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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
WASHINGTON – The US-Israel relationship is back on track, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said as he wrapped up a trip here last week.
“I feel very strongly that these differences, these slight disputes are behind us,” Barak said in an address to the American Jewish Committee on Thursday night. “The relationship between our defense establishment and the American one is extremely good, deep, and [the bonds] are intimate and unbreakable.”
He pointed to conversations he had with a slew of top officials here, including his counterpart US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Jim Jones, whose meeting with Barak was joined by President Barack Obama himself for over half an hour.
The visit, which included an honor guard at Barak’s arrival at the Pentagon and a rare joint press conference with Gates, capped two weeks of sustained outreach from the administration to Israel and US Jewish groups.
Clinton also appeared before the AJC and an Israel-oriented think tank. Both she and Obama issued warm statements on Israel’s Independence; Obama sent a letter reiterating similar points to a major Jewish umbrella organization and top White House figures including Jones and senior adviser David Axelrod have made speeches on the importance of the US-Israel relationship at major Jewish and Israeli venues.
The effort comes amid some of the deepest tensions between the US and Israel in several years, with prominent members of the American Jewish community raising questions about the Obama administration’s approach to Israel and the Middle East.
The outreach seems to have calmed temperatures, however, with Barak certifying the improvement with his comments on Thursday night.
Barak also praised the US for its steps on Iran in terms of seeking sanctions and continuing with diplomacy.
On Thursday night, however, he stressed that there must be a deadline to evaluate whether sanctions have been effective.
“Within a clear time limit, the world will have to judge whether it works,” he said.
Barak also expressed urgency on reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinians, citing the demographic threat.
He warned that without a two-state solution, the options would be a binational state or a non-democratic state.
“If a block of millions of Palestinians will not vote, it’s a non-democratic state however we call it,” he said.
Though Barak noted that most of the governing coalition is right-wing –
his Labor party being the sole exception – he stressed that Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is ready to work toward peace.
“It’s not easy for us as a government to move forward,” he said. “But we are ready.”