Israeli Prime Minister issued his most rousing call for peace on Tuesday as he called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas “not to pass up this opportunity” to return to peace negotiations.
As the Israeli Premier sought to seize the initiative gained from an exchange of letters between the two leaders earlier this month, following Netanyahu’s unprecedented national unity coalition, he assured Abbas that Israel “does not wish to govern the Palestinians”.
Reiterating his advocacy for a two state solution, he stressed that the Palestinians must first recognise Israel unequivocally as a Jewish State and called on the international community not to expect an agreement between the long-time adversaries to bring peace to the entire region, as he warned Israel’s enemies would always try to destroy any possibility for peace.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak took up the reins of the Premier’s address on Wednesday, when he called on the coalition government to use their majority to kickstart peace talks: “We are a coalition of 94 MKs, this is the time to lead a diplomatic process,” he urged.
However, he warned Israel not to be lured into a rut if negotiations fail to take off, saying “we are on borrowed time. We will reach a wall, and we’ll pay the price.” Referring to “people who are now in a coma”, he inferred the reluctance of the international community to take decisive action in Iran could have catastrophic repercussions which must not be replicated in Israel.
Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, he courted controversy by stating that “if it isn’t possible to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, we must consider an interim arrangement or even a unilateral move”.
Barak’s comments came after he received a position paper from his former chief of staff Gilad Sher, who now chairs an organisation called Blue White future which advocates coordinated unaliteral Israeli action with the Palestinians. The paper suggests the Israeli government’s interests would be best served by passing a law which would offer compensation to West Bank settlers should they move within Israel’s 1948 borders within 2-3 years.
His comments were immediately rounded on by coalition colleagues and Palestinian counterparts alike. Education Minister and fellow Likud party member Gideon Sa’ar described Barak’s views as a “minority opinion” and insisted it “does not represent the government’s stand”. He continued to slam his address, saying: “One wonders how there are people willing to toy with such a dangerous idea after the utter failure of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.
President Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh similarly rejected the idea of creating a Palestinian state within temporary borders, claiming “such a policy would only deepen the conflict rather than solving it, and put an end to the two-state solution”. “We are committed to a just solution: the establishment of a state within the ’67 borders with Jerusalem as its capital,” he continued.
A spokesman for Netanyahu made no comment in response to Barak’s speech, referring instead to the Premier’s address of Tuesday in which he “declared that I support and promote peace between two nation sides”.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meanwhile declared that talks are the “only route” to peace. Speaking on Thursday from Denmark, Clinton hailed Israel’s national unity government as providing a “new opening” for Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.