Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Post, 20 April 1999
In his appearance before the Palestinian legislature in February, Shimon
Peres passionately called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
A few weeks before, 22 members of the Knesset’s Labour faction,
including six in leadership positions, either abstained on or voted for two
separate resolutions calling for a Palestinian state with eastern Jerusalem as its
The Peres speech and the Knesset vote faithfully reflect the Labour Party’s
position on the final-status settlement with the Palestinians. Labour
supports a Palestinian state as a historic imperative, and while its
leaders vow during the election campaign to preserve the integrity of
Jerusalem, there can be no doubt that a Labour government will be ready to
accept a “territorial compromise” in the city and redivide it.
I do not believe a sovereign Palestinian state is a historic imperative,
any more than the triumph of socialism – which the same leftist parties
once touted as inexorable – was preordained. Nor do I think that Israel can
achieve peace only by making egregious unilateral concessions. On the
contrary. I am convinced that Labour’s way will endanger Israel and cause war.
My position on the peace process has been consistent. I say now precisely
what I said in the 1996 election campaign: Israel should adhere to the Oslo
agreements because democratic governments honour accords signed by their
But the only way to make these agreements viable is to insist on reciprocal
fulfilment of Palestinian commitments, particularly in the fight against
terrorism. With reciprocity, “territory for peace” may work. Without it, we
shall have “territory for terrorism,” which is sheer insanity.
The consistency of my position has disappointed both those on the Right,
who wanted me to scuttle the Oslo, Hebron and Wye agreements; and those in
the leftist opposition, who wanted me to put my faith in a chimeric “New
Middle East” and overlook Palestinian non-compliance.
It was this middle-road consistency which caused the fall of the
government. The Right withdrew its support, and the Left reneged on its
promise to provide the government with a “safety net.”
Yet my aims remain the same: maximum self-rule for the Palestinians, with
minimum risk for Israel.
After a half century of hardship, poverty and humiliation caused by a
self-inflicted catastrophe in 1948, it is time the Palestinians had peace,
prosperity and progress. They can thrive and flourish if hostilities truly
cease, if there is free movement of people and goods between Jordan, Israel
and the Palestinian entity, and if the Palestinian economy adopts
transparency, accountability and free-market principles.
Over 95% of the Palestinians are already ruled by a Palestinian
administration. But a Palestinian state and all it implies would threaten
If peace is to prevail, the Palestinians must not have a large army
equipped with tanks, missiles and artillery, a contiguous border with
Jordan, and the capacity to form alliances with such regimes as Iraq and
Israel cannot relinquish control over air space, strategic areas and
vital water resources, and must retain security supervision over seaports
Jerusalem, never the capital of any other nation, must stay Israel’s
To return to Labour’s policies of unilateral withdrawals, indifference to
the Palestinian coddling of terrorists, and acceptance of virulent
incitement in official Palestinian pronouncements and school books is to
turn the clock back to the bad old days of fear and terror.
It is a prescription for Palestinian irredentism, and the radicalization of
the whole land mass stretching from Kfar Sava and Jerusalem to Baghdad and
Teheran. It ensures violence, terrorism and war.
The return to Labour rule would be disastrous in the economic sphere, too.
The Likud-led government has begun a transformation of the Israeli economy
– moving it from irresponsible spending and stifling centralization to
budgetary prudence and sound free market principles.
Without such a change, Israel will be unable to compete in the coming
era. In three years, we have halved inflation, cut the budget to the tune of NIS
8 billion, dramatically reduced the trade deficit, privatized more than all
previous governments put together, deregulated the currency, attracted more
foreign investments than ever, instituted the “computer for every child”
project and a longer school day in development towns and the minorities
sector, and survived the worldwide economic crisis – all without raising taxes.
The economy is now poised to receive and integrate hundreds of thousands of
immigrants, to expand its high-tech industries to the point of making
Israel the second largest “Silicon Valley” in the world, and to begin real,
large-scale and solid growth. It is no wonder that the world’s leading
economists praise our performance with unalloyed superlatives.
As in all major transitions, some painful side effects are inevitable. In
Israel it has taken the form of a two percent rise in unemployment. That
the number of Palestinian and foreign workers is double that of the jobless
indicates that the problem is more social than economic, but this does not
diminish the humiliation and hardship of the unemployed.
The latest statistics are encouraging – unemployment has been going
down steadily – and I have no doubt that if we continue our policies the number
will reach an acceptable level.
In the next few years Israel will face crucial decisions. The negotiations
with the Palestinians on the final status will begin, and the negotiations
with Syria will resume.
To secure our future, we must not only achieve safe agreements with our
neighbours, but make economic conditions and the quality of life in Israel
attractive enough to draw Jews from the West and the former Soviet Union.
Internally, too, much must be done. We shall have to ease tensions between
the secular and religious, Arab and Jew, Diaspora Jews and Israelis.
The intensity of these tensions is often exaggerated, but they do exist.
They should be ameliorated through dialogue and compromise, not judicial
coercion, abrasive legislation and offensive rhetoric.
These are daunting challenges, and the people of Israel will soon have to
decide who will best lead the nation in meeting them. I am sure they will
make the right choice.