Defense Minister: Israel needs to recognize the occupation must end
Ehud Barak: Israel-U.S. alienation is not good for Israel, we must act to change things.
Israel must recognize that the world will not put up with decades more of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in unusually frank remarks Monday.
Barak's comments came against the backdrop of severe friction between the U.S. and Israel's hawkish government over an impasse in peacemaking.
"The world isn't willing to accept - and we won't change that in 2010 - the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more," he said. "It's something that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."
"The alienation that is developing with the United States is not good for Israel," Barak said during a Memorial Day radio interview. "We have strong ties with the United States, a bond, long-term friendship and strategic partnership. We receive three billion dollars from them each year; we get the best planes in the world from them."
"For all these reasons we must act to change things," Barak said, while voicing doubt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would soon enjoy the same warm ties with the White House as his predecessors did when President George W. Bush was in office.
With Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama sharply at odds over settlement policy in territories which the Palestinians eye for a state, Barak held out the prospect of reshaping Israel's government so that it could make bold land-for-peace moves.
"With a broad readiness to go for a [peace] agreement, Israeli governments have overcome many obstacles in the daily discourse with the Americans about building in this or that settlement or a Jerusalem neighborhood," Barak said about long-standing differences with Washington over the issue.
Barak's comments echoed a call last Thursday from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for Israel to take "concrete steps toward peace" or risk empowering Islamist militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
The Obama administration responded angrily last month when Israel announced a project, during a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, to build a 1,600 more homes for Jews in a part of the West Bank that it annexed to Jerusalem.
The Palestinians subsequently cancelled plans to enter into U.S.-mediated, indirect talks with Israel and Netanyahu has yet to respond to a U.S. list of steps that Washington wants him to take to coax them back to the negotiating table.
Political sources in Israel said Washington proposed 11 such "confidence-building" measures, which have not been disclosed publicly but are thought to include freezing Israeli construction in East Jerusalem.
The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank, and say settlements could deny them a viable state.
Sources said Netanyahu, who has pledged not to place curbs on building homes for Israelis in and around East Jerusalem, was unlikely to agree in full to all of the steps Washington seeks.
To do so, the sources said, could cause his coalition to disintegrate, and continued friction with Obama could be a price the Israeli leader would be willing to pay to remain at the helm.
Political commentators have raised the possibility of bringing in former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's centrist Kadima party to keep Netanyahu's coalition in power if pro-settler factions decide to pull out.