The differences between the approaches to the Palestinians offered by Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and his predecessor Tzipi Livni at The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference at Herzliya’s Daniel Hotel Wednesday could not have been more stark.
While Liberman complained to the diplomats about their “obsession” with the Palestinians, Livni no less than begged them to get more involved in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for Israel’s own good. While Livni did accuse the international community of misunderstanding the issue of settlements, she reserved her main criticism for the Israeli public, which she complained has not internalized that keeping the entire West Bank is unnecessary for Israel’s security.
Before his indictment was issued, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu promised Liberman a top portfolio in the next government, assuming he forms the next coalition – an assumption that was even made this week by top candidates in Yesh Atid, Kadima, and The Tzipi Livni Party. While Liberman has said he would prefer to remain foreign minister, the finance and defense portfolios have not been ruled out, and it is possible that Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein will not permit Netanyahu to appoint him foreign minister.
So is there a chance that Liberman and Livni can coexist in the next government, despite their differences, and can Livni be Netanyahu’s foreign minister? MK Amir Peretz jumped ship from Labor to Livni’s party because he believed she was less likely to join Netanyahu’s government than Labor’s Shelly Yacimovich, but Livni told the Post in an interview after she addressed the conference that she is not ruling out such a scenario.
Livni took pains to stress in the interview that she is not as left-wing as she has been made out to be. In her defense, she cited Netanyahu’s former diplomatic adviser Uzi Arad, who this week publicly praised her professionalism and toughness in her talks with the Palestinians – the results of which have never been made public but were revealed to Arad when he advised Netanyahu.
The only time Livni got upset in the interview was when former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s book No Higher Honor was raised. In the book, which came out in November 2011, Rice wrote that Livni told her and the Palestinians following a generous offer that then-prime minister Ehud Olmert made to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas in August 2008 that Olmert “has no standing in Israel” and advised them to wait until she took over from him.
Livni responded bluntly that what Rice wrote was “bullshit.” But for the rest of the interview, she kept her calm.
Diplomats that heard you speak here, who privately might prefer you were prime minister, have been asking me: Is there a chance you will be Netanyahu’s foreign minister?
I hope the Israeli voters prefer me as prime minister, not just foreign diplomats. I said what I said not to be nice to the diplomats but because these are the Israeli interests. The current Israel government is wrong. Representing the need to relaunch negotiations is important and hope for peace is not a dirty word. I truly hope the Israelis don’t buy what the government is selling: The idea of isolation as anti-Semitsm and the delegitimization, Islamization and all these fears and threats that surround us.
If Netanyahu is willing to take steps diplomatically, could you see yourself representing his government abroad?
Governments are not “his” or “hers.” It’s the Israeli government. Last time he formed a coalition, I checked with him more than once if there was a chance to move forward for real negotiations, not just dialogue for the sake of dialogue, understanding that we cannot afford a bilateral option.
After seeing how Liberman has fought the international community as foreign minister, don’t you believe you need to be back in that job to save Israel?
The only reason for me to come back to politics is to save Israel. When Netanyahu formed a coalition last time with the parties he called his natural partners, I understood he didn’t want to move forward. Being there would save him, not Israel. Now, facing new elections, I need to put forward my ideas and give the Israeli voters another choice. I will decide my next step the day after the election, based on what I believe would be most effective to fulfill my ideas for the future of Israel. It’s not about Netanyahu. It’s about ideology, about values, about what needs be done.
What about the Center-Left voters who are considering voting for Yesh Atid or Labor because they want to make the next government more moderate and they think those parties might join the government but you would not?
I didn’t say I would not be there. I promised the voters one thing: that I would never betray their trust, that I would make my decision based on mine and their values and mine and their vision for Israel. So never say never. But I must add: Those that don’t want Netanyahu in power should vote for someone not in government who represents what they believe is the right vision for Israel.
The question is not who will be part of the government but the visions the parties in the Center-Left bloc represent. Socialism doesn’t make parties moderate on the Israel/Palestinian conflict. Those Israelis who say it’s all connected and you can’t have just one agenda, who believe a binational state would be a disaster for the vision of Zionism, need to support me and trust me [to make] the right decisions the day after the election.
Condoleezza Rice wrote in her book last year that you told her and the Palestinians not to make a deal with Olmert and to wait to make a deal with you after you would be elected.
It’s bullshit. I am sorry but that’s the only answer I could give. That’s nonsense! Bullshit! A lie! I spoke to Condy after she wrote it.
I met Abu Mazen [Abbas] after she published the book, and I asked him: Did I say that? He said no, and I told him to say so publicly because I was being suspected.
Uzi Arad himself said after having all the details of the negotiations that I represented Israel’s security interests and national interests in the negotiating room, so I am the last one who would say to the Palestinians “you are going to get more.” I gave them less than what was on the table [in talks between Abbas and Olmert].
Would you accept the Palestinians demand to start talks where Olmert left off?
No. The idea that the Palestinians think they can take any Israeli offer to their pocket and say “let’s start from this” is completely unacceptable. The Palestinians gained something from going to the United Nations, which I didn’t like, so now they can take the preconditions off the table and relaunch negotiations.
It bothers me that Netanyahu and other right-wing politicians believe that in the negotiating room I gave up everything and I was very weak. That is nonsense. The place to maintain Israel’s interests is in the negotiating room. Look what happened after four years of stagnation and stalemate. The Palestinians have two states: Hamastan in Gaza, which was granted legitimacy by Netanyahu, which is unacceptable for me, and they have a new state declared by the UN.
Now they have two states for one people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, because we’re not keeping Israel’s interests. In the negotiating room, it was clear the Palestinian state would be demilitarized, that it won’t be on pre-1967 lines, and that it would be the end of the conflict.
Olmert offered 100 percent of the West Bank with land swaps. Would you?
I don’t use the word swaps, I use the word compensation. Those dreaming about changing the wheels of history and going back to June 1967 should know that in [the] pre-1967 borders there was no connection between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. We need to express the idea of one Palestinian state in a different manner. There is an understanding that when we keep the blocs, there must be compensation. I won’t say in advance that the ratio would be one for one.
I didn’t offer a one-for-one ratio.
Surprise! On refugees I’m the most extreme in Israel, because I believe that each state gives an answer to the aspirations of peoples.
As Israel gave refuge to those who came from Arab countries, Israel is not an option for Palestinian refugees. The Palestinian state would be the object of their national aspirations, not Israel. So unlike what Netanyahu and others say about me, it is clear I won’t compromise on security. After four years of Netanyahu’s government, there has been erosion on Israel’s position.
Would you build in E1? Is it part of your border?
E1 is in dispute, not between Israel and Palestinians but between Israel and the entire world, including the US. It’s not going to be built now. What Netanyahu did is make a declaration. He did it to get the support of the right wing, and Israel paid the price. We will set borders in the negotiating room and try to enable as many Israelis as possible to stay, but I won’t decide the borders with you, only at the negotiating table.
How do you expect people in Tel Aviv to vote for you after rockets fell near them because you withdrew from the Gaza Strip unilaterally?
I never promised anyone a fairy tale in which we lived happily ever after. I don’t want to marry the Palestinians. I want to divorce them. The choices in the Middle East, especially for Israel, are bad choices. Yes, we withdrew from Gaza, yes, we got Hamas in return. I think we need to act strongly and use military force against Hamas. To those who are trying to make a combination and say the disengagement was a mistake, I ask: Do they really want to replant Gush Katif? Do they really believe that the settlers who used to live there gave us security? Do I need to remind them that when Israel was there, Israel was targeted from the Gaza Strip? Settlements were part of the vision of Greater Israel, of the Jewish people coming back to our homeland, of having settlements in order not to divide the land. There are those in Israel who still believe in this vision.
It’s OK. But the vast majority of Israelis want two states. When a prime minister like Netanyahu talks about two states for two peoples, he needs to say that the settlements are not serving this interest. Security needs to be taken by regaining deterrence. The idea is to act with Abu Mazen to reach an agreement.
We need to be isolating Gaza, but this government is giving legitimacy to Hamas in Gaza and isolating Israel, and this is something we cannot afford.
Why do you, unlike Shelly, continue to criticize the parties in your bloc?
I hope that by creating my movement, there will be more voters coming to vote. People were telling me they have no one to vote for. They are not Socialists, so they can’t vote for Labor, and Lapid doesn’t represent them. I won’t criticize [Yacimovich and Lapid] or speak personally against them, but we will say that what we represent didn’t exist before in a party that was expected to cross the threshold. If Kadima would have been big I would have stayed at home. I rejoined politics because there was a vacancy and Kadima stopped existing, not because of me, but because Kadima voters couldn’t vote for Kadima after the primaries. That’s why I had to form a new party and run.•