The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said today that “we decided to launch negotiations (with the current Palestinian leadership in Ramallah) because it is important to reach an agreement with the pragmatic moderates” who believe in a solution with two states – Israel and Palestine — living side-by-side in peace and security.
Livni, who is also deputy Prime Minister, is in charge of Israel´s direct negotiations with the Palestinians.
The head of the Palestinian team is Ahmad Qurei´a (known as Abu Alaa) who participated in the secret “Oslo” track that led to the 1993 diplomatic recognition between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and to a series of “Oslo Accords” that in many but not all aspects are no longer actually in effect.
The two sides have agreed to keep all details of their discussions secret, and there have so far been few if any leaks of what has been happening behind closed doors. But, Livni said, in answer to a question, that she now has “a better understanding of the sensitivities and what is important to them. And I discovered that they are very suspicious when it comes to Israel”.
Now, she said, “we have started to draft part of the agreement, and I also hope they know more about Israeli concerns”:
Livni was speaking at a briefing in Jerusalem on Thursday organized by the Foreign Press Association in Israel
Before even being asked, Livni said she wanted to address the question of whether there could still be an agreement by the end of the year. She said “a timeline is important, but [even] more important is the content. Any attempt to bridge the gap (between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators) which is premature to bridge, or any attempt to avoid the comprehensive agreement we want to reach, can lead to clashes, misunderstandings, and violence”.
Livni said that this is what happened after the failed Camp David peace talks in July 2000, which ended with recriminations and blame – mostly on the Palestinians for not having responded to what was called a major concession by Israel´s then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
A provocative visit by Ariel Sharon accompanied by a large and armed Israeli security contingent to the Haram as-Sharif/Temple Mount in East Jerusalem´s Old City a few months later, in late September 2000, ended in clashes with Palestinian protesters, a number of Palestinian deaths and injuries– and the outbreak of the Second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising, which was characterized by clashes between the Israeli military and the newly-created and armed Palestinian security forces, then a determined Israeli assault on these same forces, accompanied by a re-invasion of Palestinian urban areas. It is only very recently that the U.S. has been helping to retrain and rebuild the Palestinian security capacity – and only to the extent to which Israel permits.
“Here I represent not only the Israeli Government but also the Palestinians, and if we can reach agreement, the international community should respect it. We are working on a comprehensive agreement on the core issues, which will give answers to the concerns of both sides,” Livni told reporters.
It was surprising to hear Livni telling journalists that she was also representing specific points in the Palestinian position. It did not appear to have been a slip of the tongue, but rather a deliberate statement arrived at in prior consultation. Pressing the point, Livni repeated the same formula a little later in the press conference.
“The aspiration of the Palestinians is to have a state that includes the Gaza Strip”, Livni said. She added that if she said anything else, “I would be blamed of doing something against the Palestinian interest – this is what we were accused of before our withdrawal from Gaza[in 2005].”
But the Oslo Accords never even mentioned the words Palestinian State, and only laid out in great detail an interim period that theoretically should have ended in 1999, which should have led to “final status” talks. It was only since the beginning of this year that Israel reported that “core issues” and “final status” matters are now being negotiated between Livni and Qurei´a.
Livni admitted today that “it took some time” in Israel to accept the idea of “dividing the land”. Now, she said, she believes that the former left-vs-right divide in Israeli politics is “something that belongs to the past. Two states is in Israel´s interest, and represents [the will] not only of the government but of the entire Israeli people”.
Livni indicated that in the negotiations, “Everybody is using the formula, and this is the basic understanding between Israel and the Palestinians: two states for two peoples. Israel is the homeland for the Jewish people [– “this is the raison d´etre of the State of Israel”, she added seconds later –] and the Palestinian state will be the homeland for the Palestinians”
“The answer to the [Palestinian] refugee problem is the creation of a Palestinian state”, Livni said. “But unfortunately some Arab and Palestinian leaders are calling for two states but also demanding the right of return to Israel, which is the Jewish state. This is not a theoretical question. This is the basic understanding [between the two negotiating teams] And this is one of the two basic pillars … the other of course is Israel’s security.”
She said that “the borders should not be vague – or say only 1967 lines, plus or minus a percentage. No, we need outlines on the map, so that the day after the agreement there will be no misunderstanding”.
And, Livni said, for Israel, “it is important to know what will be on the other side of these borders … and to know that it´s demilitarized”.
What we cannot afford, she said, is “a failed state or a terror state”.
Livni added that “We have no hidden agenda – a future Palestinian state includes the West Bank and Gaza. This is the Palestinian aspiration. But in order to create a state, they need to give an answer to the situation on the ground”.
Hamas is currently in control in the Gaza Strip.
Livni did not say what she thought should be done about that. Israel has recently concluded a kind of truce (“tahdia”) with Hamas, but has apparently ambivalent views about actually dealing directly with Hamas, something which the U.S. rejects rather more categorically.
Livni has several times in recent months described her view of an overall scenario where “extremists” – and in this group she includes Iran and Iranian-backed Hizballah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, but not Syria – as getting stronger.
The task, and the remedy, as she describes it, is to reinforce the “moderates”.
“In Annapolis we decided to negotiate with pragmatic Palestinians”, Livni explained. A simultaneous decision was made, she said, “to delegitimize Hamas and keep the pressure on them” – that is, unless they accept the right of Israel to exist, end terror and violence, and accept the former agreements reached in the Oslo process between Israel and Palestinians, Livni indicated.
She suggested that “since there is no hope with Hamas”, the negotiators are working for what is being called a “shelf agreement”.
Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister – Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.
She suggested that war is a much easier and cleaner affair when the protagonists are states.
Drawing a hypothetical future parallel with the Palestinian situation, Livni said that between two states there could be misunderstandings, and even war. “The Lebanon war could have been ended in a few days if it had just been between states”, she said. “But with a terror organization it is completely different”
Acting for a moment as a candidate for higher office, Livni appeared to criticize the involvement if not predominance of the Israeli military in decision-making – and this appeared to be a reference to the widely-criticized conduct of the Second Lebanon War. Livni said that “The Israeli Prime Minister needs to understand the threats and trends in the region. Preparation is needed, and not only of the army….There are different options, and the Prime Minister needs to put on the table what is the goal of Israel, what are the options, and to choose from then. Then [and only then], we [the political leadership] should ask our military experts what is best, after already choosing between the options”.
Acting very much like a candidate for leadership of the Kadima party to replace the current party leader – and Prime Minister — Ehud Olmert, Livni appeared to be trying to re-cast what is now called in Israel the “Second Lebanon War”.
Livni said that in 2006, “It was important for Israel and the international community not to undermine the Lebanese Government, and we worked against Hizballah in south Lebanon only”.
Now, she said, Hizballah is getting stronger in Lebanon, and is part of the government, so the international community should ask “for state responsibility for the situation in Lebanon”.
She repeated Israeli complaints that the arms embargo contained in UN Security Council Resolution 1701 is “not being enforced”.
UN Security Council resolution 1701 says that there should be “no sales or supply of arms and related materiel to Lebanon except as authorized by its Government”. But, now that Hizballah is part of the government, is this Israeli criticism still legitimate?