Labor Party Chairman and Prime Ministerial candidate Defense Minister Ehud Barak says peace with the PA is 3-5 years away, the peace process is just "air," and that Fatah and Hamas are the same. He later denied the Fatah-Hamas comparison.
Ex-PM Barak is quoted in Israel's largest daily, Yediot Acharanot, in a series of statements pouring cold water on the peace process with the Palestinian Authority. He sounded so right-wing that even a Knesset Member of Yisrael Beiteinu, the party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, congratulated Barak for his words.
Israel's largest daily reported that Barak said separation from the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria cannot be considered before a solution is found against Kassam rockets, "which is about 3-5 years away." He was referring to a Kassam interception system that might neutralize the danger of Kassams from Judea and Samaria against the large chunk of Israeli population living on the coastal plain. Such a system is in the works in the Rafael Armaments Manufacturing Company, where it is said that the system will be ready within 18 months. Defense establishment sources say, however, that it will not be ready in the coming years.
"The Israelis have healthy intuition," Ehud Barak said, "and they can no longer be fed fantasies of an imminent agreement with the Palestinians... No agreement can be made with the current Palestinian leadership, and Olmert's meetings with [Fatah chief] Abu Mazen are just packaging and air, nothing more."
Barak was also reported to have said that Hamas is just a "bunch of murderers," and that there is no difference between Hamas and Fatah.
"We are interested in the peace process and the American summit [scheduled for November," Barak told his fellow party MKs, "but we are still realistic. Our primary responsibility is to the citizens of Israel." He also said that the checkpoints in Judea and Samaria would not be removed, despite Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's promises to Abu Mazen.
His words caused a political storm, as expected. MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) said he was happy to see that Barak had adopted his party's views. On the extreme left, MK Dov Hanin of the mixed Arab-Jewish Hadash party said that Barak will bring Israel only "blood and tears."
Barak later backtracked somewhat, denying he had compared Hamas and Fatah. He also said his views on the peace process "had not changed for years," and that Abu Mazen and the new PA prime minister Salam Fayyad must be "strengthened."
Speaking later with Arutz-7, MK Rotem added, "The public can now understand why it was good that we joined the government, because little by little we are succeeding in convincing the other ministers of our positions. During this past week, the Prime Minister and the President have taken harder-line views, including the plan we have long promoted of exchange of territories... Our position is that areas such as Um el-Fahm and much of Wadi Ara [the area known as the Triangle, along the highway between Hadera-Caesaria and Afula-Tiberias - ed.] should be given to the Palestinian Authority, in exchange for Jewish-populated areas in Judea and Samaria."
Barak was elected to the post of Labor Party Chairman on June 12, coming from behind in the polls to defeat the incumbent Amir Peretz and three other candidates. Barak had previously been elected to this position In June 1997, two years before he went on to defeat Binyamin Netanyahu and become Prime Minister of Israel. Just two years later, he lost the next national election to Ariel Sharon. Barak then left politics and entered the world of business, from which he returned several months ago.