Excerpts from PM Barak’s Article in
The Jerusalem Post
May 19, 2000
A little over 10 months ago, I took office and, together with my government, stood at the crossroads of some of the most difficult and weighty decisions ever faced in the history of the state of Israel. One of the goals we set for ourselves was to "wave two flags:" the political-security flag and the social-economic flag.
The first represented long-term security for the state of Israel through peace agreements with any of our neighbors who were willing, and ending the tragedy of Lebanon by bringing our soldiers home.
The second meant closing social gaps and dealing with human and social distress by ensuring stable and viable economic growth, reducing unemployment, and creating 300,000 new jobs.
We see our two "flags" as having the same priority. Yet, since lack of progress on the diplomatic front leads to still more deaths, and since we do not control how fast the diplomatic clock ticks, we have no option but to place diplomatic and security issues first on our time line, ahead of other matters of no less importance.
We will not compromise on security. We fight constantly to strengthen it. As far as I am concerned, winning the war for peace is not only an aim in itself but also a way to strengthen Israel and create genuine opportunity in our society, in our economy, and for every young person growing up here.
Our wonderful young people are the future of the state, and their happiness and the opportunity for them to utilize their God-given potential are the purpose underlying everything we do.
During the past 10 months, we have completely turned around all peace-process issues. We have renewed talks with Syria, accelerated the Palestinian track, restored the faith of the region’s Arab leaders in the Israeli government, and strengthened the country’s international status. We have also mended relations with the US president.
I have often described the Syria situation as a "window of opportunity." I maintain that this is so because Syria is headed by an authoritative leader like Assad, and because President Clinton has invested so much energy and so many years in Middle East peace efforts.
But this is not enough. The desire to make peace is an essential element in any peace negotiations, and it is my impression that at the moment the Syrian desire to make peace is not yet fully developed.
We cannot force the Syrian leader to want peace. We are not closing the door on the possibility of renewing talks with Syria, but we see issues of water, sovereignty over the Kinneret, and control over the Jordan river north of the Kinneret as Israel’s vital interests.
We also see early warning, security arrangements, normalization first, and changes in the atmosphere and style of the diplomatic and public dialogue between ourselves and the Syrian people as additional vital interests.
With regard to Lebanon: As we promised even before the elections, we are now, nearly a year after taking power, in the middle of redeploying the IDF to the international border. We base our actions on United Nations Security Council resolutions 425 and 426, with the full backing of the UN and the rest of the world.
The redeployment will be completed by July, in a way that enables us to defend all the northern settlements and the IDF, and to offer backup to the SLA, which has accompanied us for so many years.
Within this process, we have undertaken a national campaign to reinforce the security and the socio-economic situation of the northern settlements.
Obviously, it would be preferable if this redeployment was taking place within the framework of an agreement with Syria. The government has made many efforts, examined all options, and left no stone unturned in its effort to reach agreement with Syria.
The aim of the redeployment is to put an end to the tragedy that has continued since we entered Lebanon in 1982.
I will not, and do not intend to, accept the concept that Israel cannot disengage from Lebanon because of Syria, or the Hizbullah, or any other factor, and that it is better to stay in Lebanon, allow the bloodletting to continue, and continue to use Lebanon as leverage in the Syria issue.
We are disengaging. We are redeploying on the border, and from there we will defend Israel.
I do not recommend that anyone in Lebanon make any attempt to harm Israel’s citizens or soldiers, directly or indirectly.
We will defend the state of Israel from Israel proper, without being in Lebanon, and our response will be more severe and more painful than our past response in Lebanon.
At the same time, the diplomatic process with the Palestinians is underway, and its aim is Israel’s security. We are committed to moving ahead with a peace agreement that will be 1,000 times better than any other option. The nature of the reality that will result if we do not reach agreement is clear to us all.
We have an historic national responsibility to bring about a separation in the Land of Israel – between the Palestinians and ourselves.
Jerusalem will remain under our sovereignty, and united within its current municipal borders, in every future arrangement. It is the eternal capital of Israel.
This is our position. At the same time, we must understand that there can be no agreement if Palestinian needs are not taken into account. We have no intention of ruling over another people; they must rule themselves. As a result, neighborly relations and cooperation will develop, and we will live alongside each other, separately, in peace.
Just as we have vital interests with regard to Syria, we also have such interests vis-a-vis the Palestinians. An agreement needs to be achieved by both sides, and will come about only if both sides show flexibility. But the responsibility, the need to arrive at an agreement this year, and the opportunity to do so are pressing on the leadership of both sides.
Our essential demands with regard to the Palestinians are:
- a united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty;
- no return to 1967 borders;
- no foreign military forces situated west of the Jordan river or north of the Kinneret;
- the bulk of the Judea and Samaria settlers in settlement blocs remaining under our sovereignty; and
- no return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper.
(End of foreign policy section of article)