Barak: Build Tunnel Linking West Bank and Gaza

By Reuters and Haaretz Service

Published February 02, 2009.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday proposed the construction of a 30-mile tunnel that would connect the northern Gaza Strip with the southern West Bank, thus enabling freedom of movement between the two disjointed Palestinian territories.

While stumping on the campaign trail before students at Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Barak said it was possible to dig the tunnel, which would remain under Israeli sovereignty while the Palestinians would maintain authority over the corridor’s traffic. The defense minister and Labor Party chairman said the project would cost between $2-3 million, “a reasonable sum.” Barak devoted a significant portion of his statements to politics, criticizing his main rival in the upcoming parliamentary election Kadima. “What new politics is Kadima bringing us?” Barak said. “Kadima was unable to remake itself and so it will be unable to remake the entire country. The question is not who speaks more eloquently but who is capable of getting things done.”

Barak also slammed Vice Premier Haim Ramon, “who was convicted in court of embarassing crimes and even asked during a cabinet meeting to establish a commission of inquiry to probe his investigators all the while they are investigating the prime minister.”

Earlier, Barak laid into rival prime ministerial hopefuls Tzipi Livni and Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday over years of inaction in the face of Gaza rocket fire.

“All of these critics were in decision-making positions and Hamas never received such a blow as this. After eight years of [rocket] fire from the Strip, I arrived and gave the IDF an order to batter Hamas, with deeds and not words,” said Barak, referring to Israel’s recent offensive against Hamas in Gaza.

Livni, the foreign minister and Kadima party chairwoman, has been a senior cabinet member for much of the period mentioned by Barak. Netanyahu, the Likud chairman and current opposition leader, also held senior a senior position under former prime minister Ariel Sharon during the years of cross-border attacks.

Barak continued: “It’s understood that we’re in a period of elections, and every morning at the start of the cabinet meeting ministers wander around in front of the media, lashing out, rejoicing and announcing - [and] Hamas hears this as well.”

His comments clashed with statements on Sunday by Livni who said that, if necessary, Israel would mount a new offensive in the Gaza Strip to choke off cross-border rocket fire.

“Those who need to plan the operations are the best people in the country, who understand better than a large number of the ministers - the members of the defense establishment and the IDF General Staff,” the defense minister added.



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