Barak Discusses Middle East Crisis in NH Address

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(Host) Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was in Hanover, New Hampshire Wednesday. Barak met with students and delivered an afternoon address. Barak says he’s not optimistic that the situation in the Middle East will improve in the short term. He says a change in Palestinian leadership is the key to peace in the region.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Two years ago as prime minister, Barak joined Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David in a failed peace effort brokered by President Clinton. At the time, Barak was criticized by some Israelis for offering Arafat too many concessions. Now Barak says there can be no peace with Arafat in power.

Barak stands behind the current Israeli government and recent military operations in the occupied territories. Barak said his country should strike back even harder against Palestinian terrorists. He called Arafat a serial liar and a terrorist:

(Barak) “He looks like a terrorist, he walks like a terrorist, he quacks like a terrorist, so we are cornered to the conclusion that he is a terrorist.”

(Zind) Barak says he’s told Israeli leaders that they should be willing to enter negotiations as soon as suicide attacks are stopped. Barak said if his government adopted such a policy, Israeli military operations could become a tool to force the Palestinians to negotiate:

(Barak) “I told our political leadership that by proposing this open door, it will change the nature of the actual operations against terror. Instead of being perceived by some as an attempt to smash Arafat and end the war, it would become figuratively an attempt to push the Palestinians through the door back to the negotiating room.”

(Zind) Barak says while he doesn’t believe Arafat is interested in peace, the Israeli government should be willing to negotiate with the Palestinian leader if he stops the suicide bombers and other attacks on Israeli citizens. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said recently that he sees no role for Arafat in peace negotiations.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Hanover.

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