I wish to talk today about the tomorrow. But in order for there to be “tomorrow” we must be strong in the present and in the future; and for there to be peace, we must be strong in the present and in the future.
For peace to be maintained, we must be strong in the present and in the future. Because a peace accord that compromises our security will not endure, and I will never compromise the security of the State of Israel and its citizens.
Therefore, when we talk about “tomorrow” I talk about a tomorrow of peace, security and also prosperity.
I will begin with security.
We face great challenges. From Morocco to Pakistan there is an earthquake. It’s changing the face, not only of North Africa and the Middle East, it’s changing the face of the world. It’s unprecedented; it’s turmoil; and it’s unclear. There’s a struggle in this vast region between medievalism and modernity. And it’s not yet clear who will have the upper hand. The jury is still out.
Now, I’m convinced ultimately that the forces of modernity, of freedom, of information, of education – that these forces will ultimately win out. But ultimately is not good enough for the Jewish people. Ultimately the forces of light overcame the forces of darkness in the last century, but our people paid a terrible price in between. That will not happen again. I will not let it happen again.
So Israel must remain strong. And the greatest threat that we face is that the most dangerous weapons in the world fall into the hands of the most dangerous regimes in the world – especially one regime. We cannot allow Iran to achieve nuclear weapons.
Now, mind you, the people of Iran, they want a better tomorrow. The election results show that very clearly. But Iran’s dictator denies them their rights and he prevents them from materializing that better future. The first thing the newly elected president said was that Iran must be guaranteed its rights. He didn’t say: the Iranian people must be guaranteed their rights. He said: Iran must be guaranteed its rights. And the right that Iran stresses that it must have a guarantee on is to develop nuclear weapons.
This is what this regime is about. So we may be seeing a change in style, but not a change in substance. In fact, the president elect is the author of a doctrine that I call “Talk and Enrich” (enrich nuclear material): You smile, you talk and you move forward towards the bomb. He takes great pride in the fact that when he was Iran’s nuclear negotiator, that’s exactly what he did for many years. He criticizes the past president for not engaging in this tactic to achieve the unchanging and fixed strategy of arming Iran with nuclear weapons.
We cannot allow the Iranian regime to play that game. Now there’s a critical test, and the test is not what they say, but what they do. And what they have to do is to abide by the international demands, stop all enrichment at all levels, remove the nuclear material that’s already been enriched and shut down the illicit nuclear facilities. I say to the international community: keep up the pressure, keep up the pressure and keep to those demands.
This is fundamental for international security, and it’s fundamental for our security.
Number two: Prosperity.
You know the old joke: How do you make a small fortune in Israel? Start with a big fortune. No longer true. There are ways to make big fortunes – many ways. And in Israel, we’ve shot ahead. Ten years ago I was the finance minister. Our GDP per capita was about two thirds of the leading European countries. Today we’ve taken over; we’ve passed the Mediterranean tier of countries; we have $32,000 per capita income, top low for me…
I said we’d get there and people said: no we couldn’t, it’s a fantasy. We grew at 5% a year because we instituted these reforms of a market economy and competition and enterprise and innovation. Those are abundantly available in our people. And what began in the 1980s with reforms to import into our markets continued – and many other reforms that made our per capita income shoot forward, and this gives us the money to improve our education and our health system and our roads and our railroads.
We once had the economy of a developing country, remember that? Just a few years ago, Israel as an emerging market. We’ve emerged. We’re a developed country. We’re one of the most advanced technological countries on earth.
So today we lead the OECD, the club of advanced economies, in sustained economic growth, and we did this through the innovation of our people: by opening up our economy to competition, enterprise, to the genius of our people.
Now all this must continue. We have to sustain, in this decade, the same 4-5% growth rate that we just had in the last 10 years. How do you do that? It gets harder. As you get higher and higher in the income level it gets harder and harder to sustain such growth, but it is possible. And we’re going to do it.
We’re going to do it first by continuing domestic reforms. You’re very lucky if you have an inefficient bureaucracy. You’re surprised. You see, an inefficient bureaucracy is like a boot, a heavy boot and a coil spring. And when you take off that boot, that spring uncoils. That’s growth.
And so we’re going to institute those remaining reforms we need to modernize the Israeli economy. And one of the things, the first thing we’re going to do is to modernize our inefficient ports and open them up to competition. We’re going to change that. And that change will affect the quality of life and the cost of living of all Israelis because just about everything you see: this lamp, this piece of wood, well, not everything… Just about everything you see goes through these ports. 90% of our GDP goes through these ports, either as imports or exports, and we will make it cheaper and more available.
Secondly, we’re going to open up new markets. I was recently in China. We just need a tiny sliver of a huge market. And we’re going to open markets in Asia and Latin America and elsewhere.
When I was in China, what interested the leaders of China with whom I spoke were three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology and Israeli technology. I was in Poland, and I spoke to their Prime Minister, and he was interested, amazingly, in three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology, Israeli technology. And recently I met President Santos, the President of Colombia, and he was interested in three things, the same three things. What we need is to push forward into new markets. We can do it. We’re in the process of doing it. Israeli exporters are very nimble, they’re very fast, they’re very agile, but we will help them reach those markets.
It turns out that Moses wasn’t such a bad navigator after all. He came to the land of milk and honey and gas. Who would have believed that Israel would be an energy power? We’re lucky enough not to have discovered gas in our first 65 years, or 60 years, because we could rely on our wits, on our ingenuity.
And yesterday we decided to open up our gas fields for developing an export. We’re not going to make the mistake of those countries who said we shall not export, and the gas remained in the ground and in the sea. We’re going to develop the gas for our internal market and we’re going to fill up the coffers of the state with what we bring from exports for the benefit of all Israelis.
We’re developing new fast roads, and rail-links to make our country smaller, well – faster, it’s small enough. But it’s about time that we did in Israel what the United States did in the 19th century, connect the two ends with one unified rail system and one unified road system. That the United States did in the 20th century.
My goal and my dream is to eliminate this concept of a periphery. What does it mean to have a periphery in a country the size of New Jersey? We’ll have a unified country, a connected country. And young people will be able afford housing because we’ll open up the Galilee and the Negev, and you can drive for 45 minutes and get to any place of employment.
And fifth: Information technology.
Because what is important is not just the fact that we can drive on roads or go on rail – it’s the information highway, and we have brilliant people. We’re improving our education and our science and our technology. But I want every child in what we still call development towns – and they’ll be developed just like the country developed – every child, every young boy, every young girl, every Arab kid in a village, everyone, to be connected to this information network of fast fiber. We’re going to do it. We decided to do it and we’re going to do it and it will change the face of Israeli society. It will give everyone an equal opportunity to partake in tomorrow today.
So prosperity is within our means. We’ve shown it. It’s not an empty statement. It’s real. We have a lot of things that we still have to accomplish. But when you look at what we’ve done in the last decade and before, we’ve out stepped so many of the developed countries and we’re not stopping.
But there’s a third goal, in addition to security, in addition to prosperity, we want to achieve peace. I want to achieve peace. The only way to achieve peace, the only way to negotiate a peace and to end the negotiations for peace is to begin the negotiations for peace. We’re ready to begin negotiations now, without preconditions. And I hope that the Palestinian leadership is equally ready.
We’re only 15 minutes apart. Well, with a police escort you could do it faster, but that’s the distance from Ramallah to Jerusalem. There’s no reason on earth we shouldn’t negotiate. And we give Secretary Kerry all the support for his important effort, and I hope he succeeds, because we want to succeed.
But I’ll say one thing about peace. I think the reason there is no peace has to be addressed. Not in opening the negotiations, because I put no conditions and no requirement on entering the negotiations. But in order to end the negotiations successfully we must address the question of why we’ve been unavailable, why we’ve been unsuccessful in getting peace. Why have successive governments, six prime ministers since Oslo, and before Oslo, have not been able to achieve peace with the Palestinians.
I think it must be understood that this conflict predates 1967 by almost half a century. It predates the settlements, although that’s an issue that will have to be discussed and resolved. All these questions will be discussed.
But the question we have to ask is why did this conflict rage from 1920, when the first Palestinian Arab attacks on the Jewish immigration office in Jaffa began, till 1967? That’s 47 years. What was that all about? I’ll tell you what it was about. It was the fervent opposition to a Jewish state in any boundary. It didn’t even exist, and once it existed, there was an attempt to put out the life, to extinguish the life of the embryonic Jewish state in the War of Independence and then in the years that followed. That was the reason.
And then we vacated settlements. We left Gaza and it still continued. And those who are firing rockets into our towns and to our villages, you ask them “Why are you doing this? We left every square inch of Gaza. Why are you doing this?” They say: “To liberate Palestine.” And we say: “You mean Judea Samaria, the West Bank?” “No,” they say, “Palestine. We mean Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Jaffa. You know, Palestine.” That was and remains the basic problem.
Palestinian society is divided into two: those who openly call for our destruction and use terror for that effect, and those, the other half that refuses to confront the first half. And I say, if we’re going to have peace, we’re going to have Palestinian leadership that faces up to this and says: “We are willing to make peace with the Jewish state. We will accept the right of the Jewish people to have a nation state.” That was and remains the underlying problem that makes peace elusive.
I don’t ask for these questions of recognition and security and the 19 other issues that will have to be negotiated. 21 – we counted… You don’t want me to itemize all of them…But they’re all important. They’ll all have to be negotiated. But ultimately it is the willingness of the Palestinians to accept a Jewish state, to accept the right of the Jews to live in their ancient homeland as a sovereign people, this is the most important thing that will determine the success of our efforts.
And sometimes, you know, there is a lot of discussion, a lot of debates that don’t get to the heart of the matter. This is the heart of the matter: the heart of the matter is the willingness of our neighbors to accept us as we accept them.
We seek peace with all our neighbors. We seek a Middle East of peace, security, stability, prosperity. We will work to ensure it for our own state. We pray that we can achieve it with others. And I hope that they will pray that same prayer too.
That’s the tomorrow I wish for. That’s the tomorrow I know you wish for, everyone here, everyone, from Shimon Peres to the last guest here, and everyone who is listening to us out there, may we succeed.