Tzipi Livni, coleader of Israel’s Zionist Union party, explained to a Princeton audience of 200 on April 18 the reasons she has moved away from her right-wing background and now supports a two-state solution.
Livni, who has also headed the Israeli ministries of foreign affairs, justice, and regional cooperation, and led successive rounds of negotiations with the Palestinians, presented “The Free World and Israel: Facing the Challenges of a Changing Middle East” at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, where she is the Gruss-Lipper Visiting Scholar in Middle East Policy Studies.
Livni’s parents met while robbing a British money train as members of the prestate Zionist paramilitary organization Irgun fighting the British mandatory forces. Both have the Irgun’s symbol, a map of Greater Israel, on their gravestones.
Although Livni believes in the historic rights of the Jewish people to the entire Land of Israel, she said she also believes that “the common vision for the State of Israel, the only way to keep the values of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and as the nation-state of Israel, is by achieving peace with Palestinians, ending the conflict based on the idea of two states for two peoples.”
Even though the vast majority of Israelis support the idea of a two-state solution, many feel that making the move is too risky, she said. But time is working against such an option: “I hear more voices speaking about a one-state solution. To those saying, ‘Let’s manage the conflict,’ I say that the conflict is managing us.”
In Livni’s view, a Palestinian state would resolve the refugee issue, just as the establishment of Israel as the nation-state of the Jews took the Jewish problem off the international table — including through the absorption of Holocaust survivors and Jews from the Soviet Union, Ethiopia, and the Arab states.
“Israel is the home of every Jew who can’t be a citizen in any other state, so the creation of a Palestinian state is the answer for the entire Palestinian people — those who live in Gaza and the West Bank, and those in refugee camps…,” Livni said.
The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians has affected Israel internally, regionally, and internationally. One consequence, she said, has been an expansion of the conflict between Arabs and Jews within Israeli society.
Regionally, Livni said, the Arab leadership understands that Israel is neither the enemy nor the reason for extremism in the region; the Arab street, however, still considers Israel the enemy. Arab leaders who would like to work with Israel may feel they are not able to do so publicly, or public opinion may prevent them from doing so at all.
For terrorist organizations in the Mideast, hatred of Israel has been the common denominator, but, Livni said, Israel should align itself with the emerging “so-called moderates,” countries that realize that extremist Islam is as much a threat to them as to Israel.
But, she said, “Israel has a glass ceiling in our relationship with the Arab world, and this is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is…clear that if we make moves toward solving the conflict with the Palestinians, this is the day when most of these states would normalize relations with Israel…,” Livni said.
Livni suggested that rather than perceiving enemies all around and saying, “‘Let’s do nothing and be united against those who are against us…,’ let’s be united for a common vision, not just against our enemy.”
The ongoing conflict has also served to broaden the gap between Israel and the international community, including the United States.
“We need to understand that not everything is a zero-sum game,” Livni said. “When the president of the United States supports two states for two peoples, it doesn’t turn him into someone supporting the Palestinians.”
A resolution of the conflict, she said, would also favor the interests of the United States, which wants a secure Israel and does not want to see Hamas take over the West Bank.
For Livni the role of the United States in achieving peace is crucial, not strictly as a mediator, but “to help both sides make the right decision.” It is in a good position to do so, she said, because “both sides want a strategic relationship with the U.S.”
The entire free world, Livni said, is being challenged by the terrorist organizations that are expressing an extremist religious ideology. “When it comes to terrorist organizations, there are no boundaries for their cruelty,” she said, noting recent terrorist acts in Europe. To defend shared values, Livni said, “we need to use force when it comes to this kind of terror.”
But she also saw such extremism as affecting the values of Westerners: “The reaction to hatred is hatred from the other side, more xenophobia, and new parties emerging and getting more support and power because of hatred.”
Signing a peace treaty, which Livni has worked hard to negotiate, means a lot of compromises, she said: “It affects the narrative of your own people, is very emotional, and there is a political price to it. Those who think about the future must understand that the price of not having the agreement is greater than the price of having one.”