No matter who ends up winning next week’s US presidential election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will be a welcome guest at the White House, announcing on Monday that both major-party candidates had invited him.
Netanyahu’s speech was one of several at the opening meeting of the Knesset’s session that focused on US-Israel relations, or referred to the upcoming election.
“Unlike what the industry of dismay says, our relations with the US are stronger and mightier than ever and will remain that way, because the Americans share our values,” Netanyahu stated.
The prime minister thanked the US for the military aid package it will receive over the next decade.
“This doesn’t mean that there won’t be disagreements sometimes, though I hope they will be rare,” he added.
Netanyahu expressed hope that US President Barack Obama would not push forward a UN Security Council resolution pressuring Israel on settlements and a two-state solution before the president leaves office in January.
“President Obama said in 2011 that peace will not be achieved through UN resolutions, rather it will come from direct negotiations,” the prime minister said. “He was right, and I want to believe that he will not abandon this policy. In any case, Israel will oppose efforts to dictate to us from the outside.”
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) had a different assessment of US-Israel ties, saying that Netanyahu has destroyed them, endangering Israel.
“You weakened Israel with a brutal, pointless and endless dispute with our greatest friend, the US, which is one of the major components we rely on for our strength in security and diplomacy,” Herzog said to Netanyahu.
“These are essential, true, and special relations, and only someone who has been in decision-making positions realizes how great your failure has been in protecting them.”
Herzog said ties with the US have been so strained that “sometimes it seems like the rope will break and rip, and I am worried that the worst is still ahead.”
President Reuven Rivlin spoke about a weakening of liberal democratic values in the West. A week before the US election, his speech could be seen as a thinly-veiled comment about politics there, though his office said they are about “global trends.”
“In many democratic countries [there is] a sharp increase in the percentage of citizens who do not see themselves duty-bound to the principles of the democratic process,” Rivlin stated. “Today we see citizens of democracies older than ours who are prepared to surrender some of their freedoms for the sake of strong leadership – sometimes demagogic and populist – yet able to establish stability and display strength.”
Rivlin said these ideas, even if they are difficult for some to swallow, still have legitimacy.
“These are value-based positions struggling with the definition of the boundaries, the character and the legitimacy of democracy,” he stated.
Such debates are also taking place in Israel, Rivlin said, where some people are enthusiastically “escaping the comfortable safety of consensus or by the ideological castration of ‘political correctness.’”
Rivlin warned that Israelis should not forget the things that unite them: “Even if we do take off our gloves during fierce internal debate, we must not lose our integrity, our fundamental honesty with regard to ourselves, with regard to others... honorable members of Knesset, we do not have to agree on overly complex values in order to maintain honest, clear and consistent politics that will allow us to provide a more valid response to the needs of Israeli society.”
Similarly, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned against the “crumbling” of Israeli society into separate, extreme groups, and lamented recent actions by MKs.
“We must show public responsibility when an elected official cheapens the level and image of the Knesset through his behavior or character; we must express solidarity with national mourning over the passing of an important leader; and we must avoid slandering Israel around the world and in international institutions,” Edelstein stated.
The Knesset speaker called on MKs to take responsibility for their actions and not inspire the public to incite, by holding a respectful discourse.
Also on Monday, the Knesset continued working on the 2017-2018 state budget and economic arrangements bill.
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon presented the budget to the Knesset Finance Committee, and for the first time, MKs were given copies of the bills on flash drives, instead of in boxes of thousands of printed pages.
The budget is expected to go to a first reading on Wednesday, and must pass a final vote by the end of the year, unless the government asks for an extension until March.