By Joel Leyden
Israel News Agency
Jerusalem, Israel — June 14, 2021 … Democracy in the Middle East was on full view as Israel’s new unity coalition government defeated Netanyahu’s Likud Party by a thin vote. The 36th government will serve under Naftali Bennett with Yair Lapid, who will serve as Foreign Minister, expected to take over as Prime Minister in August 2023.
Bennett addressed the Israeli Knesset with the following: “H.E. President Reuven Rivlin; President-elect Isaac Herzog; Mr. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; President of the Supreme Court, Justice Esther Hayut; Speaker of the Knesset Yariv Levin; my partner in forming the Unity Government, Member of Knesset Yair Lapid, and his wife Lihi; Ministers of the outgoing government; Ministers of the incoming government; Members of Knesset; honored guests.
I want to begin my words by saying, on my own behalf, and in the name of the members of the designated government, in the name of this House, and in the name of all the citizens of Israel – thank you. Thank you to the outgoing Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for your many years of service, replete with achievements, for the sake of the State of Israel. As Prime Minister you acted throughout many years to embolden Israel’s political, security, and economic strength. I saw you from up-close, in extensive security deliberations, late into the night, investigating, making inquiries and considerations out of a sense of grave responsibility.
Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu, over the years, we have not always agreed, but we have both sacrificed much on a personal level in order to serve our people, the people of Israel. Expressing gratitude is a fundamental principle in Judaism. This is the time for the people to say to you, thank you.
I also want to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to the Tenth President of the State of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, for his years as President, as Speaker of the Knesset, and as a public servant. And to congratulate President-elect, Isaac Herzog, and wish him much success. God willing, we will work together very well.
Honored ladies and gentlemen, this is a special moment. The moment in which the baton of leading the people and the country passes – as in a relay race – to the next generation. It a sacred endowment.
The State of Israel is not ‘just another country’. It is the dream of generations of Jews – from Marrakesh to Budapest, from Bagdad to San Francisco – a dream we merited to see realized every day before our very eyes. Each generation has its own challenges, and out of each generation comes the leaders that can overcome them.
The external challenges we face are great: the Iranian nuclear project, which is moving towards a crucial point; the ongoing war on terror; Israel’s image in the world and the unfair treatment it receives in international institutions – these are all sizable and complex tasks.
Dear friends, in the guests gallery today, sits Maya Moreno, widow of my friend, Lieutenant Colonel Emmanuel Moreno, of blessed memory. At every important juncture of my life, I think of Emmanuel. The intensity of his devotion and sense of mission guides us.
Friends, as the Jewish people tend to be people with opinions… and as we see here, the Parliament of the Jewish state, is a parliament of opinions, and anyone who has ever seen a pair of students studying Talmud together, or a heated debate about a product in the office corridors of an Israeli start-up, understands the force for good of “disputes for the sake of Heaven”. But there are points in Jewish history in which the disagreements between us have gone out of control, in which they were no longer “disputes for the sake of Heaven”, times in which they threatened us, and all that we have built with our sweat and blood.
Twice in history, we have lost our national home precisely because the leaders of the generation were not able to sit with one and another and compromise. Each was right, yet with all their being right, they burnt the house down on top of us. I am proud of the ability to sit together with people with very different views from my own.
This time, at the decisive moment, we have taken responsibility. We understood that we have to safeguard our home. To continue on in this way – more elections, more hatred, more vitriolic posts on Facebook – is just not an option. Therefore, we stopped the train, a moment before it barreled into the abyss. And I want to thank my friend, Foreign Minister-designate, MK Yair Lapid, who showed national responsibility, political generosity, and without whom we would not be here today.
The time has come for different leaders, from all parts of the people, to stop, to stop this madness.
The government that will be formed represents many of Israel’s citizens: from Ofra to Tel Aviv, from Rahat to Kiryat Shmona. Precisely here lies the opportunity. Our principle is, we will sit together, and we will forge forward on that which we agree – and there is much we agree on, transport, education and so on, and what separates us we will leave to the side.
To the citizens of Israel I say: this is a sensitive moment, of political change. I call on all, to demonstrate maturity and restraint.
The new government will be a government which strives for real, practical solutions, to the problems faced by the country and its citizens. The work-plan which we are presenting today is the most detailed in years. We have come to work. To remove the barriers, to free up the jams, and to turn our country into what it can be.
From here, I turn to the ultra-Orthodox community. Although the ultra-Orthodox parties chose not to join the coalition, that does not mean you are not represented – I will represent you, we will represent you. The new government will respect the study of Torah, the Torah which kept us safe for so many years in exile, and at the same time will work to remove the barriers which prevent the ultra-Orthodox community’s integration into the employment market, and Israeli society. Instead of perpetuating the same methods, we will have the opportunity to address the deep problems which burden ultra-Orthodox society: key amongst them the housing crisis. The pace of construction of apartments, neighborhoods, and cities simply does not keep up with natural growth, and there is room for the establishment of new ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and even a new city in Israel.
I was asked by the father of Eliyahu Shmuel, of blessed memory – a 16 year old ultra-Orthodox boy, who was killed in the Meron Disaster – to remember him in my swearing in address. Eli was a sweet child. He always helped his friends, and saw the good in everyone. We will not forget Eli, and we will not ignore his death. A State Commission of Inquiry will be set up.
Honored ladies and gentlemen. The government is setting out on its path, as the greatest threat to Israel, the Iranian nuclear project, is reaching a critical point. The Middle East is still yet to recover from the effects of the first nuclear deal, which emboldened Iran to the tune of billions of dollars, and with international legitimacy.
Iran, through its Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, has established terrorist outposts – from Syria, through Gaza and Lebanon, and to Yemen. Renewing the nuclear deal with Iran is a mistake that will once again lend legitimacy to one of the most discriminatory and violent regimes in the world.
Israel will not allow Iran to be equipped with nuclear weapons. Israel is not party to the agreement, and will maintain full freedom to act.
Last month, we received a reminder that the conflict with the Palestinians is still here. We must remember, and remind the world, that our enemies deny our very existence in the Land of Israel, and that this is not a dispute over territory.
We need military strength, civil resilience, and a belief in the justness of our path at times when the conflict raises its head.
I hope the ceasefire in the south is maintained. But if Hamas again chooses the path of violence against Israeli civilians, it will encounter a wall of iron.
Violence and terrorism are not a natural phenomenon or destiny with which we are supposed to just come to terms. The Palestinians must take responsibility for their actions, and understand that violence will be met with a firm response.
That said, security calm will lead to economic moves, which will lead to reducing friction and the conflict.
To the Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu, and Sayed families. The government led by me will work to bring home the IDF’s fallen, and the Israeli citizens held in Gaza by Hamas. We see in their return a sacred duty, which should be undertaken out of responsibility.
The government will work to establish and expand peace agreements with the Arab states, to increase regional economic, entrepreneurial, and cultural cooperation, and to deepen the direct connection between the peoples of the region, such as the connection between the citizens of Israel and the citizens of the United Arab Emirates.
Dear friends, on behalf of us all, I want to thank the President of the United States of America, Joe Biden, for standing alongside Israel during the last operation in Gaza, “Guardian of the Walls”, and for his longstanding commitment to the security of Israel.
President Biden said during the operation, “Until the region says, unequivocally, they acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as an independent Jewish state, there will be no peace”.
With God’s help, we will do and we will succeed. Amen.”
Prime Minister Bennett and US President Joe Biden spoke by telephone following the swearing in ceremony.
The new Prime Minister thanked President Biden for his warm wishes on the inauguration of the new government, and for his long-standing commitment to the State of Israel and its security.
Bennett noted his appreciation for the President, and for his support for Israel during the recent operation in Gaza (Guardian of the Walls), and noted that he considers him a great friend of the State of Israel.
In their conversation, the leaders emphasized the importance of the alliance between Israel and the United States, as well as their commitment to strengthening relations between the two countries, and maintaining the security of the State of Israel.
Wasting no time, Bennett this morning took up office at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. He toured the various wings of the office, met with the employees and inquired after their wellbeing, and wished everyone continued productivity.
The Prime Minister’s Military Secretary and the head of the Israel National Security Council also briefed Prime Minister Bennett on security matters.