Haniyeh awards Palestinian prisoners’ families $2,000

Hamas PM offers support to prisoners relocated to Gaza; 15 prisoners arrive in Syria, 11 in Turkey, 1 in Jordan, and an unknown number in Qatar.

Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh decided to give $2,000 to the families of those prisoners who released on Tuesday as part of a prisoner swap in exchange for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit,  Hamas-affiliate Al Resalah reported.

Haniyeh also expressed support for those prisoners who were unable to return to their homes in the West Bank and were instead relocated in Gaza.

“You are immigrants, and we are your support,” Haniyeh said according to Al Resalah, adding that their relocation was not a dismissal because Gaza is a part of Palestine.

Haniyeh’s comments came as all of the Palestinian prisoners slated for deportation to foreign countries as part of the deal to release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit reached their destinations on Wednesday morning.

Of the 40 prisoners that were deported, 15 went to Syria, 11 to Turkey, one to Jordan and the rest to Qatar, Al Jazeera reported.

A private plane flew ten men and one woman from Cairo to the Turkish capital Ankara, where they were met at Esenboga Airport by the Palestinian envoy to Ankara Nabil Maarouf and Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

“We are grateful to the Turkish government for its support in the process of releasing the Palestinians and bringing them to Turkey,” state-run Anatolian news agency quoted Maarouf as telling reporters at the airport.

“God willing we will continue to seek Turkey’s support until Palestine attains freedom,” he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told reporters that Ankara views the Israel-Hamas prisoner swap as a humanitarian issue.

“Turkey is a country which (the Palestinians) should regard as their homeland,” he added, according to the report.

He rejected claims that the prisoners released to Turkey may pose a threat to the country, saying that “regardless of whether we see the alleged crimes committed by them as a crime, this deal with Israel amounts to (the crimes) being written off.”

Amna Muna, a female prisoner who lured 16-year-old Ofir Rahum to Ramallah where he was murdered in 2001, was one of the eleven prisoners released in the deal to land in Turkey.

Muna was slated to be released to Gaza, but refused, temporarily delaying the prisoner swap on Tuesday.

Israel completed the transfer of all 477 prisoners being released as part of the Gilad Schalit prisoner exchange to Egypt and the West Bank on Tuesday after confirming that Schalit is in good health and had entered Israel.

Some 400 wardens accompanied 10 convoys during the operation. No unusual incidents were recorded.

The majority of prisoners were being transferred to Gaza from Egypt.

Source: Jpost.com

Samir Kuntar: Kidnap more soldiers

Lebanese terrorist released three years ago in exchange for bodies of Goldwasser, Regev says ‘resistance is the only way to free prisoners’

The Shalit deal proves that resistance and resistance alone is the only way to free prisoners, Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar said Wednesday. Kuntar was released in 2008 together with four Hezbollah men in exchange for the bodies of abducted soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev.

Kuntar called on Palestinian organizations to kidnap more soldiers in order to bring about the release of the remaining prisoners held in Israel.

In an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Nour TV station, Kuntar said: “From the first day Shalit was kidnapped, the enemy wasted its resources on obtaining a piece of information on his whereabouts. It was always confident it would get to him. This was the attitude for five years until the last moment of the prisoner exchange. But it failed miserably in a 360 square meter area which the enemy knows through and through.”

Kuntar also stressed the historic importance of the deal and explained that Israel went back on its terms of the Oslo Accords – refusal to free prisoners from Israel and east Jerusalem. During the interview, Palestinian prisoners who were released as part of the deal and knew Kuntar from prison went on the air.

Kuntar was the commander of a four-man cell which took Danny Haran and his four-year-old daughter Einat hostage in Naharia in 1979. The second daughter Yael was strangled to death in her mother’s arms as they were hiding in the attic. When he realized he could not escape, Kuntar murdered the father and daughter.

The Lebanese terrorist was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences and an additional 47 years in prison, but was released three years ago in an exchange deal.

Since his release, Kuntar has become a symbol of resistance against Israel and has repeatedly spoken in favor of kidnapping soldiers. “I call on the resistance groups to kidnap more Israeli soldiers and not make do with one, as there are many prisoners,” he said last years in a televised speech at a conference for Gaza prisoners.

Source: Ynetnews.com

Palestinian envoy is asked to leave Ottawa after controversial tweet

The Palestinian envoy to Canada has been told she’s not welcome in Ottawa after she tweeted a link to a video that the federal government deemed an offensive diatribe against Jews.

Now, Linda Sobeh Ali, the chargé d’affaires of the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa, is just one cut above persona non grata. The Canadian government called her in for a high-level dressing down, made a formal protest to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and has decided to “limit communication” with her until a replacement arrives.

he diplomatic cold shoulder was sparked when Ms. Sobeh Ali took to Twitter this month to circulate a link to a video posted on YouTube, telling her followers on the social-media message system to “check this video out.”

The video shows a Palestinian girl, in tears and shouting with passion, reciting a poem in Arabic, “I am Palestinian.” The English subtitles on the video include a passage where millions are called “to a war that raze the injustice and oppression and destroy the Jews.”

When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird learned of it about two weeks ago, he instructed his deputy minister, Morris Rosenberg, to call Ms. Sobeh Ali in to complain, and the Canadian representative in the West Bank, Chris Greenshields, to protest to the Palestinian Authority.

“Canada expects the Palestinian Authority to appropriately deal with this serious transgression,” Mr. Baird’s spokesman, Chris Day, said in an e-mail. “We have taken the decision to limit communication with this official until a replacement is selected.”

It’s not clear how quickly Ms. Sobeh Ali – essentially the Palestinian ambassador, although she does not hold that rank because she does not represent a sovereign state – will be replaced. Reached by telephone on Monday, Ms. Sobeh Ali said she is not in a position to comment right now. She denied a rumour she is leaving Ottawa this week, but when asked if the Palestinian Authority has recalled her, she said a polite goodbye, and hung up.

Complicating the matter – in the eyes of some, but not others – is the fact that the English subtitles in the video linked to Ms. Sobeh Ali are a mistranslation of the girl’s Arabic poem in several parts.

The phrase that the subtitles translate as, “to a war that raze the injustice and oppression and destroy the Jews,” is correctly translated as, “to a war that is destroying oppression and kill the soul of Zionism,” according to Salah Basalamah, associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s School of Translation and Interpretation.

Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which first sent Ms. Sobeh Ali’s video tweet to Mr. Baird’s office, said both versions are unfit to be circulated by a Palestinian envoy.

“You’re speaking to someone who doesn’t see a difference,” Mr. Fogel said. Calling for a war for the destruction of Zionism – the movement to establish a Jewish land – is a denial of Israel’s right to exist, he said, and the passion of the girl, shaking as her eyes well up with tears, makes it an entirely wrong thing for a Palestinian envoy to Ottawa to circulate, he said.

“I was shocked at the video,” he said. “And I’m pretty thick-skinned.”

However, Mr. Basalamah, who also writes about Islamic culture, said there is a big difference between the Arabic poem and the English subtitles. The phrase “kill the soul of Zionism” can “not in any way” be interpreted as “destroy the Jews,” he said. Not all Jews are Zionists and vice versa, he argued, and “the problem that Palestinians have with Israel is the ideology that has conducted the Palestinians to be stripped of their lands, and not their religion.”

Mr. Fogel said only a month ago he worked with Ms. Sobeh Ali to plan for a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jewish community leaders, but now he would have difficulty reconciling her circulation of the video with the idea that she is working for peace.

Mr. Baird’s spokesman called it a “serious lack of judgment.” And Ms. Sobeh Ali has closed her Twitter account.

Source: globeandmail.com

PM Netanyahu’s Remarks Following the Release of Gilad Shalit

Citizens of Israel, today we are all united in joy and in pain.

Two-and-a-half years ago, I returned to the Prime Minister’s Office.  One of the principal and most complicated missions that I found on my desk, and which I set my heart to, was to bring our abducted soldier Gilad Shalit back home, alive and well.  Today, that mission has been completed.

It entailed a very difficult decision.  I saw the need to return home someone whom the State of Israel had sent to the battlefield.  As an IDF soldier and commander, I went out on dangerous missions many times.  But I always knew that if I or one of my comrades fell captive, the Government of Israel would do its utmost to return us home, and as Prime Minister, I have now carried this out.  As a leader who daily sends out soldiers to defend Israeli citizens, I believe that mutual responsibility is no mere slogan – it is a cornerstone of our existence here.

But I also see an additional need, that of minimizing the danger to the security of Israel’s citizens.  To this end, I enunciated two clear demands.  First, that senior Hamas leaders, including arch-murderers, remain in prison.  Second, that the overwhelming majority of those designated for release either be expelled or remain outside Judea and Samaria, in order to impede their ability to attack our citizens.

For years, Hamas strongly opposed these demands.  But several months ago, we received clear signs that it was prepared to back down from this opposition.  Tough negotiations were carried out, night and day, in Cairo, with the mediation of the Egyptian government.  We stood our ground, and when our main demands were met – I had to make a decision.

I know very well that the pain of the families of the victims of terrorism is too heavy to bear.  It is difficult to see the miscreants who murdered their loved ones being released before serving out their full sentences.  But I also knew that in the current diplomatic circumstances, this was the best agreement we could achieve, and there was no guarantee that the conditions which enabled it to be achieved would hold in the future.  It could be that Gilad would disappear; to my regret, such things have already happened.

I thought of Gilad and the five years that he spent rotting away in a Hamas cell.  I did not want his fate to be that of Ron Arad.  Ron fell captive exactly 25 years ago and has yet to return.  I remembered the noble Batya Arad.  I remembered her concern for her son Ron, right up until her passing.  At such moments, a leader finds himself alone and must make a decision.  I considered – and I decided.  Government ministers supported me by a large majority.

And today, now Gilad has returned home, to his family, his people and his country.  This is a very moving moment.  A short time ago, I embraced him as he came off the helicopter and escorted him to his parents, Aviva and Noam, and I said, ‘I have brought your son back home.’  But this is also a hard day; even if the price had been smaller, it would still have been heavy.

I would like to make it clear: We will continue to fight terrorism.  Any released terrorist who returns to terrorism – his blood is upon his head.  The State of Israel is different from its enemies: Here, we do not celebrate the release of murderers.  Here, we do not applaud those who took life.  On the contrary, we believe in the sanctity of life.  We sanctify life.  This is the ancient tradition of the Jewish People.

Citizens of Israel, in recent days, we have all seen national unity such as we have not seen in a long time.  Unity is the source of Israel’s strength, now and in the future.  Today, we all rejoice in Gilad Shalit’s return home to our free country, the State of Israel.  Tomorrow evening, we will celebrate Simchat Torah.  This coming Sabbath, we will read in synagogues, as the weekly portion from the prophets, the words of the prophet Isaiah (42:7): ‘To bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison-house.’  Today, I can say, on behalf of all Israelis, in the spirit of the eternal values of the Jewish People: ‘Your children shall return to their own border [Jeremiah 31:17].’  Am Yisrael Chai! [The People of Israel live!].

Source: Office of the Prime Minister of Israel

Gilad Shalit returns to Israel

The newly released soldier told Egyptian TV that Hamas treated him well and that he feared he would remain in captivity for many more years.

After five and a half years in Hamas captivity, IDF First Sergeant Gilad Shalit has returned to Israel, after being exchanged for 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners. Shortly after Israel released the first prisoners at 7:30 am, Hamas handed Shalit over to Egyptian authorities. At 9:00 am Shalit met Israeli special envoy David Meidan for the negotiations with Hamas. While in Egypt, Shalit gave an interview to Egyptian TV. He said that he had been treated well by Hamas and feared he would remain in captivity for many more years.

According to Channel 2 News, Shalit walked under his own power into Egypt at the Rafiah border crossing, and he appeared in good physical shape. His grandfather, Zvi Shalit, told Channel 2, “It will be all right. I don’t know what I’ll tell him when I see him. It’s very emotional.” Gilad’s father, Noam, told Channel 2, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

Israel is releasing 477 Palestinian prisoners in the first stage of the deal, and 550 more in two months. 40 prisoners are being deported from Israel and the West Bank: 15 to Syria, 15 to Qatar, and 10 to Turkey.

Israeli Arabs in Umm el-Fahm celebrated the prisoners’ releases, and hundreds of Palestinians in Beituniyeh in the West Bank waved Hamas flags and chanted, “We want a new Gilad Shalit.”

The Egyptians transferred Shalit to the IDF at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, where he underwent a medical check-up, was given a uniform, and phoned his parents, who were waiting at the Tel Nof Air Force Base. Shalit was then flown to the base, to meet them.

After Shalit met his parents, a modest ceremony was held at noon at Tel Nof in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, and IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Ganz. The media was not invited.

The Air Force will then take Shalit and his family by Blackhawk helicopter to their home in Mitzpeh Hila in the Galilee. He will greeted by local residents, while the Police are deploying to keep out curious onlookers.

The convoys carrying the released Palestinian prisoners will be escorted by helicopters.

The final legal hurdle to the prisoner exchange was removed last night, when the High Court of Justice rejected four petitions by bereaved families against the release of the Palestinian prisoners. The decision by the three-judge panel, headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, was unanimous.

In the decision, Beinisch wrote, “Resolution of the issues raised in the case before us, one which involves security considerations, as well as moral and ethical matters, is in the hands of the elected government.”

Beinisch wrote that the decision was “one of the most loaded and unnerving debates to come before this court.” She added, “Undoubtedly, the government’s decision will send many terrorists who will be set free without serving their full sentence,” and that most of those to be released were “vile murderers, whose hands are stained with blood of hundreds of victims, innocent civilians, women and children, old and young, that stumbled upon bombing scenes during the years in which Israel struggled against ferocious terror.”

Source: globes.co.il

Gilad Shalit reunites with his family

After soldier’s return to Israel, Gilad Shalit finally meets his loved ones at Tel Nof air base; Netanyahu tells Gilad: ‘So good to have you home’. IDF says Shalit’s medical condition ‘good and stable’. Watch Live broadcast.

After 1,941 days in Hamas captivity, Gilad Shalit has finally reunited with his family: Less than an hour after the IDF soldier’s release and return to Israel, an IAF helicopter transported him to Tel Nof air base in central Israel, where he met his loved ones.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also met with Shalit at the base. He told him: “Welcome back to the State of Israel. It’s so good to have you home.”

After returning to Israel just before noon on Tuesday, Shalit underwent a physical examination. IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said his medical condition was “good and stable”. Shalit also showered, put on an IDF uniform and spoke with his parents before flying to Tel Nof.

The freed Israeli soldier entered the Kerem Shalom crossing just before noon on Tuesday and was greeted by Israeli army officers, including OC Southern Command, Maj.-Gen. Tal Rousso.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a ceremony at Tel Nof air base that the decision to make a deal with Hamas for Shalit’s release was difficult. “As a soldier I went on dangerous missions and always knew that if I fell captive the Israeli government will do everything in its power to secure my release and that is what I did.”

He further added: “The State of Israel will continue to fight against terror and any terrorist who resumes terror activities – on their head be it.” Netanyahu said that the moments spent with Gilad Shalit were very moving and noted that today was “a hard day”.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Shalit looks perfectly well noting he showed amazing self-restraint.

‘It was our responsibility to take any necessary measure to bring him home safely even at a heavy cost, but not at any cost, and we did this today,” he said.

In an interview broadcast by Egyptian television on Tuesday moments after he was transferred into Egyptian custody, Shalit said, “I thought I’d find myself in this situation for many years to come”.

Shalit said that he received word of his expected release last week. “I’ve felt it coming in the past month. I’m very excited.”

At the beginning of the interview, Gilad was asked about his medical condition, to which he replied: “I don’t feel so well from the whole affair.” However, he was translated back into Arabic as saying: “I feel good.”

The first images of Shalit were aired at 1030 Israel time, as he was seen escorted by Egyptian security personnel at a terminal in Egypt. Ahmed Jabari, head of Hamas’ military wing, was one of those seen leading Shalit in the video.

Source: Ynetnews.com

Gilad Schalit’s release: The stage-by-stage timeline

View expected sequence of events for the prisoner exchange, beginning with Hamas transferring the captured soldier to the Red Cross in Gaza.

The following is a timeline of the expected sequence of events for the prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel, set for Tuesday, October 18:

Stage 1: Hamas transfers Gilad Schalit to the Red Cross in the Gaza Strip

Stage 2: Israel releases 27 female prisoners upon confirmation that Schalit is alive and has been transferred to the Red Cross

Stage 3: Schalit is transferred by the Red Cross to Egypt, where he’s expected to spend 15-20 minutes

Stage 4: Israel releases 450 prisoners:

– 294 Gaza-bound prisoners from Gaza and the West Bank will be transferred by land via Egypt
– 96 prisoners being sent to the West Bank will be transferred from the Ofer Prison to Ramallah
– 14 prisoners will be transferred from the Ofer Prison to east Jerusalem
– 40 prisoners from the West Bank being sent overseas will be transferred to Egypt.
– The six Israeli Arabs being released will be waiting at Israel Police stations throughout the country near their homes prior to release

Simultaneously, Schalit is transferred to Israel via a land crossing with Egypt

Stage 5: Schalit is taken to an IDF base in the South, where he undergoes a series of preliminary medical checks, and is given the first opportunity to call his family

Stage 6: If deemed healthy, Schalit is flown by the Air Force to Tel Nof IAF base, near Rehovot, which has already set up a room for a small reception

Stage 7: Upon landing, Schait undergoes additional medical checks by the IDF Medical Corps

Stage 8: Schalit meets very briefly with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, and is then immediately taken to meet with his parents, grandfather, brother and sister.

State 9: If deemed healthy, Schalit is flown from Tel Nof to his home in Mitzpe Hila

Source: Jpost.com

Netanyahu: Israel does not abandon its soldiers

Prime minister issues letter to bereaved families whose loved ones’ murderers are about to be released from Israeli jail as part of Shalit deal. ‘As a bereaved brother, I understand your pain,’ he writes.

A day before the implementation of the prisoner exchange deal securing kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit‘s release, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahuissued a letter to bereaved parents whose loved ones’ murderers are about to be freed from Israeli prisons.

“I write to you with a heavy heart,” Netanyahu began the letter. “I belong to the bereaved family of terror victims. My brother was killed in the operation for the release of hostages in Entebbe. I know that you are experiencing negative feelings, that the wound of bereavement has been reopened these days and that you can’t stop thinking about it.

“In my many deliberations throughout the negotiations, you were always on my mind,” he added. “The decision to release Gilad Shalit was one of the most difficult ones I have ever made. It’s difficult for me for the same reason it’s difficult for you, dear family members.

“My decision to bring Gilad home was affected by the commitment of an Israeli prime minister to return a soldier sent on the State’s behalf to defend its citizens. When I went to battle on behalf of the State of Israel, I always knew that the State of Israel does not abandon its soldiers and citizens.

“My strong desire to return a captive soldier home was faced by the need to reduce the heavy price the State of Israel was required to pay upon Gilad Shalit’s abduction more than five years ago.

“I know that this price is especially heavy for you,” Netanyahu wrote to the bereaved families. “I understand the difficulty to perceive that the vile people who carried out the cruel crime against your loved ones will not pay the full price they deserve.

“In these moments I hope you find comfort in the fact that I and all the people of Israel embrace you and share in your pain,” he concluded.

Source: Ynetnews.com

Open letter to Mahmoud Abbas for Yom Kippur

The two-state solution is running out of oxygen, if it is not implemented soon, it will die; it is time for Abbas to take the step Anwar Sadat took by coming to the Knesset, recognizing Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland.

Dear Mr. Abbas,

Generally I write to my fellow Jews and Israelis for our high holidays. For you Yom Kippur is, of course, not a day of reckoning, but I hope you will accept these words from an Israeli who has sponsored your cause for years with all his heart. I have done so no less for the sake for my country than for your country that has yet to come into being.

Because a State of Israel that oppresses another people is an affront to my Jewishness, and that of the majority of Jews worldwide for whom human rights are an inviolable value – precisely because our people has suffered immensely from bigotry and racism.

Given my sympathy for your cause, I hope you will listen to my call to you; you know, as well as anybody else, that the two-state solution is running out of oxygen. If it is not implemented soon, it will die.

You will not get a viable Palestinian state from Benjamin Netanyahu. It’s against his ideology. Your success depends on convincing Israelis that they must elect another government, and there is only one way you can do this.

In your speech at the UN you spoke to your own people. Now you must speak to Israelis. You must take the step Anwar Sadat took. You must come to the Knesset and tell Israelis that you recognize Israel as the Jewish people’s homeland.

Tell Israelis that the Palestinian people demand that their tragedy of 1948 be acknowledged and recognized, but that you do not demand physical return of refugees to Israel; that individual Palestinians can claim compensation for the loss of their homes, but that, as was the case in Europe after WWII, you recognize that physical return is no longer an option.

You certainly know that for at least a decade, seventy percent of Israelis have believed that two states for two people is the only way to peace, and that the same proportion thinks that in this generation there is no Palestinian partner for peace. The main reason is the second intifada. Less than two years ago you admitted that this uprising was the greatest mistake Palestinians ever made, and you are right – Israelis, ever since, have no longer trusted Palestinian intentions.

The other reason is that Israelis believe that for most Palestinians the two-state solution is but the first step in a two-stage process to abolish Israel as a Jewish state; that once Palestine is recognized along the 1967 borders, your people will continue to attack Israel physically and diplomatically; that you will insist that every Palestinian refugee around the world has the right to return to the lands and houses of their forefathers; that you will never accept Israel’s legitimacy as the homeland of the Jewish people.

As a result they ask, why take the security risks involved in implementing the two-state solution in which Tel Aviv and Ra’anana are within the range of Palestinian rocket attacks? And you know very well that this is not just a paranoid fear – the South of Israel has been shelled for years following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza.

I believe that Israel must take the security risk involved, that it has the military strength to deal with these risks if your Palestinian brethren decide to return to the path of violence. I believe that Israel must take this risk because this is the only way that Israel can remain the democratic homeland of the Jews; because a democratic Israel can only exist if Palestinians have their own state.

But here comes the crucial point. I know that the Palestinian right of return is firmly etched into your people’s ethos; that this right has been at the core of your people’s history, songs, books and stories.

You, Mr. Abbas, know that Israelis will never accept the right of return. This, for them, is a red line they will never cross. Today, the vast majority of Israelis were born here. In the last six decades, a vibrant culture has come into being here. They have nowhere to go – and they don’t want to go anywhere. This is their home, and they will fight for it without compromise.

This is not the just the view of people like Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, for whom, as you know, I have little sympathy. It is the view of Tzipi Livni, of Shaul Mofaz and Shelly Yechimovich. You need to realize that it is even the view of the three remaining MKs of Meretz, Israel’s party most committed to liberal values.

You are faced with a terrible dilemma, Mr. Abbas. Your legitimacy as leader of the Palestinian people seems to depend on not renouncing the right of return. Your success in establishing a state for your people depends on convincing Israelis that you accept Israel as the homeland of the Jews.

It will also help you gain support from EU countries, who would be more inclined to support your bid for UN recognition if it were connected to recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. You may remember that Spain, the country spearheading support for your UN bid, also just recognized Israel as a Jewish state – and you might take this as a lead for a fruitful line of action.

Mr. Abbas, I know that this proposal is very difficult for you to accept. I write to you on the eve of Yom Kippur, because my heart is weary and full of sorrow, because I see the two-state solution slipping away, and along with it the State of Israel as I had hoped to see it – and the State of Palestine that I believe your people deserves.

I hope you will find the strength to make this historic step. For the sake of your people, and mine.

By Carlo Strenger

Source: Haaretz.com

The real obstacle to Palestinian statehood

As the Palestinians press for recognition of statehood at the United Nations, Israelis fear that their own national legitimacy is under growing assault. When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently addressed the General Assembly, he blamed the origins of the conflict and the absence of peace entirely on Israel, and noted the attachment of Christians and Muslims to the Holy Land but omitted the Jews. He received a standing ovation.

In the current atmosphere, the Israeli demand that Palestinians recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state has assumed a new urgency. On the face of it, that expectation should hardly pose a dilemma for Palestinian leaders committed to peace. A two-state solution, after all, means that each state has the right to define itself by its majority culture.

Yet Mr. Abbas, along with other Palestinian leaders, insists he will never accept a Jewish state. In opposing the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, Palestinian leaders have exposed the real obstacle to Middle East peace: not the creation of a Palestinian state, which most Israelis support, but the existence of a Jewish state, which most Palestinians reject.

The root of Palestinian rejectionism is the perception – widespread in the Arab world – that the Jews are not a nation at all but a religion. After all, many Arabs argue, the Jews lived for centuries as a religious minority under Islamic rule. Only in the 20th century did they reinvent themselves as a nation.

In fact, the Jews perceived their exile as a temporary aberration, and never stopped dreaming of renewed sovereignty in their homeland. Since ancient times, Jews have identified themselves as a people practising a particular faith. The centrality of peoplehood in Judaism even allows the seeming anomaly of Jewish atheists, so long as they identify with Jewish history and values.

The Arab world’s insistence on defining the Jews out of their own national identity isn’t only insulting: It prolongs the conflict by encouraging rejection of Israel’s legitimacy.

If the Jews have contrived their national identity, what, then, is the meaning of their history and attachment to their homeland? The Palestinian solution is to turn Jewish history, too, into a lie. Palestinian media routinely dismiss the Jewish narrative: There was no ancient Jewish presence in the land of Israel, there was no temple on the Temple Mount, and the Holocaust has been exaggerated or entirely invented.

The denial of Jewish history and identity – widespread in the Arab world – is ultimately the greatest threat to peace. Settlements can be dismantled, as Israel proved during its withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. But an insidious educational process of delegitimizing the other can’t so easily be uprooted.

Palestinian leaders argue that accepting Israel as a Jewish state would mean jeopardizing the status of the country’s Arab minority. In fact, there is no conceptual contradiction between Israel as a Jewish state and as a democracy – the two essential elements of its identity as defined by its Declaration of Independence.

Still, Israeli Jews need to take that Palestinian challenge seriously. The ongoing Middle East conflict, and Jewish fears of Arab disloyalty, impedes efforts to achieve Arab equality in the Jewish state. The Jewish majority must do far more to reassure Arabs that they can play a full role in Israeli society.

One way of reassuring Arabs that “Jewish state” is not a code word for their exclusion is to adopt the formula suggested at the UN by Spanish Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez – to recognize Israel as “the homeland of the Jewish people.” The state created by the Jews in their homeland should be equally responsible for all of its citizens, Jews and non-Jews, even while maintaining intimate connections with Diaspora Jews.

But Israeli Jews, a besieged minority in the Middle East, also need reassurance – that Palestinian statehood won’t threaten their national existence.

Israeli Jews see Palestinian rejection of their legitimacy as proof that Palestinian leaders have no intention of honouring the spirit of a peace agreement. Israeli Jews fear that a Palestinian state would become a terrorist base, from which missile attacks would be launched against Israel’s population centres. That fear is hardly unfounded: Thousands of missiles were fired at Israeli towns in the south after the withdrawal from Gaza.

A majority of Israelis want to save the Jewish state from the moral and demographic dangers of occupation. For centrist Israelis, a Palestinian state is an existential necessity. But it is also, potentially, an existential threat.

Achieving Palestinian statehood, then, requires reassuring anxious Israelis that Palestinian empowerment will not lead to Israeli vulnerability.

Tragically for both peoples, historical revisionism remains normative in Palestinian discourse. When Palestinian leaders acknowledge that the Jews are a people and that their state is called Israel, the way will be open for the creation of a state called Palestine.

Source: Globeandmail.com

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