by editor | 26th September 2010 8:17 am
Barak says West Bank settlement deal has ’50-50′ chance
Ehud Barak was Israeli prime minister when President Bill Clinton sought to make Middle East peace
Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak has told the BBC there is a “50-50” chance of reaching a deal with Palestinians about Israel’s settlement moratorium as a 10-month partial ban winds down.
Palestinians have said they could leave recently resumed peace talks if the construction freeze is not extended.
West Bank settlers are preparing to resume building if no deal is reached. Mr Barak is returning home from the UN in New York, where he has been leading Israel’s negotiating team.
Israel says the settlements are no bar to talks, but US negotiators have been working intensively to secure a deal.
Speaking exclusively to the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall, Mr Barak said he was heading back to Israel to try to convince members of the Israeli government of the need for a compromise, but that he was not confident of success.§
However, he was more upbeat on the prospects for the peace talks, which resumed in September after a 20-month hiatus.
“I think the chance of achieving a mutual agreed understanding about the moratorium is 50/50,” he told the BBC. “I think the chances of having a peace process is much higher.”
“I hope it will not be blocked by this moratorium issue and that we will sail full engines forwards [to] substantial negotiations and agreement,” Mr Barak told the BBC.
In a speech on Saturday to the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Israel must choose between peace and the continuation of settlements.
Palestinians were willing and ready to reach a comprehensive and just peace agreement with Israel, Mr Abbas told the assembly, declaring that their “wounded hands” carried an olive branch to the Israe
Abbas insisted Israel must stop all settlement-building
But Mr Abbas stopped short of publicly threatening to withdraw from talks with Israel if the moratorium on new West Bank construction is not extended.
Despite this, if Mr Abbas flinches first and offers a compromise, for many Palestinians this will reinforce his reputation as a weak leader, says the BBC’s Jon Donnison, in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
If he holds his ground and pulls out of the talks he could be portrayed as the spoiler, our correspondent adds. Ground-breaking
Israel’s 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement-building expires at midnight local time on Sunday (2200 GMT). The moratorium freeze has never applied to East Jerusalem settlements.What have we learnt from Ehud Barak and Mahmoud Abbas?
Neither wants to see peace talks founder over settlements, even though they leave New York without a solution.
Mr Abbas said Israel had to choose between peace and settlements, but stopped short of threatening to pull out if the moratorium was not extended.
Ehud Barak admitted he was not confident he could get colleagues to accept a compromise when he gets home – but he still gives the peace process a better than even chance of surviving.
And everyone now seems to agree with President Obama that if this logjam can be overcome, and if there is enough political will, then why shouldn’t there be a peace deal leading to an independent Palestinian state within a year?
When he made this the centrepiece of his UN speech, many saw it as risky for a US president to stake his prestige on such an elusive ambition. But now it’s been endorsed by both sides.
All well and good, but it is also possible of course that one or both of the Palestinian president and Israeli defence minister were deliberately putting an optimistic gloss on the situation, in order not to be blamed if indeed talks are about to get derailed.
Is the glass half full? Or half empty? Fifty-fifty can be read either way.
Right-wing politicians in Israel are calling for a swift resumption of construction, and are backing settlers’ plans to resume building as soon as possible.
“The building needs to restart – there are some 2,000 (housing) units that are already approved,” Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, told the AFP news agency.
At least one other pro-settler Likud MP, Danny Danon, plans to attend a symbolic ground-breaking ceremony at the settlement of Revava on Sunday, his office said.
“Our policy now is to resume a natural pace of building,” said Naftali Bennett, director general of the settlers’ organisation, the Yesha council.
However, any resumption of construction is likely to be small in scale, correspondents say, as most projects will require approval from Israel’s defence ministry.
On Thursday, US President Barack Obama urged Israel to extend its moratorium, saying it had “made a difference on the ground, and improved the atmosphere for talks”.
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