Warnings of time running out, of missed opportunities for Israeli-Palestinian
peace, have been uttered so many times over the years that the phrases seem
The path to comprehensive, sustainable peace is fraught with
seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Yet, achieving peace is a strategic
objective for Israel, and abandoning hope would be the greatest
Keeping hope alive was the core message that a member of the
Knesset brought to a global Jewish audience in a packed Washington hotel
“The only way to keep the values of Israel as a Jewish
democratic state is to enter the negotiations room and end the conflict with the
Palestinians in accord with the Idea of two states for two peoples, Israel for
the Jewish people and the Palestinian state for the Palestinians,” said Tzipi
Livni, justice minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians.
know it is not simple, but I am not willing to give up.”
Livni spoke from
the same podium that only a few hours earlier US Secretary of State John Kerry
used. He delivered a plea for support of his efforts to resume direct
Israeli-Palestinian talks aimed at achieving a negotiated two-state solution.
“If we don’t succeed now, we may never get another chance,” Kerry
Both were addressing the AJC Global Forum, attended by
representatives of Jewish communities across the US and some 60 countries around
the world. The actual audience was not only the nearly 1,600 in the ballroom,
but the wider American Jewish community.
Kerry, making his first address
to a Jewish audience since becoming secretary of state, understandably garnered
immediate widespread media attention. Livni’s heartfelt address also was the
stuff of headlines. No one could leave the ballroom unmoved by her
“Choosing between the land and Israel as a Jewish, democratic
state, my choice is Israel as a Jewish democratic state,” Livni said. Postponing
the decision on which vision of Israel to embrace would be a “historical
mistake,” she warned. “Postponing the decision is against Zionism.”
was a Sabra, a veteran Israeli politician, speaking directly to Diaspora Jews
about the urgency for Israel to keep trying for a comprehensive, sustainable
peace, and for American Jews, in particular, to support the Israeli government’s
She spoke very personally about her own political transition from
a diehard advocate of “Greater Israel” to accepting the need for two
“I grew up believing in the right of the Jewish people to the
entire land, and I still believe the Jewish people have rights to the entire
land,” said Livni, whose parents met in the Irgun, and are buried, she noted, in
gravesites that bear the organization’s emblem, a map of an Israel on both sides
of the Jordan River.
Today, however, Israelis must make a choice between
“the land” and the state of Israel’s “democratic and Jewish values,” she said
Livni, who previously served as foreign minister, has been
deeply involved in negotiations with the Palestinians, and understands both the
challenges of engaging Palestinian Authority President Abbas as well as the
necessity of US involvement in facilitating the peace process.
background, Livni has absolutely no illusion about the difficulties ahead. In
her Washington address, she acknowledged the weakness of the Palestinian
leadership, as a key part of the putative state remains under the control of
Hamas, and the hesitancy of Abbas, who controls the rest, to resume the talks
with Israel he abandoned more than four years ago.
Still, Livni’s praise
for Kerry’s “enthusiasm” for trying is in line with Netanyahu’s outreach to get
Abbas back to the table. Sadly, for Israelis and Palestinians, it may turn out
that – not for the first or even the second time – the PA leadership is not
playing ball with Washington’s determined diplomacy.
that some in Israel, as well as in the American Jewish community, have given up,
concluding that peace is impossible.
But inaction is not an answer, she
insisted. Israel would not have achieved all that it has in only 65 years of
independence with that kind of hopelessness.
Yes, sustainable peace will
require genuine, committed partners. And yes, Israel’s armed forces cannot for a
single moment let its guard down, not now nor anytime soon.
At the same
time, being on the constant lookout for those hitherto elusive Palestinian
partners – and keeping hope alive – remain essential elements of the
Kenneth Bandler is the American Jewish Committee’s director of