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Peres, Gilo, Israeli Pilots & Iran

President Peres: 'No Doubt Gilo Falls Under Israeli Sovereignty ... There Have Always Been Differences Between U.S. & Israel Over Jerusalem, But Israel Has Always Continued Peace talks With Palestinians'

Yisrael Hayom: 'Israeli Fighter Pilots To Undergo Refresher Course To Cope With Mental Stress Of Attacking Long Distance Targets'

IsraCast Assessment: Possible Shalit Prisoner Exchange With Palestinians & Israeli Feelers Could Allay Current Flap over Jerusalem While Iranian Nuclear Clock Keeps Ticking Down

President Shimon Peres (Photo: Amit Shabi)

At week's end, speculation again swirled around the possibility that a German mediator may be closing a long awaited prisoner exchange between Israel and Hamas - captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit in return for hundreds of Palestinian terrorists. Meanwhile, the Israeli decision to build 900 housing units in the Jerusalem neighborhood Gilo, after Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to U.S. President Barack Obama's demand for a settlement freeze on the West Bank, is a new source of friction. But while these events were dominating the headlines, Iran for the umpteenth time, declared it would not concede on enriching uranium. Obama warned of 'consequences'. Meanwhile it was reported that while Israeli pilots were to undergo a refresher course to cope with the mental stress in attacking long range targets.

Gilo & Obama: Prime Minister Netanyahu obviously realized the Israeli decision to build 900 housing units in Jerusalem's southern neighborhood of Gilo would trigger a stern rebuke, not only from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, but more importantly from U.S. President Barack Obama. So why did Netanyahu go ahead with the Gilo gambit at a time he had been trying to convince Obama that he meant business in seeking peace talks with the Palestinians. There appears to have been 'method in his madness'. By agreeing to Obama's demand for a West Bank settlement freeze, except for the 3,000 housing units already in the pipeline, hard-line, right-winger Netanyahu had conceded what no left-wing prime minister had ever dared. Even U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described this as an 'unprecedented' concession. But on other hand, Netanyahu dug in his heels over Jerusalem.

Jerusalem

In Netanyahu's view, Jerusalem is not on the Israeli- Palestinian agenda and he made the point with Gilo. Following this train of thought, by agreeing to the settlement freeze in 'Judea & Samaria, Netanyahu has not foreclosed the idea of this territory being negotiated as part of the two-state solution he has endorsed. However, Jerusalem was not part of the deal. If the Israeli leader had intervened to block the Gilo building decision this would have been tantamount to acquiescing in the idea that Jerusalem was also on the table. Furthermore, even a temporary freeze on Jerusalem would have turned into a permanent halt to all Jerusalem building beyond the old 1967 line. Any future Israeli building would have been instantly branded as 'deliberately torpedoing the peace process'. Not only did Netanyahu not want to include Jerusalem in the Palestinian negotiations. Even if he had agreed in order to placate Obaba, the Israeli leader would have faced an outright rebellion in both his Likud party and certainly among his right-wing coalition partners.

The neighborhoods of Gilo, Ramat Eshkol and Ramot that were constructed after the Six Day War of 1967, are considered by the vast majority of Israelis, to be part and parcel of Jewish Jerusalem, never to be discussed in any future negotiating process with the Palestinians. Even President Shimon Peres, whose former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat a partitioning of Jerusalem at Camp David 2000, has objected to Obama's reprimand. Peres said: ' There is no doubt that Gilo is under Israeli sovereignty and it is impossible to change the reality of present life on the ground'. And the President added: 'For years there have been differences between Israel and the U.S. over the status of Jerusalem and this is not new. Despite everything Israel always continued to conduct negotiations on Israeli-Palestinian peace'.

In the meantime, Netanyahu has repeated his call to Abbas to return to the negotiations without prior conditions, such as a total building halt which includes all of Jerusalem beyond the old 1967 lines. So, on the surface, the peace talks are stymied. On the other hand, from behind Israeli bars, Palestinian kingpin Marwan Bargutti has warned of a return to 'resistance' on the West Bank, something he knows a lot about. Bargutti is serving five life terms for his role in the murdering and maiming of Israeli civilians.

President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo: Amit Shabi)

At the same time, West Bank Palestinian leader Abbas is still keeping everyone guessing with his threat not to run in the upcoming election. In Jerusalem, Israeli decision makers are not taking very seriously the Palestinian threat to unilaterally declare an independent state. This would obviously be a huge step backwards from conflict resolution and a prescription for renewed violence.

Israeli initiative? The Maariv newspaper has reported that President Peres and Defense Minister Barak are spearheading a new initiative to restart the stalled talks with the Palestinians. It would involve the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders on some 50% of the West Bank. The U.S. would provide written guarantees to the Palestinians that at the end of a negotiating process of one and a half to two years they would receive additional land, equivalent to the area before the Six Day War (this implies land swaps on West Bank territory that would remain in Israeli hands. For its part, Israel would get a written guarantee from the U.S. confirming the Jewish character of Israel, in effect nullifying the Palestinian demand for the return of Palestinian refugees. According to Maariv, Prime Minister Netanyahu was aware of the Peres-Barak initiative and did not object.

Gilad Shalit

Shalit on way home? Will Cpl. Gilad Shalit, captured by Palestinian raiders from Gaza over three years ago, soon be returned in exchange for over 450 Palestinian terrorists? A German intermediary working in tight secrecy between Israel and Hamas has apparently made headway. The question revolves around the Hamas demand that Israel free convicted terrorists who played active roles in the murder of Israeli civilians. Israeli security officials have warned that the influx of such terrorists, particularly to the West Bank, could spark another bloody round of terror attacks and more Israeli civilians would pay the price. On the other hand, although the exchange will be celebrated as a great Palestinian victory, mainly for Hamas, it is also conceivable that it could enable Mahmoud Abbas to save face and return to negotiations with Israel. (An indication of the acrimony running between Abbas and his Hamas rivals was disclosed by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. During the IDF's 'Cast Lead' operation to halt the Hamas rocketing from Gaza, Abbas on the West Bank secretly contacted the Israeli government urging the IDF to clobber Hamas. Then, after the war was over, Abbas rushed to international organizations claiming the IDF had perpetrated war crimes against Hamas.

With just over a month to go for President Obama's Iranian deadline, Tehran is still hanging tough in the absence of any serious move by the U.S. Unless and until, Obama backs up his rhetoric about 'consequences' for Iran, the Iranians can be expected to keep stringing along the international community, while China and Russia have other fish to fry in maintaining their lucrative commercial ties with Iran. So what else is new? Netanyahu said:' Let their be no doubt, Israel is first on Iran's nuclear hit list but certainly not the last! There is mounting awareness by the international community that Iran's nuclear weapons program must be stopped'.

But while the Israeli Prime Minister was still hoping that Obama's diplomatic effort would succeed, the Israel Air Force was taking additional measures in its pilot and ground crew training for operating against long range targets or from under missile attack. An exclusive report in the Israel Hayom newspaper disclosed that Israeli pilots were undergoing a refresher course to prepare them mentally for the stress of attacking long range targets, obviously Iran. A senior Israel Air Force officer was quoted as saying: ' The importance of mental preparedness is mounting today when it comes to a basket of threats - missile attacks, threats to aircraft, and long range operations. The idea is to reinforce our personnel mentally so they will cope with the difficulties'.

David Essing

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