Barak: Israel to Retain Control of Passage Between W. Bank, Gaza

Defense Minister: Link planned as part of permanent agreement with PA to run underground, through bridges.

Israel will not grant the Palestinians a direct territorial passage between the two parts of the Palestinian Authority, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday.

The passage between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank - which may be worked out in the framework of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians - will remain under Israeli control and will either run underground or through bridges, Barak said.

Speaking before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem, Barak said that a part of the difficulty with negotiating with the Palestinians stems from their reluctance to accept the two-state solution - one state for the Jews and another for the Palestinians.

Likud MK Silvan Shalom said that the fact that the two sides cannot reach an understanding "even on this matter" should serve as a warning and a wake-up call. "We should pay attention to what the Palestinians are saying. They usually state what they're thinking about doing."

Addressing the Iranian issue, Barak said that Israel's response to the Iranian nuclear program is measured in action rather than rhetoric. "Actions behind the scenes, far from the public eye, are far more significant than slogans," he said. Barak added that "talk does not make threats go away. We must show good judgment and act wisely."

According to the head of the research division of Military Intelligence, Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz, who also spoke before the committee, Iran is steadily getting closer to developing nuclear arms. "If nothing stops Iran, the worst-case scenario is that by the end of 2009 it will have a nuclear weapon," he said.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, but its assertions are widely disbelieved. The program has especially rattled Israel because Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for its destruction.