(photo credit: Ariel Hermoni / Defense Ministry)
Indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will continue until a breakthrough occurs toward direct negotiations, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday, hours before the official announcement on the initiation of indirect talks.
Barak said the talks would “not stop until a way is found for direct conversation between us and the Palestinians, in which all of the topics will be placed on the table. We will work for the talks to transfer to direct talks.”
The defense minister said during the Monday-morning hearing that “I am among those who believe that direct talks would have been preferable, but in the current conditions today, even indirect talks were difficult to achieve.”
He emphasized that “Israel has enough deterrence and is strong enough to march toward agreements from a point of strength and security, but a diplomatic agreement will not happen if there is not willingness on both sides. The truth is that in the end, there is a deep and real need [for an agreement] that stems from Israel’s interest in defending its identity. We have the utmost interest in drawing a border within which a Jewish majority is stable for generations, next to which is an economically and politically viable Palestinian state.”
Barak added that “any arrangement will maintain security arrangements” to guarantee Israel’s safety.
The defense minister rejected claims made by Palestinian negotiators that it was Israel, and particularly the Netanyahu administration, that had set up obstacles to a return to the negotiation table.
“I believe it was not easy, not just because of us. The hardships that I believe were created are the fruit of what is going on today in the Arab world,” he said. “There are differences in approaches and emphases regarding negotiations with Israel.”
Barak also discussed the current status of the Iranian nuclear program. Departing from the usual standpoint advocated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Barak said that “Iran is not an existential threat to Israel at this time. Iran does have the potential of becoming an existential threat, and we are working to prevent that.”
The international community, he warned, is still more concerned with the financial crisis than the Iranian threat.
would-be American allies, he said, “have a complex daily agenda, both
domestically and overseas. They have difficulty coordinating among
Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, the peace process here, and their
responsibilities in South America.”