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Netanyahu's Crucial Choices

Israeli Prime Minister May Soon Have To Face Tough Choices On Palestinians, Iran & Gilad Shalit

Speculation Rampant About Movement On Renewal Of Palestinian Peace Talks & Shalit Prisoner Exchange

Isracast: Israel Declares It Will Not Be The First To Introduce Nuclear Weapons Into the Middle East - Will It Also Act To Bar Any Other State From Becoming First To Introduce Nuclear Weapons?

Gilad Shalit

 Over the past summer months Palestinian peace talks remained in the diplomatic doldrums, secret contacts on a Shalit prisoner exchange dragged on while the current internal unrest in Iran cast another shadow over the proposed nuclear negotiations with Tehran. However, the IsraCast update is that these slumbering but vital issues may soon reawaken on the international stage.

Far back, IsraCast quoted an anonymous Israeli source, who pointed out that the newly elected Prime Minister could fall back on the idea of a 'moratorium' on settlement building that was adopted by non-other that the ultimate hardliner Menachem Begin during peace talks with Egypt's President Anwar Sadat in 1977. What may be in the cards now, is that Israel will freeze building at settlement on the West Bank for six months, but not in East Jerusalem.

The Likud leader draws a red line when it comes to Israel's capital city; even if Netanyahu agreed to, which he doesn't, the current coalition government would likely fall. Although there has been no official confirmation of the deal, the angry Egyptian response indicates this indeed may be coalescing behind the scenes. Egypt's Foreign Abu Reit has rejected such an understanding that would acquiesce in Israel's continued construction in East Jerusalem, which he claims, belongs to all Arabs. It should be recalled that during the Camp David summit of 2000, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sent a stern message to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat warning that he had no mandate to compromise on Jerusalem with Ehud Barak and Bill Clinton. One explanation may be that the Egyptians, who have a border with both Gaza and Israel, have been left out of the picture. Back home, the conjecture that Netanyahu may have conceded to Obama's demand to halt building at West Bank settlements, has raised the eyebrows of some of his Likud MKs as well as his farther to the right coalition partners. (Labor's Ehud Barak would obviously be delighted with the renewal of Palestinian negotiations. It will not only placate Obama but also those critical Labor Mks who are needling Barak to bolt the government.

At the same time, Netanyahu again found that although European leaders such as Gordon Brown, Nicole Sarkozi, Angela Merkel and Dmitry Medvedev support, unequivocally, Israel's right to exist they also insist, just as firmly, on the eventual establishment of Palestine. Therefore, the Europeans demand that Israel must continue along the diplomatic course with the Palestinians no matter how times the Palestinians torpedo it. After the Palestinians elected radical Hamas to office in the last Palestinian election, only half of the Palestinian camp is, at best, in favor of peace talks with Israel. The other half, Hamas ruled Gaza, backs Iran's goal of wiping Israel off the map. Even so, it is abundantly clear that even under these condition the U.S. and the E.U. will not allow Israel to sit back and do nothing. This was the case after the repeated Palestinian rejections of peace and their unswerving constancy to terrorism , be it Oslo(1993), Camp David (2000), the Road Map (2003) or Ehud Olmert's most recent efforts. On this the Europeans are fully coordinated with Obama. (In fact, even Barak's predecessor George Bush also insisted that Israel persevere with the Road Map proposal although the Palestinians continued the terrorism and Gaza even voted Hamas into office).

Binyamin Netanyahu

This is the political reality that induced Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu to finally utter his support for the two-state solution, even if he may believe a Palestinian state will prove to be an anathema for Israel - a strategic threat to her existence. On his European tour, Netanyahu spoke of his winning formula 'a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state'. This was turned down flat by the recent Palestinian conference that convened in Bethlehem: a Palestinian state yes, but a 'Jewish' state never! The Palestinian view is there is no Jewish people just the religion of Judaism and a religion does not deserve a state. Be that as it may, the Israeli Prime Minister appears eager to pay the price for a renewal of peace talks, apparently believing that diplomatic lull will invite others to push their private positions. Obama is reportedly drafting his own peace plan, which has always been the wont of nearly every U.S. President. In other words, if an Israeli prime minister does not show some movement on his own, others will get him moving in their direction. (And everyone of course knows how to win over the hearts and minds of Hamas religious fanatics, who are no less radical than al- Qaeda or the Taliban).

There is a flip side to this diplomatic coin now being forged - the U.S. would push harder for stiffer sanctions against Iran. After Tehran's brutal crackdown on young Iranians protesting the recent rigged election, the Obama administration appears to have dispelled any illusion that diplomatic jaw-jaw would persuade the Iranians to halt their nuclear weapons project.

In Russia, Netanyahu with President Medvedev at his side, Netanyahu repeated the long-held Israeli position that: 'Israel will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East'. Russia, which is Iran's major nuclear supplier, is officially opposed to an Iranian nuclear bomb but in the same breadth claims there is no evidence that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons. Moscow has also consistently opposed the imposing of stiffer sanctions on Iran with which Russia has made billions of rubles from its nuclear sales to the Iranians. (Could it be the current Russian regime wouldn't mind an Israeli military strike knocking out Iran's nuclear installations in order to resell its hi-tech to the Iranians?).

Hamas Terrorists in Gaza Strip

The Russians of course defend their devious deals by contending that the nuclear know-how they sold the Iranians was for peaceful purposes only. I once asked Prof Yuval Ne'eman, the late Israeli physicist, if there was any scientific truth to this argument. Ne'eman replied: 'Does anyone really think there is a separate set of nuclear physics for peaceful and military purposes!' So much for the Kremlin's cynicism. The Russians are not alone. Even today's Germany, without doubt a sincere friend of the Jewish state, is one of Iran's leading trade partners, although it threatens to wipe Israel off the map. The Israeli ambassador once said that Chancellor Angela Merkel is not happy with this state of affairs, but she responds by saying that the big German industrialists told her that if they didn't sell to the Iranians, Germany would lose out because her European competitors would jump in to sell Iran anyway.

This summer, the Germans have again moved in as middle-men between Israel and Hamas in the prisoner exchange contacts for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who was abducted in a cross border raid into Israel more than four years ago. Since then, the Palestinians have violated every international convention by refusing the International Red Cross even one visit to see him. Several Israeli media headlines say the Germans have issued an ultimatum giving Hamas until September 1st to accept a reported exchange of some 450 terrorists for Shalit. However, at Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu played down the speculation that the soldier's release may be imminent.

Hamas has been trying to squeeze as many of the most dastardly terrorists as possible out of the exchange. Terrorists directly responsible for the blowing up of crowded buses and restaurants that murdered over one thousand Israeli civilians and maimed thousands more. But it is not just a painful emotional issue, mainly for the bereaved families; the directors of the two secret services, the Mossad and Shabak, are both opposed to setting loose arch-terrorists. And with good reason based on past experience. In 1985, Israel freed over eleven-hundred Palestinian terrorists in exchange for three IDF soldiers who were captured during the First Lebanon War. Those released terrorists later formed the hard core for the First Intifada that claimed many of the aforementioned casualties. This is the real and present security threat involved. Again, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, considerd to be a 'softy' compared to Netanyahu, tried hard but could not bring himself to release some of the terrorists demanded by Hamas.

Be that as it may, the public pressure on the government is immense and unceasing to 'Bring Home Gilad' and celebrities are about to launch a TV campaign to this end. This is just one of the tough decisions Netanyahu, whose eldest son has just been drafted into the IDF for non-combat duty, will have to make as the summer draws to a close. The Prime Minister, who himself served in the elite Sayaret Matkal Special Forces unit, is obviously well aware of all the issues at stake including that of the State's obligation to bring back its best and bravest fighters, if at all possible.

Then of course there was the odious article in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet to wit: Israeli soldiers not only stole but also sold Palestinian body parts. It could only call to mind the anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper 'der Sturmer' that spread such similar slander against the Jews from 1923 until the end of World War II. Naturally, outrage swept throughout the Jewish state not only over the spurious article but no less so over the reaction of the Swedish government, whose predecessor chose to remain neutral during the Second World War. (Although it did give refuge to the Jewish refugees who fled from Nazi- occupied Denmark and Poland). Here in Israel, the Swedish ambassador naturally expressed her government's dissociation from the article. But lo and behold! Back in Stockholm, diplomats in the Swedish Foreign Ministry rapped her knuckles with the reprimand that because Sweden enjoys complete freedom of the press, Swedish officials were not to get involved. Again, Sweden had chosen to remain neutral. But the outrageous article does raise an insidious aspect of Israel bashing that is sometimes apparent, under closer scrutiny, in the international media.

David Essing

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