Before the election, some pundits were writing his political obituary. But Israeli voters gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a stunning victory in the recent elections. His Likud Party won nearly half the seats it needed for a majority in the next Knesset. It’s a result that embarrassed the pollsters and sent shockwaves to Tehran and Washington. Israeli voters delivered a clear message to the White House, the media and the world: Thanks for your help, but we’ll keep our prime minister. What was supposed to be a tight race that favoured the leftist Zionist Union turned overnight into a surprisingly strong victory for the nationalist right, led by Netanyahu.
Netanyahu will now bypass parties on the Left and try to form a government of the Right, but he will have to focus on the high cost of housing and other social issues as well. That contributed to the 24 seats won by Labor and the good showing of Kulanu, a Likud offshoot, that the prime minister will need for his majority. Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s victory sets Israel and the Obama administration on a potential collision course over Iran. USA Director of National Intelligence James Clapper just removed Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, from its list of terror threats, while Netanyahu calls Iran the number one state sponsor of terror in the world.
In his acceptance speech Netanyahu said ” We are currently facing three tremendous challenges: The Iranian threat, the financial crisis, and the promotion of peace. The Iranian threat still is before us. The greatest danger to Israel,, and to all of humanity, is the encounter between extremist Islam and nuclear weapons. I have been working tirelessly for many years to form an international front against Iran arming itself with nuclear armaments. Relative to the world financial crisis Netanyahu said “We have drawn up a two-year budget and will pass it through the Knesset very soon.”
Netanyahu went on to declare “the third important challenge facing us is promoting peace. I discussed this with President Obama. I share the President of the USA’s desire to bring about a new era of reconciliation in our region. I discussed it also in meetings with President Mubarak in Egypt and with King Abdullah in Jordan to obtain the assistance of these leaders in the effort to expand the circle of peace in our region. I appeal to the leaders of all Arab countries: Let us meet and talk about peace.
I say to the Palestinians: We want to live with you in peace with good neighbourly relations. We want children to ‘know war no more.’ We do not want families to know the sorrow of bereavement. We want our children to dream of a better future for humankind. We want to devote our efforts to ‘ploughshares and pruning hooks’ and not to “swords and spears”? I know the terror of war, I participated in battles, I lost good friends and a brother in battle. I saw the pain of bereaved families very many times. I do not want war. No one in Israel wants war. Let us join hands and work together in peace, together with our neighbours.
With the advantages of peace so clear, so obvious, we must ask ourselves why is peace still so far from us, even though our hands are extended for peace? Why has the conflict gone on for over 60 years? What is the root of the conflict? The simple truth is that the root of the conflict has been the refusal to recognize the right of the Jewish People to their own state in our historical homeland. In 1947 when the United Nations proposed the Partition Plan for a Jewish and an Arab state, the entire Arab world rejected the proposal, while the Jewish community accepted it with great rejoicing. The Arabs refused any Jewish state whatsoever.
Whoever thinks that the continued hostility to Israel is a result of our forces in Judea, Samaria and Gaza is confusing cause and effect. The attacks on us began in the 1920s, became an overall attack in 1948 when the state was declared, continued in the 1950s with the fedaayyin attacks, and reached their climax in 1967 on the eve of the Six-Day War, with the attempt to strangle Israel. All this happened nearly 50 years before a single Israeli soldier went into Judea and Samaria. To our joy, Egypt and Jordan left this circle of hostility. They signed peace agreements with us which ended their hostility to Israel. It brought about peace.
To our deep regret, this is not happening with the Palestinians. The closer we get to a peace agreement, the more they are distancing themselves. They raise new demands and are not showing us that they want to end the conflict. Many people are telling us that withdrawal is the key to peace with the Palestinians. But in fact all our withdrawals have been met by waves of suicide bombers. We tried withdrawal by agreement and without an agreement; we tried partial withdrawal and full withdrawal. In 2000, and once again last year, the government of Israel tried a near complete withdrawal, in exchange for the end of the conflict, and were twice refused.
We withdrew from the Gaza Strip; we uprooted dozens of settlements and turned thousands of Israelis out of their homes. In exchange, we received missiles raining down on our cities, our towns and our children. The argument that withdrawal would bring peace closer did not stand up to the test of reality. Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north, keep on saying that they want to ‘liberate’ Ashkelon, Haifa and Tiberias. Even the moderates among the Palestinians are not ready to say: The State of Israel is the national homeland of the Jewish People and will remain so.
In order to achieve peace, we need courage and integrity on the part of the leaders of both sides. We need the Palestinian leadership to rise up and say, simply “We have had enough of this conflict. We recognize the right of the Jewish People to their own state in this Land. We will live side by side in true peace.” I am looking forward to this moment. This will open the door to solving other problems, no matter how difficult. The fundamental condition for ending the conflict is the binding and sincere Palestinian recognition of Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish People.
For this to have practical meaning, we need a clear agreement to solve the Palestinian refugee problem outside of the borders of Israel. It is clear to all that the demand to settle the Palestinian refugees inside of Israel, contradicts the continued existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People. We must solve the problem of the Arab refugees. Justice and logic dictates that the problem of the Palestinian refugees must be solved outside the borders of the State of Israel. I believe that with good will and international investment of we can solve this humanitarian problem once and for all.
Up unto now, I have been talking about the need for the Palestinians to recognize our rights. Now I will talk about the need for us to recognize their rights. The connection of the Jewish People to the Land has been in existence for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria, are where our forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Solomon, Isaiah and Jeremiah walked. The right of the Jewish People to a state in the Land of Israel does not arise from the series of disasters that befell the Jewish People over 2,000 years—persecutions, expulsions and murders, culminating in the Holocaust, an unprecedented tragedy in the history of nations.
The tragedies that arose from the Jewish People’s helplessness show very sharply that we need a protective state. The right to establish our sovereign state here, in the Land of Israel, arises from one simple fact: Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish People. The State of Israel was established here in Israel, where the People of Israel created the Book of Books, and gave it to the world. But, friends the truth is that in the heart of our Jewish Homeland, now lives a large population of Palestinians. We do not want to rule over them. We do not want to run their lives. We do not want to force our flag and our culture on them.
In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighbourly relations and mutual respect, each with its own flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbour’s existence. Our link to the Land of Israel, and the Palestinian population who live here, have created deep divisions within Israeli society. But the truth is that we have much more unity than division. We do however have to recognize international agreements and the principles that are important to the State of Israel. Palestinians must truly recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
The second principle is demilitarization. Any area in Palestinian hands has to be demilitarized with solid security measures. Without this condition, there is a real fear that a Palestinian state would become a terrorist base against Israel, as happened in Gaza. We want peace. And, to ensure peace we don’t want them to bring in missiles or rockets or have an army, or control of airspace, or make treaties with countries like Iran, or Hezbollah. There is broad agreement on this in Israel. We cannot be expected to agree to a Palestinian state without ensuring that it is demilitarized. This is crucial to the existence of Israel.
We have no intention to build new settlements or set aside land for new settlements. Friends, unity among us is, in my view, vital, and unity will help promote reconciliation with our neighbours. Reconciliation must begin now. A strong Palestinian government will strengthen peace. If they truly want peace, and educate their children for peace and stop incitement, we for our part will make every effort to allow them freedom of movement and accessibility, making their lives easier and this will help bring peace. But above all, they must decide: the Palestinians must decide between path of peace and path of Hamas.
Israel will not sit down with terrorists who seek to destroy us. With the help of the international community, there is no reason why we can’t have peace. In 61 years, with constant threats to our existence we have achieved so much. Our microchips power the world’s computers, we have found cures for incurable diseases. Israeli drip irrigation waters barren lands throughout the world. If our neighbours will work for peace, we can achieve peace. I call upon Arab and Palestinian leaders: Let us follow the path of the Prophet Isaiah, who spoke thousands of years ago, “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and know war no more.” Let us know peace.
MENTAL ANGUISH TAKING A TOLL ON ISRAELI MEDICS TREATING SYRIA’S WOUNDED REFUGEES
According to medics in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), mental anguish from the treatment of thousands of Syrians wounded from the fallout of the ongoing civil war is taking its toll. For over two years, Israel has opened its door to wounded Syrians in need of medical care, incurring both the exorbitant financial cost of that care and the mental anguish suffered by civilian doctors and IDF medics who treat the wounded. The almost daily occurrences to which IDF medics are asked to respond involve traumatic and stressful situations, placing great strain on the mental health of each soldier.
Ynet News has gathered stories of the medical personnel who have been dealing with the brutality and severity of treating injured Syrians over the last 2 years. Many of these soldiers are now receiving psychological treatment from mental health officers in the IDF. A paramedic who served in Operation Protective Edge explained: “You can prepare yourself for combat, knowing that you will have a limited number of ‘difficult days’. But in the Golan Heights, you face an unchanging reality. It’s not a war, but rather a crazy routine filled with anonymous wounded people and strangers, on almost a daily basis.”
“When I eventually return to being a regular citizen, these nightmarish experiences with the Syrians will claw at me at night to a far greater degree than the trials of the war,” he added. Other soldiers described what is occurring in Syria as “institutionalized madness.” “We had days so busy that we barely had time to eat or drink,” a paratrooper stationed near the northern border recalled. The medical soldiers face a daunting task in trying to treat the myriad number of wounded that come through to Israel on a daily basis from Israel’s enemy to the north.
The injured often receive advance medical attention at an IDF base near the border after undergoing security checks to ascertain that they are not terrorists. They are then transferred by ambulance to one of the four major northern hospitals in Israel—in Tiberias, Safed, Haifa or Nahariya. A female IDF paramedic explained that some of the hardest cases to treat involve children. “Some of the patients are children who you know were not involved in any kind of fighting and arrive with a nearly-detached leg, or an elderly man who wasn’t treated for a week, whose hand is infected to the extent that severing it is the only thing that will save his life,” she said.
Addressing the annual dinner of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (CRIF), an umbrella organization of French Jewry, French President Francois Hollande said that there was no place in his country for anti-Semites. “Jews are at home in France, it’s the anti-Semites who have no place here,” Hollande said. France has seen a spike in anti-Semitic violence, culminating with the killing of 4 men at a kosher supermarket in Paris in January. In 2014, 851 anti-Semitic incidents were registered as compared to 423 the previous year,25% of which involved physical violence. Hundreds of Jewish graves have also been vandalized in recent weeks.
Hollande indicated that his government would shortly unveil a new plan to target anti-Semitism and racism. The plan would stiffen the penalties for hate crimes and include hate speech under criminal law rather than press law. The president also promised that the 10,000 police and soldiers protecting the institutions of religious minorities would remain mobilized as long as necessary. France has the largest Jewish population of any country in Europe at about 500,000. However, 7,000 made the decision to emigrate to Israel last year, prompted primarily by anti-Semitism.
Interest in Aliyah has been rising across Europe, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has encouraged European Jews to consider Israel their home, to the ire of several European leaders. The CRIF dinner was boycotted by the French Council of the Muslim Faith following a statement by CRIF President Roger Cukierman noting the role of radical Islam in anti-Semitic acts. “All violent acts today are committed by young Muslims. Of course that’s a small minority of the Muslim community and the Muslims are the first victims,” Cukierman told Europe 1 television. He also backed Prime Minister Manuel Valls’ use of the term “Islamo-fascism.”