Statements by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
at the General Assembly of the
Jewish Federations of North America
Jerusalem, November 15, 2016
Hello to all of you from Jerusalem.
I'm sure you will not be surprised to know that many people in this room today have approached me over the last couple of days asking me what is happening with the government resolution earlier this year to establish the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. Everybody here also realizes that no prime minister in the history of Israel has done as much to understand the concerns of North American Jewry and has done more to make this egalitarian space a reality. For that we thank you. But could you please give us an update with respect to the implementation and what you recommend that we do and that we not do to help this process.
Netanyahu: Richard, first let me say that in front of the GA, I think that the partnership with the United States is so strong, the alliance is so powerful that I for one find great encouragement in the fact that there is this continuity of friendship, bi-partisan friendship across administrations, and I think a good part of it is based on the 3,000 people in this room. So before I answer your question, I want to say thank you and keep it up.
Now, let me talk about the Kotel. The Kotel is something that speaks to every Jew. When I come there and I touch the stones and I look up and I know what it symbolizes in our history, the cornerstone of our faith, the cornerstone of our longings and the cornerstone of the rebirth of our people as a sovereign independent state, all of that speaks to me and I know it speaks to you. I know it speaks to every one of you. When I go to the Kotel and I see Jews from every part of the world and they touch the stones and you can see that sentiment, and so all of you know exactly what I'm talking about.
This is why I've tried to establish a policy that enables the Kotel to be receptive to Jews from every part of the Jewish world, and this is something that remains our policy. It was implemented or rather it was resolved in a government resolution. Now I'm going to tell you a secret about Israel's government. It doesn’t quite work the way that the American government works. Example: The flagship decision that I had, the economic decision that I had was about the natural gas that we discovered in the Mediterranean, billions and billions and billions of dollars of natural gas that would go to the Israeli economy for all the social, economic and other needs that we have. Nothing could be more important.
I passed a resolution in the government. We couldn’t pass it. We had to work further to achieve compromise, to achieve other arrangements between the various parties involved, and finally we passed it. In a way, that is what is happening here as well. We have passed a resolution, we're working with the parties, we stand ready to work a little more. It's not so simple. In fact, it's complicated.
Richard, you said your mother told you to count to 10? My mother told me to count to 15. Take your time. Think about it. Talk to the parties. See if you can come to an equitable solution. And here's my recommendation for me to succeed in this, we can build ramparts, we can build barricades. That ain't going to solve it. I found, and I know whereof I speak, that sometimes you need quiet diplomacy, a lot of times you need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Arabs. This is one instance where I think we need quiet diplomacy between Jews and Jews. That's a lot more likely to get the result we all seek.
Thank you. President Obama at the UN in 2011 said, and I quote, "peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN. Ultimately it's Israelis and Palestinians who must live side by side. Ultimately it's Israelis and Palestinians, not us, who must reach agreements on the issues that divide them – on borders, security, on refugees and on Jerusalem. Mr. Prime Minister, now that our presidential election is over do you see any change in the position of this country on the subject of the UN and do you expect a resolution to be brought to the UN any time soon?
Netanyahu: Well, I think President Obama's statement is right on. I think he's expressed it and with great precision. The only way you really get a workable and enduring peace is to have the parties agree to it. This is what happened in our peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan. It's holding because there was mutual negotiations, mutual compromise, mutual agreement, and it sticks. It's weathered many, many storms, especially our peace treaty with Egypt is now many, many decades, our peace treaty with Jordan, many decades. We've had convulsions in the Middle East, and yet those peace treaties hold because they were directly negotiated between the parties. If you try to impose peace from the outside, it never works. It just doesn’t work. And I think that it's important to understand that the reason we'll object to any such effort is: a. it will harden the Palestinian positions; and b. because it will harden the Palestinian positions, it will push peace back. It could push peace back decades.
Look, I think that there may be possibilities that have emerged in the Middle East as a result of the different appreciation that many in the region have for Israel's role in resisting the twin forces of militant Islam, that led by Iran and that led by Daesh, by ISIS, and I think that may open up prospects for peace and probably will help us move towards some kind of resolution with the Palestinians.
But I think that one thing is certain, that trying to impose peace from the outside won't. So I very much hope that President Obama will continue the policy that he enunciated, which wasn't only his policy. It was the longstanding policy of the United States, and I look forward also to working with President-Elect Trump when he becomes President and his administration to further the twin interests of peace and security. These are interests of Israel and the United States but they'll be achieved by direct negotiations between the parties without preconditions.
When I was in Israel a couple of weeks ago, you indicated you had never been more hopeful about Israel's future. We know, as you just referred to, there's an ongoing civil war in Syria along your northern border, Iran continues to sponsor terrorism and try to expand itself in the region, and at the same time, we understand there's an open dialogue with a number of countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia. What are the immediate threats that worry you the most and what is happening in Israel that make you so hopeful?
Netanyahu: Well, first of all I'm coming here from a meeting with a senior minister from the government of Vietnam. He invited me to Vietnam. I'm going in a few weeks to Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, two Muslim countries, one a Shiite Muslim country. I'm going to Singapore. An Israeli Prime Minister never visited Singapore. I'm going to Australia and then I'm going to Fiji. Why am I going to Fiji? Because fifteen countries, fifteen islands that each one has a vote in the UN are coming to that meeting. We've just had the visit of Mr. Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia. A week before we had a meeting of the NDRC, that's the top economic board, body of China. They're eager to negotiate agreements. President Rivlin is now in India and Prime Minister Modi said that he's coming to Israel later in 2017. I was in Africa. I met seven African leaders and I'm going to West Africa soon to meet many more, and I met them in the UN. They were absolutely startled and enthused by the exhibit of Israeli technology at the UN, which changes their lives, it changes their capacity to have water, energy, agriculture, health, everything. Same thing with Latin America. So there is a vast change that is happening and it's happening because of the dual appreciation of Israel's role as a strong and powerful factor in fighting terrorism worldwide because of our superb intelligence services and other capabilities that we have, and parties want…every country is now threatened by this so they want Israel as a partner. Secondly, they all want technology. They want technology for all the reasons that I mentioned before and that is bringing all these countries to Israel as never before.
So I said this in my UN speech and I'm going to say it again and again. Hold on to your seat belts. Buckle your seat belts. I'm telling you that it will be no more than a decade and possibly a lot sooner that the automatic majorities against Israel in the UN will collapse, and Israel may actually find a fair hearing there. Now, it's not going to happen tomorrow but it'll happen, and sooner rather than later. So that's one reason I'm very hopeful. The second reason I'm hopeful is because of the change in the attitudes of many in our region towards Israel for the reasons that I mentioned before, and the third reason I'm very hopeful is because of the great change that is happening inside Israel.
The Israeli economy and the Israeli society is seizing the future. We've just put in the largest package of assistance to the Arab sector in the history of Israel – 13 billion shekels. The previous largest package was something that I passed three years ago, one billion shekels. So we've just made an enormous jump from what was an enormous jump and I did it in order to further education and infrastructure and transportation and education, everything, in the Arab sector because I want our Arabs citizens to be part of the great success story of Israeli society.
I went to open the school year in an Arab school in an Arab village in the Galilee. It's the first time an Israeli Prime Minister did that, because I wanted to send that message. There was a little girl there and I said to her: This is your country too. I want you to be…I think she wants to be a doctor. Well, believe me, she'll join many, many Arab citizens of Israel who are doctors, pharmacists, and many will be engineers, our engineers. That is the Israel that I want to see. I told her to study Hebrew. You know why? Because we're going to make a pilot program now for 5th graders in Hebrew speaking schools to study Arabic. I'm hopeful as never before that we can do this. Israel is poised in a way that very few countries are to seize the 21st century.
I was in Kiryat Gat yesterday. I saw an Intel plant. I mean, you have to see it to believe it. There is a plant there that is six football fields. It's the size of six football fields. It's automated. People walk around with these uniform. It's like a Woody Allen film, you know? And it's amazing. I met there 300 young engineers, young women, young men, amazingly talented, and Israel has decided to build this plant – which may be the largest of its kind in the world, certainly if not the largest, one of the largest – in Israel because they said: This is where we have the brainpower, this is where we can make the conceptual products that shape the future.
The future is changing. The future is already here, and the future says that those who can innovate seize the future. Israel is the innovation nation. I wanted to include all of our citizens and I wanted to include our neighbors. And for the first time in my lifetime I can tell you – we're heading there. I'm very hopeful.
Thank you. Come to Jerusalem. I look forward to seeing all of you. Thank you.