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Barak tries to put happy face on failed US visit

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak departed New York for Israel on Wednesday following failed talks with US Middle East envoy George Mitchell aimed at easing tensions between the two nations over the continued growth of Jewish towns in areas claimed by the Palestinian Arabs.

Barak said that the talks focused on a wide range of issues, including Iran and the need for a comprehensive regional peace, and not just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But Israeli media focused on the issue that certainly dominated the talks - the ongoing construction of homes in Jewish settlements and Jewish neighborhoods on the eastern side of Jerusalem.

Barak tried to strike a positive note, saying that while the two sides had not come to any kind of agreement, they were closer than ever to an understanding on the issue.

He insisted that no one in Washington truly believes life can just come to a standstill in Jewish settlements and natural growth be halted. But in recent demands leaked to the media, that appears to be precisely what the Obama Administration wants, including in large Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.

Barak did indicate that he had not only been on the receiving end of criticism during the talks, but had also impressed strongly upon the Americans that their focus on the construction of a few Jewish houses is exaggerated and that equal if not greater importance needs to be placed on the Arabs finally meeting their peace commitments.

"The Arab states have something to give to Israel, not just take," said Barak.