Israel's economic growth is a basic strategic necessity, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Knesset during a Wednesday afternoon speech. Netanyahu addressed the parliament after the opposition gathered 40 signatures to force him to respond to claims that he was focused on the survival of his coalition at the expense of national interest.
"In order to present a solution in the coming decade to Israel's strategic problems, we need a lot of money. A lot, a lot of money. There is no way to fund Israel's existential security needs without consistent growth year after year," warned the prime minister.
"We are talking about dozens of billions, and I don't mean just in shekels," he added, explaining that growth of four to five percent per year would provide for Israel's security expenses.
Netanyahu said that Israel faced two overarching goals - containing and stopping the Iranian nuclear threat, and achieving peace with the Palestinians.
In response to allegations by opposition members that the negotiations with the Palestinians were "stuck," Netanyahu remarked that "it is impossible to advance with talks if you don't begin them."
"From day one, we refrained from setting preconditions," he said, adding that the Palestinian side had put conditions in place for the resumption of talks.
Netanyahu placed the responsibility for the failure of both sides to come to the negotiating table squarely on the Palestinians. "The question is what will happen on the Palestinian side - because while it is clear today that Israel wants to enter into negotiations, it is not known whether the Palestinians will enter them." Netanyahu added that he believes the answer is positive.
"We envision a final arrangement of peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian State recognizes Israel. How should we advance that?
Only one way - negotiations. From the very first day, we called for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. We also took action on the ground: we took down hundreds of checkpoint and dirt barriers that blocked traffic in the West Bank," recalled Netanyahu. "But we still have not received any proof from them regarding their readiness to negotiate."
The prime minister also emphasized that Israel's politicians must present a unified facade to the world. "They need to see that Israel is ready for negotiations, wants to begin negotiations, and that the majority of MKs support the Palestinian expectation for negotiations."
In the nearly two hours of debate prior to Netanyahu's speech, coalition and opposition representatives traded barbs on all policy fronts, both diplomatic and domestic.
"The government of Israel is stuck in countless problems, and you are stuck between Begin and Meridor, Lieberman and Barak," said Kadima Faction Chair MK Dalia Itzik.
Following Netanyahu, opposition chair and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni took the podium to speak, accusing Netanyahu of going too far in adhering to former prime minister Ben Gurion's famous statement, "It doesn't matter what the gentiles say, only what the Jews do."
So far, said Livni, Netanyahu's government has "not done a thing" to combat the "de-legitimization process" of Israel's status as the Jewish state, its military operations and its stance on negotiations with the Palestinians.
"Under worldwide attack, Israel's government must not act like a motionless deer caught in the headlights," she said.
A peace agreement with "those pragmatic Palestinians who have renounced terror and believe in the two-state solution," said the opposition leader, was in Israel's best interests.
Livni's speech was disrupted when the microphones went dead. However, the audio system was restored several minutes later.
Likud MKs pointed accusatory fingers toward Livni's own party, with Environment Minister Gilad Erdan claiming that MK Shaul Mofaz pulled the plug on his own chairwoman.
"This was yet another example of the government trampling its opposition," said MK Ze'ev Bielski (Kadima), striding out of the plenum.