In the face of enormous challenges, Israel's current government is rudderless. I intend to lead the Likud party to victory in the next elections and address these challenges by moving our country in a new direction. To help make this happen, I hope that Likud voters will join in granting me a strong mandate for change by participating in the Likud primary tomorrow. First, our top priority must be to do everything in our power to prevent Iran from acquiring atomic weapons. Rather than waste time and resources mobilizing international support for a peace conference with Mahmoud Abbas, Israel's focus should be on mobilizing the international community to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Given those ambitions, Iran's terror proxies Hamas and Hizbullah arming to the teeth and Syria beating the drums of war, we must ensure that we are prepared to meet any and every threat.
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Last summer's fiasco must not be repeated.
That war, strategically misconceived and poorly managed, was brought about by a misguided policy of unilateral retreat. Ehud Barak's hasty flight from Lebanon and the foolish withdrawal from Gaza in the face of terror ensured that Hizbullah and Hamas filled the vacuum we left behind. After the war, it was thought that unilateralism would be shelved for good. It wasn't.
THERE IS little difference between unilateral concessions and concessions made to an ineffectual partner. Are Israelis living in the center of the country, flying in and out of Ben-Gurion Airport, or traveling on our buses, willing to bet their lives on Abbas's assurances that his Fatah-led Palestinian Authority will prevent rocket and other terror attacks? I think not.
Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past by placing faith in magical solutions and phony rhetoric, Israelis must bring a fresh, clear-eyed approach to dealing with the Palestinians. We must make it clear that given what we have seen in Gaza and South Lebanon, territorial concessions do not bring peace but terror closer to our cities.
The past few years have shown that any land we handed over to the Palestinians has been taken over by militant Muslims who fire rockets at our cities. After turning Gaza into an Iranian-sponsored terror base, the onus must be on the Palestinians to show that they are dedicated to building a civilized society and not just to destroying one.
If they are serious about doing so, we will support their efforts. If not, we will not arm and finance those who would attack us.
Second, Israel's strong economy must grow even stronger. Four years ago, with the help of my Likud colleagues, I was able to usher in sweeping economic reforms. By cutting spending and taxes, privatizing government companies, dramatically increasing investments in our national roads and railways, overhauling the government's pension system and transforming the capital markets, we placed the country on a path of high and sustainable growth with record foreign investment.
But there is still so much that must be done, from further tax cuts to land reform. Continuing down the path of economic reform is critical to both our national security and social welfare.
Israel's security needs over the next few years are enormous, and only a growing economy will provide the resources necessary to meet those needs.
The security fence costs money. A missile defense system costs money. Wars cost money. A strong economy will better enable us to defend ourselves and more effectively defeat our enemies.
So too, only policies that promote high growth, expand the labor force and lower unemployment will enable the government to provide for the truly needy.
A FEW years ago, when I said that Israel could become one of the 10 highest per-capita income countries in the world, eyes rolled. No longer. Israel's economy is growing fast, but we have barely scratched the surface of our potential. With human capital that is second to none and economic reforms that we will enact, the sky is the limit.
Yet to reach these heights, and at the same time provide an opportunity for all to get there, we must seriously reform the country's educational system. For too long, money has been pouring into an education bureaucracy and little has been coming out. We must change this by investing in those who are actually teaching our children.
We must establish higher standards for teachers and attract and keep the best teachers by offering them much higher compensation. We must empower principles to reward good teachers and weed out bad ones. We must provide resources (again, by growing our economy) to reduce class sizes and lengthen school hours. And finally, rather than allowing the false propaganda of our enemies to seep into our school system under the guise of pluralism, we must insist that our children be taught a curriculum that will make them knowledgeable and proud of their country and their heritage.
I believe that if we enact the comprehensive educational reforms I have proposed, within four years Israeli pupils will score in the top 10 internationally in math and science.
These changes and more are within our grasp, beginning with tomorrow's vote. Likud members: Go out and vote so that, together, we can put this country on a path toward security, prosperity and, ultimately, peace.
The writer is head of the opposition in the Knesset and chairman of the Likud Party.