Barak and Netanyahu Tess Scheflan / Jini 2009
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, right, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Tess Scheflan / Jini
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Ehud Barak has always vacillated between peace and security, dovishness and hawkishness, left wing and right wing. Even when he left south Lebanon, offered the Golan Heights to Hafez Assad and the Temple Mount to Yasser Arafat, he didn't do this as a bleeding heart. He always spoke forcefully, talked about the importance of sobriety. He always spoke about how Israel must survive in a jungle. It must do so even now, on the eve of the peace summit in Washington.

This time, however, Barak is surprisingly - even unusually - optimistic. Perhaps it is because he contributed quite a bit to the summit's unveiling. Maybe it is due to the fact that the summit is his political lifejacket. The defense minister believes in the 2010 peace summit even more than the principals taking part in it.

These past few weeks have been volatile, between the Galant document affair, the appointment of a new chief of staff, the meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah and the sit-down with Mahmoud Abbas. And perhaps more than anything else, Barak was feverishly preoccupied with trying to push Netanyahu across the Rubicon, trying to convince him that there is no choice, trying to convert Benjamin Netanyahu from Yitzhak Shamir to Menachem Begin. Did he succeed?

Up until the last minute, the man who has signed up to also take on the role of foreign minister doesn't know whether he succeeded or not. Perhaps this is why he has chosen to make unequivocal, remarkable statements to Haaretz.

Yet the last-minute-meeting that Barak held with Netanyahu prior to the premier's departure for the United States fueled his optimism. When Barak said what he said from his office at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv, his sense was that there is a good chance that Netanyahu will surprise us.

Ehud Barak, is there any chance that you and Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in reaching peace with the Palestinians now, the same peace which you did not succeed in achieving in 2000 and Ehud Olmert did not succeed in achieving in 2008?

"In the current reality that is encircling us, there are remarkable changes underway. Thirty years ago, the Arabs competed amongst themselves in spouting rejectionist slogans that were reminiscent of [the three "nos" at] Khartoum. Today the Arab states are competing amongst themselves in arguing over which peace initiative will be adopted by the international community. The same situation is taking place with us. When I returned from Camp David a decade ago, the most vocal critics of my "irresponsible" concessions were Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Take a look at where they are today. It doesn't mean that the task is a simple one. The gaps are wide and they are of a fundamental nature. But I believe that there is a real chance today. If Netanyahu leads a process, a significant number of rightist ministers will stand with him. So what is needed is courage to make historic, painful decisions. I'm not saying that there is a certainty for success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited to the fullest.

What are the principles of a peace deal that you believe can be agreed upon by the conclusion of the talks?

"Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem."

What is the solution in Jerusalem?

"West Jerusalem and 12 Jewish neighborhoods that are home to 200,000 residents will be ours. The Arab neighborhoods in which close to a quarter million Palestinians live will be theirs. There will be a special regime in place along with agreed upon arrangements in the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the City of David."

Does the terror attack near Beit Hagai prove the extent to which the current efforts for peace are useless?

"This is a very serious incident, the likes of which we haven't seen for a long time. The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service are acting with all their strength to get their hands on those who perpetrated the attack. There will be those who will say that this is the result of weakness and that Netanyahu must return from Washington because they are killing Jews. Yet in looking at the situation in a level-headed way, there is no doubt that this is an attempt to harm the start of the peace talks. So while we are steadfastly safeguarding our security and waging a determined campaign against the perpetrators, we cannot be deterred from working toward the success of the peace negotiations."