Ehud Olmert says happy birthday to Israel at 60

April 18, 2008

Israel’s Prime Minister celebrates his country’s achievements so far — and explains why peace is its greatest ambition The famous passage in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) prescribes that people reach the station of “old age” on their 60th birthday. Some commentaries claim that it is actually “wisdom” which is conferred upon reaching this milestone. From either perspective, 60 years since the miraculous creation of the State of Israel, this is a time to reflect. Emerging from embattled and humble beginnings, the Jewish state has exceeded all expectations for its success and prosperity. The history of the Zionist enterprise is well-known: surrounded and outnumbered by hostile neighbours, the nascent Israel was forced to defend itself against invasion and certain destruction. Ultimately, our founding generation prevailed over their adversaries, but the challenge of achieving both peace and security — which must, by necessity, go hand-in-hand — remains our foremost objective even today. This tenuous past, and the inherent hardships endured by those tasked with building a new, Jewish commonwealth, are a matter of historical record. And yet, the present plays host to a transformed State of Israel. No longer a tentative experiment, but a country with over seven million inhabitants and a per-capita GDP typical to the industrialised West. Gone are the austere measures of its infancy; on the brink of its seventh decade, Israel is home to an economy renowned as a magnet for venture-capital investment — and as the engine powering the highest number of foreign listings on the Nasdaq stock exchange from any one country outside the United States. Israel stands proudly at the forefront of international achievement. The world’s leading corporations — Google, Intel and Motorola, to name but a few — maintain research and development facilities here, and our technology start-ups continue to be acquired by the likes of AOL, eBay and IBM. Israeli vintages are celebrated and enjoyed by wine connoisseurs everywhere. The State of Israel, in partnership with Project Better Place and Renault-Nissan, is set to become the first country in the world to initiate the mass deployment of electric vehicles. And our motion-picture industry produced a nominee for this year’s Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. But nothing is more meaningful to our people than realising our collective ambition to live in peace with our neighbours. Fortunately, the Arab consensus which once rejected Israel’s right to live as a “free nation in our land” — as our national anthem proclaims— is no longer intact. The unanimous vilification of the past has given way to present voices of acceptance, most evident in our conclusion of formal peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and to hopes of expanded regional cooperation in the foreseeable future. The Government of Israel has pledged to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians and bring an end to the conflict which has exacted a most heavy price on our society. The campaign waged against us by Hamas, Hizbollah and other terrorist factions will be opposed vigorously and with all our might. But an opportunity now exists to effect progress toward peace with reasonable Palestinian interlocutors who share our commitment to dialogue — and this opportunity must be pursued. In so doing, we will further our deepest aspirations to ensure the creativity and promise of the Jewish nation. Israel at 60 is truly remarkable. The revitalised heart of an ancient people whose remnants returned home after suffering the horrors of the Shoah. A thriving country, despite having no natural resources of its own — other than the ingenuity and fortitude of its population. The fulfilment of a dream and a destiny, with the best still yet to come. Mazal tov to us all.

Last updated: 1:14pm, September 16 2008