'Israel ready to go far at Annapolis'

Speaking at FADC, Barak also says time isn't right for large-scale Gaza operation.

ehud barak 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
ehud barak 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
"Israel is prepared to go very far at the Annapolis conference," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday. During the Middle East conference, Barak said, "Israel is going to seek important agreements that would require the Palestinians to implement the first stage of the road map." "This includes dismantling all terrorist organizations," said the defense minister, adding that "the demand to dismantle terror camps extends to Gaza as well." Barak hinted that Fatah might need to go into the Strip to confront Hamas head on. Regarding a possible large-scale IDF operation in Gaza, Barak said that although the time had not yet come for such a mission, "at some point sooner or later, we will have to engage in such an operation if Kassam rocket fire and weapons smuggling continue as they have of late." Barak said Israel had the ability to enter Gaza and operate there using all military options, indicating that in a possible confrontation, the IDF would not hesitate to use the air force, ground forces and perhaps even the Israel Navy. "Every day that passes," Barak added, "brings Israel closer to being forced to confront the terror threat from Gaza." Barak also said he wanted to try and find a way to make Syria part of the Annapolis conference. Meanwhile, Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj.-Gen. Yosef Mishlav told the FADC that Israel might implement a new plan to stop the flow of cooking gas to Gaza, and also lower the voltage of the electricity provided to the Strip, instead of cutting off electricity altogether. The conference is set to take place in the last week of November, according to a senior official in the entourage of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. "In the Middle East anything is possible, but we are progressing according to the planned timetable," the official added while speaking to reporters in Ramallah on Monday night. In related news, a document composed by the Reut Institute for Policy Planning Has cautioned from a breakdown in the peace process. According to the institute, Israeli leaders are not thinking of the 'day after' Annapolis and underestimate the price of failure. It further recommends that Israel draw 'day after' scenarios and courses of operation, among them the possibility of Marwan Barghouti as backup to the current Palestinian leadership. The document, due to be presented at a conference in Sapir College on Tuesday morning, estimates that the Israelis and Palestinians will not succeed in formulating a joint declaration that will be acceptable to both sides. This, the Reut Institute claims, is likely to lead to Hamas taking control of the West Bank and the international community abandoning its vision of "Two states for two nations." Israel wants a watered down agreement but the Palestinians seek a substantial one, it concludes. Meanwhile, Palestinian sources said that the US government would formulate a memorandum of understanding between Israel and the Palestinians that will be presented at the conference, Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Tuesday. According to the London-based newspaper, Rice and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed that the secretary of state would bring the document for the two sides to examine on her next visit to the region. The document will reportedly seek to bridge the gaps between the two sides and will be used as a basis to end the conflict before the end of US President George Bush's term. Also Tuesday, senior Hamas official in Gaza Halil Abu Leileh said that the group would do everything within its power to torpedo the Annapolis conference. "It is clear to Hamas that the Palestinian side will make concessions for the Palestinian people and compromise their principles," he told BBC Arabic. Overnight Monday, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said that Israel was not trying to evade a discussion of the most sensitive core issues. Speaking to a forum of European Union and Mediterranean nation foreign ministers in Lisbon, the foreign minister said that Israel had decided to allow the Annapolis conference to be an opportunity to bridge the gap between it and the Palestinians, adding that it was clear that on the day after the parley, serious negotiations must begin. However, Livni tied the possibility of dialogue with the Palestinians' ability to rein in terror. She said that discourse was already underway, but the path to establishing a Palestinian state was dependent on Israel's ability to give the keys to a responsible authority that can control the territory and assure that the state that is established is not a terror state. Speaking directly to Arab delegates present in the forum, the foreign minister called on the Arab world to collectively assist the process. She said that the Arab world should convey to its public and to the Israeli public that processes currently unfolding could affect the entire region. A different, correct behavior on their side could have brought a different outcome, she continued, like the Palestinians celebrating 60 years of independence, or at least seven years of having a state. Livni also told delegates from Egypt, Syria and Lebanon that the Arab world should come to the conference unconditionally and support any decision and any compromises the Palestinians make - instead of dictating the end result in advance.