- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Just as I arrived in Israel for the first time, driving from the Ben Gurion airport to downtown Tel Aviv on April 16, 2007, sirens wailed, traffic and pedestrians stopped and silence fell in commemoration of the Yom Ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was clear that Israeli identity is shaped by the crimes of Nazi Germany during World War II.

This week, the Jewish state celebrates its 60th anniversary. At a Heritage Foundation event last week, Dorit Beinisch, the president of the Israeli Supreme Court, emphasized that Israel has been in a state of emergency since its founding.

“In Israel,” Mrs. Beinisch said, “the Supreme Court took on the difficult and complex task of maintaining the conditions necessary to protect a society in a permanent state of emergency while preserving the rule of law and basic human rights.” Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff followed Mrs. Beinisch with his own remarks.

“The fact that you have a court that’s taking a position that’s very protective of human rights gets no praise from the people out in the world who are constantly attacking the Israelis for being the worst kind of barbarians,” he said. “So it’s truly a case where the good deeds being done here are not getting much praise.”

The relationship between Israel and the Muslim Middle East has gotten increasingly complicated — and increasingly religious — over the last 60 years. The Muslim Middle East seems united in its anger toward Israel over the suffering of the Palestinians, although not all of that suffering is a result of occupation. The anger casts a pall over this anniversary. Israel’s undeniable success in building the region’s only democracy, one of the world’s leading competitive economies and a modern society, still can’t guarantee its citizens sustained security.

The outrageous rhetoric of Iran’s leadership’s toward Israel and Muslims’ erratic support of Hamas and Hezbollah is not the way forward. There is no hope for peace in the region if those involved do not choose to cool it down. In his second inaugural speech, Abraham Lincoln offered a prayer for his conflict-afflicted nation that is equally applicable today. “Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away,” Lincoln said as he warned of the possibility of continuing bloodshed.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, is right to be frustrated with Hamas today. “We’re living our worst nightmare since 1967,” he said at the Jerusalem Fund the previous week, complaining that Hamas does not accept the obligations and agreements signed previously — including recognizing the Jewish state and laying down arms. Yet, he argued, if they reach a fair agreement with the Israelis, and that agreement been put to referendum, they can achieve 75 percent support. “If we don’t ” have an agreement by (the end of) 2008,” he said, “we stand the chance to disappear.” Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis will disappear. But it’s past time to put an end to both sides living in fear, and the Palestinians need to decide to end Hamas’s way of doing business.

While the Palestinian house remains divided, Israel cannot be expected to seriously engage in talks that will achieve peace with the Palestinians by the end of this year.

Interestingly though, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said that Israel might be ready to withdraw from the Golan Heights. “I’m very optimistic about finalizing a bilateral deal,” said Alon Liel, Israel’s former Foreign Ministry Director General, in a telephone interview from Jerusalem. Mr. Liel, head of the Israeli-Syria Peace Society, also participated in unofficial talks with Syria a year or so ago. “We need a lot of patience.”

Acknowledging Turkey’s good faith efforts in this renewed attempt to create an Israeli-Syrian dialog, he said, “They demand Syria break its military ties with Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Here Turkey is not enough. We need the Americans. We might need the next president [for that.]” That said, Turkey’s good faith efforts may not be useful if the country’s secular democracy is threatened by its own Islamist-rooted government and is unable to act as a regional power.

There is more to be said about many aspects of the challenges Israelis faces today. But Israel will continue to celebrate anniversaries, and we should join Mrs. Beinisch’s view “[t]hat we will have the duty to apply law in normal days, and we will be able to advance the values of law and justice in times of peace.”

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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