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Netanyahu: Israel strives for quiet, and ‘ultimately, for peace’

At Knesset anniversary session, PM defends decision to keep Palestinian workers out of settlements; Edelstein says Israel’s democracy ‘in danger’

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset during a special plenum anniversary session on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset during a special plenum anniversary session on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel strives for quiet, and “ultimately for peace,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset on Tuesday, during a speech that saw Arab lawmakers walk out of the plenum in protest.

In the event to mark the 67th anniversary of the first Knesset plenum session, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud) warned that Israel’s democracy is “in danger,” while President Reuven Rivlin cautioned that Israeli society is increasingly fractured, with each group viewing itself “as a persecuted, criticized minority.”

In his remarks, the prime minister praised Israeli democracy, saying it was firm, while noting that in comparison to Israel’s early governments, “it has what to be improved, it has what to aspire to.” The Knesset and Israeli democracy requires “political maturity,” he said.

Addressing the deadly Otniel terror attack, the prime minister defended the Israeli decision to bar Palestinian workers from Israeli settlements after Dafna Meir, 38, was stabbed to death in her West Bank home on Sunday night.

“We strongly want to uphold the routine, both ours and theirs,” he said. But “we will not hesitate to prevent workers from entering settlements. We want to restore the quiet and coexistence, and ultimately, peace.”

The prime minister lashed out at Palestinian incitement, which he said stems from a desire to “eradicate us from the land,” a comment that prompted several Joint (Arab) List MKs to leave the room.

The prime minister also hailed Israel’s democracy and values, saying it stands “on the other side to the ideologies we see in the Arab world today.”

“Israel stands on the other side of despotic Middle Eastern regimes. We have rule of law. We have democracy. We have democratic institutions,” he said.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (top), President Reuven Rivlin (center) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog attend a special anniversary session of parliament, on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (top), President Reuven Rivlin (center) and opposition leader Isaac Herzog attend a special anniversary session of parliament, on January 19, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The president and Knesset speaker, in their respective addresses, were far more tempered in their praise.

“A Knesset is elected and disperses, Knesset members come and go, but Israeli democracy, my friends, is today in danger,” Edelstein said.

Still, the Likud MK urged those present at the open-house festivities not to “throw out the baby with the bathwater.”

“Don’t let the minority of elected officials, whose behavior in this hall or outside of it primarily embarrasses themselves, defame the Knesset as a whole,” he said.

The president, meanwhile, sounded the alarm about deepening Israeli tribalism.

“Day after day I meet citizens, and groups from different communities in Israeli society,” Rivlin said. “Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, secular, Arabs. There are a lot of differences between them, but to my surprise, they all have one feeling in common. All, without exception, see themselves as a persecuted, criticized minority whose identity and values are under constant threat by other groups.”

Turning to the lawmakers, he implored them to “pave us a joint path, a path of cooperation.”

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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