Addressing new Knesset, Netanyahu expresses hope for peace with Arab world

PM pledges to work for all citizens after divisive campaign, lauds Israel’s position on world stage; Blue and White leaders lambaste right-wing MKs at first party meeting

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to lawmakers at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on April 30, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to lawmakers at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony on April 30, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday pledged to act for the benefit of all Israeli citizens, extolled Israel’s position as a rising world power and expressed hope for peace with the Arab world despite the ongoing turmoil in the region.

“The Arab Spring has still not ended and the instability is not only in our region but throughout areas around us,” Netanyahu said in a speech at the opening of the 21st Knesset, referring to the series of anti-government uprisings that began in 2011.

Netanyahu said that Israel has been developing new relationships with Arab states and hoped to improve ties with its neighbors, though he did not mention the Palestinians.

“Our new hope, which is growing stronger, is for peaceful relations and normal relations with many of our Arab neighbors,” Netanyahu said.

He told party leaders that he would work for the betterment of all of Israel’s citizens in the new government.

“We will continue to act for the benefit of all citizens of Israel, without exception,” he said.

Critics have charged that Netanyahu throughout the campaign sowed seeds of discord, with rhetoric against Arab Israelis and leftists, as well as embracing divisive policies such as the nation-state law, which gives Judaism an enhanced standing in Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

In his address Netanyahu lauded Israel’s position on the world stage, especially in light of Holocaust Memorial Day on Wednesday, saying it made clear how far the Jewish people had come since the Holocaust.

“We have turned Israel into a rising world power, in security, in foreign relations, the economy, science and technology, water purification, energy resources,” Netanyahu said. “We send a spacecraft to the moon, and on the ground we make the desert bloom.”

Earlier Tuesday, in Blue and White’s first party meeting in the new Knesset, Benny Gantz said his centrist opposition party would work to block any effort to shield lawmakers suspected of criminality from prosecution, referring to calls from right-wing MKs to advance legislation that would grant immunity to lawmakers, including Netanyahu.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz speaks during the party’s first meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“We won’t allow the Knesset to become a city of refuge for lawbreakers,” Gantz said, hours before the 21st Knesset was sworn in.

The Union of Right-Wing Parties is reportedly planning to include support for a bill that would grant Netanyahu, who is facing criminal charges, immunity from prosecution among its conditions for joining the next government.

“The political campaigns are behind us, now we need to work,” Gantz said. “We will stand guard for our democracy even for those who didn’t vote for us.”

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid also spoke out against “a prime minister with indictments,” ruled out forming a unity government with Netanyahu’s Likud party, and castigated the PM for his campaign.

“The person who was elected on a campaign of incitement and division can spare us all the call for fake unity. The person who spread every dirty lie can spare us. Netanyahu has been systemically tearing the nation apart. That’s how he makes his living,” Lapid said.

President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other party leaders pose for a group picture during the swearing-in ceremony of Knesset members, on April 30, 2019. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

President Reuven Rivlin also addressed lawmakers Tuesday, adopting a tone of less-than-gentle admonishment after an election campaign in which he said politicians had “worked overtime in the service of delegitimization, hatred and slurs.”

Speaking at the opening induction ceremony for the incoming MKs, Rivlin began his address by quoting the late prime minister Menachem Begin’s call for “hatred and vilification to subside and mutual respect to increase.” The president, in turn, urged the lawmakers of the new parliament to “put down the cudgels of elections and clean up the mess.”

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