Mr President of the State of Israel, cher Shimon Peres,
Mr Prime Minister, cher Benjamin Netanyahu,
Mr Speaker of the Knesset,
Madam Leader of the Opposition,
Members of the Knesset,
I would like to thank you sincerely for the honour you are doing me – and France – by permitting me to speak here before your parliament, the Knesset, which is both the symbol and the embodiment of Israeli democracy, bringing together every opinion present in your country.
My being here allows me to salute Israel, your state, for the 65th anniversary of its declaration of independence.
Israel was born of unspeakable pain, that of the men and women who – from the depths of pits and chasms, despite persecution and pogroms – hoped one day, at last, to reach the light here.
Israel was born of an irresistible determination, expressed like a prophesy by Theodor Herzl when he declared to the whole world that it would “be liberated by [your] freedom, enriched by [your] wealth, magnified by [your] greatness”. You made this history.
On 14 May 1948, you founded a sovereign nation, equal to all the others but different from them, as you made your tragedy as a lever to build your country. You have fought so many times in the last 65 years to preserve your country. And if Israel lives, if it exists, it is thanks only to you.
I would therefore like to pay homage to the whole Jewish people, whose history is interwoven with that of all humanity. Spread “over the deep waters of other civilizations”, as French historian Fernand Braudel wrote, the Jewish people have adapted to the conditions they have been given, often hostile. They have however written and sung in many languages, they have shared their talents, their knowledge and their creativity. They have helped to improve the world. But never have the Jewish people ceased to look towards this land: the land of Israel.
Yet it is only after the abomination of the Holocaust that the Jewish people at last found its homeland here. It has built its “political home”, sheltering a democracy whose vitality has never wavered. It is here that it has built a “household”, bringing together, by mind and heart, millions of men and women from around the world who look with admiration – and very often pride – upon how Israel is fulfilling its promise.
Here you have created an open society, founded on the equality of all citizens before the law, “without distinction of creed or sex”, as the founding fathers wished.
You have built a solid, dynamic and prosperous economy, on land which was not necessarily the most fertile and with limited resources.
You have maintained the mindset of the pioneers. Today, in the hi-tech field, you have even taken the lead. I am here to promote cooperation with your universities and your laboratories, which are some of the most effective in the world. You have managed to create a global centre for innovation.
You have also given us great scientists, including Dan Shechtman and others, so many others that I’m not going to mention their names, who have received high distinctions for their scientific work. You have also given us great writers, such as Shai Agnon, the Nobel Prize laureate, who was congratulated “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people”. And those many great film-makers who have enthralled audiences around the world.
But I’m not going to cite here all those who have been an honour to your country. I am going to move on to Shimon Peres, who is both the witness and the actor in this story, your history. He is also the witness and the actor in our history, that of the relationship between Israel and France. When I have a question about what relations were like between Israel and my country, I call Shimon Peres. For he met General Charles de Gaulle. For he, Shimon Peres, was a friend of François Mitterrand. Many claimed to be, but there were few. He was one of them. That never stopped him from being the friend of many others.
Yes, France has always been on Israel’s side, from the very first day, in affirming its right to exist. Sixty-five years later, I am here, like François Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy before me, to express France’s friendship with Israel. You can count on that friendship. It is all the stronger as it goes beyond political changes, successive leaders, and even the vagaries of international life.
On occasions, this friendship has been, not compromised – never compromised – but shaken by the frankness we have had to show, or that you have had to show. For between friends, elegance firstly means truth.
But history has created an indestructible relationship between us which goes a long way back, as the Prime Minister has said: during the Enlightenment, great philosophers were inspired by Judaism to pass on a universal message.
France would not be France if, in 1791, it had not been the first country in Europe – as you recalled yourself, Mr President – to recognize Jewish people in Europe as fully-fledged citizens. France would not fully be France if, from its deepest conscience, voices like those of Émile Zola, Georges Clemenceau and Jean Jaurès had not spoken out to defend the offended honour of Captain Alfred Dreyfus.
It is because voices in France spoke out to defend Dreyfus that Jewish people in Europe came to my country with full confidence, because they thought that there they were no longer in danger. Yes, our history also includes the deportation of 76,000 Jewish people between 1942 and 1944. On 16 July 2012, 70 years after the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup, I recalled that this crime had been committed in France, by France and against France, as did Jacques Chirac before me. But I also recalled that while some covered themselves in shame, others, so many others, more numerous, protected and saved Jews to the extent that some were recognized as "Righteous among the Nations", preserving France’s honour.
Yes, as Benjamin Netanyahu mentioned, we were at Yad Vashem yesterday, overcome by emotion, pain and horror. At the same time, we were conscious of our responsibility, the responsibility of all the countries that experienced this tragedy, to live up to their duty to ensure that never, never again, a crime against the Jewish people shall be repeated.
This is why France fights anti-Semitism with all its might, wherever it manifests itself. We hunt it down tirelessly on our soil. Because alas, this abomination has not disappeared. It dates back to the depths of history, takes on masks that differ every time, and it seeks justifications... But it is always the face of hatred. It continues to kill innocent people.
On 19 March 2012, in Ozar Hatorah school – yes, a school! – in Toulouse, Myriam Monsonego, Gabriel Sandler, Arieh Sandler and Jonathan Sandler were murdered. Murdered because they were Jewish. In the aftermath of that tragedy – I was not yet President – I said that that crime could not go unpunished. I said above all that we must prevent any resurgence of anti-Semitism. A year ago, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, I was in Toulouse to pay homage to their families. Tomorrow morning, I will visit the Givat Shaul cemetery, where they lie. They are your brothers and sisters, but they are also our own. Here, at this podium, I reaffirm France’s commitment to ensure, under all circumstances, the security and integrity of the Jews of France.
I know what the Jewish community in France represents. It is the largest Jewish community in Europe and today, as in the past, it contributes to the greatness of my country. It has given us great, illustrious figures in all political, scientific, artistic and economic fields.
It is fully French, but also fraternally attached to Israel. Several of its representatives have accompanied me here. They also travelled with me to Palestine, and I thank them for that. They show that the cause of peace is shared.
I also know that more than 100,000 – I have been told 120,000, perhaps even more – French nationals live in Israel and have this double loyalty, contributing to the vitality of your country and at the same time participating in France’s outreach, here in Israel.
As you recalled, Mr President, 10% of Israel’s population speaks French. Indeed, you have all proven that. I even asked myself why your speeches were translated and why mine is. Our two languages are also linked by their history.
Legend has it that the founder of modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, said that it was in a Parisian street, “in a café on boulevard Montmartre” that he began to speak Hebrew. He hadn’t spoken without knowing how to speak it, but it was in Paris that he realized that he should speak it and that he should even make the first modern dictionary. Why? Because the French language is a language of sharing. Because the French language is a language which gives itself to others and Hebrew also has this universal vocation.
I would like our cultures, and the languages we speak, to be shared. This is part of our relationship – culture, values and principles – that makes us proud to be peoples who believe we have a message for the world.
The Prime Minister and I have therefore penned a declaration for a new stage in our bilateral cooperation. Let me be frank: we make a lot of declarations. We write a great number of them. Sometimes I wonder what they become when the ink has dried. This time, we want to give our friendship new strength.
In economic terms, French businesses are present in Israel in important fields including energy, transport and new technology.
There have been agreements – and I welcome them – between French and Israeli businesses for infrastructure, including in the rail and solar power sectors. But we must admit that there are not enough French businesses in Israel. There are not enough commercial exchanges between our two countries, and we have to do more.
We have chosen to make innovation and new technology central to our cooperation. You are – it would seem – the world champions in start-ups, but Israel is itself a start-up in a way.
We need to make sure that all these businesses, French and Israeli, which create and invent, working on technologies that are not those of tomorrow but the generation beyond, can forge new ties and partnerships of excellence, because we have this scientific ambition ourselves. France is a great country of research. It dedicates less money than you to this necessity; yours is the country that spends the most – and so the best – on research and innovation. We have decided to relaunch the France-Israel High Council for Scientific and Technological Cooperation.
I also want more Israeli students to come to France, and French students to go to Israel. I want the cooperation projects between France’s École Polytechnique and the Technion to be considered a model for all higher education establishments.
I was speaking about culture. I propose the organization of a cross-cultural season between France and Israel in 2018, for the 70th anniversary of Israel. This is what we have to do together as friendly countries.
Next, we also need to discuss the major issues for the world, and the first issue is peace and security. Through its history, responsibilities and role as a permanent member of the Security Council, France knows the Middle East well. It wishes to remain committed there. That is its duty. You know our principles for this region. They have not changed since the birth of your state.
Israel has the right and duty to defend itself, to protect its existence and to ensure the safety of its people. I know you count only on your own forces to achieve this. But I can tell you that France is there. It is your friend. But we need to go further and show it.
Firstly, on the subject of proliferation, France will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. We have nothing against Iran. Iran is a country which itself has a long, great history. We have nothing against its people, who deserve to be able to have access to energy, including nuclear energy, in the civilian sector. But we cannot allow it access to nuclear weapons, as that would be a threat to Israel and other regional countries, which have well understood. It would also be a danger for the whole world.
The utmost must now be done to resolve this crisis. How? Through diplomatic channels and negotiation. This is always the avenue that should be taken. This is how an agreement can be reached, how it can be checked without risk of the situation becoming inflamed.
The 5+1 group has made serious, solid and credible proposals, while the negotiations had been entangled for years, and nothing appeared to be changing. France has made sure – our Minister of Foreign Affairs saw to this – that all demands will be taken into account and that all safeguards will be provided for. It is now up to Iran to respond. Not with mere words, not with vague promises, but with tangible, verifiable steps. I hereby affirm that we will maintain sanctions until we have the certainty of the definitive and irreversible abandoning by Iran of its military nuclear programme.
On another subject, another major issue – terrorism – France has shown that it is also prepared to shoulder its responsibilities. You know what terrorism is. That endless suffering inflicted upon innocent people. We experienced together the shock of Gilad Shalit’s abduction, so we know what these abductions, these hostages can mean too. France is concerned. We are also affected by terrorism when journalists are murdered because they are journalists, and also because they are French; and when a country is threatened by terrorism – not simply acts of terrorism, but a terrorist invasion, because terrorism is now a matter not simply of groups, but of forces capable of controlling territories –, France responds to the request that is made to it. This was the case in Mali. France shouldered its responsibility.
In the face of terrorism, fast, strong action is needed, in compliance with international law.
The other major issue is the Middle East situation. The Middle East has seen considerable changes and upheavals in recent months. Today we need to ensure that the region’s countries can return to stability and freedom.
But we must mention the Syria tragedy. France has been alerting the international community for several months. This is not just any civil war in Syria against a dictator. It is the crushing of a people, leading necessarily to the arrival of groups who take advantage of the disarray, the anger and the exasperation of that people in order to hijack the very aims of the revolution.
When chemical weapons were used in Syria – for they have been used in Syria – we exerted the military and political pressure which was required. Were it not for this military pressure, whose soundness was at one point questioned by certain parties, there would still be chemical weapons in use in Syria today.
They must and will be destroyed.
But we will not have finished if there is no political solution in Syria. If there is no transition, there will be more and more refugees. So countries close to you – your neighbours – will be destabilized, Jordan and Lebanon in particular. We must find a solution, and France will spare no effort to reach one.
The last major issue is that of peace and negotiations with Palestine.
I have not come here to lecture you. I am here to speak to you frankly and sincerely, with total respect for what you have to decide yourselves – for it is you who decide. But you do not merely decide for yourselves: you decide for the region and for the whole world. That is your responsibility.
I remember the words of David Grossman: “We have to guard ourselves, by defending ourselves both physically and morally, (…) from the pollution of the heart, (…) the biggest curse of those living in a disastrous region." He was talking to his son, Uri, who had died during the war in 2006. His words are those of the infinite courage of Israel, which needs to negotiate and move towards peace.
You have come a long way in 20 years. Solutions which appeared inconceivable and words which seemed unspeakable have become commonplace, starting with the need for a Palestinian State, of which François Mitterrand spoke here, at this podium, more than 30 years ago. Today, what is urgent is to make progress, further progress, and reach a definitive peace agreement. The status quo is untenable. It will always lead to resentment, grudges and hatred.
I am of course aware of the obstacles you need to overcome. There is the commitment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has taken steps for talks to resume. That was necessary. Further gestures will have to follow. But I know what the release of prisoners represented. On the Palestinian side, I was with President Abbas.
We also have the same mindset, because I don’t say two different things, one thing to Israel and another thing to Palestine.
I have mentioned the efforts that need to be made and the realism that will be needed to find a solution. Realism on all subjects. This is the very meaning of the talks and negotiations you hold.
France’s position is known. It is that of a negotiated settlement so that the State of Israel and the State of Palestine – both with Jerusalem as capital – can coexist in peace and security. Two states for two peoples. This is the constant message for a final settlement.
But a final settlement means putting an end to all claims. A final settlement means not then making new demands for an agreement. It means at last putting an end to this conflict.
This agreement will be meaningful only if Israel’s security is strengthened and no new threats emerge.
As for the Palestinian State, it will have to be built on solid foundations. It must be viable.
This is why settlement activity must end, as it compromises the two-state solution. Similarly, facilities must be provided for the Palestinian economy, so that all opportunities for its development and growth make a better life possible. Many say that it is peace which will make prosperity and recognition of all talents possible at last.
France is prepared to support you.
It is true that France has long had good relations with the Arab countries. We are wholly prepared to use this confidence which the Arab countries have in us, in France, to say to them “push for negotiation as well, strive, not simply to take initiatives – they are needed – but also to do your utmost to convince all parties to work towards an agreement.”
This is what I came to say to you about our relations, our friendship, our confidence and our hope.
Even before the creation of the State of Israel, a great Frenchman, Léon Blum – you mentioned him – had a dream. He was at the end of his life. He too had experienced many ordeals – I do not mean his experience of government, which is a test in itself, but his deportation. He came back tired, and aged. He knew his end was nigh. So he wrote a book to pass on a message to future generations. This message is that man is made noble when he plans, hopes, anticipates, works to achieve something that he himself won’t see, which won’t be completed and from which he will never gain.
Time has passed. Part of Léon Blum’s dream has come true. He too looked towards Israel. But the work is not yet finished. That work is peace.
Peace requires courage. No doubt more so than war. You do not lack courage.
Peace requires will. The will to overcome one’s own injuries, grief and fears. You have shown you are capable of this.
Above all, peace presupposes confidence. This is the hardest. Confidence in the other, in partners, in the future. Self-confidence.
Confidence even in friends and allies. Confidence is needed. At the beginning, it is hard. Then we deserve, seek and find it.
Peace is the finest human achievement. Peace will be your victory, your greatest victory.
I will finish with these words, which, I hope, will be pronounced correctly: “Hayim aroukim veshalom le am Israel” [Good life and peace to the people of Israel]./.