Barak: Israel-U.S. Differences on Peace Process 'Smaller Than They Seem'

Defense Minister Ehud Barak tells Channel 2 that U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East policy speech was not 'such a bad thing'.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday that the differences between Israel and the United States on the peace process are smaller than they seem.

A day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington, Barak said in an interview with Channel 2 that "the meeting was less dramatic than it appeared."

Barak - AP - March 24, 2011

"I think that the Americans know well the nuances of our positions," Barak said.

"I dont think that the president's speech was such a bad thing," he added. "I think it's good that the prime minister brought attention to the fact that we expect the recognition of settlement blocs and that we want the refugees to be absorbed within the Palestinian state. I dont think that the president said it was necessary to return to the 1967 lines, but rather that we need to start the discussion based on the 1967 borders."

Netanyahu and Obama held a closed door meeting in the Oval Office before jointly addressing the press on Friday afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour-and-a-half, more than twice the time planned.

Both Israel and the U.S. were cautiously optimistic about the meeting, with White House Press Secretary Jay Carney saying that the length of the one-on-one talk between Obama and Netanyahu was a positive sign, and "an indication of just how productive and constructive this meeting was".

However, both sides conceded in their comments to the press that there were points of contention, claiming that these were "differences between friends."

Shortly after Netanyahu and Obama met with the press on Friday, a senior U.S. State Department official told Haaretz that Obama was disappointed with Netanyahu's reaction to his Middle East policy speech, faulting Netanyahu for focusing on the issue of 1967 borders instead of looking at his policy as a whole and especially the alternative he proposed to the unilateral declaration of the Palestinian state at the United Nations.

"There were plenty of things in support of Israel," the official told Haaretz, citing Obama's wariness of the recent reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah, his condemnation of terror perpetrated by Hamas and his call for Palestinians to halt unilateral steps toward recognition. The official added that Obama recognized Israel as a Jewish state, saying that focusing on issue of 1967 borders was missing the point.