Barak favours apology and cutting a deal to avoid September
Yitzhak Benhorin, YNET
WASHINGTON – Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Friday, following meetings with US administration officials, that Israel must reach a compromise with Turkey – even if this meant the Jewish state would have to apologize for the deadly raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla last year.
“I’m not talking about an apology for the blockade or an apology for the flotilla, but about saying that if any errors were made during the operation – we regret them,” he explained.
“I don’t like it,” the defense minister admitted in a press briefing, “but it’s not a bad thing to have reasonable relations with Turkey in a region which has instability in Egypt, downsizing in Saudi Arabia and a hostile Iran.”
According to Barak, senior legal experts in the Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry believe Israel must reach an understanding with Turkey if it wishes to defend its soldiers.
Barak met Thursday with US Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
This series of meetings reinforced the defense minister’s view that the conflict with Ankara must be resolved. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, on the other hand, is strongly opposed to any apology on Israel’s part.
On Friday, Barak is expected to meet with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to discuss the Palmer Report probing the flotilla raid.
“On the one hand, the report includes very important conclusions for Israel, which put Turkey in the corner in terms of the justification for the blockade, the justification for stopping the flotilla and the justification for using force,” Barak said.
“On the other hand,” he added, “there is a problematic element dealing with what happened during the operation. We don’t agree with some of things, but we must make a choice between a problematic report and reaching an understanding with Turkey, so that the things that bother us are clarified and there are no lawsuits across the world on the part of Turkey and Turks against Israel and against officers and commanders.”
Preparing for September
Barak and the Obama administration officials also discussed Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to the defense minister, if Israel reached an understanding with the European Union and the United States on a formula, the Europeans and Americans would try to dissuade the Palestinians from asking the UN to recognize an independent Palestinian state.
“If the Palestinians are unwilling to accept such a formula,” the defense minister explained, “Europe will be with us and that would largely empty the Palestinian accomplishment at the UN General Assembly.”
He warned, however, that if Israel failed to reach an understanding with the Europeans, “some of them will vote with the Palestinians, and a very problematic process as far as Israel is concerned will begin – even if it won’t have immediate outcomes.”
Barak also found the time to address the housing protest sweeping Israel. “The protest is real and legitimate,” he said. “We are talking about the backbone of Israeli society. These are people who work, pay taxes and serve in the reserve forces. A couple has to work for 10 years for an average apartment.
“Indirect taxes in the State of Israel are among the highest in the world,” Barak added. “I have been saying this for a long time, and I believe this is real and requires fixing. I hope that we, as a government, will deal with these things as fast as we can.”