Ehud Barak: If negotiations fail, Israel must consider unilateral withdrawal from West Bank
Israel's defense minister says current broad governing coalition presents an opportunity for progress in talks with the Palestinians.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday that Israel should consider unilateral moves if negations with the Palestinians fail to bear fruit.
"We are a coalition of 94 MKs, this is the time to lead a diplomatic process," Barak said Wednesday morning in a speech at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies. "But if it isn't possible to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, we must consider an interim arrangement or even a unilateral move."
"We are on borrowed time. We will reach a wall, and we'll pay the price. People who are now in a coma will then ask how we didn't see [this coming]," he added.
Turning to Iran's nuclear program, Barak said, "It's impossible to sleep soundly while the Iranians are moving systematically toward a point where Israel won't be able to do anything… The Iranians are saying to themselves: 'We've waited 4,000 years for a nuclear capability, so we'll wait another few weeks, and we won't do anything that would provoke an Israeli or American operation'."
Barak rejected criticism that the Israeli leadership wanted war, but said Israeli could not close its eyes and wait for the Iranians to attain nuclear capability. "The difficulty of the international community in taking action, even in a clear case like Syria, must tell us something about other areas as well," he said.
Barak disputed claims that he and Netanyahu were monopolizing decision-making on the Iranian issue. "There is no other issue in the State of Israel that has been discussed as much as the Iranian issue. There is no secret that two people decide on it in a dark room. That is ridiculous," he said.
"The Iranian issue is discussed a lot, even talked about too much. Some of these statements were irresponsible and damaged the effort to halt Iran," said Barak, apparently alluding to statements by former Shin Bet head Yuval Diskin and former Mossad head Meir Dagan, both of whom have publicly opposed an Israeli strike on Iran.
Barak criticized Syrian leader Bashar Assad, calling the recent massacre in Houla "a new record in ruthless murder by the Assad regime. The world must act, and not just talk. These are crimes against humanity," adding that "a solution must be imposed on the Assad family."
Barak called Israel's peace agreement with Egypt "a national asset" and said Egypt and the international community had an interest in ensuring that Egypt honors its commitments in the future. He added that the results of the first round of presidential elections in Egypt had "even surprised the candidates."
"What initially seemed like an Arab Spring is turning out to be an Islamic winter. Hostility toward Israel is serving as a basis for garnering political favor," he said.
On Turkey's decision to indict former the IDF chief of staff and officers he said, "We will stand as solid as a rock behind all the officers and soldiers who were involved in the issue of the Turkish flotilla."
Barak's remarks came after he received a position paper from his former bureau chief, Gilad Sher, who is now co-chairman of an organization called Blue White
Future, which has been advocating unilateral Israeli action, coordinated, however, with the Palestinian Authority. The group's other co-chairmen are high-tech entrepreneur Orni Petruschka and former Shin Bet security service director Ami Ayalon.
As part of such a process proposed by Blue and White Future, the Israeli government would pass a compensation law that would provide payment to tens of thousands of residents of isolated West Bank Jewish settlements who move within the boundaries of Israel proper in a two to three year period. In contrast with Israel's 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the plan would not call for the removal of the Israel Defense Forces from the entire West Bank.
Sher, Petruschka and Ayalon have also begun an international media campaign in support of their position, prompting New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman last week to suggest that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace the group's "constructive unilateralism," as he called it.
Friedman noted that the plan would call for Israel to state its willingness to resume negotiations without demanding Israeli sovereignty over territory beyond the security fence, while committing to halt settlement construction and adopting a plan to resettle 100,000 West Bank settlers within Israel's recognized borders.