Israel's Pivotal 2009 Elections

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CBNNews.com - JERUSALEM, Israel - This week, Israelis will elect a new national government, one that will shape the future of the Jewish state at an unprecedented time in its history.

As global anti-Israel sentiment grows exponentially, many Israelis believe the country must leave the post-Oslo strategy of appeasement and concessions and launch out in a new direction to meet today's increasingly complex challenges.

The possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, blatant in its intent to wipe the Jewish state off the map, looms frighteningly closer.

Click play to watch John Waage's report on Israels elections, followed by Pat Robertson's interview with Sallai Meridor, Israel's Ambassador to the U.S.   Also, watch Erick Stakelbeck's interview with the ambassador here.

The Islamic Republic's proxies on Israel's northern and southern borders -- Hezbollah and Hamas, befriended and aided by the Lebanese and Syrian governments and most Arab League member nations -- are committed to "reclaiming" the State of Israel as an Islamic caliphate "from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea."

In addition, Palestinian demands that Israel retreat to pre-1967 borders, uproot thousands of Israelis from Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and the Golan Heights, will leave a truncated Jewish state with indefensible borders.

Israel has a right to defensible borders, a fact rooted in international law and agreements, according to former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold.

Neither will it agree to cede parts of Jerusalem, its capital, for a future Palestinian state.

Neutralizing Iran

"Iran cannot have nuclear weapons," Likud chairman and opposition leader Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu said at a recent gathering of the party's members.

Neutralizing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran is one of Israel's top priorities, something Netanyahu addressed at a joint session of the US Congress in 1996, during his first term as prime minister.

In the ensuing years, Iran has become "a danger the likes of which the world has never seen," the Likud chairman said, one that the next Israeli government must deal with in "clarity and strength."

Understanding What's at Stake

When Israelis go to the polls on Tuesday to elect a new prime minister, they will choose between starkly different ideologies among the four leading candidates: Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), Tzipi Livni (Kadima), Ehud Barak (Labor) and Avigdor Lieberman (Yisrael Beiteinu).

For nearly two years, the polls have consistently predicted that Netanyahu would be the next prime minister. A brief look at some pivotal events explains why he remains the frontrunner.

Operation Cast Lead

After eight years of absorbing more than 7,500 rocket attacks on its western Negev communities, the government gave the IDF(Israel Defense Forces) the green light to launch Operation Cast Lead on December 27, 2008.

A whopping 94 percent of Israelis supported the government's decision.

In addition to the regular army, tens of thousands of reservists left their families and jobs to help achieve the operation's goals, namely to end the rocket attacks on southern Israel and to halt arms smuggling by destroying the tunnels at Gaza's border with the Egyptian Sinai.

Twenty-two days later, as the well-trained and motivated troops drew closer to achieving the operation's goals, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert announced a unilateral cease-fire, promising to withdraw all Israeli forces before the inauguration of US President Barack Obama a few days later.

The premature cease-fire in many ways neutralized what the IDF had accomplished in the grueling three-week operation.

Israelis who supported the better-late-than-never incursion were dismayed by the government's decision, reminiscent of the Second Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 -- the same government, the same poor outcome.

Hamas declared victory, and Israel went back to negotiating a temporary cease-fire through Egyptian mediators -- a respite that nearly everyone believes will lead sooner or later to longer-range missiles and increased terror.

The Second Lebanon War

Following the 34-day botched war with Lebanese-based Hezbollah terrorists in the summer of 2006, Olmert formed the Winograd Commission to evaluate the government's handling of the war.

When the commission published its interim report on April 30, 2007, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni joined the chorus of calls for Olmert's resignation.

When the prime minister refused to step down, Livni decided to remain in the government and retain her position as foreign minister.

Fast Forward to Annapolis

The following November, former US President George Bush sponsored an international summit on the Middle East peace process, in Annapolis, Maryland.

Following the summit, Olmert and PA President Mahmoud Abbas committed to bi-monthly meetings to advance the peace process, while Livni led the Israeli delegation in secret negotiations with the Palestinians, led by former PA Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia.

Then U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice increased her shuttle diplomacy to the region in an effort to push the process forward.

Like previous US administrations, Bush and Rice worked tirelessly to see a Palestinian state formed before the end of his term in office.

While the Olmert government did everything in its power to realize that goal, opposition leader Netanyahu remained the frontrunner in the polls right up to last week's pre-election surveys.

Achieving Peace

Likud also wants to advance peace, but in what it believes is a more realistic way -- by fostering economic development in the Arab sector before trying to establish a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu wants to change the equation via economic movement, or, as he puts it, from the bottom up instead of the top down.

Palestinian society is divided, with the two rival factions, Fatah and Hamas, in an ongoing power struggle.

Trying to establish a Palestinian state at this time is an exercise in futility, especially when the radical elements are more powerful.

Helping the more moderate Arab leaders to strengthen the economy and improve the lives of its citizens will inevitably weaken the extremists, fostering a more realistic chance for genuine peace and co-existence.

A Brief Glimpse Back

From its birth on May 14, 1948, the modern State of Israel has overcome seemingly insurmountable odds.

Surrounded by hostile Arab countries bent on its destruction, the nascent state has fought for its survival from the outset.

Since the turn of the 20th century, when Jews began returning to their ancestral homeland, they have shared a common destiny to rebuild and defend the Jewish state, often at considerable personal cost.

For example, an estimated 50 percent of the earliest returnees died from malaria as they worked to drain the swamps of the sorely neglected land by planting Eucalyptus groves.

Many were killed by hostile Arab neighbors; many gave their lives defending the land and its people in the War of Independence, the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War.

Thousands of Israeli citizens of all ages have been killed by Palestinian terrorists in suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, stabbings and the like.

Land for Peace

It's a natural human aspiration to avoid war and strive for peace. But in the past several years, it has become increasingly apparent that concessions, appeasement and retreat don't yield the desired results.

In August 2005, the Sharon government enacted a unilateral pullout from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, uprooting nearly 10,000 Israelis from their homes and communities.

The government bulldozed 21 thriving Jewish towns in the Gush Katif Settlement Bloc in Gaza and four in northern Samaria, ostensibly to foster peace with its Arab neighbors.

Instead of peace, Palestinians set up rocket launch pads and terrorist training camps in the land evacuated by Israel in northern Gaza.

The Islamists continue to declare their right to "resistance against the Zionist occupiers," a euphemism that translates to conquering the State of Israel "piece by piece," rather than by an exchange of "land for peace."

Losing Faith in the Government

In the past several years, a great many Israelis have lost faith in their leaders.

When Olmert said the people of Israel were tired of war and tired of winning, many Israelis responded that it wasn't the people who were tired, it was the leaders.

Most Israelis want strong, decisive leaders who will meet the complex challenges facing the country -- security, economy and education, etc. -- but there's an equally important element.

Many Israelis also long for leaders who will foster Zionism -- a love for the country and for Jerusalem, the nation's eternal capital, the heart of thousands of years of Jewish history.

"We have to remember who we are -- the children of Zion," Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing editor Caroline Glick said recently.

"We are in the land of Israel because it is ours," she said.

"We must defend our identity not by apologizing but by asserting and being proud of who we are as a Jewish nation," Glick said.

That sentiment, which is shared by most Israelis and transcends generations, is one that will factor strongly into who is elected to lead the country on Tuesday.

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Tzippe Barrow

Tzippe Barrow

CBN News Jerusalem Bureau

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