Ehud Barak on eve of Washington talks – one-upsmanship or coordinated leak?

Just hours before the opening of events scheduled in Washington to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian direct talks (which were cut off in late December 2008, after the IDF launched a massive military operation against Hamas in Gaza, Ehud Barak has made big waves with remarks he made in an interview published this morning in Haaretz.

Was it Barak-style one-upsmanship? Or, was this a leak coordinated with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu?

Here is an extended excerpt of the published Q+A:

Q: Ehud Barak, is there any chance that you and Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in reaching peace with the Palestinians now, the same peace which you did not succeed in achieving in 2000 and Ehud Olmert did not succeed in achieving in 2008?

A: “In the current reality that is encircling us, there are remarkable changes underway. Thirty years ago, the Arabs competed amongst the Israelis in spouting rejectionist slogans that were reminiscent of [the three “nos” at] Khartoum. Today the Arab states are competing amongst themselves in arguing over which peace initiative will be adopted by the international community. The same situation is taking place with us. When I returned from Camp David a decade ago, the most vocal critics of my “irresponsible” concessions were Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Take a look at where they are today. It doesn’t mean that the task is a simple one. The gaps are wide and they are of a fundamental nature. But I believe that there is a real chance today. If Netanyahu leads a process, a significant number of rightist ministers will stand with him. So what is needed is courage to make historic, painful decisions. I’m not saying that there is a certainty for success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited to the fullest”.

Q: What are the principles of a peace deal that you believe can be agreed upon by the conclusion of the talks?

A: “Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem”…

[Asked to describe a possible Jerusalem solution, Barak mentions that 200,000 Israelis now live in 12 “Jewish neighborhoods” in East Jerusalem that will become “ours” [i.e., Israel’s]; while 250,000 Palestinians in “Arab neighborhoods” will be “theirs” [i.e., be handed over to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, whether or not they like it]. And, Barak went on, there should be a “special regime” [UN terminology from early UNGA resolutions] for the East Jerusalem areas of the Old City, the Mount of Olives, and the “City of David” – i.e., Silwan, an East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood south and east of the Old City walls.

In other words, what’s “ours” is “ours”, and part of what’s “theirs” will also be “ours”.

If this succeeds, it will be the first time ever that the Quartet (including the U.S. but also the European Union, Russia and the UN), as well as Jordan and Egypt would swallow Israeli claims in East Jerusalem without protest…

Barak’s remarks are published in Haaretz here.

Our fuller analysis of Barak’s remarks concerning East Jerusalem is posted here.

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