Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Arianna Huffington Reports from Israel

Now, Arianna Huffington is visiting Jerusalem.
JERUSALEM -- I arrived in Tel Aviv, at the Ben Gurion Airport, at 6:30 Sunday evening and went straight to the Yoezer Wine bar, a charming restaurant in Jaffa, housed in an old stone building that dates back to the Ottoman Empire.

I was there to have dinner with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and his wife Nili, who were leaving at midnight for Washington for meetings at the White House, as well as prominent Israeli venture capitalist, Meir Barel, of Star Ventures, fellow Greek Sabby Mionis, and Avital Leibovich, the spokesperson for the Foreign Press Division of the Israeli military.

Barak is Israel's most decorated soldier. A warrior turned politician, he is a former Prime Minister and Labor Party leader who was asked to join Netanyahu's government. Their relationship dates back 25 years, to when Barak was a grad student at Stanford and Netanyahu was a grad student at MIT. Another bond between the two would-be rivals is the close friendship of Barak and Netanyahu's brother Yonatan, a commando who was killed in the famed raid on Entebbe in Uganda.

During dinner, Barak's security detail stood guard around the table, guns at the ready and on full display. One of the guards stood directly behind the Defense Minister. Even though he was stationary, his eyes -- and, it seemed, his brain -- were in constant motion. He was an adrenaline rush come to life. In comparison, the Secret Service detail that guards the U.S. president seems positively laid back.

During his time as Prime Minister, Barak ended Israel's military occupation of southern Lebanon, and was part of the failed Camp David summit with Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat. Given this, I asked him to compare George W. Bush's leadership to Obama's when it comes to Israel. "I'm an ABB," he said. "Anyone But Bush. Obama is investing a lot of his political capital in the peace process, and it's important that we don't waste this moment."

And what would it take to break through the current stalemate? "The Palestinian Authority," he told me, "needs to accept becoming an independent Palestinian state even before the borders are finalized."

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