Arab MKs boycotted Monday a special Knesset session commemorating the 60th anniversary of the 1947 United Nations decision to partition British-mandate Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. (Click here for Haaretz special coverage of the anniversary)
The decision effectively gave international backing to the creation of the State of Israel.
All but one Arab MK - Nadia Hilou of Labor - decided not to attend the session, including her fellow party member Culture and Sport Minister Ghaleb Majadele.
More than a third of MKs were absent during the session, including Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham, who is the minister charged with organizing Israel's 60th Independence Day celebrations in the spring, and Communications Minister Ariel Atias of Shas.
In his address to the plenum, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, made the right decision in agreeing to partition. "My father opposed partition and was wrong," Olmert said. "Ben-Gurion was right - there was a need to accept the possible.
"The choice, both 60 years ago and today, is between a Jewish state on part of the Land of Israel and a binational state on all of the Land of Israel," the prime minister continued. "That is the choice we are faced with today - the existence of two nation-states, Israel and Palestine, in the Land of Israel."
Olmert stressed that the government would continued to "fight for the status of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel."
"I don't underestimate the difficulties, I don't diminish the threats, and I will never compromise on Israel's security," he said. "But as long as there remains even a chance of peace, I will exhaust it fully."
Netanyahu: Peace that stems from a strong Israel takes precedence over accords
The Head of the Opposition, Likud MK Benjamin Netanyahu, said that "it is under question whether we'll have a real partner for real peace."
"Arab leaders cannot demand to set the clock back as if nothing has happened. They cannot urge others to accept the decision [on partition] that they themselves rejected." He quoted Ben-Gurion, who said shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel that "the partition borders are no more."
Netanyahu said that "it was not the UN resolution that prompted the establishment of the state - it just recognized the historic right of the people of Israel to return to its homeland. This right would not have been fulfilled if it was not for the generations-long longings of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel, the continuous presence of Jews here throughout the years, and 60 years of extensive settlement and cultivation prior to the resolution.
"Only when our neighbors realized that Israel is a fait accompli," Netanyahu said, "were they willing to pursue peace with us. That's why I was surprised and amazed to hear the prime minister say that unless the two-state solution is achieved, Israel is done for," he said.
Netanyahu made a personal appeal to the prime minister: "Prime minister, Israel will never be done for. Our existence is not dependant on the willingness of the Palestinians to make peace, but on our ability to defend our right to live in this country. Our existence must not depend on their consent. No government has agreed to this in the past, and none will in the future. Our destiny will be determined strictly by us, not by anyone else, because in the Middle East peace and security are intertwined, and peace that stems from a strong Israel takes precedence over peace agreements. Whoever ignores that is left with neither security nor peace."
Livni: Israel's democracy and Jewish essence are not contradictory
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said: "I am not here to argue on rights and on who is right, I'm here to address my counterparts in the Arab world and say that the right thing to do is to be attuned to our children's right to live in peace and mutual respect, in accordance with the values which I hope all the nations of our region share."
Livni reiterated her commitment to the two-state solution. She said that the partition plan did not induce the conflict, but was rather meant to solve it. "It did not determine who is right, but outlined a path for peace," she said, adding that the resolution that was rejected by the Arab world is the one that the Palestinians should pursue. "On the day of the creation of our state, which you call the Nakba ? the catastrophe, the State of Israel seeks peace and good neighborliness with its neighboring countries," Livni emphasized.
"We extend our hand toward peace with the Arab and Muslim world," Livni said. She called on the Arab residents of Israel to take part in the establishment of the State of Israel. "Israel's democracy and Jewish essence are not contradictory," she said. "We should work toward a national home for the Jewish people in Israel and a national home in Palestine for the Palestinian people wherever they are ? the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and refugee camps in Arab states," she said," as long as the word Nakba would be removed from the Palestinian vocabulary in relation to the State of Israel."
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