July 20, 2010
When Fall Arrives, Israel's New Challenge BeginsBy C. Hart
The meeting in early July between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama was a short reprieve in the hostile exchanges that have taken place between the two governments since both men took office. It was considered in the best interests of Netanyahu and Obama to show the world that they were partners in Israel's quest for peace with security and in seeing a two-state solution come to pass. A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, leading to a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states, seemed to be the goal alluded to by both men during their last public exchange. Each would like to reach this personal peace achievement during his tenure as head of state.
The press conference that took place after the Oval Office meeting, on a hot, sunny day in 2010, when many politicians and diplomats were on summer vacation with their families, was not considered the prime time to raise issues of disagreement. Middle East diplomatic engagement is expected to gain new momentum in September. This may be the time when America and the international community could decide, once again, that it is politically beneficial to exert greater pressure on Israel. The current warm temperature in U.S.-Israel relations is set to cool down as the dog days of summer end and the autumn season begins.
The Settlement Freeze, Arab League, and U.N. Meetings
The Palestinians seem apprehensive about coming to the peace table for direct talks with Israel. While some of their leaders are expressing interest, others are looking to put off the first direct meeting until the settlement freeze becomes a major diplomatic issue in September. Netanyahu thought he could avoid a political falling-out by getting the Palestinians to the peace table immediately, hoping that current U.S. pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be effective.
However, the Palestinians are expected to continue to try to stall direct talks, waiting until September to put greater pressure on the Israeli government. This could cause another feud between Israel and the Obama administration, or else shake up Netanyahu's coalition government. Either way, stalling the talks is a win-win situation for the Palestinians.
In the meantime, the Palestinians have indicated that they are waiting for approval from the Arab League before agreeing on direct talks. The Arab League originally approved four months of proximity talks, set to end in September, at which point they would reevaluate whether there had been enough discussion between Israel and the Palestinians on the core issues in order to move to direct talks.
The Arab League may look to Obama for reassurances that direct talks will include a major focus on the Arab Peace Initiative, introduced in 2002 by Saudi Arabia. Israel has a serious problem with that Initiative, which government leaders say would not allow the Jewish State to have defensible borders. Among other contentious issues, the plan calls for a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 Green Line and an endorsement of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. It's expected that Abbas will look for the Initiative to be reintroduced and endorsed at the U.N. Security Council in September.
Meanwhile, Obama may decide to wait and kick off the direct talks on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, also scheduled for September. There are hints in the media that Obama could offer his own vision for direct talks, based on the Clinton Parameters. Former U.S. President Bill Clinton introduced his plan in December 2000. The Clinton Parameters call for Israel to withdraw from 94%-96% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria); a land-swap compensation of 1%-3%; an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley, for a temporary period of time, under the authority of an international force; Palestinian sovereignty over its own airspace; shared Israeli-Palestinian control over Jerusalem neighborhoods, as well as the holy sites; and some absorption by Israel of Palestinian "refugees."
The Netanyahu government has already indicated that it will not allow any international force on its eastern border running along the Jordan Valley. Israel insists on a demilitarized Palestinian state in which Israel would have control over all airspace. World Jewry has voiced it concerns over shared control of Jerusalem, especially in regard to the holy sites. Most Israelis insist that Palestinian "refugees" must be absorbed into a future Palestinian state, and not within Israeli territory.
Turkey's Heightened Profile and the Goldstone Report
Turkey is set to take over the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council in September. With Turkey at the helm, Israel can expect resolutions to come forth condemning Israel, once again, for the flotilla crisis of May-June 2010. Turkey continues to demand that Israel apologize for the killing of nine Turkish nationalists on board the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships in the flotilla. Israel refuses to apologize, insisting that the nationalists were terrorists that attacked Israeli naval commandos when they tried to stop the ship from breaking the blockade of Gaza. Turkey is also demanding financial compensation for the families of the terrorists, which Israel has so far refused to grant. Israel has said that Turkey should apologize for sending a terrorist ship to the Middle East. Meanwhile, Turkey is insisting on an international commission of inquiry to look into the Gaza flotilla crisis and could use its influence at the U.N. to fulfill its demands. Turkey has also threatened to cut off all diplomatic ties with Israel.
It's expected that the Goldstone Report will be reintroduced at the U.N. in September during Turkey's role as head of the Security Council. Israel considers the report biased and full of falsehoods, pointing to inaccuracies that favor Hamas and condemn Israel. The report has been used by Israel-haters to try to delegitimize the Jewish State, especially its need to defend itself against terrorist regimes.
Ramadan begins on August 11 and ends on September 9. Ramadan has traditionally been a time when Israel has offered confidence-building measures to the Palestinians -- another term for Israeli concessions. Israel has indicated that it might expand Palestinian control over major cities in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria). It also may be a time when Netanyahu releases Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails, which has happened during previous Ramadan holidays. Meanwhile, Hamas has refused to release Israel's P.O.W. Gilad Shalit, who has been held in a basement jail in Gaza for four years, without any visitations allowed from his family or the International Red Cross. If Israel concedes to release Palestinian prisoners during Ramadan, there could be a public outcry by many Israelis who have stood in solidarity with the Shalit family.
The Hamas Ceasefire with Israel
Few analysts realize that Hamas has declared a self-imposed ceasefire with Israel that supposedly expires in September. Most Palestinians do not want a renewal of the violence that gripped Gaza and Israel before and during the Gaza War of 2008-2009. However, it's possible that Hamas could renew its missile war against Israel once the ceasefire ends. This would depend on Iranian goals. Iran has announced it will be sending a delegation to the Gaza Strip to meet with Hamas leaders. That may be the time that Iran gives Hamas the signal to prepare for a renewed conflict with Israel.
While Iran succeeded in its attempt to cause Israel diplomatic damage through the flotilla crisis, the Iranian government has still not been able to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. Iran wants to open the Gaza port and expand the capabilities of Hamas in an effort to send advanced weapons directly to the terrorist government. The Iranian plan is to smuggle the weapons in on ships, under the guise of humanitarian aid. So far, the international community has supported Israel's right to protect its security interests by enforcing the naval blockade.
Further Iranian Goals
Iran plans to launch the Rasad 1 satellite into space at the end of August with great fanfare, focusing on the government's latest achievement in space technology. Additionally, Iran plans to open up the Bushehr nuclear power plant in September, after 37 years of preparations, despite attempts by the U.S. and the international community to stop Iran's efforts. While the latest U.N. sanctions against Iran are having some effect on the Iranian economy, Iran continues to try to enrich more uranium towards the goal of achieving nuclear capability.
Meanwhile, Arab states are becoming more and more anxious about Iran's determination to reach nuclear capability, and they are looking to the U.S. to provide stronger leadership to stop the Persian State. The United Arab Emirates recently indicated that it could not live with a nuclear Iran, emphasizing the serious threat that Iran poses to the UAE and other Gulf states.
Israel's Defense Forces have recently acknowledged Israel's failed deterrence in Lebanon, following reports of an unprecedented buildup of Hezb'allah forces in southern Lebanon in defiance of U.N. Security Resolution 1701, which was supposed to be implemented after the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Threats from Hezb'allah are increasing at such a rate that Israel is preparing the nation and the international community for the possibility of a renewed conflict in Lebanon in the near future. This will depend on when Iran wants to pursue war with Israel through Hezb'allah, its proxy terrorist army.
Looking to the Future
Summer vacations will be over by September, and Israelis will be gearing up for the next set of challenges to the Jewish state -- politically, diplomatically, and militarily -- from both allies and adversaries alike. Whether the Israeli-American relationship remains warm or cools off in the autumn breezes remains to be seen. Much of what occurs on the international front will determine just how cold the winter season will get, as well as how much the conflict will heat up in the Middle East region.