H.E. Natan Sharansky
Deputy Prime Minister
Minister of Construction and Housing

Special Session of the General Assembly
For an Overall Review and Appraisal of the
Implementation of the Habitat Agenda

New York
7 June 2001

Mr. President,

Israel's allegiance to the Habitat Agenda places our citizens at the focus of all our policies for shelter and sustainable development. We have developed integrated housing solutions for various population groups, with strategies that recognize the differing needs and abilities of our citizens.

In order to promote home ownership, we provide subsidized mortgages for all first time homebuyers, based on established socio-economic criteria. The combination of progressive mortgage packages, transparent criteria and privatized servicing has allowed us to reach an overall home ownership level of more than 70 percent.

Our high level of homeownership is quite remarkable in light of our history of immigrant absorption. Over the past decade, Israel has successfully absorbed more than one million immigrants, many of them impoverished families from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, representing an increase of approximately 20 percent of our national population. To help immigrant absorption, our government provides especially generous mortgage packages, which have resulted in a homeownership rate among new immigrants that is virtually as high as that of the general population.

Distinguished delegates, I can personally attest to the effectiveness of these shelter policies since I, myself, came to Israel as a new immigrant in the late eighties and benefited tremendously from our country's assistance programs.

I wish to emphasize that our policy of immigrant absorption has operated alongside our commitment to meet the needs of veteran Israeli households. We have developed special assistance packages for young couples, single-parent households, single persons, the elderly and persons with physical disabilities. They are available, without exception, to the entire spectrum of Israeli society, veterans and immigrants, Jews and Arabs.

Furthermore, to help promote sustainable development nationwide I sponsored, as Minister of the Interior, the preparation of numerous master plans, including almost 30 local outlying plans, for Arab cities and towns.

Distinguished delegates,

Certain delegations have regrettably chosen to appropriate today's session to level unfounded political attacks against Israel, rather than contribute in a productive manner to the discussion. It seems as if for these countries, there are no pressing habitat problems other than those relating to Israel. I sincerely regret that I am now obliged to depart from my intended statement to address these accusations.

I come here straight from the heartbreaking funerals where parents buried twenty teenage sons and daughters who were brutally massacred in a Tel-Aviv discothèque this past Friday. Even after witnessing such gruesome carnage - the most recent and most violent manifestation of an eight-month-old terror campaign - Israel is exercising restraint. In the meantime, we have chosen not to use our military capabilities in order to give peace yet another chance. In spite of this unprecedented policy of restraint, we are being accused, from this podium, of using excessive force. In fact, Israel is facing an unparalleled and coordinated campaign of terror, orchestrated by the Palestinian leadership, which has also contributed scores of soldiers to this war by releasing convicted terrorists from Palestinian jails.

We as housing ministers and habitat experts all know that a strong foundation is critical for building a durable structure. The Oslo peace process, which once offered so much promise, was founded on a commitment to non-violence, based on our hope that the terrorists of yesterday had become our partners for peace. Eight years later, the leaders who have once again become the indisputable champions of terrorism, are threatening the structure of peace.

We empathize with the suffering of the Palestinians, but the fact remains that much of their suffering is the result of the misguided policies of their own leadership. The achievement of a true and durable peace will only be realized when Governments are accountable to their people, and truly committed to the advancement and welfare of their citizens.

As for Israel's six million citizens, who do live under a democratic Government, they are being blackmailed by terrorists who are striving to make life's daily routine unbearable and who are falsely portraying settlements as the central obstacle to peace. The international community must not legitimize this pursuit of political objectives through violence and terrorism.

Israel is a country that is at the forefront of the struggle of the free world against terrorism. Surrendering to the blackmail of terrorists will inevitably encourage and strengthen them throughout the world. Accordingly, it should be in the interest of all free nations to work together to subdue terrorist organizations and to prevent them from subverting the will of free peoples.

In our case, it was previously agreed that the issue of settlements would be raised within the context of bilateral negotiations on a final status agreement. Cessation of violence, by contrast, is not a matter to be negotiated, or to be switched on and off at will. The cessation of violence is a basic precondition of all the compromises entailed in the peace process. This formula dates back to 1993, and is one to which both parties have agreed.

The cessation of violence is also the central recommendation of the report of the Mitchell Committee, which Israel has endorsed in all its aspects. This remains the cornerstone of all the other measures that are to follow. Terror and violence must stop before we can move forward.

Mr. President,

I wish to conclude by reaffirming Israel's commitment to the goals and principles of the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements, and to the need to promote integrated urban and regional growth. We must reconfirm the interdependence of human settlements around the globe and work to enhance the living conditions of all six billion citizens of the world. Israel looks forward to that day, when safe and secure shelter will be achieved, and when the dictum of prophet Isaiah will finally be realized: peace, peace for those both far and near.

Thank you, Mr. President