Barak Reveals Thoughts on Arab, US Relations

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem (CNS) - Overshadowed by the John F. Kennedy, Jr. disappearance, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's visit to the United States will see him hold more talks Monday with President Clinton, before a late afternoon press conference at which the results of their discussions will be aired.

Over the past several days Barak has revealed some of his thinking on how he envisages the achievement of peace with the Palestinians and Syrians - processes he hopes to pursue in tandem, and finalize within 15 months, or shortly before Clinton leaves office.

On television talkshows Sunday and in other meetings, he said he would not object to some form of negotiated Palestinian statehood, but ruled out dividing Jerusalem to enable the Palestinians to locate their capital in the city.

He also made it clear the return of Palestinian refugees to the areas they left when Israel became a state was unacceptable; they should be helped to resettle in the surrounding Arab countries where they have lived for decades. This view contrasts with Clinton's expressed wish to see the refugees live "wherever they like."

Barak said most Jewish settlements would remain in place. The "big three" questions - Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, settlements - will be on the agenda for forthcoming negotiations on the "final status" of the Israeli-Palestinian arrangement.

On the Syrian front, Barak conceded Israel would probably have to relinquish the strategic Golan Heights, as part of a peace agreement involving the deployment of peacekeepers and other built-in security guarantees. He hoped a peace treaty with Syria would result in full normalization of relations between the two antagonists.

As far as the Washington-Jerusalem relationship goes, Barak said he regarded the U.S. as "maybe the best ally we have," while acknowledging that to remain an honest broker, America would also have to be "sensitive to the needs of the Arab." He saw no contradiction in the roles.

He would like to see the U.S. move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to participate in regional peacekeeping missions needed to bolster Israeli-Arab agreements, and to help finance peace efforts. American funding to keep Israel's "army of peace" strong would be needed, too.

Barak's visit to Washington and New York has been eclipsed to some degree by the disappearance and presumed death at sea of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife and sister-in-law.

At a White House dinner Sunday, Barak told guests Israel shared America's sorrow at the loss of "the little boy who sustained your nation and the world in a moment of grief."

Clinton, too, referred to the crash, saying it reminded us "to make the most of every day, and that the obligation that we bear for the search for peace in the Middle East should be assumed with that clear knowledge."

Aside from three hours of talks with Clinton, Barak's agenda on the last day of his visit includes meetings with National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and the American-Israel lobby group Aipac. Cocktails with the Clintons and Gores at the White House will be followed by a full state dinner Monday night.

On his way home, Barak will stop over in the United Kingdom for talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow