TEL AVIV - The upcoming pullout marks the end of the road for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his Likud
party, as they do not have the strength needed to make the tough decisions ahead, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak
In an exclusive interview with Ynetnews, Barak said the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank cannot be the last step for Israel.
“It’s just the first one, and a partial one,” he said.
In order to guarantee its future as a democratic state, Israel must establish clear borders in order to assure a “solid Jewish majority for generations to come”, the former prime minister said, adding that a Palestinian state should be established alongside Israel.
However, at present Israel does not have a genuine partner for peace negotiations, Barak said, adding there is no choice but to focus on unilateral steps until such partner emerges.
Still, this should be done in a way that does not close the door on future negotiations with the Palestinians, he said.
“In fact, we should make it clear that it’s open for resumption at any moment,” Barak said.
For the time being, Israel should focus on completing the West Bank security fence in four to five months, in a way that minimally encroaches on Palestinian areas while keeping most Israelis in the West Bank within its bounds, he said.
‘Gaza withdrawal should be followed by elections’
Turning his attention to Sharon and the difficulties he faces within his Likud party, Barak said the disengagement plan marks the end of the road for the prime minister and the ruling party.
“They can hardly execute the pullout from Gaza without collapsing under the political pressures,” he said.
This means the Labor party has a great future Barak said, and noted elections should be called immediately after the Gaza withdrawal is completed.
“It’s about time to put the wheel in more capable hands,” he said.
‘Withdrawing from Lebanon right decision’
Despite the trials and tribulations associated with his term as prime minister, Barak will be remembered as the leader who pulled the IDF out of neighboring Lebanon after an 18-year presence there, a decision that stirred great controversy at the time.
Today, five years after the withdrawal, Barak is still adamant that he made the right decision and rejects any notion that the hasty exit from Lebanon encouraged the Palestinians to resort to violence.
“Any argument there is a causal relationship between the pullout from Lebanon and the opening of the second intifada is ridiculous,” he said, and added the eruption of Palestinian violence is a result of the continued Israeli control over Palestinian lives.
Barak also noted that had Israel remained in Lebanon, the IDF would never have been able to carry out large-scale counter-terror operations in the West Bank such as Defensive Shield in April 2002.
“It was the right decision,” he said.
On a more personal note, when asked about the difference between today’s Ehud Barak and the prime minister of five years ago, the former leader chuckled and said he is “a little bit older” today.
Still, Barak acknowledged he has made some mistakes, but added that he has been able to learn from them.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, the former prime minister said that had he not made any mistakes, he would not have done anything at all.
“I’m trying to learn from my mistakes and improve, and be ready to do it better,” he concluded.
Video: Shai Rosenzweig