Barak: 50-50 chance of new peace talks before Sept.

Defense minister rejects Palestinian demand for settlement freeze, tells France 24 "There's no real way to end construction."

Ehud Barak 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters)
Ehud Barak 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in an interview with France 24 on Friday, said he believes there is a 50-50 chance that Israel and the Palestinians will return to the negotiating table before September. In the meantime, he said, Israel cannot stop settlement construction.
"I hope that it's at least 50-50, probably more than 50-50," the defense minister answered when asked what chances are that peace talks will resume between Israel and the Palestinian Authority before Palestinians plan to ask the UN for recognition of statehood in September.
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In response to a question about the Palestinian demand for a West Bank settlement construction freeze before talks begin, however, Barak said, "There is no real way to announce an end of construction. There's half a million people living there. They need a new kindergarten every week."
European governments, Barak added, should tell the Palestinians: "Now you must come to grips with reality," regarding their demand for a settlement freeze. "It's about taking responsibility."
The defense minister said of settlement construction, "If we have a breakthrough, it will delineate a border. If there's a building that [ends up] on the Palestinian side of a mutually agreed border, why should they care - they will get it." Likewise, he said, "If it ends up on the Israeli side of a mutually agreed upon border, why should they care. It's on our side anyhow."
Settlements, he insisted, are "not the real issue when coming to negotiations."
While dodging the question of whether Israel is interested in the French proposal to host peace talks between the two parties, Barak said, "We will consider any proposal." He noted, however, that any talks must be based on "a vision of two states for two peoples and the end of the conflict - finality of claims."
Israel, he said, expects the Quartet to tell Palestinians blankly that Hamas must "accept the Quartet [parameters]: Recognition of Israel, acceptance of all previous agreements, and denouncing terror in action, not just in words."
Describing what he called "unfair and unjust" attempts to isolate Israel because of the lack of peace, Barak said those efforts scare him. Israel he said, "really wants" to return to negotiations.
However, the defense minister suggested that renewed talks should take place behind closed doors to avoid the "penetrating media and transparency." Secrecy, he said, would give those at the leadership level the confidence that they are "moving on solid ground and not just attempting [to jump] into empty swimming pools."