Barak: PM-Obama meeting 'less dramatic than it seems'

Top gov’t officials downplay Israel-US tension over Obama’s Mideast speech; Ayalon: US president said peace agreement will not be imposed.

Barak speech serious 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool )
Barak speech serious 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool )
Key government officials downplayed the tension between US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the weekend, arguing that Obama’s Thursday speech was not anti-Israel, and that the gaps between Israeli and American policy were not as large as they seemed.
“I don’t think that Obama’s speech was so terrible,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said.
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Speaking on Channel 2’s “Meet the Press,” Barak said, “The gaps are smaller than what they seem to us to be. I don’t think that the president said that we must return to the 1967 borders, he said that we need to have a discussion on the borders on the basis of the 1967 lines with agreed landswaps.”
“Obama’s position is not very different from the traditional American positions. The Obama plan details a version that is more comfortable to Palestinian ears, but also details a version that is more comfortable to Israeli ears, because it erases September,” Barak continued.
“When we hear the details, it will turn out that the meeting was less dramatic than it seems.
When the visit ends, the gaps will seem less dramatic and the tension less extreme.”
The defense minister also downplayed the tension that many believed evident during the joint press conference held on Friday evening between Obama and Netanyahu.
“I think that Netanyahu said what stems from his understanding of his role,” Barak said. “It is good that Netanyahu called attention to the fact that we expect recognition of settlement blocs and that the refugees need to settle within the Palestinian state, and that the entire process needs to lead to the end of the conflict.”
Danny Ayalon, deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to the US, also was careful to point out the good points in Obama’s Thursday speech.
“The president maintains Israel’s right to self-defense, for the need for defensible borders and to put an end to Palestinian claims,” he said during a Shabbat event in Holon.
“The Obama speech made it clear that an agreement will not be imposed on Israel, and that the unilateral process [of declaring statehood in September] is destined for failure,” Ayalon said.
The organization My Israel plans to hold a demonstration at 6 p.m. Sunday in front of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv under the slogan, “Obama Israelis are not willing to commit suicide.”
Protestors plan to hang nooses around their necks.
One of the group leaders, Ayelet Shaked, said Obama’s demand to use the pre-1967 line as the basis for negotiations was unprecedented for the US. She said that it rewarded Hamas, who supported Osama Bin Laden.
This kind of suicidal request which would lead to the launching of missiles at the center of the country, including at Ben-Gurion airport, is not something that one friend demands of another, particularly a strong ally like Israel, she said.
There are Israelis who are prepared to make concessions and some who refuse to do so, she said, adding, “but no one will agree to commit suicide.”
The demand to base talks on 1967 borders, Ayalon said in a near-echo of Obama’s own statements, was “an issue of disagreement among friends,” adding that he did not believe that “it influences or will influence the friendship and the alliance between Israel and the United States.”
Despite his conciliatory tone regarding Obama’s speech, Ayalon plans to visit E-1, a controversial area of the larger settlement blocs, the city of Ma’aleh Adumim, located just outside of Jerusalem.
Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel has long lobbied for permission to build on the site, which hosts only a regional police station.
Over the last two decades, many politicians and prime ministers have told Kashriel that the project for 3,500 apartment units would proceed, but no government has ever made good on those pledges.
Palestinians have opposed construction of E-1, claiming that it would harm the territorial contiguity of their future state. The US has heavily lobbied Israel against building on the site.