Barak: Israel Shouldn't Appease U.S. President With One Year Left

Defense Minister warns against making concessions to Palestinians in order to gain favor with Bush.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak this week warned against forsaking Israeli diplomatic principles to gain favor with the Bush administration.

In statements made to Haaretz, Barak warned against a "withdrawal from Israeli principles that have stood for 40 years, merely to gain favor in the eyes of an American president who is leaving office in a year."

Barak also leveled harsh criticism on recent efforts by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Vice Premier Haim Ramon to advance diplomatic progress with the Palestinian Authority, stating that even if PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad wanted to sign a peace agreement with Israel, they don't have the power to implement it.

Barak's words paint a strong contrast to statements made by Olmert speechto a Kadima Party gathering Thursday night where the PM said Israel "has a partner" in Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

The defense minister attacked Ramon's recently published diplomatic plan that would set the future border of Israel on the 1967 lines and would transfer Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem to Palestinian control.

"Ramon is overreaching and he lacks supervision or self control," Barak stated.

Sources close to Ramon came to the vice premier's defense, saying that his proposal was much more modest than what Barak offered then PA head Yassir Arafat at Camp David in 2000, adding that Barak until recently expressed great pride at his willingness to unilaterally withdrawal from 90% of the West Bank at the peace summit proceeding the second Intifada.

In security and diplomacy discussions held in recent days to prepare for November's U.S.-sponsored peace summit in Washington, Barak stated that the joint declaration with the Palestinians that the two sides have been working on "must be sufficiently substantive, so that the Palestinians do not feel humiliated and exploited."

However, Barak also said that "it must be sufficiently general, so Israelis do not feel like they are suckers who have made substantive concessions on core issues without receiving anything in return."

The defense minister believes that Israel must avoid presenting opening views that will be considered binding during later stages of the negotiations. He is also opposed to including in the joint declaration a clause stating that the future border between Israel and the Palestinian state will be based on the 1967 lines. His proposal is to include less explicit wording that will reiterate United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.

Barak is also opposed to any mention of UN General Assembly Resolution 194, which the Palestinians use to interpret as international recognition to their demand for a right of return of refugees.