In a rare instance of outspokenness Wednesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to turn the issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state into a deal-breaker in peace negotiations.
"Demanding recognition is important, but these things should not be allowed to set an obstacle of realizing our truly important interests, and should not be raised at the beginning of the process," he said.
Speaking at a conference organized by the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Barak said that there is de facto international recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. "This is the essence of the state and no one can dismiss that. This is being recognized by the United States, which is a tad more important than the Palestinian Authority."
Barak stated that Israel should decide on one of two bad options. "It's very hard to divide the land but our leadership must be able to make decisions, since we're the ones with power. There are no games in the Middle East. There are no second chances either, and that is why power is very significant."
The defense minister also made historical references. "We are not in the powerful position Churchill was in," he said, "but rather in that of de Gaulle, who needed to decide whether to let go of Algeria or not. What is needed now is a de Gaulle and not a Churchill."
Position of power
Barak added that Israel's powerful position can enable it to "address the major problems including a substantial Muslim minority which may cost us the state's Jewish nature".
"That is why the choice is between a Jewish state in limited borders and a non-Jewish state. There is no an option of a non-democratic Jewish state in our time," he said.
The minister noted that the Palestinians underwent a significant change since 1999 and that the majority of the Israeli public endorses the two-state solution. "One must approach proposals for an agreement with courage despite a genuine political difficulty, because if it eventually turns out that the Arab partner failed to deliver, as has happened in the past, then we'll be able to deal with the situation."
Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres are also scheduled to speak at the conference, which aims to point out threats to the state and the Jewish people's future.
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