The struggle for peace in Israel may take years or even generations, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told a crowd of over 6,200 people at the Universal Amphitheater on April 21. Barak was the final speaker in the University of Judaism's (UJ) department of continuing education lecture series, which featured Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright and James Carville. The sold-out series, organized by the dean of UJ's continuing education department, Gady Levy, has brought much money and prestige to the university, and will be continued next year, Levy said.
Introduced by former Rep. Mel Levine, Barak was by no means the most electrifying of all the speakers, and yet he portrayed a more convivial, articulate persona, both in his hard-line speech and in the Q-and-A session with UJ President Dr. Robert Wexler that followed.
"I have a special place in my heart for California," the former Israel Defense Forces chief-of-staff said, recalling his two years as a grad student at Stanford University. "I even learned how to drive politely," he joked. Barak, who became a first-time grandfather three months ago, wondered, "What kind of world has this baby been born into?"
The former Labor party head, who lost the election to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in 2001 following the outbreak of the second intifada, has toughened his rhetoric since the rejected peace offering at Camp David. He dismissed Arafat as a legitimate peace partner, blaming him for the current cycle of violence: "He deliberately dragged the world into this." But Barak said we should not focus on one man: "A future leader will emerge," he said. Barak said he does not consider Camp David a failure for three reasons:
1) The offer will serve as the basis for a future settlement
2) It "unmasked" Arafat
3) It grounded both sides of the Israeli political camp, he said, explaining that the far right will have to give up the dream of the greater Israel, and the far left will have to realize they are not living in the Midwest and there are some tough security issues to deal with.
Practically preaching to the choir, Barak emphasized the struggle Israel faces, and the justness of the military response. Barak, who in a meeting with The Journal prior to his speech did not rule out a future run for premiere ("I am retired now," he told The Journal), outlined his plan for Israel:
To strike hard at all terrorists
To always leave the door open for negotiations, on condition of ending the violence
To create a unilateral separation, which would include some 80 percent of all Israeli settlers.
"This is going to be a long struggle. Not years, but half a generation. Many innocent civilian lives will be lost along the way. But we have to win the first war of the 21st century, and we will win."
Earlier this week, Barak also addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference in Washington on Sunday, which included a satellite speech by Sharon, and an address by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.