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Press Release – 18 May 2007

Opinion Editorial by Mr Philip Chester and Doctor Danny Lamm

Maher Mughrabi’s article (16/5) contends that the awarding of the Jerusalem Prize to Prime Minister John Howard by the Zionist Federation of Australia, the State Zionist Council of Victoria and the World Zionist Organisation “will not help bring about Middle East peace”. Mughrabi then attempts to delegitimise Israel and discredit Australia’s bi-partisan support of Israel.

Yet he misses the point. Reconciliation in the Middle East requires the end of Palestinian and Arab war, terror and rejectionism directed against Israel, and a wider commitment to real peace in the region.

Israel has been under repeated military attack since its creation in 1948, and has suffered from an almost unrelenting war of terror waged by Palestinians with the backing of many of its neighbours – today, most notably Iran and Syria.

After Israel’s victory in the 1967 war, when Arab governments had been declaring that they were going to wipe Israel off the map and positioned their armies on Israel’s borders for three weeks, Israel’s leaders made it very clear that they were only too willing to negotiate a lasting peace in exchange for territory captured in battle. Yet the Arab League response was “the 3 No’s” – No peace, no recognition and no negotiations with Israel, slamming the door on any progress towards peace.

Despite the subsequent wars and in the face of constant terror attacks claiming the lives of more than 20,000 Israeli citizens and residents, successive Israeli governments have initiated and participated in many peace talks and conferences. A cool but authentic peace prevails with Egypt (since 1980) and Jordan (since 1994). But sadly, efforts with the Palestinians have been to no avail and the Oslo accords of 1993 have simply failed to deliver on the promise of land for peace – regardless of Israeli concessions.

In 2000 at Camp David Yasser Arafat rejected a ground breaking proposal by the Israeli government for Palestinian sovereignty over some 95% of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and instead launched the murderous second Intifada, which has claimed over 1,000 innocent Jewish and Arab Israeli lives through senseless acts of terror.

Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. That withdrawal led to a constant barrage of rockets on southern Israeli towns, as seen dramatically in the last few days. The current dysfunctional Fatah-Hamas unity government, which is in the midst of a violent civil war, continues to incite Palestinian violence against Israel in order to deflect attention from its own failings. The lawlessness, armed conflict and corruption further weaken prospects that any such Palestinian state set up as a part of a two state solution would be willing and able to live in peace with Israel.

Despite the Hamas-dominated government’s open and oft-stated goal of destroying Israel, Israeli PM Olmert is still negotiating regularly with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and has asked the Arab League for negotiations based on its recently reiterated peace initiative.

The tragic fact remains that peace is unachievable as long as the elected Palestinian government and Israel’s rejectionist neighbours do not renounce terror and violence as a means of achieving their aims and instead commit to peaceful negotiations based on recognition of Israel’s right to exist, as the Palestinians promised at Oslo.

Mughrabi’s assertion that Israel is not a legitimate democracy because it calls itself a “Jewish state” is simply incorrect. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the State of Israel was created as a homeland and haven for the Jewish people, yet its Declaration of Independence enshrines “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex, guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture and safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.” These ideals have been upheld by the Israeli Supreme Court which has consistently ruled that it is illegal for the Government to discriminate between citizens in its allocation of resources and that “equality is among the fundamental principles of the state.” Israeli Arabs not only vote and have completely equal political and legal rights; they also serve in the Knesset, the cabinet and the Supreme Court.

Mughrabi also maligns the Jewish National Fund which is the world’s oldest environmental movement dealing with the crucial issues of water, reforestation and conservation. This work directly benefits all Israeli inhabitants including Arabs, Palestinians, Bedouins as well as her Egyptian and Jordanian neighbours.

Israel has inspired bipartisan respect and friendship in Australia because both Australia and Israel, unlike most of the Middle East, are open, free and robust democratic societies. That Israel is able to maintain these crucial values whilst in a constant state of threat speaks volumes as to its character. Moreover, Australians of all political stripes recognize that Israel has genuinely sought a peaceful resolution with its neighbours.

The Jerusalem Prize has been awarded to Prime Minister Howard because of his longstanding support for the rights of the citizens of Israel to live in peace, his recognition that Israel is a free and democratic society and his efforts to strengthen Australia-Israel ties.

Contrary to Mughrabi’s claims, the awarding of this prize to prominent figures of all political persuasions around the world who are prepared to openly encourage more of the Arab world to renounce their implacable hostility towards Israel can only enhance the likelihood of peace in the region.

Philip Chester is the President of the Zionist Federation of Australia and Dr Danny Lamm is President of the State Zionist Council of Victoria.