(photo credit:GPO [file])
The 120 members of the 18th Knesset promised to serve and remain loyal to the State of Israel and to their duty as they took the oath of office on Tuesday afternoon.
President Shimon Peres, who made the first speech in the plenum, called on the new Knesset to finish the negotiations with the Palestinians. He expressed hope that kidnapped tank gunner St.-Sgt. Gilad Schalit would be home soon, and urged the parties to work together toward a unity government.
"Negotiations with the Palestinians need to continue until an accord is reached," Peres said. "It is against our principles to rule another people, and it is against our experience to be ruled by others."
The people of Israel should unite in trying to overcome the economic crisis, just as they were united during the recent military offensive in Gaza, Peres said.
"Like the rest of the world, we, too, are enduring an acute economic crisis. Many have lost their jobs. Many find it hard to make ends meet. What is needed is the kind of social solidarity that was the hallmark of the national solidarity demonstrated during Operation Cast Lead," he said.
"We have to find creative solutions to overcome the crisis. We must swiftly put together scientific and technological initiatives that will create new jobs. We are short on time; the weak, the elderly and the young cannot wait," he said.
Peres urged Kadima and Likud to find a way to form a government together.
"After consulting with the elected parties, I reached the conclusion that the task of forming a government should be assigned to [Likud chairman] MK Binyamin Netanyahu. I emphasized the fact that most of the parties voiced a clear preference for a broad national unity government. This is also my request. I wish him success," Peres said.
He added that unity was the number one priority - not just between Kadima and the Likud, but among the 12 parties elected to the 18th Knesset.
"The demands of the hour must unite us," he said.
Peres proposed dividing the state budget in two - one for children and one for adults.
"Israel could be the first nation in the world to divide its budget into two parts. One, the principal one, will be set aside unreservedly for the next generation, from birth to the end of military service. The other part will be for the [post-army] adults," he said. "A country is like a family: The first priority is the children, even at the expense of the parents."
The president asked the new Knesset to make an effort to complete the constitution during its tenure, to strengthen the judicial system, and to continue to combat corruption.
He also mentioned the need to breathe new life into relations with the Diaspora, and to address relations with Arab Israelis.
"We must be ever conscious that Arab citizens are treated as equals to Jewish citizens, for discrimination is contrary to our values," he said.
Regarding outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Peres said he had headed the government at a time of tremendous social, economic and security challenges.
"He did this with dedication and with constant attention to the greater goals of Israel. Only with a historical perspective will we be able to fully appreciate his enormous contributions to the state," the head of state said.
Peres began his speech by saying he and the people of Israel hoped "that Gilad Schalit will soon be reunited with his parents, Noam and Aviva, safe and sound, at home."
After Peres spoke, Likud MK Michael Eitan - the longest serving lawmaker, he first entered the legislature with the 11th Knesset in August 1984 - was sworn in as temporary Knesset speaker until a permanent one could be elected. Peres handed Eitan the wooden hammer that comes with the job, wielded most recently by Kadima MK Dalia Itzik.
Eitan's speech, which was longer than expected, focused mainly on the need to approve a constitution.
"Seventeen Knessets have failed in executing the first national assignment the First Knesset took upon itself, [a] failure to legislate a constitution," Eitan said. "The constitution is one of the most important tools that can empower the citizen, society and the state."
He urged religious and secular MKs to reach a compromise on the matter and to work to change the system of governance and elections.
Following Eitan's speech, all 120 MKs - 31 of whom were new - were sworn in, committing to be loyal to the State of Israel and to their positions as Knesset members.
The festive ceremony ended with the traditional singing of "Hatikva." However, Balad's Haneen Zuabi, the first female Arab MK on an Arab list, left the Knesset plenum ahead of the singing. Two Orthodox MKs left the room as well, but because they were in a year of mourning in which they are forbidden to listen to music.
"'Hatikva' doesn't represent me," Zuabi said after the ceremony. "I preferred to leave the room, because I don't appreciate hypocrisy."
When asked whether she planned to leave the Knesset plenum whenever new National Union MK and Kahane follower Michael Ben-Ari spoke, Zuabi said that if she left the Knesset plenum every time a "racist speaks, I will spend my entire time outside the room. My agenda is of equality, and the others' is of racism."
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