Barak slams hawkish ministers

Defense minister apparently targets Yishai, Lieberman and Ya’alon

Barak goes mad 298 (photo credit: AP)
Barak goes mad 298
(photo credit: AP)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak caused a political storm on Thursday when he released a statement accusing unnamed ministers of making provocative statements about Jerusalem that could damage the peace process and Israel’s relationship with the United States.
The statements led to mutual recriminations between Barak and cabinet members who incorrectly felt targeted by his comments and to false speculation about problems between Barak and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who himself made hawkish statements about Jerusalem on Wednesday.
“The attacks by senior ministers on attempts by America to jump-start the diplomatic process and the fierce attacks on the leaders of the Palestinian Authority damage the diplomatic process, which is in a sensitive stage,” Barak said.
He added that statements about continuing to build Jewish housing in Arab neighborhoods despite American requests not to do so helped neither Jerusalem nor efforts to build trust between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I would advise everyone, us and the Palestinians, to behave responsibly and avoid confrontational and provocative statements,” Barak said. “Such statements harm the interests of Israel with the United States and the entire world and could present Israel as rejecting peace and thereby erode Israel’s standing internationally.”
Barak’s associates said the main targets of his comments were Shas chairman Eli Yishai and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman, who both made controversial statements in newspaper interviews published on Thursday morning.
Yishai told Shas’s party organ Yom Leyom that he would soon reconvene Jerusalem’s planning committee to discuss building projects around the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood, like the one that upset US President Barack Obama during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel in March. Yishai said the committee would continue to meet without restriction, except during visits of American dignitaries.
“The Israeli government did not and will not surrender to the Americans,” Yishai said. “There has not and will not be a freeze in Jerusalem. We will build everywhere in Jerusalem, our eternal homeland.”
Lieberman told Haaretz there was no construction freeze in eastern Jerusalem and that Israel’s gestures to the Palestinians were met with “slaps in the face” from PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Barak also didn’t like the statement from Vice Premier Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) at a right-wing event at the City of David in the Silwan neighborhood on Wednesday calling talk of dividing Jerusalem “delusional.”
But Barak’s associates said he was not referring to Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, who announced at the Knesset on Wednesday that Israel would soon resume demolishing illegal Arab housing in eastern Jerusalem. The Israel Beiteinu minister slammed Barak’s comments as “cheap spin” before the defense minister’s office reassured Aharonovitch that he was not referring to him.
Army Radio reported that American officials complained about Aharonovitch’s announcement to Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and that due to the criticism, the house demolitions would not take place soon. Diplomatic officials responded that the timing of the demolitions would be decided by the courts.
Sources close to Barak took pains to deny speculation that in his statement he was referring to Netanyahu, who said in a speech at Ammunition Hill that “Jerusalem will never be divided” and that “a lively and creative city cannot be frozen.”
They did not deny the possibility that Barak was actually doing the dirty work for Netanyahu in criticizing Yishai and Lieberman for comments they made that could harm the prime minister’s problematic relationship with the Obama administration.
“There is a huge difference between what Netanyahu said at Ammunition Hill and the provocative statements of his senior ministers,” a Barak associate said.