`They will never throw us out'

SUN JOURNAL

Israel: From his vantage point as former prime minister, Ehud Barak looks at the violence between his people and the Palestinians, and the prospects for peace.

September 11, 2001

TEL AVIV, Israel - Ehud Barak puts his feet up on his glass coffee table and sips a neatly poured beer, the foam cresting at the top of the glass.

"The day's almost over," he says, smiling, as the sounds of traffic from the evening rush hour intrude on his guarded seventh-story office.

He is the former prime minister of Israel, and it has been seven months since he lost that office to Ariel Sharon.

In July 2000 Barak seemed tantalizing close to negotiating a permanent peace settlement with the Palestinians, led by Yasser Arafat.

But their efforts failed, a result that helped usher in a new Palestinian uprising against Israel

In a 90-minute interview with The Sun in his temporary office at the headquarters of the Jewish Agency, a relaxed and jovial Barak said that unlike Sharon, he would agree to meet with Arafat at any time with only one condition: the violence stops.

He also proposes beginning a four-year program to unilaterally separate Israel from the Palestinians, proving to the world that Israel is willing to end its occupation of the West Bank and showing its citizens that it is serious about making them safe.

Barak disagrees with critics who say that his negotiating tactics might have contributed to the failure of the peace talks or that his offer failed to give Palestinians enough contiguous territory for a viable state.

He says Israel made a more generous offer - in terms of land and the conditions under which it would change hands - than Arafat is likely to receive again.

A former army chief of staff, Barak says the current violence is less a popular uprising than an organized campaign aimed at intimidating Israel into making concessions it can not afford.

His former "partner in peace" - Arafat - now heads a "fiefdom of terror," he says.

Barak maintains that his successor's policy of retaliating by using Israel's overwhelming military strength to pound Palestinian police stations and political offices falls short.

It is, he says, an approach without a plausible long-term goal.

On this page are excerpts of his interview with Peter Hermann, The Sun's Middle East correspondent.

What is the formula for a future peace?

There is an imperative, almost compelling, case for separation. Now, it's clearly better to achieve this through negotiations. But we don't find a partner.[Arafat] was not even willing to take the offer put on the table by [President Bill] Clinton as a basis for negotiations, and he deliberately returned to terror.

We found politically what he really wants is not to accept a Jewish, democractic state living side by side with the Palestinians. He wants basically the right of return into Israel proper. So, once we found that there is no partner, we should be able to admit it.

I believe that these steps are basically a strategy that is based on two inseparable pillars. One is the door open, wide open, the size of the whole world, for resumption of negotiations, at any time, without any preconditions beyond the absence of violence.

Pillar two, as long as they are not coming to the negotiation table, is over four years, to disengage from the Palestinians and shape the contours of such a future border.

Will that solve the terror problem?

It won't be an answer for everything. We are not in the Midwest, we are in the Mideast. Terrible neighborhood, but we are here, forever. A child cannot choose his parents and a nation cannot choose its neighbors. We have to live here.

I believe that by [separating] in a way that is sensitive to the Palestinians and sensitive to the position and the norms of the world, we can do something positive.

It is the beginning of signaling to our own people, our neighbors and to honest people in the world that Israel has decided to put an end to its reign over other people.

The Palestinians say the solution is simple. Israel just has to end the occupation and the violence will go away. Is it that simple?

The Palestinians are good at propaganda schemes. It is Israel that is isolated, surrounded by countries of Arab nature, outnumbered in every dimension.

I remember myself as a young kid in a kibbutz in 1947 when the votes were counted. They celebrated.

Israel, not even having been born, was ready to accept a partition devised by the U.N. that would give the Jewish state three different cantons hardly connected and without Jerusalem.

The Palestinians and the whole Arab world decided to attack us. They tried to kill Israel before it could land on its feet.

We survived. And no Israeli ever will become apologetic about this survival.

Israel is trying to defend its identity. I believe we are the only country on Earth where its neighbors are trying to both question our very right to exist and still want to be perceived as underdogs.

Do you think Arafat was serious during his negotiations at Camp David?

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