Barak: Bibi's speech to lead to progress within 2 years
Defense minister praises PM's policy speech calling it 'a very important step'. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former US President Jimmy Carter express similar sentiments that demand to recognize Israel as Jewish state may torpedo chance for peace. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin tells Carter, 'We can't allow establishment of threatening state under any circumstances'
PARIS - Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's policy speech is "a very important step, that will enable, over the next two years, intensive progress towards a political agreement".
The defense minister, who is currently in France, went on to praise Netanyahu, saying, "This was an important speech that reflects responsibility, seriousness, and courage.
"He declared that the new government is entering the peace process with its eyes open, free of illusions, and determined to cooperate with (US) President Barack Obama and the leading countries in the region towards renewed negotiations with the Palestinians."
Barak said that throughout his meetings and talks with the prime minister, "the interests of the State of Israel were preserved, and this process will also include the required timeframe.
"We will help in any way we can, including building the economy from the ground up, and freedom of movement for the Palestinians – in order to strengthen the positive bodies among the Palestinians.
"The government has announced it is accepting all agreements signed by previous government and sees the goal of two peoples living side-by-side, peacefully, in security and mutual respect. Two separate entities – a Jewish and democratic Israel and a peaceful demilitarized Palestinian state."
However, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Netanyahu's call for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state torpedoed the chance for peace.
"The call to recognize Israel as a Jewish state complicates things further and scuppers the possibilities for peace," state news agency MENA quoted Mubarak as saying at a military ceremony. "No one will support this appeal in Egypt or elsewhere."
'We are here to stay'
Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin who met with former US President Jimmy Carter, who is currently in Israel, expressed less satisfaction with the PM's speech.
"We cannot allow, under any circumstances, the establishment of a neighboring state that will pose an actual threat on our existence," Rivlin told Carter, who the criticized the hurdles he said Netanyahu placed on the way to peace.
Rivlin said he appreciated Carter's work towards peace in the region, but added, "We came back here over the past 200 years in order to stay…We don't want to control any other population but we are fighting to defend ourselves. We want to promote real peace and not just short term peace."
Carter named what he called the "hurdles" Netanyahu presented in speech, including his insistence on expanding settlements, and his demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, despite the fact that about 20% of its citizens are not Jewish.
The former president also cited the disputed matters between Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, such as the problem of Jerusalem, but pointed out that he and former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin faced bigger differences and still managed to reach a peace agreement with Egypt.
Rivlin also brought up the issue of captive soldier Gilad Shalit who is being held in Gaza, and Carter said he would do his best to deliver a letter addressed to the soldier from his parents during his visit to the Strip on Tuesday.
Amnon Meranda and AFP contributed to this report