Defense Minister Ehud Barak
Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Photo by Reuters
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Defense Minister Ehud Barak has stressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the forum of seven senior ministers that Israel must put forth a "daring and assertive political initiative" in the coming months to emerge from its international isolation of the past year.

Barak will travel to Washington for talks with senior administration officials on advancing the peace process with the Palestinians.

A senior political source in Jerusalem said that in talks at the forum of seven after the Gaza flotilla incident, Barak spoke a great deal about the damage to Israel's international standing. He repeated this stance in talks about setting up a commission of inquiry.

Barak said that "the international preoccupation" with Israel following the flotilla controversy emphasizes the need to rebuild ties with the United States.

"There is no way to rehabilitate ties with the administration without presenting an assertive political program that will address the core issues of a final settlement with the Palestinians," Barak told Netanyahu and his other colleagues. "It is necessary to make decisions and take genuine political steps."

Barak stressed that the flotilla incident and the assistance of the Obama administration at blocking the establishment of an international commission of inquiry prove how much Israel needs to assist the United States in pushing the peace process forward. If the United States' standing in the world is undermined further, Israel is the one that will suffer, Barak said.

"A political initiative will break us out of the isolation and prevent phenomena like the flotillas to the Gaza Strip and international investigations," Barak told the forum of seven.

"There have been governments in Israel that were able to operate freely from a military point of view only because they initiated political moves. We all need to think what the alternative would be to presenting a political program and what is the significance of continuing with the current situation. Israel's isolation will only intensify."

One reason Barak is trying to convince Netanyahu and the other ministers of the need for change is the growing pressure from within the Labor Party. Ministers from the Labor Party including Isaac Herzog and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer have questioned whether the party should remain in the coalition if the political standstill continues.

The head of the Histadrut labor federation, Ofer Eini, has joined the criticism; Eini is considered a future candidate for the post of party chairman.

The senior political source said that Barak did not pose an ultimatum or threaten leaving the coalition, but in many discussions with the prime minister he made it clear that there is little time left for Israel to present a political initiative.

The next six months are likely to be critical, with September marking the end of the construction freeze in the settlements. Meanwhile, the UN General Assembly will meet in October, followed by the congressional elections in the United States in November.

Barak says that this is the time frame for making a political decision. If an initiative is undertaken, it may be necessary to broaden the coalition by including Kadima. If not, Labor may leave, which would leave Netanyahu with a narrower coalition government including right-wing parties Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu.