August 22, 2010 Direct Peace Talks, New Chief of Staff, Iran Nuclear Reactor

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A Daily Analysis
By Marc Schulman

August 22, 2010 Direct Peace Talks, New Chief of Staff, Iran Nuclear Reactor

After a couple of weeks of blissful quiet, that happened to correspond to my vacation, a burst of news occurred over the weekend.

The first event was the announcement of the beginning direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians in a little over a week. The announcement has been met with a great deal of deserved skeptisim, with most observors believing the chances of reaching any agreement are slim to none. While all of the skeptical views are well deserved, I am slightly optimistic. The rumors emanating from Netanyahu's office seem to be that he intends to conduct the negotiations himself, without large groups. The positions of the Palestinians seem be well known, while those of the Netanyahu government are less so. However, Netanyahu has repeatedly stated he is ready to make unprecedented concessions. While many are cynical regarding Netanyahu's true intentions and dubious of his ability to make real concessions, at the same time as holding together any sort of government coalition, I am a little less so. This morning I heard an interview on Israeli TV with Michael Eytan of the Likud. Eytan was known in the past for his hawkish views. Now he was calling for a resumption of building only in the populated areas that would remain part of Israel after the creation of a Palestinian state. He stated you cannot believe in two states and then build everywhere to establish facts. When asked if any Israeli government would be able to evacuate well established, but isolated, settlements like Ofra, Eytan answered: "this is a Democracy and yes they would". When the inverviewer asked, almost incredulously, how he (Eytan) who went into politics to stop compromises could say such a thing, Eytan stated that reality had given him little choice but to change his views over time. I have heard other Likud MK's recently saying very similar things. Eytan went on to issue the obvious caveat, that even though Israel was willing to make major concessions it was not at all clear that the Palestinians were ready to reciprocate.

That is ultimately the issue: Will/Can the Palestinians compromise on the Right of Return and accept the most basic point of the original UN Resolution on the partition of Palestine, in order to create a Jewish state (something they have never accepted)? Defense Minister Barak surprised Israel today by announcing his choice for the new Chief of the Staff of the IDF, Yoav Galant. This occurred quickly after the police announced they had a suspect in what became known as "the Galant affair", which dominated news in Israel over the course of the last two weeks. That affair centered on a proposal that was from a PR firm supposedly hired by Galant to promote his candidacy. The proposal was determined to be a forgery created by a Lietenant Colonel in reserves, not directly connected to any of the candidates. Barak's decision to announce the candidate so early (the outgoing Chief of Staff's term does not end until February) was an attempt to put an end to the turmoil. Some also believe it is an attempt to get the current Ramatkal to resign early.  Over the weekend Iran began fueling its nuclear power plant at Bushehr. Despite some hysteria in the media, according to reliable Israeli observers, the plant does not represent a threat to Israel. It is a legitimate electrical plant, whose fuel rods are under joint Russian and International supervision. In addition, despite the theroritcal possibility of converting spent fuel rods into weapons grade plutonium to be used in a bomb, this has never actually been done by anyone and is considered an especially difficult and risky activity.

The debate caused by Jeffrey Goldberg's cover story in the ATLANTIC on the possbility of an Israel strike on Iran continues both online and the press. This is a good excerpt. A Look at the The Atlantic's Debate on Israel Iran and the Bomb:

For a feel good story, Skip the Lecture on Israel's Risk For Peace

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