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Israelis Remember - Palestinians Reject

Israel's Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu: 'I Will Never Compromise On Israel's Security'

West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas: 'I Will Never Recognize Israel As Jewish State'

IsraCast: 'Palestinian Refusal To Recognize Israel As Jewish State Means Rejection of "Two States For Two People" Solution'

Israel has marked its 61st Remembrance Day with memorial services from Mount Hermon in the north to the port of Eilat in the south. Tens of thousands of Israelis flocked to military ceremonies in the hundreds of military cemeteries to remember the 22,570 Israeli fighters who died so that Israel might live. But shortly before the memorial services began, West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas declared in no uncertain terms that he would never even recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

:: IsraCast Audio ::

At precisely 11 o'clock in the morning the sirens wailed throughout Israel. Drivers stand in silence by their cars, people stop whatever they are doing and stand at attention, and solemn school children rise  - Israelis wherever they are  bow their heads to remember. The entire nation comes to a halt - to pay a silent tribute amid the siren's howl that turns into a sad and painful lament. It recalls in the mind's eye, the image of the young, fallen soldier frozen perpetually at his, or her,  age of sudden death. And to also remember that exact moment of shock and dismay when first hearing the terrible news.

There are few if any countries in the world like Israel on Remembrance Day. Nearly everyone has at least one relative, a friend or colleague who died in uniform in defense of the Jewish state. Moreover, most families have a son or daughter who is on active service or goes on annual reserve duty.  So the danger is very personal, never far away and Remembrance Day brings it that much closer. Since last Remembrance Day, 130 more Israelis have fallen, most recently in 'Operation Cast Lead' to try and halt seven years of Palestinian rocketing from Gaza.

Binyamin Netanyahu (Photo: Amit Shabi)

At the Military cemetery on Jerusalem's Mount Herzl, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the country's leaders have assembled with thousands of relatives and friends of the fallen. He knows the suffering of a bereaved family at first hand. His brother Yoni, was a renowned combat officer who led the Entebbe rescue operation to free the Israeli hostages hijacked to Uganda. The Prime Minister said he knew there could be no consolation for bereaved relatives. What they have lost is irreplaceable, but they were duty-bound to continue living their lives in tribute to the fallen. And he added: 'Every day for us is Remembrance Day because we can never forget '.

Yet the sirens that wailed today may also sound again before next Remembrance Day. Not the continual two minute howl, but the rising and falling wail that could be the alarm that Iran's leaders are threatening Israel with nuclear weapons - to implement their vow 'to wipe Israel off the map!'

At Mount Herzl, the Prime Minister did not refer to Iran. But it was possibly an indirect message to U.S. President Barack Obama, who is about to start a nuclear dialogue with Ahmadinejad and to renew the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Netanyahu declared: 'I will never compromise on Israel's security'. Defense Minister Ehud Barak was more specific in his Remembrance Day address saying: 'Israel must look to Iran and Pakistan and know what to do - if we must. Israel is not taking any options off the table'. And Barak added: 'The Middle East is not Western Europe or North America - there is no second chance for anyone not willing to defend himself''. He recommended the U.S. set a time- line for the nuclear talks with Iran. But at the same time, Barak urged the international community to prepare a package of severe sanctions, if the Iranians continue to stonewall while proceeding with their nuclear weapons plan. On the other hand, the Defense Minister advised that Israel should not pause for a moment in seeking every avenue to achieve peace with her neighbors - Israel had succeeded in making peace with Egypt and Jordan and should now finish the job with Syria and the Palestinians.

Mahmoud Abbas

But at the very time, Barak was speaking in Jerusalem, West Bank President Mahmoud Abbas was addressing a 'Children's Parliament' in Ramallah. Abbas, who was expelled from Gaza by Hamas in a bloody coup, declared: 'I will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Israelis can call it whatever they wish but I don't accept it as Jewish and I say so publicly!' This is the clear-cut position of Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian 'moderates'. (In Gaza, Hamas which represents the other half of the Palestinian camp simply declares that its ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel, with no 'ifs, ands or buts'). In effect, Abbas rejected the 'two states for two people solution', he only accepts the first half of the formula.

By recognizing as a Jewish state, President Abbas would be telling his Palestinian people: 'The struggle is over, we get our Palestine and the Jews get their state, that's the deal'

So, while Abbas insists on the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their future Palestinian state, he rejects a similar right for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland. This is not a simple matter of semantics that can be glossed over; it goes to the very heart of the conflict. Abbas wants Israel to be perceived as a nebulous, bi-national state with a Jewish majority and a Palestinian minority that would leave its future status undecided and with the return of Palestinian refugees. In other words, even after Israel's concrete concessions for an agreement, the Palestinian would leave the door open to future demands and pressure on Israel. It could the continuation of politics by other means.

On the other hand, by recognizing as a Jewish state, President Abbas would be telling his Palestinian people: 'The struggle is over  we get our Palestine and the Jews get their state, that's the deal'. It would also mean the Palestinian leadership would have to start educating those very children in Ramallah and on  the West Bank that they must stop dreaming about becoming suicide bombers and shahid martyrs and start thinking about living in peaceful co- existence with the Jewish state.


Yoel Shalit, brother of Noam Shalit

Yoel Shalit

The Shalit family, now familiar figures nation-wide due to the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, spend Memorial Day mourning Yoel Shalit, Noam Shalit's twin brother, who was also taken captive and killed at age 19 during the Yom Kippur War. Several days after the Shalit family was informed that Yoel had been killed, they were told that he had been killed by his captors after falling into enemy hands. "We don't know exactly what happened," Noam said, "What we know is, they fell captive and were bound hand and foot when they were found."

David Essing

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