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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Speech at the Herzliya Conference – 3 February 2010 (Translated Excerpts)

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

… We share a common dream - to reach peace with our neighbors. There is good reason for me to hope, realistically, that in the next several weeks we will renew the peace process with the Palestinians without any preconditions. For some time, I have said that the international community has learned to recognize that Israel wants and is ready to renew the peace process. Since the moment that recognition was internalized, central players in the international arena have begun to accept the practical feasibility of such a step.
There is a saying: it takes two to tango. In the Middle East, sometimes it takes three to tango, or at least to start to tango. Later, I suppose, we will be able to continue on as two.
I hope there is a willingness on the Palestinian side - not only to build up the Palestinian economy and Palestinian institutions, but to begin to build the peace itself. The only way to achieve a peace agreement is to begin conducting negotiations towards a peace agreement. If this willingness really does exist now, we will see a renewal of the process in the next several weeks.
I know that one of my predecessors, Ariel Sharon, spoke from this podium about disengagement. Today I would like to speak not of disengagement, but rather of engagement: engagement with our heritage, with Zionism, with our past and with our future here in the land of our forefathers, which is also the land of our children and our grandchildren.
You are dealing with our people's fate because it is clear today that the fate of the Jewish people is the fate of the Jewish state. There is no demographic or practical existence for the Jewish people without a Jewish state. This doesn't mean that the Jewish state does not face tremendous challenges, but our existence, our future, is here. The greatest change that came with the establishment of the Jewish state was that Jews became more than just a collection of individuals, communities and fragments of communities. They became a sovereign collective in their own territory. Our ability as a collective to determine our own destiny is what grants us the tools to shape our future - no longer as a ruled people, defeated and persecuted, but as a proud people with a magnificent country and one which always aspires to serve as "a light unto the nations."
In order to continue ruling our own destiny, we must establish our collective ability in three main fields - in security, the economy and education. I do not intend to expand on the security field today, other than to say that we must continue nurturing and strengthening our military force. The weak do not survive in the geographically difficult space we live in, nor is peace made with the weak. The State of Israel is strong and can guarantee both our existence and peace with our neighbors. However, I want to be clear: our security needs can and will increase over the next decade, and even over the next two decades.
We are entering another world, one in which the aggressor has certain advantages. He can launch projectiles - not even missiles, just pieces of metal with a primitive engine, fuel and explosives - and for us to strike down this flying ball of metal, we have to make a huge investment. Sometimes, under such conditions, the aggressor has an advantage and we must work hard in order to negate that advantage. It is in our power to do so, but it will cost a great deal.
Security demands a strong economy. A strong economy provides strong security. Without a strong economy, we cannot meet the State of Israel's security needs in the next decade, or our education needs, or our health needs or our need to fight crime and drugs and the plague of alcohol. All this demands money. Where will the money come from?  It will only come from economic growth. There is no other source to fund these needs, and it will take billions.
Increased taxation is not the solution: it will only shrink our tax revenues. There is no better way than growing our GNP by 4% or 5% per annum over many years, as we experienced over the past decade. There is no better way to finance our security needs.
Can an economy that approaches a per capita income of $30,000 continue to grow year after year at the rate of 5% per annum?  I believe it can. The way to ensure this is to constantly free up the economy. As long as there are limitations and competition in the economy, as long as our taxation levels are not the lowest or among the lowest in the world, we will have engines for growth. By freeing up the economy and reducing our tax rates, we are constantly growing and will receive tax revenues that will allow us to finance our existential needs, as well as our future ones.
In the coming weeks, we will present the government with a number of initiatives. First: a national transportation plan that will connect the entire country through a network of trains and roads and help people be mobile. Second: a revolutionary reform in planning and construction that will allow entrepreneurs to build in the north, the south, the center of the country, here in Herzliya - everywhere. It will no longer take years; it may take months. Plans won't have to go through clerks or nerve-wracking procedures; a great proportion of the process will be done on the internet. Then the approvals will arrive, some automatically, and one just needs to report them.
We have already begun the planning and construction reform, the national transportation network and the freeing up of land, and have laid the groundwork to them. All these plans encourage growth, as will other plans I will detail in the next year. Strengthening the economy is an integral part of these plans. I want to clarify that the State of Israel is already considered a regional economic powerhouse, and in my vision, we will establish and fortify our position as a global technological powerhouse.
This is a necessary condition, but it is not enough, because a strong army and a strong economy are not enough of a guarantee for our existence here if we are not committed to being here from the outset. This, distinguished guests, can only be created through one thing - through education.
Education is the melting pot in which our national strength is forged. It has two parts: acquiring the tools and knowledge to deepen our children's capabilities; and excellence - getting the most from each child and giving him the ability to learn math, to learn English, to learn computers, to learn science, to know how to compose a sentence, to put words together, express himself. All these abilities are essential, and they are what the Minister of Education is working so hard for. This is a central issue, but it is not the main thrust of my comments here tonight.
Tonight, I refer to something even more basic. I am talking about educating children about the values connected to our identity and heritage, teaching children to know our people's history, educating young people and adults to deepen our ties to one another and to this place.
I believe that this education starts, first and foremost, in the Book of Books - in the Bible - a subject that is close to my heart these days. It starts there. It moves through the history of our people: the Second Temple, the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, leaving the ghettos, the rise of Zionism, the modern era, the wars fought for Israel's existence - the history of Zionism and of Israel. A people must know its past in order to ensure its future…
In other words, our existence depends not only on a weapons system, our military strength, the strength of our economy, our innovation, our exports, or on all these force

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.