Dueling ministers: Bennett, Livni spar over peace negotiations

Bennett says he won't accept accord based on ’67 lines, Livni says insistence on building everywhere harms legitimacy to build anywhere.

Naftali Bennett at Bayit Yehudi faction meeting 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Naftali Bennett at Bayit Yehudi faction meeting 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
While US Secretary of State John Kerry left Monday without a framework for continued Israeli-Palestinian talks, he did uncover sharp fault lines within Israel’s government, fault lines that surfaced Tuesday in distinctly contrasting speeches by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Bayit Yehudi chairman Bennett, speaking at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, laid down his party’s red lines and said it would not accept an agreement based on the pre-1967 lines.
“The games are over,” he said. “We will not play word games anymore. The 1967 lines means the division of Jerusalem. We will never agree to give up a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and only Israel. We will not accept a Palestinian terror state. We will not accept an agreement based on the 1967 lines. We will not beg for land swaps as if we are talking about a cutand- paste in a Word document.”
Bennett criticized Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s statement to Israeli ambassadors on Sunday that Israel’s border would likely be near the Trans-Israel Highway, which is known as Route 6.
“We won’t accept a border on Route 6 that would enable firing missiles on Route 4 [the Coastal Road],” Bennett said.
“We won’t sit in a government that, because of international pressure, will endanger the lives of our children and divide our capital. We will not sit in a government that will make the easy and dangerous decisions.”
He warned that creating a Palestinian state would create a demographic problem since millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees will flood into the new state. He said they would stand near Route 6 and shout that they want to go home.
In a clear reference to US pressure, Bennett said that “if our friends push us to commit suicide, even if it is coming from good intentions, we will say ‘no.’” The Jerusalem Post reported Bennett’s red lines from closed conversations last week. Following meetings with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the last few days, he decided to say them publicly, so that they would be clear to his constituents and all sides involved in the negotiations.
He made a point of not saying he has a problem with continued negotiations, ruling out only the formal adoption of a plan that would be unacceptable to him.
Some two hours after his remarks, Hatnua leader Livni spoke to students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Law School and did not hide her anger at the comments.
Referring to Bennett, though without at first mentioning his name, Livni said that all those “who speak in the name of security” are making the country weaker.
She said that the strength of the IDF was based first on those who serve, but also in a large part because of “our close, strategic [and] critical relationship with the US.”
The best and the strongest soldier not only needs the support of his country, but also international legitimacy to act, she said, adding that such legitimacy comes from a willingness to negotiate.
Livni is heading the talks with the Palestinians.
Referring to Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009, Livni said the IDF was able to fight for three weeks inside the Gaza Strip “partly because we were engaged in a diplomatic process, and in part because I came in as a foreign minster and said, ‘We want an agreement [with the Palestinians], but not [with Hamas], because they don’t recognize our existence and are engaged in terror.”
She contrasted that situation with the fallout from the Mavi Marmara incident in 2010 when, at a time when there was no diplomatic process, it took “20 seconds” before everyone was “on our backs.”
“Israel can get legitimacy for its security, for its right to defend itself [and] to fight terror, only when it is understandable to the world, and when it fights for its citizens’ lives and does not send its citizens to live [in] places that will doubtfully remain and be part of Israel in the future,” she said.
Livni said the insistence on building in areas that Israel will most likely not retain makes it more difficult to fight to retain the settlement blocs as part of Israel.
“Those who are insistent on building on every hill, and want to legalize every outpost, are damaging the legitimacy of [the] Hebrew University,” she said.
“I am mad because in practice you have had a situation where for dozens of years the minority has imposed its position on the majority,” Livni said.
She acknowledged the anomaly of sitting in the same government with someone she disagrees with so acutely, but attributed that to the quirks of the political system.
Both Bennett and Livni are members of Netanyahu’s security cabinet.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Yair Lapid criticized Liberman for his idea of moving the border and drawing inside a future Palestinian state a large number of Israeli Arabs in Wadi Ara and the Little Triangle, a collection of Arab villages next to the Green Line, telling Army Radio that the foreign minister’s proposal was unfeasible.
“I don’t think that the State of Israel will get rid of Israeli citizens,” Lapid said. “One of the things that we expect from a final-status agreement is that it would bring about a complete change in our relations with the world, which have been in constant decline these last few years. An agreement [that would entail population transfers] would mean giving up an improvement in our relations, and I don’t want that.”