PM Netanyahu’s Remarks at the Start of the Weekly Israeli Cabinet Meeting

Following are Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s remarks at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting today (Sunday), 7.8.11: „In recent weeks we have witnessed public protests that are giving expression to genuine distress.  The distress is focused on the cost of living and the cost of housing but it has many other aspects.  I understand this distress; I am attentive to it, as is the Cabinet.
We started to deal with several of the problems when the Government was formed;
for example, housing reform, the plan that saved higher education and a plan –
for roads and railways – that is now bringing the periphery closer to the center.
However, there are additional areas that need to be dealt with.  It is impossible to ignore the voices coming from the public and there is no reason for doing so.  We want to give genuine solutions.  We
will give them.  I would like to give these solutions, in a thorough – not cosmetic – way, i.e. a genuine change in the order of priorities, a change that will ease the economic burden on Israelis.
We are aware of the fact that working couples with children are finding it difficult to finish the month.  We recognize the plight of students who cannot pay their rent.  We are aware of the distress of
the residents of neighborhoods, of discharged soldiers and others.  We want to provide genuine solutions.
Today, I am appointing a professional committee chaired by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg.
 The Trajtenberg Committee will be comprised of professionals from within and outside the government.  Prof. Trajtenberg will need a day or two to complete the list of outside experts.  This Committee will hold a broad dialogue with different groups and sectors within the public.  The
committee will listen to the distress and to proposals, and will make recommendations that will be submitted to the Social and Economic Cabinet chaired by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
After the Social and Economic Cabinet hears
these proposals, final recommendations will be formulated and submitted to me.
I intend to submit the plan to the whole Cabinet.  I want full Cabinet backing
for the major change that we are about to bring to the Israeli economy.
I would like to say a few words why I chose
Prof. Trajtenberg to chair the Committee.  Manuel is a rare combination of an
economist and a man with social sensitivity.  Until recently, he chaired the
National Economic Council.  Afterwards, he took it upon himself to save higher
education, which had been in deep crisis for a decade, and did so in exemplary
fashion.  Indeed, there is a change and everyone can see it.  Much of this is
due to you, Manuel.  You outlined a vision and brought the solution.  Manuel is
familiar with the Government as well as the public.  He also believes in the
idea of the roundtable, or, I should say, round tables, since I will need to
open many round tables in order to listen to many people, within a short
time.
My request is that the recommendations of the
professional committee that you will chair be brought to Social and Economic
Cabinet and afterwards to the entire Cabinet within the next month.  This is not
a lot of time.  The workload will be heavy but I know that it will be done with
great effort, in order to really bring about change.
This change must be focused on several areas
that I will define to the Committee.  First, proposals to change the list of
priorities in order to ease the economic burden on Israelis.  Second, change the
combination of tax payments.  Third, expanding access to social services.
Fourth, increasing competition and efficiency in the markets for goods and
services in order to reduce prices.  Five, steps to implement the
housing plan that we have already launched
.  I add that the
team’s recommendations will give expression to the need to maintain fiscal
responsibility in the state budget.  Responsibility is especially necessary in a
period of economic uncertainty.
We are in a period of economic uncertainty.
Yesterday, something happened which had not occurred in the previous 70 years,
since countries began to receive credit ratings.  The credit rating of the US,
the greatest economic power in the world, was lowered by Standard and Poor’s.
This event joins with the crisis that is spreading to the major economies of
Europe.  It is possible that 120-130 million Europeans live in countries that
are on the verge of bankruptcy and mass unemployment.
Therefore, we must act with economic
responsibility here while making the corrections that express social
sensitivity.  We must act in two spheres simultaneously.  It is very difficult
to build an economy.  I have dealt with this, along with many of you.  We dealt
with building the Israeli economy.  Twice, we led it from severe crises, in 2003
and in 2008.  We did so successfully.  We built the economy.  The economy is
strong and it withstood these crises as it will yet withstand others that await
us.
However, we know that we must make the internal
corrections.  As we succeeded in crossing stormy economic waters, we will also
make the social corrections, with sensitivity, and with responsibility.  I am
convinced that we will succeed.
A last remark.  We will be unable to please
everybody.  One cannot please everybody.  It is impossible to take the sum total
of the demands regarding all the distress and say, and boast, that we can meet
them all.  We will listen to everyone.  We will speak with everyone.  We will
hold a genuine dialogue, not pressured and perfunctory, but we will really
listen both to the distress and to the proposals for solutions.  In the end, we
will consider practical solutions.  Practical solutions require choices.  They
also require balance.
I think that the Cabinet can unite behind the
professional team that we are bringing here.  I would like to very much thank
Manuel, that you agreed to take upon yourself this difficult task.  I know that
you held intense discussions and were not without hesitation.  We know that
there are things which are not yet clear; we will need to clarify them.  I am
certain of one thing.  I am certain that I chose the best person in the State of
Israel to take up this difficult mission.”
Professor Trajtenberg: „In recent weeks,
we have witnessed a very strong, very impressive and unconventional process that
has taken place in Israeli society and among the Israeli public.  What clearly
arises from it is that on the one hand, there is the expression of frustration,
pain and disappointment that a reasonable economic existence seems distant, even
uncertain, for young working families.  On the other hand, there is, within this
process, the expression of a very tangible yearning, hope and longing for social
justice.
Pain on the one hand and longing on the other
signify a great potential for a change for the better within Israeli society.
To a large extent, this depends on the ability to translate these genuine
feelings from the language of protest into a language of deeper professional
understanding and eventually into the language of action, policy and
implementation.  The translator’s task is not easy.  The dictionaries of the
past will not help.  They failed.  We must find, we must perhaps invent the
Rosetta Stone that will allow us to do the work.
Mr. Prime Minister, I decided to accept this
task and this is a tribute to your powers of persuasion and your Finance
Minister’s entreaties.  But I admit that I do so with mixed feelings.  On the
one hand, I do so with great excitement because we have before us a rare
opportunity to bring about genuine change in our dear country.  On the other
hand, I do so with a deep awareness of the great responsibility that this task
entails, given the expectations and the risks.
Mr. Prime Minister, I thank you very much for
the confidence that you have vested in me.  You may be certain that beyond the
mix of excitement and unease that I feel at the moment, my commitment, and that
of the team that will be set up, is full and without hesitation.  We have no
alternative but success, success – first of all – in listening and in outlining
a wise and very responsible policy given the reality around us.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu: „Thank you
very much.  On behalf of the entire Cabinet as well as – I think – the Israeli
people, thank you.”