Israeli Defense Minister Says Israel Needs International Legitimacy, Can’t Rule Palestinians Forever
Ehud Barak's comments, on the occasion of Israel's Memorial Day, come against the backdrop of severe friction between the U.S. and Israel's hawkish government over an impasse in peacemaking.
Last week, President Barack Obama issued a surprisingly pessimistic assessment of peacemaking prospects, saying the U.S. couldn't force its will on Israelis and Palestinians if they weren't interested in making the compromises necessary to end their decades-old conflict.
Barak told Israel Radio on Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government has "done things that didn't come naturally to it," like adopting the vision of two states for two peoples and curtailing settlement construction.
"But we also shouldn't delude ourselves," he added. "The growing alienation between us and the United States is not good for the state of Israel."
The way to narrow that gap is to embark on an Israeli diplomatic initiative "that doesn't shy from dealing with all the core issues" dividing Israelis and Palestinians, he said.
These issues -- chiefly, the status of contested Jerusalem, final borders and a solution for Palestinian refugees of the war around Israel's 1948 independence -- have been negotiated multiple times in the past 16 years.
The pursuit of that big-picture program and "broad willingness to reach an agreement" has allowed Israel to get past the friction with the Americans over settlement construction in the past, Barak said.
The Israeli defense minister dismissed talk of an imposed U.S. solution -- an idea that's been fielded recently in Washington.
But he warned that while Israel is militarily strong, it needs international legitimacy as well.
"The world isn't willing to accept -- and we won't change that in 2010 -- the expectation that Israel will rule another people for decades more," he said. "It's something that doesn't exist anywhere else in the world."
Palestinians aspire to a state of their own, he said, and "there is no other way, whether you like it or not, than to let them rule themselves."
Barak heads the Labor Party, the only political party in Netanyahu's government that is not considered hawkish.
But in his three years as defense minister, Barak has not even taken down the two dozen settlement satellites that Israel promised the U.S. it would dismantle in 2003. Dovish critics have accused him of making Labor a fig leaf for the Netanyahu government's hawkish policies.