For an opposition leader who believes Israel has a dreadful government under
whose watch our very legitimacy is being increasingly questioned, Tzipi Livni is
a reluctant interviewee. The conversation below took many months to
Once face-to-face across her desk high in a Tel Aviv skyscraper,
however, and even though she claims credibly to be exhausted, Livni, 52, is
energized and forthcoming. The Kadima leader may be commendably discreet on some
of the specific positions she adopted during her aborted nine months of
negotiations under prime minister Ehud Olmert with the Palestinians, but she
readily sets out the principles that guided those talks. She fiercely defends
her contention that Israel has a viable partner in Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian
Authority. And she returns time and again to stress her sense of Israeli Jewish
imperative in reviving those negotiations and trying to bring them to a
“I know this is an ordeal for you,” I say to her
about an hour into the interview, which at this point has focused entirely on
the Palestinian process. “No,” she says. “These are actually the issues I like
to talk about.”
Her candor extends to the detailing of her repeated
conversations with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu about the possibilities of
a Likud-Kadima coalition. She not only sets out the arguments she put to him in
favor of an equal partnership, complete with prime ministerial rotation,
immediately after the elections in February 2009 – arguments he firmly rejected
– but also talks through several subsequent meetings, including in recent
months, on the subject. These were meetings she initiated, in which she again
urged Netanyahu to ditch one or more of his “natural” partners, and bring in
Kadima, this time without rotation, to push the diplomatic process.
overtures repeatedly rebuffed, Livni has now evidently concluded that, whatever
his rhetoric, the prime minister is disinclined to advance any process of
substance with the Palestinians – an assessment that will doubtless make for
unhappy reading in Washington and many places beyond.
“An agreement will
always constitute a position that is not the classical right-wing position,” she
says. “I see his lack of willingness to advance, and I understand where he
The key question, she says, is whether the prime minister is
prepared to pay the realistic price of an accord that protects our fundamental
Well, I ask, is he? “I’m head of the opposition,” she shoots
back. “That’s your answer.”
Our interview does range beyond the
Palestinian issue. Livni speaks at some length about her conception of Israel’s
Jewish character, though she says she’s still in the process of thinking through
some of her positions. The synagogue she doesn’t go to very often is an Orthodox
one, but the recent conversion controversies have brought her into deeper
contact with the non-Orthodox streams of Judaism and, as she puts it, her eyes
are being opened.
“The more the haredim use their monopoly and impose
their worldview on the national, liberal movement,” she says at one point – not
as a threat, but as an assessment – “the more this will lead to a
From your experience leading the substantive,
direct negotiations with the Palestinians in the last government, are they
prepared to make a viable, permanent peace agreement with Israel? Despite things
like Fatah’s rejectionist stance on Israel, the Palestinian leadership’s
endorsement of a “study” that denies Jewish ties to the Western Wall, and that
leadership’s efforts to secure international support for the unilateral
establishment of statehood?
I believe that it is possible to reach an agreement
between Israel and the Palestinian national movement that puts an end to the
conflict. I have no illusions about a “new Middle East.” I don’t believe that,
the moment an agreement is signed, we’ll live in a fairy tale world of
prosperity and happiness
This is a harsh neighborhood. This is a highly
complex conflict. There are religious factors involved here as well as the
The capacity to reach an accord is dependent on the
behavior of both sides. It would have been very easy for me to declare after
each and every meeting with the Palestinians that “there is no
Perhaps they could have said the same about me. I was tough,
too, in the negotiations.
But we managed in nine months to understand the
mutual sensitivities, see what needed to be overcome, and to reach a mutual
conclusion that an accord was possible.
It wasn’t around the corner. Not
a matter of 20 seconds. It would be very fragile. It might be accompanied by
terrorism. We did not exhaust that process.
There are all the reasons in
the world to give up, to despair – when you see their textbooks, when you hear
some of the things they say, when you read some of the articles. And by the way,
they could say the same about us.
I simply think that given the choice of
options – and the Middle East generally creates bad options for us – giving up
now on the effort to reach an accord would be bad for the Jewish state,
physically and in every other way. Whoever doesn’t fully internalize the threat
that is being posed to the existence of the State of Israel as the national home
of the Jewish people in the absence of an accord, will find all the reasons [not
to reach one]. And whoever believes that the option of two national states
represents the Israeli interest, will find the ways to overcome the
This “threat to our existence”: Are you talking demographics,
It’s everything. First of all, on the ideological
level, we have to choose between two different visions. One vision speaks of
Jewish sovereignty, or Jewish existence, on the entire Land of Israel, or let’s
say between the river and the sea: the physical realization of the national
historic right – a right in which I believe – on all those areas. For those who
hold to this vision, every day that passes is a new victory. Another house.
Another day that we’re here. New facts on the ground.
And in their
vision, set against the delegitimization of Israel is the conviction that they
have justice on their side, and that things will work out. This is generally a
group of believers [in God] – who believe that things work out not only as a
consequence of decisions we make. I respect this vision, but I disagree with
I myself come from a place where all of us shared this vision. This
was the thinking after 1967 – the sense that we have returned to the places of
our ancestors. The problem is that those who still share this vision never took
a decision. The Right. They never passed, or tried to pass, a decision that
annexed those territories to Israel. So we have remained in a sort of twilight
zone since 1967, in a kind of limbo in which no decision has been taken. It’s
time to make up our minds.
My vision, shared by most of the Israeli
public, speaks of the existence of Israel as a Jewish, democratic, secure state,
a state living in peace, in the Land of Israel. If I want all of the Land of
Israel, I have to give up on either the Jewish or the democratic aspect. I don’t
want to give up on either, and by the way, I think that Jewish values are
The only way to maintain those values is to relinquish
part of the Land of Israel...
Presumably Olmert internalized these
arguments, and yet, together with you, he couldn’t reach an agreement with the
Well it wasn’t together with me. I was authorized by Olmert
to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians. The principles on which I ran
those talks for nine months, in accordance with the Annapolis framework, were to
negotiate with the Palestinian national movement [represented by Ahmed Qurei/Abu
Ala] to reach an agreement on all the core issues – a detailed agreement, an
agreement that could be implemented, with a stated commitment that this marked
the end of the conflict via two national states, in which each state constitutes
a solution for its people.
In November 2008, we gathered – Abu Mazen
[Abbas], myself, representatives of the Quartet, the Arab League – in Sharm e-
Sheikh. And we agreed that we hadn’t exhausted the process and that we wanted to
continue. We hadn’t talked about Jerusalem and we hadn’t yet reached final
decisions on all the issues. The negotiations weren’t finished. They hadn’t
reached a dead end. We hadn’t yet put everything on the table.
outside of that framework, decided at some stage toward the end of his time in
office to place a certain proposal on the table. To the best of my knowledge,
Abu Mazen did not even respond to it – for various reasons connected to the
situation at the time: Operation Cast Lead, the end of the prime minister’s
term, and other factors.
You know, Ehud Barak returned from Camp David
[in 2000] and declared happily that we had “removed the mask” [from Yasser
Arafat and exposed him as not genuinely seeking peace]. Removing the mask was
not the aim here. It may be that we will reach a point at which we will not be
able to reach an accord.
But Abu Mazen’s response, or lack of one, is not
Absolutely not. I have no doubt. And I think Olmert feels the
Olmert has said that Israel should again present those same terms
to Abbas – some of which, by the way, you wouldn’t offer...
with him on some of the terms. I also think this idea, which also played out at
Camp David, of saying “we’re issuing a proposal, take it or leave it,” is less
good than proceeding through negotiations.
Nonetheless, Olmert’s was a
very, very generous proposal. And it can be argued that had Abbas truly wanted
an accord, he would have jumped on those terms, and signed as quickly as
I hear that the Palestinians [recently] gave the Americans, and
tried to give to Netanyahu, their own proposal for an accord. I assume this was
some kind of opening position. I’d really like all the skeptics to look at this
proposal, and see how far it is from a genuine accord. It may be that this will
produce the understanding that a deal is possible, after all. Now, even when it
seems the gaps are narrow, sometimes it can be like a pair of [polar opposite]
magnets, where at the end they can’t be bridged; where the gaps are deal
But I think it is inaccurate to invoke Olmert [and his
proposal], and say there is no partner because the Palestinians didn’t accept
The Palestinians “tried to give’ the current government a proposal,
maps? Can you elaborate. If they tried to give Netanyahu something, why weren’t
they able to?
Let me put it this way: They certainly gave the Americans a
proposal of this kind, a map...
But you don’t know the details?
know. But I’m being discreet.
What specifics can you tell us about your
positions in the negotiations?
It’s tactically wrong for Israel to go into the
details, but I’ll tell you the principles. First, we’re talking about two
national states. That means each state constitutes the solution for its people.
The establishment of the state of Palestine ends the conflict. And just as the
State of Israel gave refuge to those Jews who came after the Holocaust from
Europe and from Arab states, just as the State of Israel is today a national
home with a minister of absorption and the Law of Return, so with the state of
Palestine: Its establishment should constitute the complete, full national
answer for the Palestinians wherever they are. Therefore there will not be a
return of refugees to Israel.
So the number is zero.
And the Palestinians know my position on this and so does the entire Arab
This national solution is also the solution for the Arabs of
Israel, who are citizens with equal rights because of our values as a Jewish
state and as a democratic state. Their national demands from Israel will
They are individuals with equal rights in a state that is the
national home of the Jewish people.
The next principle relates to
security. This is not about ideology, but about the obligation of every
government to provide security.
This too is an American and international
interest. After all, another terrorist state, another failed state, another
fundamentalist Islamic state – there are enough of those already.
Palestinians have already said they agree to a demilitarized state. It is clear
to them that Israeli security represents even their interests. The Palestinian
national movement is not an Islamic religious movement.
And therefore the
Hamas takeover of Gaza hurts them, just as a future Hamas takeover [in the West
Bank] obviously would not represent their interests.
I don’t want to go
into other security parameters. Israel has set out for itself its
Finally, demarcating the border, I’m not going to sketch it
out. But I want to say something about the settlements. After 1967 I regarded
the settlement enterprise as a part of the Israeli people’s return to its
It seemed only natural to me, from a historic and national
perspective. Others saw it as colonialism, contrary to international law.
It really doesn’t matter anymore.
On the assumption that we are
proceeding along the principle of two states, every prime minister will have to
demarcate the border in such a way as to deal with the reality on the ground.
After 40 years, hundreds of thousands of Israelis live today in areas that are a
part of the negotiation process. The good news is most of them live in what we
call the blocs. The settlement enterprise does indeed determine where the
borderline runs. It determines this, because the aim is to leave as many
Israelis as possible in their homes, which today are inside the settlement
blocs. Otherwise, it will be impossible. The world understands this.
for Jerusalem, it has been on the negotiating table since the Oslo accords. I
didn’t discuss Jerusalem [in the negotiations with Abu Ala]. So I won’t go any
further. But it’s obviously not just Jerusalem that will have to be negotiated.
Every representative of every government that represents the Israeli national
home will have to manage and to preserve those places that from a historic,
national and religious perspective are so critical to us. I may have been born
in Tel Aviv, but my umbilical cord emerges from the Temple Mount.
the basis of those principles, you say that it is possible to reach an accord?
I came from the Right and I’m still on the Right in the national
context. I didn’t go into politics out of concern for the Palestinians but out
of concern for Israel.
What most troubles me about the prime minister’s
actions, about this coalition, is that Netanyahu, via megaphone diplomacy, in
order to preserve his base, is harming the national
Netanyahu starts with the “no.” He always says what the deal
breakers are, not the deal makers.
The prime minister, who sounds tough
on the national issues and the security issues, is hurting us on those issues.
After two years of this government, there are more question marks than there
were before about the Jewish state, more question marks about the legitimacy of
Israel, about the legitimacy of Israel’s security requirements.
that were taken for granted in the past are no longer taken for granted because
of all the rhetoric that sounds so tough domestically. Netanyahu won’t protect
Israel’s interests in the negotiating room any better than me, if he ever gets
there. He’s just eroding our positions.
Are you worried by the
Abbas trend toward unilateralism?
Very. I conducted direct negotiations, the
world didn’t intervene, we negotiated in a closed room and everyone supported
this. That is the optimal situation. That kind of negotiation best serves
You’re in control. You initiate.
tactically correctly in the room.
Now we’re in the worst possible place.
There are no talks, and as time passes, other proposals are being presented. The
absence of negotiations, the delays in the process, are likely to place Israel
in a worse position in terms of the capacity to end the conflict, in terms of
Israel’s legitimacy, and so on.
I hope, by the way, that what is
unfolding will prompt the Israeli Right to understand that there is no
comfortable status quo. I’m sorry to have to say that. And I do see that
Where do you see that?
This government has served for almost
two years. A government comprising a prime minister who had refused to say “two
national states.” A foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] who had left the Olmert
government, by his account, because of Annapolis. And an interior minister [Eli
Yishai] from Shas, the party that had refused to be in a government with me
[after Olmert resigned and I tried to form a coalition] if we talked about
Jerusalem. Talked about – not divided. And [Yishai] knew that I hadn’t talked
The three of them, today, are calling on the Palestinians to
enter the negotiating room, when it’s clear that the dialogue today is on terms
much worse for Israel. When it’s clear that the talks will cover all the core
issues, including Jerusalem.
It’s true that Lieberman takes care to add
that there’s no chance for an accord anyway because the Palestinians are to
blame, because we offered them everything. It amazes me that all of these people
utilize the things that were offered in order to say there is no partner on the
other side, without asking themselves whether they themselves are partners to
Netanyahu, who tried to market economic peace and security
peace without diplomatic peace, nowadays talks of diplomatic peace. The gulf
between those words and an agreement is vast. That’s why I’m not in this
But as someone who was accused by that group, told that it
was unthinkable to seek this, and wrong, and not representative of the Israeli
I’m not saying “I told you so.” I’m saying that this is a
very important process. Any agreement will be very problematic.
rend the people.
It will be terrible. But at least there should be the
recognition that there is no better option for Israel.
If we don’t get
back to direct talks, where will the unilateral effort lead? Will the Americans
stand against the world and veto...?
It’s absurd, what’s happening in the world
today. What are [those countries that are recognizing “Palestine”] saying?
They’re saying, “We’re not against Israel.” They’re saying, “The Israeli
government also supports two states, also speaks of a Palestinian state. So
we’re going a little faster.”
The absence of negotiations creates
unilateral and international steps that this government evidently can’t handle.
So long as there were direct talks, the world didn’t try to intervene.
remember making a visit to Paris [as foreign minister], when France held the EU
presidency, and they were about to issue a decision endorsing a Palestinian
state in the 1967 borders.
Jerusalem as the capital. Everything.
had a very frank discussion with the French foreign minister. I said to him,
“Look, we’re negotiating. The Palestinians say it’s serious. We want to reach a
We’re not trying to waste time.
announcement now won’t help.” It came off the agenda.
happening? On the one hand, this government has recognized that there will be a
Palestinian state. On the other hand, it is doing nothing to advance this. The
prime minister is not prepared to take even a quarter of a political risk – even
though he has a majority for every decision. Nothing would have happened to his
coalition if he had approved a second settlement freeze.
would have bolted his government. Not Lieberman and not Shas. And he knew
He tried to bargain, to get a better deal [from the US].
would a second settlement freeze have produced anything substantive?
This is the
real question: Does the current prime minister want to reach an accord? Plainly
he wants to negotiate. But does he want to reach an accord? That’s the real
test. There is a giant question mark over Israel.
Obviously he wants an
accord. The question is what price he is prepared to pay.
Yes. Is he
prepared to pay the realistic price of an accord that protects our fundamental
And what’s your answer to that question?
I’m head of the opposition
today. That’s your answer.
Head of the opposition, despite being asked to
join the coalition?
I’ll give you the facts. From the time this government was
established, on almost a daily basis, I asked myself, is there no substantive
process because the prime minister doesn’t want to pay the price involved in an
agreement or because he can’t move ahead for political reasons?
after the elections, I suggested a different coalition to him in a meeting we
had. He said he already had commitments to what he called his natural partners,
the haredim and Lieberman. His offer to me was to join that coalition. He said
the right wing had won.
Everybody wants to live in peace. Netanyahu wants
to live in peace. That’s clear. But I understood that there was a gulf between
my and his internalization of the imperative for an agreement. He didn’t have
the drive for it.
I said: You can interpret the election results [as a
victory for the Right] or you can say that two parties won – Kadima and the
Likud, putting aside the fact that we got one more seat. I suggested: Let’s
agree between us that we’re going for an agreement [with the Palestinians] on
the basis of principles we can agree on, two states. And let’s create
partnerships. Kadima with, say, Labor, and the Likud with one partner that it
would choose. A different translation of the election results. He didn’t want
With rotation of the prime ministership?
Absolutely. I thought that
the way to create the partnership was by [governing] together, including with
rotation. But we didn’t reach agreements, in any case, on
[Later] I saw him start to say those words “two states.” But
without real intent, without the drive, without the [sense of imperative] that
we have to reach an agreement and to pay those prices, because otherwise the
option for the Jewish state will be worse. Rather, he saw and analyzed the
processes, the American pressure for negotiations, the need to start speaking in
Still, I asked myself, is there some kind of opportunity
whereby he does want to pay the price? So – and this was before the flotilla [in
May] – I initiated another discussion with him on the issue.
I said to
him, in order to stop the international trend against Israel, you have to decide
for yourself first if you’re prepared to pay the price of an accord. If not,
there’s no point in continuing this discussion. If yes, there has to be an
accompanying political drama, whereby you exchange your coalition for a
coalition in which there is a majority for an agreement. You’ll have to bid
farewell to one of your partners, because I can’t [enter your coalition and]
face an automatic majority of 61 against. I’ll be taking all the hope for peace,
all the international credibility I have, and jumping into the pool with two
weights around my ankles – Shas on one ankle and Lieberman on the other and no
chance of making progress.
I initiated [these conversations] on more than
one occasion – every time I thought there was a chance, maybe, but that he felt
himself constrained politically. He didn’t want it.
And since then, I’ve
come to understand that out of his lack of willingness to make a change
politically, and the relentless preoccupation with the next elections – concern
for his base, concern over whether Lieberman will outflank him from the right...
If he fears that Lieberman will outflank him from the right before the next
elections, he won’t advance any process [of substance with the
An agreement [with the Palestinians] will always
constitute a position that is not the classical right-wing position. I see his
lack of willingness to advance, and I understand where he stands.
later proposals also included a demand for rotation?
But to be given
authority to run the negotiations independently?
Agreements on content, on
managing the negotiations and on a dependable majority in the government in
order to move this forward. After the elections I did include rotation,
subsequently no. I thought, if there is an opportunity and the world is
pressing... But it’s not there.
I said something else to him.
Likud and Kadima are two national, liberal parties, or supposed to be. Yet the
Likud gives the haredim a monopoly on the Jewishness of the state. In my view,
the issue of a Jewish state has a national connotation, not a haredi
connotation. I thought that together we could have written the first chapter in
the constitution of Israel. We could have introduced national content, core
curricula for all, an equalizing of the [military and social] burden, all of
All the mistakes were Netanyahu’s, or did the Americans
contribute with an exaggerated focus on settlements and the freeze as a
I don’t have an ideological attachment to the freeze. It’s no
secret that when we were negotiating, we built a little. It was in the
settlement blocs and we didn’t make a provocative issue of it. If Netanyahu
hadn’t been able to freeze completely, I wouldn’t have attacked
Before Netanyahu had decided whether or not to extend the freeze, I
didn’t publicly demand that he extend it, until I realized that he was going to
say no to the United States. No to a request for another two months, which
seemed to me to be a mistaken decision from every point of view. Two months or
three months at the request of the president of the United States, honestly! I
thought it was a mistake of the first order for Netanyahu not to agree, and
never mind whether or not it was important to seek that freeze or
Additional building in the settlements, certainly beyond the
security barrier, does not serve the vision of a Jewish, democratic, secure
Israel in the Land of Israel. I’ve asked Netanyahu from the Knesset podium, how
can you send a young couple to start to build their lives in a settlement when
you know deep inside, assuming you are honest when you say “two states,” that
you are apparently going to have to evict them in a year, two years, five?
I meet with Council of Jewish Settlements members, as I do sometimes, some of
them say, “We need interim arrangements, some kind of modus vivendi.” I ask
them, “When you talk about those kinds of agreements, are you saying, ‘Ok, we
won’t build anymore, we’re trying to stabilize the existing situation?’ Or are
you intending to carry on building in order to realize your vision [of a Jewish
presence throughout Judea and Samaria], which conflicts with our vision?’” And
they say, “The latter.”
Knowing exactly where I want to get to in the
end, the decisions are so clear. But we’re living in an illusory world. People
are speaking with a mishmash of words, without taking decisions on the real
matters. For our own sakes, we have to make up our minds. Then we’ll interact
with the Americans and the Palestinians and the rest of the world.
Netanyahu had truly embraced this vision, he’d have separated the wheat from the
chaff. The way he’s operating, a man who can’t distinguish between the
settlement blocs and isolated settlements, he gives the settlement blocs the
exact same status as other settlements instead of strengthening them.
want to ask you some questions about the Jewish nature of our Jewish state. Do
you, for instance, believe that Reform rabbis should be allowed to perform
authorized wedding ceremonies here? Do you support gay marriage? Do you consider
a child of a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother to be Jewish?
I’ll answer you
more on the level of principles than specifics. I see myself as a Jewish Israeli
– as a Jew who lives in Israel, not as an Israeli who is Jewish. In my eyes, the
issue of Jewishness is a deep national feeling. I certainly don’t keep the 613
commandments. I keep some. I don’t often go to synagogue, but when I do I go to
an Orthodox synagogue and I sit in the women’s section.
I see the Jewish
issue as something I choose out of a sense of connection to the history, the
culture, the heritage, the tradition, something very emotional that links me to
the Jewish melody. Everyone can make their choice. There was a period when you
could not light a fire but you could watch television; not cook but smoke;
drive, but not near the synagogue. Those were very Israeli kinds of choices and
very Jewish in the national sense. I certainly didn’t want a separation between
religion and state because then we become Jews who live in the State of Israel
just like Jews who live in any other country.
But as minister of
immigrant absorption, I understood that 300,000 people [who were not
halachically Jewish] had come here under the Law of Return, which enables
entrance to Israel for anyone from a Jewish family, and which to me emblemizes
the fact of Israel as a Jewish state.
Yet in practice, we don’t connect
them to that Jewish aspect. That brought me up against all the issues of
I came from a place where it was entirely natural
that the Orthodox rabbinate be fully responsible for conversions, but suddenly I
found, when I wanted to enable those processes, that people were saying to me,
“What do you care if they’re Jewish? They’ll learn Hebrew, they’ll serve in the
army. They’re combat soldiers, wonderful soldiers.”
I said being Jewish
is deeper than serving in the army. And those are two elements – serving in the
army and speaking Hebrew – that we do not have in common with the Jews in the
Diaspora. If being Jewish is comprised of those two components, it’s very
Israeli, and a very particular kind of Israeli-ness, at that. It certainly
doesn’t connect them with the haredim.
I started looking still deeper
into this and I’m no expert on Halacha, but there are places where the
rabbinical establishment can be lenient and isn’t.
For example, children
under 13, who in any case aren’t obligated to fulfill all the commandments, why
must they go to Orthodox schools? That makes life harder for the parents. And
why do those who want to go through conversion have to prove that they’ll
fulfill the commandments after their conversion? Arik Sharon said once that he
wouldn’t be approved for conversion, and nor would I.
So since then I’ve
been looking for areas where one can be lenient, if possible without
confrontations but certainly with respect to the other streams of
Within the contours of Halacha?
When they proposed the
conversion law with the idea of concretizing the rabbinic, halachic monopoly in
law, [Diaspora] representatives of all the streams of Judaism came to Israel.
They opened my eyes to a certain extent to the fact that we’re outlawing a great
proportion of the Jewish people. The rabbinate is so strict. The halachic
Orthodox establishment has regarded joining the Jewish people as something to
I come from a Jabotinsky world. He felt that the stringent
approach to Judaism had preserved the Jewish people in exile.
idea was that when you come to the Land of Israel, and create Jewish sovereignty
here, we can lighten up a little and create a renewed national Judaism in the
birthplace of the Jewish people, without the need for this hard skin that
safeguarded the people in exile.
I’m not talking about destroying
something, I’m talking about finding common ground. I’m grappling with some of
these issues now. I work with the [modern Orthodox, Zionist] Tzohar rabbis and
You asked me about the son of a Jewish father. Look, I sit with
Haim Amsalem [the maverick Shas Knesset member and rabbi, who encourages
a lenient halachic approach to conversions in Israel]. I believe
there is the possibility to ease up more.
I’m in the process of thinking,
beyond respecting the various streams and recognizing their conversions. I’m
also in touch with Conservatives and Reform in Israel. I don’t yet have a
practical platform for how this should be reflected in the constitution on the
matter of marriages.
Thus far we [in Kadima] have supported the civil
marriage bill. It’ll come up for a vote again. Thus far we have found solutions
within the halachic framework. But the more the haredim use their monopoly and
impose their worldview on the national, liberal movement, the more this will
lead to a revolution.
I should add that Kadima invites representatives of
all streams of Judaism to its conferences and activities.
unfair of you to demand the prime minister’s resignation after the Carmel fire.
You didn’t resign after the Second Lebanon War.
I didn’t have to. First
of all, in my opinion, Netanyahu shouldn’t be prime minister for a thousand and
one reasons. The Carmel fire is just one of them.
He turned a disaster
into some kind of big show. He took one correct decision, to call for
international assistance, but now what? Now what? While we sit here talking,
nothing has been sorted out. The fire services haven’t been sorted
The Lebanon War was a result partly of failures that had been there
before, landing upon a serving prime minister, and I called on him to resign
You don’t feel responsible for the failure of [Security Council]
Resolution 1701, after which Hizbullah rearmed?
Absolutely not. Let’s talk about
Resolution 1701. 1701 was the most appropriate and best option to end that war.
I’m pretty sick of the superficiality with which this is treated, including by
Netanyahu. There are three options when you face a threat from a certain area.
One is to hold on to it, and we held onto south Lebanon for many years and that
did not bring the desired result. The second is to get out of there under cover
of darkness, as Ehud Barak did [in 2000, dismantling the security zone], which
didn’t bring the desired result. And the third is to get out with some kind of
agreement – with commitments and some kind of international
Given the choice of remaining in Lebanon in a situation
where the missiles were not only coming from south Lebanon, but from further
north, was Israel supposed to conquer all of Lebanon? This was not war between
states where there would be a defining result. Israel was fighting Hizbullah in
a Lebanon that had a legitimate government. In the UN we could work on the basis
of Israel and the state of Lebanon, and create a lack of legitimacy for
By contrast, when we were fighting Hamas [in Gaza two years
ago], I didn’t want to reach an agreement with Hamas, because Hamas is not
legitimate and I think that any dialogue with them, except regarding Gilad
Schalit, is a terrible mistake. Ehud Barak wanted to reach an agreement with
them in Operation Cast Lead.
Sometimes people fight the previous war.
They say in Lebanon we wanted to reach an agreement.
there was a legitimate government.
Under 1701, the Lebanese Army deployed
in the south.
International forces arrived.
There’s no 100
percent. Yes, there has been rearming by Hizbullah. There would have been
rearming under any other option as well. But we for the first time created a
situation in which that rearmament was not legitimate, with the natural
consequent options if we need to use them.
According to the surveys,
Kadima leads the Likud, but does not seem to have the chance of building a
coalition. How are you going to improve that?
I don’t deal too much with
surveys because they change.
But in all the surveys, Kadima is strong
today. Partly that is because this is a lousy government, and partly because we
have maintained Kadima as an alternative to this government – by staying in
opposition, and being a responsible opposition.
Just as I think it was
foolish to manage Operation Cast Lead according to the conclusions of the Second
Lebanon War, so I advise people not to interpret the results of the next
election according to the results of the last election. We don’t know yet who
all the players will be. They can completely change the political
Certainly if I am given the mandate to form a government, I would
invite the Likud to be my partner, but on a path that I would set out – both as
regards an accord with the Palestinians and as regards national
Today’s Likud understands the political price it is paying for
the historic partnership with the haredim.
I don’t know what Lieberman’s
considerations will be. I don’t know what the other players’ considerations will
be. In opposition, you have to find the balance, the appropriate ways to advance
your agenda. I intend to submit bills on issues of conversion, legislation on
sharing the burden, on national service and other issues. I don’t want to be a
constant voice of criticism.
But when it’s needed, the criticism is
harsh. They’re not giving me the opportunity, but if this government follows
correct processes, I’ll voice my support.
I think the public is looking
at us less as a ferocious opposition and more as a potential alternative
government. It’s asking how I would be as prime minister.
over the Likud is substantial and in the last month or two, people are switching
from the Likud to us. We’re not strengthening just because Labor is collapsing.
There’s a soft right which is not happy with the current situation.
final questions. Going back to the talks, you said you were authorized by Olmert
to conduct negotiations for an accord that could be implemented. How
could anything be implemented with Hamas in Gaza?
We negotiated with the
Palestinian national movement on the assumption that there is no chance for
peace with Hamas and that no agreement can be reached with them. We managed to
bring the entire international community on board not to give legitimacy to
Hamas until they announce that the State of Israel has the right to exist and
renounce violence and terrorism.
We agreed with the Palestinians that an
accord would be implemented only after there were changes on the ground and a
legitimate Palestinian government throughout the territory
That was the
To my sorrow, while this government speaks out very strongly
against terrorism, in practice Hamas is becoming more and more legitimate
because one element of the equation we had is missing. We managed to get
everyone on board against Hamas because it was clear that Israel was serious in
its intentions with respect to the moderate Palestinian players.
you see a fracturing of the international consensus against Hamas?
already been forced to lift the closure on Gaza.
Exports from Gaza are
permitted now. This government is taking decisions that strengthen the process
[of Hamas legitimacy].
Bibi, who spoke a lot about the state of Hamastan,
in practice is becoming a partner in its establishment, to my sorrow. The
flotillas are also part of this. It’s all beginning to create legitimacy for
And finally, your thoughts on the rabbis’ letter, outlawing home
sales or rentals to Arabs?
There is a struggle not only over the vision of a
secure, Jewish, democratic state in the Land of Israel, but also over the nature
of a Jewish state. Is the source of authority the law or the Torah? Is the
interpreter the judge or the rabbi? The sense of threat maybe, or of fear, in
parts of the Israeli society is being turned against the minorities or the
The task of leadership today is to prevent this ill wind. In
my opinion it does not represent the Jewish values of the State of Israel. This
is not the Judaism I know.
And if we’re talking about Israel and the
Diaspora, it certainly makes it harder for those who want to represent Israel
and its values outward.