Barak urges PM not to wait with peace initiative

Defense minister says plan keeps large settlement blocs and that 80% of public would accept it.

Ehud Barak 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Ehud Barak 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The new diplomatic initiative that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to launch is still a work in progress, diplomatic sources said Monday, amid calls for Netanyahu not to wait until May to unfurl the plan in a speech to Congress.
The sources did not rule out the possibility that the prime minister may go to the US before then and present the initiative – adding, however, that at this time there is no “finalized plan.”"
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“We are not there yet,” one of the sources said.
Netanyahu is scheduled to go to Washington in late May to address the annual AIPAC policy conference, and there has been discussion with congressional representatives about the possibility of addressing Congress, something he did during his first term in office.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, emerging as one of Netanyahu’s key confidants, urged him Monday not to wait until May.
“A speech by the prime minister, even in front of both houses of Congress in May, is way too late,” Barak said in an Israel Radio interview. “Action is needed in the coming weeks.”
Barak said that tough political decisions were needed now to prevent Israel’s further international isolation.
Though the final details of Netanyahu’s plan might still indeed need to be hammered out, Barak seemed to give the rough parameters saying 80 percent of the country would agree with a plan that would include ironclad security arrangements, preserve good ties with the US, and include painful decisions that would result in a situation where Israel would “separate” from the Palestinians.
Barak said this would entail “a border in Eretz Yisrael, us here, them over there, and the border drawn according to demographic considerations, with the large settlement blocs inside.
“On the other side,” he said, “there will be a viable Palestinian state, and the settlements we would bring back home over a number of years in an orderly fashion, not like the mess that took place in Gaza.”
The Palestinian refuges would be absorbed inside a future Palestinian state, he said, and a suitable solution would be found for Jerusalem – “something that is not that far from what everyone understands.”
And at the end of the road, he said, the sides would sign on an agreement that ends the conflict and puts an end to all claims.
Barak said that if Israel did not do this of its own volition, it would be forced to do so by the international community.
He said that although it was clear that the Palestinians would reject any Israeli plan, this had to be done in coordination with the Americans and the Europeans, and hinted that this process was already taking place.
“There is a need to cook these things a little away from the public eye before they are brought to the table,” he said.
Even as the plan is being worked out, and perhaps as a signal, Netanyahu is scheduled to tour the Jordan Valley on Tuesday. Netanyahu has stressed repeatedly since the upheaval began in Egypt that the events in the region demonstrate now more than ever why it is essential for Israel to retain a presence in the Jordan Valley.
In a related development, British Foreign Secretary William Hague told lawmakers in Parliament Monday that Britain would follow a number of other countries and upgrade the status of the Palestinian delegation in London to that of a mission. Portugal, Ireland, France and Spain have taken a similar step in recent months.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by saying “this upgrade is unhelpful since it strengthens the Palestinian refusal to resume peace talks.”
Israel’s position is that these moves reinforce the Palestinian sense that if they don’t negotiate, the international community will eventually impose a solution that will be to the Palestinians’ benefit.