Speaking on the sidelines of this week’s Middle East Forum “Israel Victory Project” conference near Tel Aviv on Sunday, titled “Moving From Concessions to Victory,” former Israel Education Minister and current Knesset hopeful Naftali Bennett said that “Israel’s victory means taking away the capability of our enemies to harm us.”

He continued, directly to JNS, saying, “I don’t think there is anything that we can do to make them accept us or want us; we have to defeat them, and then they will understand that we are here to stay forever, and we have to disarm them from the ability to hurt us. That’s what we are doing today in Syria, and what we are going to have to do in Gaza. We’ve [the Jewish nation] been around for 4,000 years and these folks just a few decades. We’re going to win.”

Bennett joined other leading politicians, academics, former military brass from the Israel Defense Forces and journalists along with several hundred Israelis in attendance to discuss their vision of an Israeli victory and a path towards peace with its neighbors.

For the past three years, the Israel Victory Project movement has been active in trying “to facilitate a change in the public discourse towards an Israeli victory that aims to encourage Palestinian leadership and society that their best chance at prosperity will come once they accept that Israel is the Jewish state,” according to its website.

Director of the Middle East Forum’s Israel office Danny Seaman told JNS that the movement’s focus “until recently was the political echelon with a lobby in the Knesset representing different members of the Zionist parties.”

Former Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett and current candidate from the Yamima Party speaks at the “Israel Victory Project” conference. Photo by Koby Dovraz.

However, he said that in the past six months, “the focus has been on increasing the debate in Israeli society through use of media and public platforms, and here is the first time we’re having a forum of Israelis from different fields.” He added that the timing of the event was important “because of the heightened election spirit and the political atmosphere.”

At the same time, Professor Simcha Goldin, head of the Diaspora Research Center at Tel Aviv University—whose son, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was killed by Hamas during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, and whose remains Hamas has been holding onto since—says that the first order of business is for Israel to bring home those still being held by the terror group.

After participating in a panel with other academics on the subject of military ethics, Goldin told JNS, “There has to be a three-way effort between Israel, the United States and the U.N. in order to pressure Hamas, first and foremost, to release the soldiers and those missing [held as prisoners] as international law insists they must do so. This must happen in the coming weeks. This would be the beginning of a change and the righting of an injustice.”

It is believed in that in addition to Goldin’s body, Hamas is currently also holding onto the body of IDF soldier Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, in addition to two other Israeli civilians who wandered into Gaza and were captured.

Echoing the comments made by Bennett, Israeli Brig. Gen. (res.) Moshe “Chico” Tamir, who commanded the IDF’s Gaza Division, also spoke of the need for Israel to use military strength to take away the ability of its enemies to inflict harm.

He told JNS, “Like many Israelis, I believe Israel has to move from deterrence to victory. This can be done against terror organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. As long as they grow their forces and arm themselves, the danger to the State of Israel grows as well. Deterrence is not enough to stop this process.”

He added that while the looming elections on Sept. 17 are creating doubt as to what the future political landscape might look like, “the notion of achieving victory is not a political question. It’s a matter of Israel’s survival in this neighborhood. It doesn’t matter from what side of the political map you are on. The important issue is the security of Israel, and the Islamic threat around us is growing. And in some cases, we must use more force to stop it and defend Israel.”

Professor Simcha Goldin, head of the Diaspora Research Center at Tel Aviv University, whose son, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was killed by Hamas during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014, and whose body they are still holding. Photo by Koby Dovraz.

‘Palestinian nationalism is based on negation of Jewish nationalism’

Another military personality at the conference currently seeking a Knesset seat is Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yair Golan, former deputy chief of the general staff of the IDF, who is running with Ehud Barak’s left-wing Democratic Union Party.

His views differ from Tamir’s in that he believes that Israel must exhaust all of its non-military options before initiating another operation against groups like Hamas. He said that Israel should engage with residents of Gaza, to form a “comprehensive policy—a policy involving trade, foreign affairs, education … ,” in order to prevent another war.

He said that “if all of our civilian initiatives fail, only then should we pursue a military operation,” specifically one that would be focused on targeting the heads of Hamas.

Regardless of which approach Israel should take towards achieving sought-after victory, Gregg Roman, director of the Middle East Forum and conference organizer, told JNS that the event marks “the first time that there really has been these in-depth discussions, debates and analyses which focus on the moral, the political, and also the military and strategic ways in which victory is defined.” The proceedings also breached issues surrounding those “who have been responsible for making decisions on life and death, war and peace,” in addition to “those politicians who could be sitting on the next government security cabinet for the next four years—on the way in which they see their vision of the conflict.”

Roman pointed out that “Palestinian nationalism right now is based on the negation of Jewish nationalism, or Zionism.”

The idea, he continued, is that once the Palestinians abandon their rejectionist ambitions—promulgated on the idea that Jews shouldn’t be in the region at all—then maybe they can start developing their own economy, polity, society, culture that is not dependent on rejecting someone else’s.

“When the government here is ready to adopt that stance, and the United backs the Israeli government’s position,” he said, is “when we’ll find ourselves in a way to break the status quo.”

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