Israel must move ahead toward peace: Barak

Israel`s minister said he would not respond to what is happening in Egypt.

Updated: Feb 11, 2011, 08:17 AM IST

New York: Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Thursday the country must move forward with the Mideast peace process and try to promote stability with all its neighbours despite the turbulence in the region.

The Israeli minister spoke to reporters briefly after meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The meeting took place as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was announcing that he would remain president but was handing his powers to Vice President Omar Suleiman.

"We have to continue the whole time to look for ways to move forward in this new reality because the alternatives are more complicated, more complex and more dangerous from any other option," Barak said in Hebrew. "We have to continue to move towards trying to find arrangements with all our neighbours."

Barak said he would not respond to what is happening in Egypt, explaining that "it`s up to the Egyptian people to find a way and to do it according with their own Constitution, norms and practices."

But Israel is deeply worried about the prospect that Mubarak could be forced to step down by the unprecedented street protests in Egypt and that a less friendly government will emerge.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that any new government must maintain their 1979 peace deal — Israel`s first with an Arab nation. And Israel`s President Shimon Peres delivered an impassioned defence of Mubarak on Saturday, crediting him with preserving three decades of peace between the two nations and warning that his ouster and replacement by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt`s best organised opposition movement, won`t bring peace.

Barak said that the recent events in Egypt and elsewhere make a lot of Israelis "feel weak-kneed”.

"Israel is strong, although we do have to follow things very carefully and make sure that Israel remains strong and to upgrade our security situation," he said. "That said, the reality will not change for the better if we will sink into inaction. We have to move forward all the time with the peace process. We have to diminish tensions."

Barak said he and Ban discussed prospects by the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers — the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia — and the international community to move forward on the stalled Mideast peace process and recent developments in Egypt and North Africa.

The Quartet met last Saturday in Munich and expressed regret at Israel`s decision to end a 10-month moratorium on construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem which led to the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks just weeks after they had restarted in September. The US, UN and EU and others have called for urgent progress on efforts to press Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks.

Barak said Israel recently approved a set of confidence-building measures and is ready to open immediate discussions with the Palestinians on how to establish security arrangements with the future Palestinian state. Ultimately, he said, both sides have to deal with the core outstanding issues face-to-face "in order to have a breakthrough or to find what could be done if a full agreement cannot be achieved”.

Bureau Report