It is important to continue talking with the Palestinians even outside the negotiating process, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Monday as she defended her meeting last week with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in London.
“To boycott the other side, not to speak with it at all, not to hear or listen that is irresponsible, and even negligent,” Livni told reporters and her Knesset faction as she issued her first public statement on the matter.
“An ostrich policy is not an option for us,” Livni said.
“I remind everyone that the conflict [with the Palestinians] still exists,” she said, adding that “Israel’s interest is to end the conflict.”
It is therefore impossible not to speak with the Palestinians, but such conversation does not constitute a “negotiation,” she said.
In Washington on Monday, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that US Secretary of State John Kerry who spoken earlier in the day with Livni, had known about the meeting but had not organized it.
“The US played no part in arranging or participating in the meeting,” Psaki said.
Israel’s government, including Livni, voted last month to suspend negotiations with the Palestinians to protest its decision to sign a unity pact with Hamas, a terrorist organization bent on Israel’s destruction.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has clarified that negotiations are suspended and that Livni did not represent Israel at the meeting.
Bayit Yehudi Party head Naftali Bennett called on her to leave the government.
On Monday Livni said she had no intention of doing that. Her party, she said, had an important role to play in preventing the right-wing from hijacking the government.
“It’s clear to me why the extreme right doesn’t love our work in the government. We’re preventing the possibility of creating the State of Yitzhar,” Livni said.
She added that she would continue to meet with the Palestinians if necessary.
“We will continue to advance Israeli interest out of deep concern for its future, that is the task of responsible leadership,” Livni said.
“I would prefer solving the conflict through direct negotiations,” Livni said. She explained that the Fatah-Hamas unity pact was problematic and could necessitate a new strategy toward the creation of a two-state solution.
“If we will have to think of alternative options to solve the conflict, that is what we will do,” Livni said.
“To all the politicians who are yelling on the Right and the Left, we are not here to serve the political interests of other parties. We want to advance what we believe in. That is what I did when I met with Abu Mazen [Abbas] and that is what I will continue to do,” Livni said.
Netanyahu, however, continued to attack the Palestinians for describing the creation of a Jewish state as a “disaster.”
Netanyahu said he was moving to protect Israel on two fronts, economically and legally. To those who want to isolate Israel internationally, Netanyahu said, he was strengthening the country’s economic ties with Asia and Latin America.
The answer to those who don’t want to recognize the country’s Jewish nature, it is important to have a basic law that designates Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, Netanyahu said. “We hope to legislate that this [Knesset] session,” he said.
On the Knesset floor Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz attacked the Palestinians and Abbas for inciting against Israel and for failing to recognize it as a Jewish state.
Such a stance on Abbas’ part, Steinitz said, is “racist and anti-Semitic.”
But in spite of the harsh rhetoric on the part of the ruling party and its ministers, Psaki said that the US was still hopeful that the “door was open to peace.”