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Cablegate: Defense Minister Barak Briefs the Diplomatic Corps

VZCZCXRO5120
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHTV #2707/01 3481025
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 141025Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4597
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV KWBG SY IS
SUBJECT: DEFENSE MINISTER BARAK BRIEFS THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS

1. (SBU) Summary. Defense Minister Ehud Barak briefed
members of the diplomatic corps December 11 on the role of
the Labor Party in Netanyahu's coalition government. Barak
noted Labor's role in moderating the coalition's right-wing
tendencies, and stressed the GOI's commitment to move forward
in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. He admitted
that the settlement moratorium fell short of Palestinian
expectations but said even Rabin's government had not halted
private construction in settlements. The moratorium, he
said, is a way to "ensure that the door (to negotiations)
remains open." Barak said the settlers were "agitated" by
the moratorium because it is the first time the government
has ordered a full stop and they see it in the context of the
Gaza disengagement. Barak said he would not predict what
will happen after ten months, but said the lack of Arab
response is making it more difficult for the GOI. He urged
the international community to pressure the PA to enter
negotiations. On the new list of national priority areas,
Barak said that while Labor wants to prioritize communities
in the Galilee and Negev, they have to realize they are not
alone in the coalition. Barak reiterated that priority
status for settlements will not apply to housing. Overall he
stressed that the moratorium was meant to keep the door open
to the Palestinians to enter negotiations, but said the most
difficult part for Abu Mazen may be "crossing the corridor to
reach the door." On Syria, Barak said Israel should seize
every opportunity to engage. He noted the differences
between Syria and Israel's preferred approach to negotiations
and said "diplomatic creativity" should be used to close the
gaps if possible. Barak assured the diplomatic corps that he
believes "leaders are capable of making tough decisions when
circumstances so require." Barak said even the right-wing
members of the GOI coalition understand that stalemate with
the Palestinians will mean more violence. End Summary.

2. (SBU) Minister of Defense and Labor Party Chairman Ehud
Barak briefed members of the diplomatic corps at the party's
training institute (Beit Berl) in Kfar Saba December 11.
Barak's main goal appeared to be to send the signal that the
Labor Party remains relevant and is playing an important role
in moving Prime Minister Netanyahu's right-leaning coalition
toward the center, particularly on Israeli-Palestinian peace
issues.

GOI Committed to Peace
----------------------

3. (SBU) After a brief introduction by former Member of
Knesset and Chairwoman of the party's international
department Collette Avital, Barak began by praising President
Obama's Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Oslo, noting that
the President had defined the major security challenges
facing the world as nuclear proliferation, Islamist extremist
terrorism, and rogue and failed states, all of which are
linked. Barak noted that Israel is at the focal point of
these challenges, which can only be dealt with effectively
through a broad international coalition. He added that he
also sees opportunities through Israel's search for peace
with the Palestinians, as well as with Syria and Lebanon,
hopefully in the framework of a regional peace arrangement.

4. (SBU) Barak said the GOI is committed to moving forward
with the Palestinians, but it is unclear whether Abu Mazen
intends to return to negotiations. At the same time, Israel
is preparing for renewed confrontations with Hamas and
Hizballah as well as dealing with the challenges posed by
Iran. Noting that since the Labor Party did not receive a
popular mandate to lead in the last elections, it faced a
choice of joining a right-wing government or entering the
opposition. Barak said he made the choice to join Prime
Minister Netanyahu's coalition government in order to promote
the opportunities for peace while helping Israel cope with
the many challenges it faces. He asserted that Labor has
achieved a lot in the eight months since the coalition was
formed. Without Labor, Barak doubted that the coalition
would have endorsed the two-state solution. He defined the
GOI's goal as a peace agreement leading to the establishment
of a contiguous, viable Palestinians state and the end of the
occupation that began in 1967. This could not have happened,
he said, without Labor in the coalition. While joining the
coalition had cost Labor some internal cohesion, Barak urged
the diplomatic corps not to pay too much attention to polling
data, but to focus on Labor's commitment to "do the right
thing." Barak said he did not believe it would make sense
for Labor to join the left-wing Meretz Party, since the
answers to Israel's security challenges are "at the center of
the spectrum."

Settlement Moratorium
---------------------


TEL AVIV 00002707 002 OF 003


5. (SBU) Barak admitted that the GOI's settlement moratorium
falls short of Palestinian expectations, but he asserted that
it should be seen as a daring step not taken by any previous
Israeli government. Barak described his vision as the large
settlement blocs remaining part of Israel in any agreement
with the Palestinians, while the fate of the isolated
settlements should be resolved through negotiations. Barak
said he reminded Abu Mazen that the latter had negotiated
with PM Olmert while the rate of construction in settlements
was twice what it is now. Striking a theme he repeated
several times, Barak called on the international community to
help convince Abu Mazen that the time has come to start
negotiations. The settlement moratorium, he said, was
intended to be a way to ensure that the door to negotiations
is left open.

6. (SBU) In response to A/DCM's question regarding
difficulties in implementing the moratorium, Barak said the
settler resistance was greater than expected. He explained
that this was due in part to the settlers' realization that
the moratorium was unprecedented in that it covered privately
funded construction as well as public construction, something
Barak said even Rabin's government had not done. The
settlers are linking this step to Sharon's decision to
disengage from Gaza, he stated. Labor would like to propose
voluntary movement of settlers and government compensation,
but he said it was too early to pursue this legislation.

7. (SBU) Noting PM Netanyahu's public comments that
construction in the West Bank would resume after ten months,
Barak said he preferred not to discuss what steps the GOI
would take at the end of the moratorium. He noted that the
GOI's position was made more difficult by the lack of a
positive Arab response to the moratorium. Israelis are
saying that the GOI made a unilateral concession and got
nothing in return. The Palestinians, Barak commented, should
feel more pressure from the international community to
negotiate with Israel. Abu Mazen feels that he is up in a
tree and he needs help to get down. Barak stated that the
moratorium was "not a tactic" but a serious effort to get
negotiations restarted. The time limit was meant to give Abu
Mazen the incentive to come to the table.

National Priority Areas
-----------------------

8. (SBU) Noting the announcement by PM Netanyahu's office of
plans to change the map of communities defined as national
priority areas, Barak said this designation gives heads of
municipalities and local councils an advantage in seeking
additional funding. Labor would like to prioritize funding
for the Galilee and Negev regions rather than settlements,
but Barak noted that Labor must bear in mind that it is part
of a coalition government. He assured the diplomatic corps
that the national priority area designation for isolated
settlements was based on their security needs and would not
include housing incentives.

Seek Opportunities to Engage Syria
----------------------------------

9. (SBU) Barak said Israel should "exploit any opportunity"
to engage Syria. President Asad's recent statements about
wanting to resume negotiations were "not a coincidence."
Barak noted, however, that Asad wants negotiations to be
indirect and public, while Netanyahu wants negotiations to be
direct and secret. Asad effectively wants the outcome of
negotiations to be known in advance. Using the analogy of a
corridor leading to the "door" of negotiations, Barak
commented that all the parties are afraid of coming under
assault and even being killed (at least politically) while
crossing the corridor to get to the door. Creative diplomacy
should be applied to shortening the corridor so that the
parties can engage in a serious process.

GOI Able to Take Tough Decisions
--------------------------------

10. (SBU) Asked whether the Israeli government is capable of
taking tough decisions, Barak said he believes that Israeli
leaders are capable of making difficult decisions when the
situation requires. Menachem Begin decided to give up the
Sinai, while Sharon deserted the Gaza settlers. Rabin
accepted the Oslo process even though he despised Arafat.
The question was how to cross the corridor in order to reach
the door. Abu Mazen, he commented, might be willing to take
a decision to make peace but still not be able to cross the
corridor. Barak concluded the briefing by commenting that a
political stalemate would create a vacuum that would in turn
be filled by a return to violence. The right wing elements
of the GOI coalition also understand this situation and

TEL AVIV 00002707 003 OF 003


therefore are willing to make concessions to break the
stalemate.
CUNNINGHAM

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