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Arab League Green Light vs. Gaza Rocketing

Arab League Support for Direct Talks Between Israel & Palestinians Triggers Gaza Rocketing Of Israel

Israeli Aircraft Respond By Striking Terrorist Targets In Gaza

IsraCast Assessment: West Bank Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas Now Expected To Negotiate With Israel's President Binyamin Netanyahu. Israeli Leader Has Accentuated Positive Atmospherics For Negotiations But Can He Now Deliver On Substance In Face of Right-wing Coalition

Hamas terrorists firing rockets

 On July 29th, the Arab League put its seal of approval on a new round of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Since the election of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, nearly a year and a half ago, West Bank Palestinian President Muhmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Netanyahu. But after Netanyahu met recently with U.S. President Barak Obama, European officials and Arab leaders, they have all come in support of the direct negotiations. Netanyahu has declared repeatedly that he means business about implementing the two state solution and this has apparently done the trick. While Abbas considered his reply, Hamas controlled Gaza reacted swiftly with fresh rocket attacks on Israel.

 The Arab League's green light for the Palestinians to enter direct negotiations with Israel should not come as a surprise. Most Arab regimes of the more than 20 members have the threat of a nuclear armed Iran breathing down their necks. Therefore, the Arab world is interested in keeping the lid on the Israeli - Palestinian conflict and not allowing it to deflect its focus from Iran. Moreover, there is a changing perception of Israel in the Arab power elites. As they apparently see it:'The enemy of my enemy is my friend' and Israel has been relegated to second place behind Iran. (The North Korean threat of nuclear war against the U.S. and South Korea during the current crisis is a stark example of what the world should expect if another ruthless regime such as Iran acquires nuclear weapons. Iran can also be expected to perpetrate flagrant acts of aggression against its neighbors and then threaten nuclear war if the victim and its ally dare to retaliate. This contingency has been noted in the capitals of the Middle East.)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Although Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas had tried to squeeze his preconditions out of Israel as an entry ticket to direct negotiations, neither the U.S. nor the Arab League has supported the Palestinian demands. In lending its support for the direct talks, the Arab League told Abbas: 'It's your call, we'll back you'. However on this note, Israel's State President Shimon Peres felt that the League would not have given its blessing to the direct negotiations, if it believed Abbas himself was really opposed to meeting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu face-to-face. And Peres added:'Its unreasonable that the Palestinians would seek Israeli concessions on final status issues before the negotiations even get started'. So apparently it's not a question of if but when Abbas will announce his readiness to start negotiating on a Palestinian state. After the Arab League has provided him a ladder to climb down the tree, Abbas will be loath to buck the U.S. and Arab League peace initiative.

Barack Obama | Benyamin Netanyahu

Now all direct negotiations hinge on two aspects- substance and atmospherics. Since his initial clash with U.S. President Barack Obama, Netanyahu has been accentuating the atmospherics by professing his readiness to compromise on a Palestinian state. But not only with Obama, immediately after his return from Washington, the Israeli leader also updated Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II. These Arab leaders also seemed impressed by what they heard in private. It stands to reason that Israel's leader must also have delivered on substance. But in public, Netanyahu has kept his cards close to his vest. In a closed door session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs & Defense Committee, Netanyahu declared: 'I will never compromise on Israel's security'. This position will have far reaching ramifications when it comes to a permanent agreement on Palestine. For example, the PM referred to what may develop east of the West Bank beyond Jordan as far as Iraq. Noting that U.S. troops will be withdrawing from Iraq, Netanyahu said Israel would have to take into account the possible revival of an Eastern front after the American evacuation.

Netanyahu's Approach In Direct Talks ...

When Israeli and Palestinian negotiators do meet face-to-face, Israel is likely to advance the 'bottom-up' approach to building a viable Palestinian economy and civil society ruled by the law and order. This approach differs from the process of statehood being handed down from on high. It is aimed at bestowing benefits for on all Palestinians living in a prospering society at peace with Israel. It would percolate up through Palestinian society and Palestinians would feel their lives changing for the better. They would see they have a stake in making the peace process work and a lot to lose if they went the way of the Palestinians in Gaza who voted Hamas. Netanyahu's approach will likely be built on incentives for peace and disincentives for war. A former finance minister who extricated Israel from an economic meltdown during the Sharon government, Netanyahu can also be expected to present a package of economic cooperation to accelerate the peace process. But will it be enough.

Abbas knows full that Netanyahu will not offer, what most Israelis feel were the excessive concessions offered by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and which Abbas deigned not to accept. Olmert 'gave away the kitchen sink' during his last days in office and it is doubtful his concessions would have been approved by his own cabinet, let alone the Knesset and the public at large. That is why a despondent Abbas first tried to set prior conditions for the direct talks and why he is still dragging his feet over the prospect of negotiating with Netanyahu. Moreover, Hamas his bitter rivals who rule Hamas, will haul him over the coals for talking peace instead of making war on the Jewish state. But when Netanyahu and Hamas, or their representatives , do go to the table will the Israeli leader have the backing of his Right-wing coalition if he is now willing to start implementing the two-state solution that is still opposed by most of his Right- wing coalition? The Israeli PM may have a no less difficult task in persuading his cabinet colleagues that it is also in Israel's best interest to support the establishment of a peaceful Palestine with the necessary security arrangements to guarantee that it will remain so in the future. (It will be interesting to see if Netanyahu might revert to Ariel Sharon's insistence on a sequential approach as was the case with the Roadmp peace plan - in other words, each stage had to be fully implemented or formulated before moving on to the next. Or whether the negotiations will work on various aspects simultaneously).

Hamas Responds With More Rockets...

Gaza responded swiftly to the Arab League decision. Within twenty- four hours a GRAD missile was fired from Gaza into the Israeli town of Ashkelon, a few kilometers up the Mediterranean coast. Fortunately, the the early warning alert system spotted the incoming missile and sounded the sirens. This gave parents fifteen seconds or so to rush their children into reinforced security rooms inside their homes. The missile exploded in an empty lot just meters away from an apartment building. If not for their quick response, many civilians in the building would have been seriously wounded and possibly killed by the flying shrapnel and glass shards from shattered windows. Seventeen people, including children, had to be treated in hospital for panic symptoms. A mortar bomb was also fired from Gaza into the Eshkol area but no casualties or damage was reported.

The Netanyahu government has adopted a zero-tolerance policy to rocketing from Gaza, that means immediate Israeli payback against terrorist sites. Within hours, Israeli aircraft hit three targets in the northern Gaza Strip killing a Hamas commander and wounding twelve other people. This was followed by another Palestinian rocket attack from Gaza that demolished three rooms in an educational building in the Shar Hanegev area. Fortunately, on the Sabbath the building was unoccupied otherwise, as was the case in Eshkelon, many Israeli civilians could have been killed. The terrorist message was loud and clear: 'The Arab League and the West Bank Palestinians may opt for peace negotiations, but we'll keep launching our rockets at Israel from Gaza!' Israel's new 'Iron Dome' anti-missile system that is capable of identifying and knocking down short-range rockets is due to be deployed in November and the hope is that it will downgrade the rocket attacks that have plagued Israel for over eight years. However the Defense Ministry has said there will not be enough to go around because northern Israel may be facing an even greater threat from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The several hundred thousand Israeli civilians who live within rocket range of Gaza are demanding that Iron Dome be deployed to shut down Gaza. In a new twist, Israel fired off protests to the UN Secretary General in New York and the Human Rights Council in Geneva protesting the Gaza rocketing of Israeli civilians. Traditionally, Israel has not protested to the UN believing it's a waste of time because the Israeli complaints only fall on deaf ears. But with the diplomatic war now being waged against the Jewish state apparently Jerusalem has decided to reply in kind.

Gaza Rocketing Vs. 'Aid Flotillas'...

The latest rocketing from Gaza is additional proof, if any were needed, of the necessity for Israel's naval blockade. It is only common sense that if Israel permitted foreign vessels to sail into Gaza without being searched their cargoes would soon include tons of missiles and weapons. The claims that Israel is 'starving the children of Gaza' is ludicrous in light of the fact that some one hundred and fifty trucks carry all manner of produce, except for military usage, into Gaza daily. Moreover, from the outset Israel made clear that all the 'aid flotillas' could unload their cargoes in the Israeli port of Ashdod, from where they would be trucked into Gaza.

Israel Air Force & Romanian Crash ...

The tragic deaths of six Israeli airmen and a Romanian pilot during a joint training mission in Romania has again focused attention on the sacrifice and dedication of the Israel Air Force. The 'Yasur' chopper, known as the workhorse of the IAF, crashed into a mountain side when it flew into bad weather in an area notorious for its sudden and violent storms. The tragedy unveiled the close military cooperation between Israel and Romania. Possibly one of the best in the world, the IAF has a wealth of experience and expertise that is invaluable to other countries. In return, Israeli pilots can train and develop long range capabilities by being able to fly in Romanian air space. Both sides benefit.

Israeli reporters dispatched to Romania after the crash have said that human error and not mechanical failure was the cause of the accident. An intensive IAF inquiry is now underway to nail down what caused the accident and to prevent a recurrence. At least on one thing all Israelis will agree. Israeli pilots are among the best and the brightest who serve the Jewish state. During their last two high school years Israeli youngsters are screened for their military service through special IQ and aptitude tests. Those found suitable and are ready to volunteer for pilot training undergo further screening and only then are a small number invited to join the pilot's course - one of the most grueling in the IDF. That is just the beginning of the road and many fall by the wayside before they will receive their vaunted pilot's wings. In addition to their military training, the cadets have to study so much math and physics that their pilot's wings are considered to be the equivalent of a Bachelor's degree.

The Arab League decision to support the direct negotiations is important in that it paves the way for Israel and the Palestinians to take another crack at starting the process for the two state solution. Whether it will succeed remains in doubt but the timing is crucial. It provides, for the first time, a unified front of most Middle East countries in support of an Israeli- Palestinian peace process as opposed to the threat of a nuclear Iran striving for regional hegemony and instigating its Hamas and Hezbollah surrogates to torpedo any progress on the Israeli - Palestinian track.

David Essing

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