President Shimon Peres gave the opening speech at the swearing in ceremony for the 18th Knesset on Tuesday afternoon.
"Peace will create a new economic situation – for both us and our neighbors, and will allow us to bridge the social gaps," Peres said after urging the assembled MKs to "complete the negotiations with the
Palestinians, this term if possible."
The president also wished luck on the Prime Minister designate, Benjamin Netanyahu: "I emphasized to him that most of the parties want a wide government. And this is my request as well."
He also spoke of the resilience of Israel's southern towns in the face of rocket attacks and expressed his hopes that captive soldier Gilad Shalit would be returned to his family.
"The recent elections were held after stormy days in Gaza. This is also a strong moment for national unity, for the fortitude of the residents of the South and for the exceptional abilities of the IDF. The people's heart beat together with its soldiers, with the residents of the South, with the wounded and with the bereaved families who lost their loved ones.
Kadima MKs Nachman Shai, Tzipi Livni and Avishay Braverman (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Peres touched on the global economic crisis, saying there was no time to put off helping the weaker sectors because of security threats such as the Iranian nuclear program or terror groups in Lebanon and Gaza.
Of the 120 Knesset members sworn in on Tuesday, 31 are new MKs and several more are returning to the plenum after a hiatus. The 18th Knesset also boasts the largest percentage of female MKs – 21 of its ranks are women.
The first to recite the oath was longest-serving MK – Michael Eitan of the Likud. The veteran parliamentarian also presided over the session, and he will continue to serve as acting Knesset speaker until a permanent one is chosen.
MK Eitan opened his remarks with a brief prayer, and then went on to say the times call for "genuine national unity from all of us so we can fulfill our duty to the country and bestow a constitution upon it, a vital tool that empowers the citizen, society and the state itself."
Eitan said 17 Knessets had so far failed to agree on and ratify a constitution.
Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report