Full text of speech / 'I regret my mistakes'
As a citizen of a democratic state I have always believed that when a prime minister is elected in Israel, even those who voted against him at the polls are obligated to desire his success. Instead of gaining that basic trust, however, I found myself subject to a wave of investigations, examinations and criticism immediately after being elected. Practically from my first day in the Prime Minister's Office I was forced to repulse malicious assaults, while I was busy making critical decisions pertinent to Israel's security and existence. Still, during my term Israel's situation continued to improve.
In the security arena, we strengthened the Israel Defense Forces: We continued to build up its might and greatly increased its resources. There is calm in the north and it is not under any immediate threat. Israel's deterrent capability has improved beyond recognition. We also learned our lessons and rectified our mistakes. The self-examination processes are essential mechanisms to a healthy society - I am proud of them.
In the economic and social spheres we have maintained a stable economy and brought it to significant achievements. We stepped up the struggle against poverty and the level of involvement in distressed areas, particularly in the periphery. The number of poor people continues to decline. We invested one billion shekels in an attempt to improve the education system. We increased old-age allowances, we focused on helping at-risk children and established a system to provide care for very young children, whose needs we had ignored for years.
We achieved a positive record in employment figures: Hundreds of thousands joined the workforce. Unemployment dropped to 6.1 percent, compared to 10.5 percent three years ago. Beyond all these, I continue to believe with all my heart that achieving peace, the cessation of terror, strengthening security, creating a different relationship with our neighbors - these are the most essential goals for Israel's future. The support of the United States, under George W. Bush's leadership, is a great help toward these goals. We are closer than ever to concrete understandings that will likely serve as a basis for agreements in our dialogues with both the Palestinians and the Syrians. On the day the dream of peace comes true we will all stand and wonder: How did we not achieve this sooner? As long as I remain at my post I will not stop trying to continue to bring the negotiations between us and our neighbors to a successful conclusion that embodies hope. In my position as prime minister I bear the highest responsibility for decisions. There are outstanding people in this country. Together with them I have led far-reaching, daring and complex processes. I never tried to boast about these achievements in public for political gain. Most of them are concealed from the majority of the public, but are well-known to the executors and the partners in those decisions.
The entire time I was forced to defend myself from ceaseless attacks by the self-appointed soldiers of justice, who sought to oust me from my position. I am the prime minister, and am naturally a target for political struggle. But every intelligent person knows that things are totally out of proportion. Have I made mistakes in my many years of political activity? Of course! I am sorry and regret them. But is the true picture of things the one that is presented to the public? Not at all! As prime minister I am denied the elementary right of presumed innocence, in the absence of the ability to present it at the height of a forced process, in which I must be silent. I want to make one thing clear: I am proud to be a citizen of a country in which a prime minister can be investigated like any other citizen. It is the duty of the police to investigate. It is the duty of the State Prosecutor's Office to instruct the police, and I have nothing against them for that. The prime minister is not above the law, but neither is he beneath it.
This is not my personal problem. This is a challenge for our ability, as a state, to maintain the stability and balance of the democratic regime. Neither a clerk, nor a junior or senior investigator, nor a lawyer no matter how important and honest - as are the vast majority in the police and the State Prosecutor's Office - has the right or the authority to decide whether the prime minister can serve or continue his duties. Such decisions should be made after a responsible, quiet, orderly process, as in every democratic country. Unfortunately, that orderly process is no longer taking place here.
It is my duty to responsibly conduct a personal accounting for us all, even if it hurts, even if it requires decisions that involve a personal price. This could be a milestone for the future of our democratic lives. Perhaps I, today, with my personal decision, am opening a window to a better reality.
I reiterate what I have already said. I have complete and satisfying answers. I will not conduct this discourse in the media or at a press conference, but rather a balanced and fair struggle, as I have done my whole life. Those preaching to me today will one day have to contend with the truth, as it will come out before them. They know this very well. Now the moment has come for me to make a decision. I am not doing this out of a sense that I cannot fulfill my duties. I believe, with all my being, in my ability to continue fulfilling my mission, as I believe my own honesty and innocence. But the current campaign of abuse, even by honest people who truly care about the state and its image, raises a question that I do not want to and cannot evade. What is more important? My private justice, or the public good? My private justice is very important to me. The infringement of my family's privacy pains me exceedingly. In the choice between the considerations of my status and ability to struggle for my justice, and the considerations of the good of the state, the latter are more important!!!
I have therefore decided not to run in the Kadima party primaries. Nor do I intend to intervene in the internal elections, in keeping with the decision I proposed, and their outcome has my blessing. My decision was not made out of bitterness, nor in an atmosphere of preaching. I have come to say only a little of what has been in my heart for many months. When a new party chairman is elected I will resign my position as prime minister, in order to permit the newly elected chairman to form another government, quickly and efficiently. I believe that there is a broad public foundation for such a government and that it will be established within a short time. I will step aside properly, in a respectable, fair and responsible fashion, just as I have served throughout my term. Then I will prove my innocence. We have a singular, wonderful country, unlike any other in the world. I love it with all my heart and soul, and I am grateful to you, the citizens of Israel, for the right you gave me to act on your behalf.