Israelis must seize the day and seize the millennium

Knowing that our future in this land depends mainly on you and me, I am filled with optimism at this historic moment — the start of the year 2000.

History is a series of opportunities, seized or missed. For thousands of years, the Jewish people has experienced both kinds.

At the dawning of the new millennium, we have a rare opportunity: to ensure that our sovereign state is safe from enemies, enjoys peaceful relations with its neighbors and has borders recognized by the whole world.

The road to full security passes through peace accords, and we have reached the critical junction.

We have many things to be proud of, but there are also lessons to be learned. In the past century, the Jews have resettled in their historic homeland and reclaimed their freedom and sovereignty.

In the last millennium, we faced persecution and torture. We suffered the Holocaust. We founded our state to ensure that this time, our sovereignty in our land will not be a passing episode. We want the world to accept us as an equal. We want the world to recognize our natural rights to life, liberty, security — and our own capital, the eternal city of Jerusalem.

The road to that goal is neither short nor smooth, but we are getting closer to its end. If our adversaries are serious, we will need just a little more effort, faith and self-confidence to reach it.

The new millennium is full of promise. We enter it stronger than ever. We are confident of our ability and the legitimacy of our claims. We do not have excessive demands. We all wish to live safe and normal lives, to build homes, create families and be able to support them. We want to live in a country where parents do not bury their children.

A government must make an effort to allay its citizens' anxieties. In the first decades of statehood, we fought a war every nine or 10 years. There was constant anxiety about the soldiers on the front lines.

Eight years ago we entered a peace process and stopped fighting the familiar kind of wars. But our anxieties persisted. Fathers feared for their sons patrolling the alleys of Jabaliya and Nablus. Mothers still fear for the lives of their children in Lebanon.

Most of our friction with the Palestinians has dissipated and I have promised to end the bloodletting in Lebanon by July 2000. I will keep that promise.

Still, as long as the conflict remains unresolved we cannot live in peace. I am determined to change that. We have an opportunity to transform our anxiety-ridden society into a normal one. I am not going to let it slip by.

Peace is not just seizing an opportunity; it is an endless source of new opportunities. If we will it, it can be not only the realization of a dream, but the origin of many other dreams.

A society that can devote more resources to education, technology, infrastructure and the closing of social gaps will soar toward new heights. The wise use of our human resources, which have been so enriched by the large immigration from the former Soviet Union, will give us better, safer and calmer lives.

The well-being of people remains the primary purpose of our enterprise. Our government makes people its top priority, reaching out to every citizen. But only a true joining of hands between us all will guarantee a better future.

I expect people to take on more responsibility for themselves and those around them.

True, even if we all see to the needs of others to the best of our abilities, we cannot take the place of state institutions. But we will complement the state and make our communities better, while becoming better people ourselves. There is only one privilege greater than receiving, and that is giving.

Israel is marching confidently toward a better future. If our neighbors demonstrate the same determination, effort, and willingness to make decisions as we have, we can usher the Middle East into a new era. A strong and secure Israel will no longer live in isolation in a world united against it and will be able to produce treasures the likes of which we have never seen.

Within the next decade, the combination of our rare human resources, our technological capabilities and the international ties being forged today will place us among the most developed nations in the world in science, high-tech entrepreneurship, education and standard of living.

The projected growth will give the state greater resources. These will be used to alleviate problems, promote the weaker sectors of society, and forge a more creative, just and calm nation.

There is no justification for patients lying in crowded hospital corridors. There is no reason for 40 children to be squeezed into a classroom. There is no good reason for thousands of people to be out of work. There is no sense in masses of students, our future generation, being unable to complete their schooling because of economic distress.

I am determined to change this radically.

We will bring more fervently religious Jews into the workforce. We will rectify years of neglect of the Arab sector. We will create thousands of jobs all in the coming year. The budgets of the coming years will reflect a complete change of our national priorities: more money for infrastructure, health and welfare, and, above all, education, education, education — the real solution to all of society's ills.

We cannot compromise on security. Every day we work to strengthen it. I spent most of my adult years defending the state and its people. I did this in uniform, rising through the ranks, from private to lieutenant-general. I will not budge even an inch on security.

For me, peace is the means to strengthen our security and create real opportunity for our society and for every young person in it.

We are standing before a door of opportunity. We hold the key. It's true that peace agreements have two sides. It's true that there are many hitches along the way. And it's true that we will have to overcome many obstacles to reach the goal. But whether or not we walk through that door depends on each one of us.

Therefore, as a native son of this country, who knows its landscape and its people, I enter the new millennium full of hope. Knowing that our future in this land depends mainly on you and me, I am filled with optimism.