Time to talk peace | Daily News

Time to talk peace

Benjamin Netanyahu, 69, looks all set to rule Israel for a record fifth term after a neck and neck finish with his main opponent, former army chief of staff Benny Gantz. The Blue and White alliance led by Gantz conceded defeat Wednesday, a day after voters went to the polls.

However, Gantz put up a formidable fight, proving that the veteran prime minister is not invincible. Gantz, ten years younger and a political neophyte who founded his party only two months ago with the goal of unseating Netanyahu, will perhaps be able to put on a better show at the next election. Netanyahu’s performance was all the more remarkable as he faced serious corruption allegations which are being investigated by Israeli Police.

Following Netanyahu’s ascent to the helm possibly with the help of several far-right parties which could form a coalition, fears have been expressed around the world that his Government would pursue an even more nationalistic agenda, with little inclination to negotiate peace with Palestinians. But the extreme views of Netanyahu do not surprise Middle East analysts.

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu was born in Tel Aviv in 1949. In 1963 his family moved to the US when his father Benzion, was offered an academic post. At the age of 18, Benjamin Netanyahu returned to Israel, where he spent five years in the army, serving as a captain in an elite commando unit, the Sayeret Matkal. He took part in a raid on Beirut’s airport in 1968 and fought in the 1973 Middle East war.

After his military service ended, Netanyahu went back to the US, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Tragedy struck the Netanyahu family in 1976 when his brother Jonathan was killed in the famous Raid on Entebbe in Uganda. Netanyahu set up an anti-terrorism institute in his brother’s memory and in 1982 became Israel’s deputy chief of mission in Washington. In 1988, after returning to Israel, he became involved in domestic politics, winning a seat in the Knesset and becoming deputy foreign minister. In 1996, he became Israel’s first directly elected prime minister after an early election following the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. Netanyahu was also Israel’s youngest prime minister and the first to be born after the state was founded in 1948.

Now poised to become the longest serving Prime Minister is Israeli history, Netanyahu has used his close friendship with US President Donald Trump to bolster his chances at the polls. In fact, billboards throughout Israel featured the two leaders posing for a picture together. Unlike in the USA itself, Trump’s ratings remain sky-high in Israel and a series of moves made by Trump, by accident or by design, weighed in on Bibi’s polls success.

The first was the shifting of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which is a highly contentious move since the Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian State. This has outraged much of the world, with even Washington’s closest allies voting against this move at the UN. Then days before the Polls, the US President recognized the Golan Heights, annexed from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, as sovereign Israeli territory. Again, this has proved to be highly controversial, since international conventions prohibit the recognition of territories annexed during conflicts and wars and the International Community expressly recognizes the Golan Heights as sovereign Syrian territory.

The US President has also cut off all aid to the Palestinians and shuttered Palestine diplomatic offices in the US. The US also designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation, which was immediately praised by Netanyahu. Just days before the election, Netanyahu even threatened further annexations in occupied West Bank, which left even Gantz aghast as it is against international law, but there was no official response from Washington.

Not surprisingly, Trump was among the first world leaders to congratulate Netanyahu. “The fact that Bibi won, I think we’ll see some pretty good action in terms of peace. Everybody said you can’t have peace in the Middle East with Israel and the Palestinians. I think we have a chance. And I think we have, now, a better chance with Bibi having won.”

However, critics say there is little chance of Trump son-in-Law Jared Kushner’s behind the scenes peace deal, still a work in progress, making any headway. Many in Netanyahu’s inner circle have dismissed the idea of a two-state solution, which is favoured by the International Community. Moreover, Arabs living in Israel have been officially designated as second class citizens, which leaves little to say about the fate of non-Israeli Arabs. Israel has been detaining Palestinians at a record pace, with nearly 6,000 now in Israeli jails.

But the world and especially the Palestinians must not give up on the idea of a two-State solution. It is a two-way street – Israeli leaders must recognize the statehood aspiration of Palestinians and they in turn should uphold Israel’s right to exist. If Netanyahu can give up his hardline views and accommodate a viable peace plan, history will have a good place for him.


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