Ehud Barak: make Peace with Palestinians or Face Apartheid
Rory McCarthy Herzliya, The Guardian., 3 February 2010
His stark language and the South African analogy might have been unthinkable for a senior Israeli figure only a few years ago and is a rare admission of the gravity of the deadlocked peace process.
There have been no formal negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in more than a year, but Barak was speaking at a rare joint event with the Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, as part of an annual national security conference in the Israeli city of Herzliya. The pair shook hands and both were warmly applauded.
Barak, a former general and Israel's most decorated soldier, sought to appeal to Israelis on both right and left by saying a peace agreement with the Palestinians was the only way to secure Israel's future as a "Zionist, Jewish, democratic state".
"As long as in this territory west of the Jordan river there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic," Barak said. "If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state."
He described Israel and the Palestinian territories as the historic "land of Israel" to which Israelis had a right.
"We have to demarcate a border within the land of Israel," he said.
"We have a linkage, we have a right, but the reality of standing on the stage of history in realistic terms requires us to pay attention to international constraints." Barak is in a delicate political position. He leads the Labour party, supposedly a centre-left movement, but accepted a position in a rightwing coalition under Binyamin Netanyahu, a decision that split his party.
Though Barak articulates a willingness for peace talks, he represents a government that has defied US and Palestinian calls for a full settlement freeze as a prelude to any negotiations. He was also defence minister during last year's Gaza war in which nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
The Herzliya conference has echoed Israeli concerns about growing international criticism, particularly in the year since Gaza. Barak himself alluded to the danger that Israel might lose legitimacy if no peace deal was forthcoming. "The pendulum of legitimacy is going to move gradually towards the other pole," he said.