking into new markets – in China, India, Japan. I see it in the Tel Aviv skyline, in our roads, in our trains, in the junctions and bridges we are building across the country to connect the Galilee and the Negev to the center of the country. I see it in the optic fibers we are laying from Metullah to Eilat. I see it in the fact that Israel is becoming a global cyber power. Nearly 10% of all investments in this area around the world are made in Israel and that is amazing. I see it in the fact that our unemployment rates are the lowest in the world. And I see it in the fact that Israel is the only country that succeeded in stopping illegal infiltration across its borders. I see it in the development and equipping of the Iron Dome system, which changed the face of the military campaign and saved many lives. I see that there are still problems, but I believe that that same strength will allow us to do all these things, to w ithstand all campaigns, including last summer’s. That same strength will allow us to overcome these problems, and one of the most important of them is the cost of living.

We will join forces in the goal of finding a resolution in this area as well: breaking up cartels, smashing monopolies, lowering import taxes. We took important steps in the previous government to lower the cost of living, such as introducing free education from the age of three, which saves hundreds of thousands of families 800 shekels per child, and we still have a great deal to do in this government.

These are our two greatest challenges: To protect life and to improve the quality of life – security, prosperity, welfare and peace. These are our missions and together, I hope with your help as well, but certainly with God’s, we will succeed.

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