On Sept. 29, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and top members of Israel’s Labor party announced to an Israeli youth group that he intends to re-enter politics in the next two months, and is considered to be a front-runner for Labor’s candidate for prime minister once again. Three days earlier, Barak was here in Rochester, N.Y. speaking at the annual dinner of the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.After his ingratiating remarks to the Federation, thanking its members for hosting, he delved right into issues at hand. Without hesitation, he proclaimed his support for current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, stating that it is the first step in the right direction. In addition, he outlined three main points from which Israel should not deviate in its endless search for security and peace. Barak said that first and foremost, Israel must strike at terror whenever it rears its ugly head. Second, a crash program intensifying construction of the security fence must be implemented in order to deter additional attacks like the one that killed two Israelis in Jerusalem just two weeks ago. However, while the fence is being built, all isolated settlements in the West Bank must be dismantled in order to protect its inhabitants from terrorism as well as signal to the Palestinians that Israel does intend to cede its control over the territories. Last, he emphasized that it is imperative that the government make it clear that it is open to the resumption of negotiations without any conditions other than the cessation of violence. The outline provided by the former head of state is indicative of the effect that four years of terrorism has had on his nation. In the summer of 2000 at the summit meetings at Camp David, Barak offered over 90 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of Gaza to be a Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. After its rejection by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yassir Arafat and four years of ensuing violence, Barak has now come to support many of the plans proposed by his rival, who is actually the one who supplanted him from office, Ariel Sharon. This is indicative of a national mood that has migrated from a hopeful mentality towards peace in 2000 – when over 80 percent of the population supported a peace plan made up of the recognition of a Palestinian state consisting of almost all of the West Bank and Gaza, existing side by side with Israel – to an overwhelming concern for national security, which is the driving force behind moves such as the withdrawal from Gaza and the building of the security fence.Barak was not merely there to impart his knowledge of Israeli politics unto his audience, however. His speech was replete with jokes and anecdotes, charming the audience as only a natural politician could. Furthermore, as one who is well-aware of his terrorist foe, recalling his covert operations against terrorist cells of the Palestine Liberation Organization in Beirut in the 1980s, he had words for the American administration regarding its war on terror as well. While he noted that it is undoubtedly positive that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is out of power, he remarked that almost every military and political mistake was made once American forces had “control” of Baghdad, and now Iraq faces a serious prospect of civil war. Furthermore, while America has removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden remains at large, serving to ignite fundamentalist passions in the hearts of others. When it comes down to it, Barak warned both vigilance and caution in the world’s pursuit of terrorists. While he condemningly asserts that one should “never head to [terrorism]” he acknowledges that the war on terrorism “will be a marathon, not a sprint.”Melman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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