Unilateralism is a nonstarter, Israeli and Palestinian politicians tell Barak

Defense minister’s suggestion to withdraw from the West Bank if no permanent settlement is achieved soon draws condemnation

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s proposal for Israel to make unilateral steps if a peace permanent agreement with the Palestinians remains elusive created a stir Wednesday afternoon, with both Palestinian leaders and cabinet members rejecting the idea.

“Barak’s position does not represent the government’s stand. It represents a minority opinion within the government and the coalition,” said Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar (Likud), who is also a member of the security cabinet. “One wonders how there are people willing to toy with such a dangerous idea after the utter failure of the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.”

Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinians reject the idea of Israel taking unilateral steps leading to the creation of a Palestinian state in temporary borders.

“Such a policy would only deepen the conflict rather than solving it, and put an end to the two-state solution,” the spokesman said, according to Walla news. “We are committed to a just solution: the establishment of a state within the ’67 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

Speaking at a conference of the Institute for National Security Studies earlier on Wednesday, Barak had urged the coalition to advance the peace process and to end, or at least better manage, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“We have to reach a comprehensive solution,” Barak said, adding that a consensus more or less exists on the core issues that would lead to a two-state solution. However, he added that if a permanent settlement proves impossible at present, Israel should consider “interim agreement” and perhaps even take unilateral action.

“We have now 94 MKs together — this is an opportunity that will not repeat itself in the next few years. If we now wait and fail to act” we will pay the price, he said. Some Israeli prefer to remain “comatose” because they don’t believe a solution is possible, he said, hinting at the possibility that such a position would lead to another violent Palestinian uprising.

While advancement of the peace process is of one of cornerstones of the coalition agreement between the Kadima and Likud — the two largest parties in the Knesset — the government is unlikely to adopt the defense minister’s proposal.

Prime Minister Netanyahu “clearly expressed his opinion” on the Palestinian issue, his spokesman told The Times of Israel, referring to a speech the prime minister gave Tuesday evening at the same conference. He had nothing to add to Tuesday’s statement, the spokesman said.

During Tuesday’s speech, Netanyahu called on Abbas to return to the negotiation table, asserting that he does not seek to rule over the Palestinian people and that he is committed to the two-state solution. Referring to three previous policy addresses, he said: “I already declared that I support and promote peace between two nation states — a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state, and Israel, the nation state of the Jewish people.”

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