JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu distanced himself from remarks made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak on dividing Jerusalem.
During a speech Dec. 10 at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy’s annual forum in Washington, D.C., Barak said that he favored splitting Jerusalem along population lines.
"Western Jerusalem and the Jewish suburbs for us, the heavily populated Arab neighborhoods for them [the Palestinians] and an agreed-upon solution in the ‘Holy Basin,’ " said Barak, whose Labor Party is part of the government coalition led by Netanyahu.
Though Netanyahu has not publicly responded, Israeli officials told The Associated Press that Barak’s personal remarks at the forum did not represent the government’s position.
"The world is changing before our eyes and is no longer willing to accept, even temporarily, our continued control over another people," Barak said. "Two states for two peoples is the only true path of Zionism today."
Barak said Israel’s goals in the peace process include maintaining a "special relationship" with the United States in order to protect its position in the world; increasing cooperation with "moderate" Arab leaderships; establishing political ties with the Palestinians while isolating Hamas in Gaza; bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by addressing the core issues and finalizing all claims; removing Syria from "the radical axis"; building a multi-layer interception system against rockets and missiles of all sorts; and preventing a nuclear Iran.
Barak’s speech followed an address by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who said that the United States will not shy away from criticizing the sides in Israeli-Palestinian talks when they take unilateral actions, including when Israel builds in eastern Jerusalem.