Barak, PA trade barbs on unilateral pullout

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Defense Minister Ehud Barak _311 (photo credit: Reuters/Blaire Gable)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak _311
(photo credit: Reuters/Blaire Gable)
Israel should consider a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank if negotiations with the Palestinians fail, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday.
“Waiting and lack of activity creates the illusion of quiet,” Barak said. “We are on borrowed time.”
Barak, speaking at the annual meeting of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv, said it was important to try and reach a comprehensive agreement and deal with all the core issues with the Palestinians.
“I am not sure that is possible,” he said. “If it turns out not to be possible, we need to think about an interim agreement, or even unilateral steps. Israel does not have the luxury to remain in a stalemate.”
An official in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office distanced Netanyahu from Barak’s comments.
“Barak was giving his opinion,” the official said.
“Netanyahu presented his position last night, calling [during a speech at the INSS conference] for an immediate start of negotiations.”
Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon, speaking at the same conference, took Barak to task for his words, without mentioning him by name.
Anyone raising the possibility of unilateral steps is preventing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from returning to the negotiating table because it confirms the belief that if they just wait, Israel will fold and give in, Ya’alon said.
Barak did, however, receive support for his position from Amos Yadlin, the former head of Military Intelligence who now serves as the INSS director.
Yadlin presented a report at the conference claiming that the chance for a peaceful negotiated resolution with the PA was not attainable in the near future and therefore Israel needed to consider a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.
Yadlin said that INSS decided to recommend unilateral action due to an understanding that the PA leadership was not willing to compromise on the right of return for refugees and was also unlikely to recognize Israel’s identity as a Jewish state.
The idea of unilateral Israeli steps is a notion being increasingly discussed publicly, with former Mossad head Ami Ayalon and Barak’s top adviser when he was prime minister Gilad Sher penning an oped in April in The New York Times calling for such a move.
“Israel can and must take constructive steps to advance the reality of two states based on the 1967 borders, with land swaps – regardless of whether Palestinian leaders have agreed to accept it,” they wrote. “Through a series of unilateral actions, gradual but tangible changes could begin to transform the situation on the ground.”
The PA, meanwhile, responded to Barak’s comments by expressing opposition to any Israeli unilateral move, saying this would end the idea of a two-state solution.
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that any Israeli unilateral withdrawal [from the West Bank] would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional borders – something that the Palestinians are opposed to.
“This policy won’t lead to a solution and would prolong the conflict,” Abu Rudaineh said in a statement. “It will end the idea of the two-state solution.”
He said that the Palestinians remained committed to a just, lasting and comprehensive solution for a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 “borders” with Jerusalem as its capital.
The Palestinians would not accept any solution that does not include Jerusalem, he stressed.