Netanyahu speaks at Knesset 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu on Monday afternoon commended his soon-to-be predecessor Ehud Olmert for his peace efforts and said the Likud-led government would do all it could to strike durable agreements with all of Israel's neighbors.
"The government that I am building will do everything, all within its power to attain a just, sustainable peace with all of our neighbors and with the entire Arab world," Netanyahu said during a special Knesset session to commemorate 30 years since the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement. "Every one of our neighbors that is willing to make peace will find our hand outstretched," he said, stopping short of making a commitment to a two-state solution.
Netanyahu made special mention of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who signed the peace deal with Israel, and said: "Today we are marking three decades of quiet and of calm, and this historical change must be praised sincerely."
Netanyahu expressed hope that ties between Israel and Egypt - particularity economic - could be further improved and wished for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Egyptian people to "continue on the path of peace."
On what was his last day as prime minister, Olmert stressed the importance of peace agreements signed in previous decades, hailed the courage of the leaders who signed them and urged Netanyahu to make concessions.
Olmert praised former prime minister Menahem Begin for striking the peace deal with Egypt, as well as former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin for signing the Oslo Accords, and his predecessor Ariel Sharon for the disengagement from Gaza. "We must continue to pursue peace with our neighbors," he said.
"There is no Jewish state without a firm and secure Jewish majority for generations and there will be no such majority in a 'Greater' Israel populated by millions of Palestinians," continued he outgoing prime minister. "The conclusion is clear: Two states for two peoples. There is no substitute. That's the only way. The vision of two states with massive international support is possible."
Once again, Olmert said that he was a "step" away from a peace deal.
"If I were given the time, I believe that we could have achieved an arrangement to be brought for cabinet and Knesset approval," he maintained. "It would have required dramatic, painful, heart-wrenching, but necessary compromises. That was the case both with the Palestinian and the Syrians."
Turning to Netanyahu, Olmert said, "We were on the verge of direct negotiations with the Syrians. You received all the details and you will get more. You have the data in front of you. Take the initiative with courage, don't be deterred and history will be grateful to you."
Concerning the peace deal with Egypt, Olmert said that that the country's mediation was vital in securing captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit's freedom, which he said he had "no doubt" would be secured.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that peace would come "because there are things that just have to happen to this people, and it almost doesn't matter who is in charge."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak lamented that leaders like former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat lacked the courage of Sadat.
"Unfortunately, Arafat was not Sadat and [former Syrian president] Hafez Assad wasn't Sadat," he told the Knesset. "But I believe that even now, with their successors, it's still not too late. We must not despair or stop our perennial search for a peace opening."