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Ehud Barak and the Geneva Initiative

By: Ben Caspit, Ma'ariv


The front page headline in this weekend’s Ma’ariv newspaper (July 30th, 2010) referred to the words of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, as uttered during his participation at a Geneva Initiative conference held last week. The article spread over the paper’s front pages as well as the weekend’s political supplement, and among other things asks if after detailing the parameters of his proposal for an agreement with the Palestinians, Barak is intending to sign up for the Geneva Initiative. The article itself also mentions that the core of the Geneva Initiative’s activity targets center and right wing parties such as Likud, Shas, Yisrael Beiteinu and Kadima; and explains that in approaching September, a special emphasis is placed by the Geneva Initiative on the Labor Party.
Below are excerpts from the article by Ben Caspit:
“ ‘Freezing construction in Palestinian Territories will not continue in the same format, especially if direct talks begin. In such a case the Palestinians will be able to claim that Israel is responsible for failing the negotiations and wait for next year – during which the Americans will forward their own proposals through the Security Council or President Obama’. This is how Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Head of the Labor Party, announced for the first time that the freeze on settlement construction in the Palestinian Territories, which is due to end in less than two months, will not continue in its current format.”
“ ‘There is a minister in the Forum of Seven who is originally a farmer from the Kibutzim’ says Barak, ‘and he says – ‘why do we listen to Barak? He was not elected, we were. Let’s say what it is that we want, put it in writing, add our phone number at the bottom, and offer it to the Arabs and the Americans. If they like it – they’ll adopt it, and if not – not. That will be our truth’. I tell him and other members of the forum that if we were G-d we all would have supported Minister (Bugi) Ya’alon’s method, but we are human beings and we need to judge reality as it is’”.
“These and many other things were said this week by Minister Barak, on Sunday, at a Geneva Initiative event. The Geneva Initiative usually targets right and center parties (last week for example they conducted joint Israeli-Palestinian seminars for senior women from Shas, for parliamentary assistants from Yisrael Beiteinu, Likud and Kadima), but this week they began ‘operation Labor Party’. Geneva Initiative Director-General, Gadi Baltiansky, says that as we approach the end of the settlement freeze, currently scheduled for September – a decisive month for the Labor Party – the Geneva Initiative will step up efforts in reaching out to Barak’s party in order to explain the importance of the political process and the very grave perils of its absence”.
“This event, during which Barak spoke, was technically organized by the Kibbutz movement within the Labor Party. The Geneva Initiative was responsible for the content. There was a briefing about the Geneva Initiative, a tour illustrating the Geneva Initiative’s border solution with Col. (Res.) Shaul Arieli, a discussion with Sufyan Abu Zaidah and a lecture by Barak. 50 people participated. Matan Vilnai and Orit Noked – the last of Barak’s people in the Labor Party – were present. Statements uttered by Barak during the course of an hour were the clearest he has voiced in recent years”.
Regarding the situation in the Palestinian Territories, Barak stated: “those who have the chance to be in cities in the West Bank see a different reality to the one which prevailed there for years. The security situation has also very much improved. When we declared the settlement freeze I had a very harsh conversation with the heads of our authorities, but they have also admitted that the security situation is better than it has been in recent years”.
Regarding negotiations with the Palestinians, Barak says: “the challenge with them is painful but simple. 43 years ago in a war that was waged on us, we conquered the entire land in the Judea and Samaria regions and in Gaza. We liberated areas which have true emotional significance for us, areas to which we have a historical attachment. But there is another nation there that numbers millions of people. This painful truth and cruel reality demands decisions which we cannot escape. To all those who are not sure that there is a real change on the other side I say look at the change within ourselves. Ten years ago when I led the negotiations at Camp David, people like Olmert and Livni said that we are bringing a disaster unto our nation. Today they are willing to go the same distance, even further. When I returned Burg, Peres and Leah Rabin said ‘how did he dare to go that far’- today everyone would have wished to implement Camp David and spare what we have endured these past years”.
And more: “the parameters for a solution of the conflict are clear and well-known. They are not generally supported by the Israeli public but I don’t think that there is a deep misunderstanding regarding the framework in which it is feasible and desirable to reach an agreement. I also think that an agreement will have wider support among the public than among Knesset Members’”.
“Obviously if and when we reach direct negotiations with the Palestinians and all problems surface, the coalition will have a hard time staying together, because you will say: that’s it we’ve reached our red lines, and I’ll say: we still have chips to play…If it’s possible to achieve anything within the framework of what was dealt with at Camp David or the Clinton Parameters, when all of that is on the table, you will realize that half of the Likud and three quarters if Yisrael Beiteinu and 70% of Kadima think like me and not like you’.”
“This is where Barak moves on to detail what his agreement would look like. For the first time in a very long time he goes into extensive detail. ‘We need to mark a border within Israel. The reality on the ground demands that we delineate a border according to security and demographic considerations. In the inside of the border will be a Jewish state with a solid Jewish majority for generations, and next to her a non-militarized, independent Palestinian state which will be territorially, economically and politically sustainable’.”
“Large settlement blocks will be annexed to us and we will take care of remote settlements by returning them to Israel or the large settlement blocks… It is possible to re-settle in Israel within three to four years’.”
“The Refugee problem should be settled within the Palestinian state. Jerusalem will be dealt with at the end of the negotiations, but it also needs to be solved, otherwise we cannot conclude a final deal. And here too we know that there are 12 Jewish neighborhoods with 200,000 people beyond the Green Line, and there are Arab neighborhoods which it is politically illogical for Israel to hang on to in the long-run. In the Holy Basin, David’s Citadel, the Old City and the area of land which stretches towards Mount Olives, a region where 40,000 people live, we will need a special agreed-upon arrangement should one of the sides need to deal with symbolic issues’.”
Regarding Security, Barak says: “The answers are in security arrangements and arrangements that will be determined along the Jordan River which will necessitate our long-term presence there, maybe not forever, but long-term and with massive American assistance that will ensure the I.D.F’s technological supremacy and, of course, with regional security arrangements. … There is ability and possibility here for a breakthrough and we must not miss this opportunity. If it is missed it will lead to a long delay. There are also risks, I don’t know what developments on the Palestinian side will be. … I think that also within the Likud Ministers and Members of Knesset there are many that won’t say it out loud but they know that this is the only way and if the government leads they will follow”.
With respect to a question posed by former PA Minister Sufyan Abu Zaidah who spoke before him, Barak said, “he asked why not to continue the negotiations from the place they were stopped with Olmert. I said to him, we don’t know what Olmert left behind; he sat behind closed doors with quality cigars; there is no protocol; nothing was written; all we know is sourced in an interview that Olmert gave to a daily after he finished his term and Abbas’s report”.
“And I said to him then and I am repeating it now, there shouldn’t be any worries regarding which point we will begin at. It’s an unnecessary ritual. We already conducted direct negotiations three times in the last 15 years, on all core issues. I am standing behind my words when I say that all the issues we’ve dealt with, the mileage we’ve already covered can be solved in a matter of weeks. Even a Likud government won’t say that it is thinking about the possibility of having a Palestinian state on 60% of the West Bank, dissected into small Bantustans, and this is why it won’t be a problem”.