Conflict's core: 'Refusal to recognize Jewish state'

Netanyahu says if Abbas recognizes Israel as Jewish state he will be ready to negotiate.

March 26, 2012 01:19
PM Netanyahu at the President's Residence

PM Netanyahu at the President's Residence 370. (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

The crux of the conflict, which the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge, is their inability to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday at the annual state memorial ceremony for deceased presidents and prime ministers.

The ceremony is traditionally held on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which according to Jewish tradition is the New Year of Kings. Since the first of Nisan fell this year on Shabbat, the memorial was held on Sunday.

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Speaking at the President’s Residence in the capital, Netanyahu said that whenever Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is ready to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he will sit down with him to negotiate peace.

Before the near identical addresses by President Shimon Peres and Netanyahu, Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger recited Psalms and Kaddish for presidents Chaim Weizmann, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Zalman Shazar, Ephraim Katzir, Chaim Herzog and Ezer Weizman, and for prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin.

A separate memorial ceremony will be held on Wednesday to mark the 15th anniversary of Herzog’s death.

Each year the president and the prime minister present prizes – usually to writers – for the best works related to one of each of their predecessors. This year Shazar and Rabin were memorialized in this way.

Peres and Netanyahu, in their respective addresses, each mentioned the extreme differences between Shazar and Rabin in their backgrounds, characters and lifetime achievements, but said that each had made an enormous contribution to the realization of the Zionist dream and to the security of the state.

Among the audience were members of the Rabin and Shazar families including Rabin’s sister Rachel Yaakov of Kibbutz Manara, who was three years his junior.

Rabin, the first Israeli-born prime minister, would have celebrated his 90th birthday this month. Yitzhak Navon, the state’s fourth and first Sabra president, was born in Jerusalem a year earlier.

Navon, who attended the ceremony, celebrated his 91st birthday on the first day of Nisan, although the Gregorian date of his birth is April 9.

Both Peres and Netanyahu noted that whereas the shtetl-bred Shazar, who grew up in a hassidic, Yiddish speaking environment in Russia and went on to become the state’s first education minister, was an intellectual, historian, journalist, writer, poet and translator who succeeded Berl Katznelson as the editor of the now defunct newspaper Davar, which was the official organ of the Histadrut labor federation, Rabin was an Israeli who grew up in a Hebrew speaking, security conscious environment and joined the Palmah before he was 18 years old.

Shazar contributed his talents to the writing of Israel’s Declaration of Independence and after his appointment as education minister introduced free, compulsory education at a time when the economy was at a very low ebb. But Shazar understood the importance of investing not only in Jewish education but in universal education.

While still a teenager in Russia, he met Yitzhak Ben-Zvi who set him on his course as a journalist and arranged a job for him at a newspaper in Vilna.

In the years that Shazar was editor of Davar and later editor of the Am Oved publishing house and then education minister, Rabin was rising in the ranks from combat soldier to officer to major-general, to chief of staff.

It was Rabin who turned the IDF into a modern army that was capable of defending the country, Netanyahu said.

Peres recalled how Rabin had gone from warrior to peacemaker, and how even though they did not always agree over strategy, they were united on the end goal. Peres served in Rabin-led governments as defense minister and as foreign minister.

Speaking of Rabin on Sunday, Peres said, “He risked his life for the security of the nation and was assassinated because he sought peace.” Peres credited Rabin with a being a man of great initiative with an ability to make courageous decisions.

One such decision was to improve relations with Israel’s minority groups. Another was to approve the Oslo process.

“Yitzhak left a legacy of combat but a will for peace,” said Peres who pledged that “till the end of my days, I will pursue the policy that united us, and I will do my utmost to strengthen security while striving for peace. There is no security without peace and there is no peace without security.”

Recipients of the President’s Prize were Dr. Tamar Shachter for her book To Conquer the Heart, which tells the story of Shazar’s wife, Rachel Katznelson, and through her, paints a portrait of the life of the president; and Dr. Mordechai Naor, whose book about The First 25 Years of Davar includes great insights into Shazar. A special citation for an ongoing lifetime achievement was awarded to Zvi Yekutiel, the general manager of the Zalman Shazar Center in Jerusalem.

Another special citation was given to the grade 9B students of the class for excellence at the Israel Air Force Technological College in Haifa, for producing a wordplay newspaper Davar shel Shazar, which traces Shazar’s life as a writer, politician, educator and historian.

Architect Uri Abramson, who designed the museum in the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Tel Aviv, received the Prime Minister’s Prize. His fellow prize winner was Shaul Weber for his book The Growth of a Leader that follows Rabin’s path from childhood through to his youth in the Palmah and subsequently in the army, and sheds fresh light on what influenced Rabin’s growth as a military leader, a diplomat and a political leader. Rada Mansour, a former consul-general in Atlanta, was given a special citation in recognition of his Rabin-King initiative that created greater awareness of two Nobel Peace Prize laureates who were assassinated for their efforts to bring an end to violence and bloodshed.

Although Peres and Netanyahu said much the same thing about Rabin, they did not receive the same reception from Rabin’s sister or his daughter Dalia, both of who stood up at the conclusion of the president’s address and embraced him.

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