The Dream of Jerusalem by Benyamin Netanyahu

“The Dream of Jerusalem” by Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister

A speech delivered at The Seventh Annual Jerusalem Conference held at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem in February 2010.

For videos of speeches given at the conference, including Netanyahu’s speech, click here.

Before I begin, I would like to say something about this place where we are gathered.  Several stories above us, the floor was drenched with the blood of a Minister of the Israeli government, a war hero, a general and a man who loved the Land of Israel.

More than eight years ago, on October 17, 2001, here in this place, Minister Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi was murdered.  His killer is in prison in Israel.  As long as I am Prime Minister of the Israeli government, he will stay there.

One of our responses to this despicable murder is that soon we will establish a site commemorating Gandhi’s legacy, a legacy of his love for the people of Israel and the Land of Israel.  Together with the Ze’evi family, we located an appropriate site and we are working on this matter.  Remember that Gandhi was a man for whom Jewish heritage, the heritage of our people in our land, was important.  They served as the map and the compass that guided him.  On Sunday, we will conduct a special Cabinet meeting in Tel Hai, the place where Trumpledor was shot, and we will ask the Cabinet to approve a comprehensive plan, the largest ever in the State of Israel, to strengthen our national heritage and nurture our roots.  This plan is called the “Tamar” Plan – the Heritage Infrastructure Plan.

We will renovate and rehabilitate hundreds of archaeological sites and sites dating to the Zionist period.  We will rescue hundreds of thousands of items located in archives that are slowly disintegrating: documents, films, poems, liturgical songs, testimonies and photographs.  We will establish two national trails – the historic Land of Israel Trail, which will connect the archaeological sites; and the Israel and Zionism Experience Trail, which will connect various sites such as the hall in Tel Aviv in which David Ben-Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel.

For 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people, and it was never the capital of some other people, only ours.

This important conference, which is ending tonight, dealt with a range of topics – Aliyah, the economy, the Iranian threat, the political horizon, our relations with the United States, security – in fact all the core topics which touch on the present and the future of the State of Israel.  However, the core of the core is Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish people; Jerusalem is unified, it is indivisible and it will stay that way.

The vision and foundation on which the State of Israel was established and stands today is the idea of Zionism.

This name is derived from the word ‘Zion’, and Zion is, after all, Jerusalem.  In other words, the Zionist vision is the vision of Jerusalem.  It could be called “the dream of Jerusalem”.

The dream of Jerusalem built Tel Aviv.  It built the entire country and revived our land.  The longing for Jerusalem brought waves of immigrants here: from Russia, from Yemen, from Poland, from Morocco and from Ethiopia.

One of the most moving experiences is hearing the stories of the Ethiopian immigrants who walked here, whose families died along the way with the word ‘Jerusalem’ on their lips.  Being here at their annual meeting, hearing them, knowing that their long-held connection to this place was never erased – not anywhere: not in Europe faced with horrible attacks and not in Africa, not in the darkest reaches of the Earth – is to understand the strength of our people.

The dream of Jerusalem is the source of energy that drove the pioneers and fighters and the founding fathers of the army, the Israeli economy, Israeli culture and Israeli society.

For 3,000 years, Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people, and it was never the capital of some other people, only ours.

If you walk out of this hall and turn left, towards French Hill, you will find yourselves on a street where Jews and Arabs live side by side.  Two streets over in the other direction, Sheikh Jarrah and Mea Shearim connect.  There is co-existence here.

Not everything in Jerusalem is rosy.  We must admit that not all the streets in the eastern part of the city are as beautiful as this street.  More must be done to equalize the conditions and level of services offered in all parts of the city.  I certainly side with the trend that I see the Mayor enacting to pay more attention to cultivating infrastructure and the living conditions of the residents of the eastern part of the city, because it is part of our responsibility in governing this city.

However, everyone in Jerusalem has freedom of access, freedom of movement and freedom of worship.  This was something that we had to guarantee and that was not possible for hundreds of years.  It was only assured after Jerusalem was again united under Israeli sovereignty.  It was only then that freedom of religion was secured for all religions.

The Arab residents of Jerusalem spend time in and shop at the Malha Mall, and the Jewish residents of Jerusalem shop at the market in the Old City.  But we want to enhance co-existence and the peace in Jerusalem, and that too is part of the dream.

Today it seems like some far-off vision, but it is possible under the condition that Jerusalem is not divided again and that it does not descend into a struggle between factions and sects or be used as a location for violent struggle and terror of one side against the other.

Strengthening co-existence and peace even more may seem like a far-off vision, but it is possible.  A great many things that exist in the reality of life here in Israel and Jerusalem were, not long ago, a far-off vision and many did not believe we could realize it.

However, this vision is threatened by heavy clouds.  We are threatened by an extremist form of Islam, headed by Tehran, which sends out its tentacles in the form of Hamas and Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations, which undermine the very existence of the State of Israel and speak openly about their desire to destroy it.

The nuclearization of Iran is a threat to the peace of the entire world.

This is not just a threat against Israel, but against the entire world.  This is a threat against world peace.  It certainly is a threat to us, but Iran’s armament threatens the entire Middle East and world peace for a great many reasons.  Here is one: some leaders of important nations have been saying publicly over the past several weeks and months that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, they will also develop nuclear weapons.  If a nuclear arms race begins in the Middle East, who knows how it will end?  The nuclearization of Iran is a threat to the peace of the entire world.

I said these things this month to President Sarkozy, who is also the President of the Security Council.  I said the same things to President Obama when I met him in Washington and more recently when I spoke to Secretary of State Clinton several days ago.  I said the same things to Angela Merkel whom I saw during my visit to Germany.  I said the same things to Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister of Italy.  I said the same things to President Medvedev in Moscow and yesterday to Prime Minister Putin.

I will say the same things to you today – Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon is a threat to the entire world.

From the outset, my government has worked so that this idea would become entrenched in the world’s consciousness.  I found all the countries I mentioned and their leaders willing to hear us out on this matter.

Now that there is an understanding that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, this argument has ended.  If one year ago we were in a situation in which Iran’s true intentions to acquire nuclear weapons were unclear, that the ultimate goal of the Iranian nuclear program was a weapon, today there is no argument that this is the case.  As long as Iran advances this program, the argument as to how much longer it will take them to achieve their goal will also fade away.  It won’t take them long.  There is also understanding about the character of the regime, which was exposed during the recent elections.  That too had not been clear; people thought it was a popular populist regime.  It is not populist and it is not popular.  It is a regime that is hated by the people.  They may be able to artificially fill up a square, but there are tens of millions of people in Iran, the vast majority, aspiring to one thing – freedom from this brutal tyranny.

The character of this regime was exposed and their secret nuclear program was exposed.  The danger threatening the entire Middle East was exposed – Arab and Jewish alike, but not just Arabs and Jews.  Everything has been exposed.  Everything is clear.  Now the question is what the international community will do in the face of this challenge.

First there must be understanding.  However, after understanding there must be a conclusion.  And after the conclusion, action must be taken by the international community.  They are currently discussing sanctions.  I spoke about sanctions with all the leaders with whom I met.  I quoted to each of them the words of Hillel the Elder from 2,000 years ago: “If not now, when?”  If crippling sanctions are not imposed on Iran now, when will they be?  In a year?  Two?  When?  If not now, when?  I say now.

Superficial sanctions, toothless ones – what good will they do?  What is the purpose of sanctions?  The purpose is to make a difference, to make this regime stop its nuclear program.  If the sanctions don’t have teeth, what influence will they have?  Just to be able to check off that sanctions were imposed?

Time is growing short.  There must be forceful sanctions now.

Time is growing short.  There must be forceful sanctions now.  I will tell you what sanctions with teeth are.  They are a range of things, but they must include sanctions in the energy field.  Iran’s economy is mainly based on the energy market, in export and import of energy products.  If sanctions include preventing the export of gasoline and, equally important, the importation of petroleum products, Iran’s economy will be stopped.

Forceful sanctions must include steps to stop the importation of petroleum products to Iran and the export of energy.  I promise you, this will make a difference.  I cannot say with certainty that it will work, but I can say with certainty that superficial, weak, toothless sanctions, even if they are imposed, will not do the job.  A combination of what I just said, sanctions in the energy field, is something else entirely.

If not now, when?  Now.  There must be forceful sanctions stopping the importation of refined petroleum products and the export of gasoline.  I hope the international community will rise to the occasion.  I hope they understand the magnitude of this moment, this historic moment in time when the responsible countries of the world, which already understand the magnitude of the threat and the short period of time we have left, will do what is necessary.

Leaders must make difficult decisions at decisive moments, because otherwise they should not be leaders.  Three weeks after I was elected Prime Minister of Israel the first time, I was asked to speak before both houses of Congress in Washington.  I spoke then, 14 years ago, about the nuclear threat.  I said at the time that the greatest threat to humanity and to my country was Iran’s attempts to acquire nuclear weapons.  I remember that 14 years ago, many people expressed doubt.

Today, there is no more doubt.  Today everyone knows.  Now let us see what they do.  This is the most important question I can raise here today at the Jerusalem Conference, in the eternal capital of the people of Israel.

Thank you.

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