Thank you. Toda raba. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Richard. Your introductions are wonderful. I come here every year to listen to them. But you're wonderful, and I appreciate deeply the sentiment and the thought that accompanies your words. It's good to see my old friend Mort Zuckerman, with the other past presidents. You tell it like it is, fearlessly, and you always speak out for Israel, and you write for Israel. I hope people read it on print, but don't be discouraged if you have to move on to electronic pages.
Of course I'm delighted to be with Malcolm Hoenlein. I'll tell you something about Malcolm in a minute. The two distinguished ambassadors, wonderful ambassadors: the Ambassador of the United States of America in Israel, Daniel Shapiro. It's good to see you Dan. And an exceptional ambassador of France, Ambassador Christophe Bigot, who's been representing France in difficult times.
I spoke to President Hollande
recently and told him how much I appreciated the bold steps that France is taking against terrorism in Mali. I said, we face the same threats. We do - often the same people, the same weapons even. There's one small difference: they're here. They're here - hundreds of meters away, not thousands of kilometers away. But you know, there's a central lesson: if you don't stop them thousands of kilometers away, they get there too - to Paris, to New York and to Washington, everywhere. This is a global threat that we must face together with great unity and with great consistency.
Unity is what we are trying to achieve here. This is what you do all the time. You have diverse organizations. Somehow you are able to put aside your differences and find common ground and, Malcolm, that's almost as hard as forming a national unity government in Israel. So we'll have to talk about this later. But we need this unity because we're facing enormous external challenges and great internal challenges.
The three external challenges that we face begin with Iran. I spoke about Iran's plan to develop nuclear weapons. Its nuclear weapons program continues unabated. It's focused on enrichment because if they can continue and complete the enrichment of high enriched uranium, then they'll have enough to produce enough material to produce a nuclear bomb.
I drew a line at the UN
, last time I was there. They haven't crossed that line, but what they're doing is to shorten the time that it will take them to cross that line. And the way they're shortening that time is by putting in new, faster centrifuges that cut the time by one third, so that Iran is putting itself in a position to cross the red line and have enough material to produce one nuclear bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium. This has to be stopped, for the interest of peace and security, for the interest of the entire world.
How do you stop it? Well, you have to put greater pressure on them. You have to upgrade the sanctions. And they have to know that if the sanctions and diplomacy fails, they will face incredible military threat. That's essential. Nothing else will do the job. And it's getting closer.
The second challenge we face is in Syria. Syria is not one of the great economies of the world. It's not a developed country. And it certainly suffered tremendous tragedies in the last two years with great human cost. But this undeveloped country has the world's most developed weapons there. It has stockpiles of chemical weapons, and it has other strategic weapons - weapons that can change the balance of power in the Middle East. I've said before and I'll say it again: we will not sit idly by and let those weapons fall in the hands of terrorists.
And we have a third challenge, which is to advance a solid secure peace with the Palestinians. I believe that the framework for this peace is what I outlined in my speech in Bar Ilan University
: two states for two peoples - a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. I think to reach this solution we have to negotiate in good faith. Negotiating in good faith means you don't place preconditions. In the last four years, the Palestinians have regrettably have placed preconditions time after time, precondition after precondition. My hope is that they leave these preconditions aside and get to the negotiating table so we don't waste another four years.
These three great challenges, Iran, Syria and the pursuit of peace, are three of the main subjects that I intent to take up with President Obama when he comes here to visit Israel. I welcome him, I think this is a wonderful opportunity to reaffirm the strategic relationship between Israel and the United States. We have a great alliance. This is an opportunity to strengthen this alliance. I look forward to welcoming President Obama here in Jerusalem, here in Israel.
We've worked together very closely, closer than perhaps meets the eye and that people know here except a few people who are in this hall. We worked together on security; we worked together on diplomacy; we worked together on intelligence. The United States has assisted us in Iron Dome; we've assisted the United States in some delicate matters.
But that relationship is one of mutual values, mutual benefit, and when you look at the Middle East, when you look at this area and see the great power of freedom of the United States, looking at this area you see the swirling sands of the Middle East and there is one solid, reliable ally of the United States, and that is the State of Israel. I think that's become more apparent than ever, and it also must be apparent to you that when we look around the world we see one great friend, one great ally - the United States of America.
We also have great internal challenges. The first one is to continue the economic growth, the economic stability of the State of Israel. In the last four years we've done better than just about any other industrialized and developed economy. We've grown at 4%. I'm criticized for having a 4% deficit. Can you believe that? You can believe that given our performance, but I know of many European countries and even non-European countries who would like to have a 4% deficit. But we have to bring it down, certainly control it.
We want to secure the jobs that we've already created here; we've created hundreds of thousands of new jobs. But we have to keep on creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs to keep up with the growth rate of the Israeli population. Israel is probably the only western country that has natural population growth, which is probably a response to the wars of Israel and to the Holocaust. Israel is, I think, the only western country with a growing population, which means we have to keep on growing the economy. We have to do that with a responsible budget and with continual economic reforms. This is challenge number one.
Challenge number two is sharing the burden more equally, the burden of national service and military service, the burden of jobs. This is something that has been brought to the fore, it is something I am committed to doing. We have to do it without rupturing our society. It can be done.
The third, of course, is to bring down the cost of living - bring down the cost of living and especially the cost of housing. That too can be done.
These are important tasks. I don't think they're formidable. I think they're tough, but they're doable.
Last year when we spoke here I told you of another challenge that you can put a 'v' on, because we've solved it. We were being flooded by a tide of illegal job immigrants from Africa, and the future of the Jewish state, the idea of the democratic Jewish state, based on a solid Jewish majority, was being challenged by the flow of thousands of illegal job immigrants from Africa every month and that was going to go up to thousands and many more. You could easily get to ten thousand a month. Just multiply that over a few years and the future of the Jewish state would be imperiled.
We built up a barrier along the Sinai border, the border with Africa. Do you know how many illegal job immigrants have infiltrated into Israel's cities in the last seven months? Anybody want to guess? Zero.
So we're able to do the impossible. We're able to do great things. But we are able to do it only if we unite to do them. I think the tasks that I've outlined here, the three extraordinary external challenges and the many internal challenges that we have - we can do this.
But we have to unite. We don't have the luxury to be divided. We don't have the luxury to put sectorial interests or personal interests ahead. We have to form a broad national unity government. And as a result of this need and the experience you have, I have an announcement to make. Since Isaac Molcho is going to work, not in the negotiating team, but has to continue on the negotiating peace and advancing peace with the Palestinians, I've decided to include the unity specialists here. Malcolm, would you join our negotiating team? Could we borrow him, Richard, for a month? It could help me; it could help us.
But in all seriousness, what we have is this unity among us. We'll achieve a government here that maximizes unity, and I know that we'll work together with you to maximize Jewish unity, in the United States, in the Jewish communities around the world and here in Israel to secure the future of the one and only Jewish state.
I thank you for what you've done; I thank you for what you'll be doing. Thank you very much. Thank you all.