Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Address at the Herzliya Conference
December 16, 2004
I heard the things you have asked of me here. Perhaps I will be able to do
these things, but first I will have to overcome the "battle over portfolios"
and the "struggle over promotions". It is true that there are very serious
things to do in all spheres. During my long career I was able to achieve a
few things, but I admit that I have not yet learned to handle the mania over
a certain portfolio or a quarter of a portfolio and the frenzy over
promotions, but I hope that I will be able to tackle this as well.
Last year, I presented the guidelines of the Disengagement Plan here.
Before that, I enumerated the starting points, the national goals we must
strive for. The achievement of these goals are always in mind, in every
action we take. The Disengagement Plan is intended, inter alia, to achieve
I outlined the way I view the future State of Israel, a Jewish and
democratic state with a solid Jewish majority, in which there is equality of
rights and duties among all its citizens. A state which is the beating
heart of the Jewish people, and which is a magnet for the Jews of the
Diaspora. A state which, in the next 15 years, will absorb over a million
immigrants, and where the majority of the world's Jews will live. It will
be a State of Israel which lives in peace with its neighbors, and provides
personal security to its residents. It will have an education system which
will train our future generation to deal with the technological challenges
of tomorrow, and will expose that generation to the eternal treasures of
Israel's legacy. It will be a state which has infrastructures compatible
with the 21st century: a system of trains and roads which connect the entire
country; a system of desalination and water purification; and electricity
produced from natural gas. All these things will improve the quality of our
life and will also contribute to maintaining the environment in which we
live. A prosperous Israeli economy, which is integrated into the global
economy, and is growing at a rate of 4% to 5% per annum, reaching a
production level equal to that of the most developed countries. A society
which offers everybody the possibility of a dignified life and financial
well-being, which no longer has physical distinction or economic gaps
between the center and the periphery.
In the past year, since I set these goals, the State has taken a large step
in the right direction, a huge step towards realizing this vision and hope.
Everyone knows that during the past four years, we have been forced to deal
with two severe crises simultaneously: the war of terror and the economic
recession. We dealt with international isolation and the increase in
anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments around the world, along with the
feeling among many in Israel that there is no hope. We first had to restore
our faith in ourselves and our abilities, find immediate solutions, prevent
security or economic collapse, and we did so.
Due to the brave and uncompromising actions of IDF soldiers and members of
the security forces, we have succeeded in curbing the terrorist
organizations, by carrying out a series of actions beginning with Operation
Defensive Shield, and including the determined actions against specific
targets, while at the same time implementing difficult stabilizing actions
for the economy, including heavy cutbacks on Government activities, thereby
preventing financial collapse.
The reforms which we implemented, and will continue to implement, placed the
Israeli economy in a position of renewed growth. We can now increase our
efforts even more to attract new investors, privatize government companies
and be better able to integrate into the global economy. In order to
implement these essential economic reforms, we must expand the national
consensus in all fields of activity. I am a great believer in acting within
the consensus, and over the last few weeks, in the agreement between the
Government and the Histadrut, we proved that it is certainly possible to
As long as economic growth and stability continue to thrive, alongside an
improvement in the security situation, we can invest many more resources in
mending social injustices and assisting weaker sectors. We are one nation
and one society, and the values of social solidarity which have always
typified the nation of Israel will continue to guide our actions.
Today, we are investing much more in education, in an effort to rehabilitate
the system and place at its center an excellent and high-quality teaching
force. This year, we budgeted NIS 1.7 billion to implement the Dovrat
Report, and will begin doing so soon. This week, we announced the reversal
of the trend, and an increase in Israeli students' accomplishments.
However, we must not be satisfied with a good placing in the middle. The
State of Israel cannot accept mediocrity, but must also aspire to being
first place in education, in accomplishments and in excellence. This is the
key to the future of the State of Israel. Therefore, the implementation of
the Dovrat Report has been, and will continue to be, the central aspect of
my agenda and that of my Government.
I have participated in the Herzliya Conference for five years now, and try
to keep track of the important things which are said every year by the
various speakers. I would like to say to you that, in contrast to previous
years, this year I felt great optimism from most of the speeches. This
feeling did not arise from nothing, and is also a result of the things we
implemented, in all spheres.
During 2005, we face an historic opportunity to change, from the ground up,
the strategic situation of the State of Israel and take great strides
towards the realization of our hopes. A State of Israel which is
prosperous, has an economy which is free and open to the world; which has an
excellent education system and in which social justice and internal unity
prevail; will be a significant force in the new world which is developing as
we watch; will be a magnet for tens of thousands of Jews who will come here
and will be a source of pride to all its citizens.
The fact that we succeeded in overcoming the external and internal crises,
opens up for the State of Israel, for the first time in many years,
important strategic opportunities which we must actualize. 2005 is a year
of great opportunity:
- In 2005, we have the opportunity to extricate ourselves from the more of
recession, and begin real and lasting growth which will bring about a
reduction in unemployment and close the gaps in Israel.
- In 2005, we have the opportunity to establish a new partnership with the
international community in the struggle against terror and regional and
global instability. The world, and especially Europe, has learned to
understand what we have faced for many years.
- And in 2005, we have the opportunity for an historic breakthrough in the
relations between us and the Palestinians, a breakthrough for which we have
waited many years.
In order to actualize these opportunities, we must take the initiative.
This is the hour, this is the time. This is the national test.
Israel's most important initiative is the Disengagement Plan, leaving Gaza,
which we will implement this year, with conviction and without hesitation,
according to the schedule already determined. This initiative is the
foundation and cornerstone for the great opportunities which lie before us,
and is perhaps one of the most important decisions we have made in the last
Disengagement recognizes the demographic reality on the ground specifically,
bravely and honestly. Of course it is clear to everyone that we will not be
in the Gaza Strip in the final agreement. This recognition, that we will
not be in Gaza, and that, even now, we have no reason to be there, does not
divide the people and is not tearing us apart, as the opposing minority
claim. Rather, the opposite is true. Disengagement from Gaza is uniting
the people. It is uniting us in distinguishing between goals which deserve
to be fought for, since they are truly in our souls - such as Jerusalem, the
large settlement blocs, the security zones and maintaining Israel's
character as a Jewish state - rather than goals where it is clear to all of
us that they will not be realized, and that most of the public is not ready,
justifiably, to sacrifice so much for.
One of the goals of Arab terror was to divide the country and break its
spirit. Stopping terror on the one hand, and the Disengagement Plan on the
other, a plan which the great majority of the public supports, forges
national unity and creates broad national consensus regarding the justness
of our struggle for security, tranquility and peace.
The initiative of disengagement has produced a long list of political
accomplishments. Because of it, the Palestinians have no excuse not to
abandon terror. Because of it, there is no criticism of Israel's determined
actions against terror. Now it is clear to everyone that when Israel
declares its willingness to make painful compromises, it indeed intends to
make genuine and painful compromises. Very painful.
Israel's international standing has improved immeasurably. The most
important accomplishment is the understandings between U.S. President George
Bush and me, which provide a new, more stable basis than ever before for the
strategic understandings between Israel and the United States. This week,
we heard President Bush repeat his support for these understandings.
The understandings between the U.S. President and me protect Israel's most
essential interests: first and foremost, not demanding a return to the '67
borders; allowing Israel to permanently keep large settlement blocs which
have high Israeli populations; and the total refusal of allowing Palestinian
refugees to return to Israel.
In addition, we agreed, in accordance with the Roadmap - any steps towards
realizing the political outlook offered to the Palestinians first obligates
them to take genuine action against terror until it is eliminated and
stopped, advance real reforms and stop teaching hatred towards Israel which
exists. The United States also recognized Israel's right to act in any way
to defend itself against any enemy and against any threat, and promised to
prevent any attempt to impose on Israel any other agreement or agenda which
is not the Roadmap. The implementation of the Roadmap is also carried out -
and will be carried out - in full agreement.
We have open channels of communication and ongoing dialogue with the
Government of Egypt. We look forward to cooperation and effective security
coordination prior to, during and subsequent to our expected disengagement
from Gaza. Egypt is expected to play an important role, and, with our
cooperation, contribute to stability in Gaza after Israel's relocation.
Several days ago, Egypt took an important step towards building trust with
us by releasing Azzam Azzam - and I welcome his homecoming and wish to
express my gratitude to the President of Egypt for that.
Determined action by the Egyptians to prevent weapons smuggling from Sinai,
especially through tunnels on the Philadelphi Route, may ensure a smoother
and quieter relocation from Gaza. Stopping the arming of Palestinians in
Gaza, together with genuine and extensive Egyptian actions to prevent
weapons smuggling, will allow Israel to leave the Philadelphi Route as well,
and will reduce Palestinian dependence on Israel.
The most genuine and greatest opportunity for building a new and different
relationship with the Palestinians was created following the death of Yasser
Arafat, who constituted the primary obstacle to peace. Now there is a real
chance that new Palestinian leaders will rise, those who will be elected,
who will truly abandon the path of terror, and instead will advance a
strategy of reconciliation and negotiation without violence, terror and
We hope that the Palestinians will succeed in holding free, democratic and
quiet elections. On our part, we will take all the necessary steps to
assist them. We will allow free movement and the IDF will be redeployed in
order to allow proper elections. We are taking steps for security and
administrative coordination with the Palestinian Authority to ensure free
elections while maintaining security, law and order, and the prevention of
In light of the new opportunities and potential of a new Palestinian
leadership, Israel will be prepared to coordinate various elements relating
to our Disengagement Plan with the future Palestinian government - a
government which is ready and able to take responsibility for the areas
which we leave.
If this happens, we will have a genuine chance to reach an agreement, and in
the future, perhaps also genuine peace. We can reach a situation where
terror will stop being such a tangible threat to the well-being of the
citizens of Israel. For the first time since the establishment of the
State, we will be able to live lives of tranquility, develop and build our
economy without disturbance or threat and invest more in education, health
For their part, the Palestinians can then also live in dignity and freedom
in an independent state, and, together with us, enjoy good neighborly
relations, while cooperating for the good of both our peoples.
A two-state vision involves great concessions on both sides. We made the
historic decision that we were prepared for such a concession. And I
emphasize that there will be no concession on anything relating to the
security of the citizens of Israel or the State of Israel; on this there
will be no concession - not now or in the future. Since the alternative of
one nation, where one rules over another, would be a horrible disaster for
both peoples. Only so can we grant true hope to our people.
2005 is a year of great opportunity. It can be a year in which terror
stops - and the end of a significant threat to Israel and its security, the
end of the threat to peace. It can be a year in which we establish the
foundation for a long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
We will act with all our might to ensure that this year of opportunity will
not become a year of missed opportunities. We must remember that there are
various forces in the region which are acting to thwart an agreement with
the Palestinians and who continue the threats of terror. The threats to the
State of Israel still exist. Iran is publicly calling for the elimination
of the State of Israel, and continues in its efforts to obtain weapons of
mass destruction. Together with Syria, it supports dangerous terror
organizations such as Hizbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and act to thwart
the United States' efforts to bring democracy and genuine reforms to the
Israel and the moderate Arab states, as well as the entire world, share a
common interest to support regional stability, stop terror and defeat the
extremism which threatens the entire world. History teaches us that only
determination, and non-acceptance of the status quo, will provide a genuine
hindrance to the dangers to regional stability.
On the evening of the vote to approve the Disengagement Plan, I addressed
our Arab neighbors from the Knesset podium. Many things have happened since
then, and I would like to repeat what I said that day: we stand before a
unique window of opportunity. Who knows when we will have this opportunity
in the future. We must not miss this opportunity to reach an agreement.
We are forced to defend ourselves against attacks, and we know how to do so
successfully. However, when faced with tranquility and a hand extended in
peace, we will know how to react in tranquility and extend an honest and
brave hand in return. We desire a life living side-by-side, in
understanding and peace. We have no desire to rule over you, we have no
desire to run your affairs.
Lately, we made the historic decision that this is our desire. I have paid
a heavy personal and political price for my leadership in this decision.
You also know this. I hope that in the near future you too will make a
historic decision to stop those who support terror, and stop the terror
activities, and that, together, we will find a way where both peoples can
live here, on this piece of land, in security and peace.
I believe that it is within our grasp.