While Israel's current situation is "not yet apartheid," the country is on a "slippery slope" heading in that direction – thus says former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in an interview airing Wednesday night on German television.
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Barak made his remarks on the "Conflict Zone" program broadcast by Deutsche Welle's international English-language channel. The show is featuring a series of interviews conducted by hard-hitting veteran British journalist Tim Sebastian, marking the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War.
“Israel faces a choice," Barak tells Sebastian, according to excerpts of the interview that Haaretz received in advance.
"If we keep controlling the whole area from the Mediterranean to the river Jordan where some 13 million people are living -- eight million Israelis, five million Palestinians ... if only one entity reigned over this whole area, named Israel," the 74-year-old former premier says, "it would become inevitably -- that's the key word, inevitably – either non-Jewish or non-democratic."
In the event of a scenario in which Palestinians living in an annexed West Bank are given full rights and are allowed to vote, Barak predicts that Israel would quickly become “a binational state with an Arab majority and civil war.”
The second option, says Barak, who served as premier from 1999 to 2001, is Israel's current path: a “slippery slope toward apartheid.”
Because both of these outcomes are undesirable, Israel has what Barak calls a “compelling imperative” to change the government’s direction and to pursue a solution of two states for two peoples.
In the DW interview, when Sebastian talks about the moral implications of Israel's occupation and asks Barak to “admit that the lives of some four million people controlled by a government which they are not entitled to elect is immoral and unjust” – Barak's response is that “the moral issue” is not his primary concern.
“I care about morality," he explains. "But I care more about our very survival in life."
Asked about the mass Palestinian casualties during Israel's 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, the former prime minister reiterates his belief that Israel’s security and safety trump moral and humanitarian considerations.
With respect to the hundreds of fatalities among Gazan children during that war, he tells Sebastian, “I am not happy about the loss of life. I am very sorry for it, but I cannot tell you that I will not repeat it if the life and security of our own people is at stake.
Israel Defense Forces' firepower, he says, "never was aimed at the civilian population” and the army has to grapple with the fact that “the terrorists are now deliberately operating from within schools, within the medical stations, and so on. And even with the most accurate weapons, you cannot avoid certain collateral damage.”
As to the subject of Israeli settlements and their role in a future peace agreement, Barak tells Sebastian that it is clear to him that “80 percent of settlers living within the settlement blocs which altogether cover no more than 5 or 6 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as the Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem – all [these settlements] are legitimate, should remain part of Israel. Even in a peace agreement."
"A major mistake” of the current Israeli government, the former premier notes, is its inability to “differentiate” between the blocs and the more “isolated” settlements, and to successfully communicate that difference to the international community -- something he says that he himself had done.
“When I was prime minister," he explains in the interview, "we enjoyed the support of the whole world for our policy because it was clear that, on one hand, we are still building within the settlement blocs, but we are genuinely ready to make a deal with the Palestinians and give up the isolated settlements.”
Sebastian also touches on Barak’s diplomatic efforts as prime minister -- specifically, the Middle East peace summit at Camp David in July 2000, where he and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat met President Bill Clinton, but no agreement was reached.
Barak rejects the interviewer's description of the summit as having “failed,” saying, “I don't know what you mean by fail. It's clearly that it didn't achieve a breakthrough.”
Moreover, he adds, in his view, it was not the failure of that effort that sparked the second intifada, but “the other way around. We were heading toward a collision, [an] inevitable explosion. I tried my best to avoid it by being ready to give a generous proposal in order to avoid it if possible.”
Since stepping away from politics and into the public sector in 2013, the former Israeli premier has been openly flirting with a possible return to public life, and has harshly attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent speeches, calling his current government "weak, feeble, boisterous and radical.” Family members, former political advisers and other Barak associates formed a public-benefit company called National Responsibility last December that could serve as an organizational platform should he decide to return to politics.