Barak Unveils Peace Initiative
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday unveiled his plan for a peace accord with the Palestinian Authority.
The move comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prepares to address the United States Congress and President Barak Obama.
"On the eve of this Independence Day, Israel is the strongest country within a radius of 1,500 km from Jerusalem," Barak told attendees at a reception for combat soldiers at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.
"This position of power and self-confidence requires that it form a brave and expansive plan to block this political tsunami coming towards us ahead of September," Barak added, referring to the Palestinian Authority's plan to seek a unilateral declaration of statehood when the United Nations General Assembly convenes this fall.
Barak said Israel was prepared to "make difficult decisions" so long as its security and relations with the US remain intact.
Barak's plan, in his own words, includes,
- "A permanent border set according to security and demographic concerns in a manner in which settlement blocs and neighborhoods in Jerusalem remain under Israeli sovereignty, and land exchanges that will leave in the hands of the Palestinians territory similar to that which was their land before '67,
- "Security arrangements which include permanent (military) presence along the Jordan River and guarantee that the demilitarized Palestinian state does not become another Gaza or Lebanon,
- "Settlement of refugees in the Palestinian state,
- "Agreed-upon arrangements in the holy area of Jerusalem,
- "And most importantly, an end to the conflict and the mutual demands, in addition to recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, and the Palestinian state as the nation state of the Arab Palestinians."
Both Fatah and Hamas, recently reconciled, have refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Hamas also refuses to accept the Quartet's three conditions for recognizing a PA state if Hamas is included: formally recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce terrorism, and uphold all agreements with Israel signed by prior PA governments.
On Monday Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal called for continued armed resistance and said recognition of Israel could only be addressed after a PA state was created.
Also on Wednesday, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Az-Zahar said any peace accord with Israel would only serve as a prelude to war. "If the Palestinian state does not encompass all of Israel the next generation will liberate the land," Az-Zahar told the Maan news agency.
Some observers on the left suggest Barak's timing is intended to foreshadow Netanyahu's speech and provide insight into what the Prime Minister plans to say in Washington.
Mark Regev, Prime Minister Netanyahu's spokesman, told INN attempts to link Barak's plan to the Prime Minister's upcoming speech was "pure speculation."
"Our focus right now is the speech before Congress," Regev told INN. "The Prime Minister will speak for himself in the Knesset next week."
Netanyahu has been uncharacteristically silent on what he intends to say in his address to Congress. He has, however, said there will be no talks with a PA that includes Hamas.