Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians, on Saturday night addressed the J Street conference in Washington, affirming Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution and arguing that a peace deal would effect fundamental change throughout the Middle East.
“Yes, we can love Israel and at the same time fight for peace,” Livni told a largely supportive crowd at the annual gathering of the left-leaning pro-Israel group. “Those who love Israel must search for peace,” Livni added, before echoing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s past statements in asserting that any deal would have to guarantee Israel’s security interests.
“Peace and security,” she said, “nobody should choose between peace and security. The State of Israel doesn’t need to choose between peace and security…. As I’m fighting for peace – and there is a political price for it – in the negotiations room, I’m fighting also for Israel’s security. And I’m here today in order to ask you, this special audience, those who are fighting for peace: In your quest for peace don’t abandon Israel’s security needs.”
Livni went on to say that peace with the Palestinians would not happen overnight, but rather culminate a process that would only truly begin with the signing of an agreement.
“The Middle East is not… a fairy tail or a Hollywood movie,” she said. “We live in a tough neighborhood and even after a peace agreement is reached… it will remain a tough neighborhood. Peace — real peace — will not come in the same moment in which we sign, hopefully, the peace treaty.
“We cannot just throw the keys over to the other side of the new border and hope for good,” she cautioned. “We did it once, in Gaza, and got terror in return.”
The solution to the problem, she continued, was “to reach an understanding and [a] peace agreement with those who are not using terror, those who are willing to end the conflict.”
Livni claimed an agreement with the Palestinians could also create a “new situation, a new opportunity in our troubled region.” She said Israel had common interests with Arab countries, which also faced the threat of an Iran allegedly bent on possessing nuclear weapons and the rise of fundamentalist Islamist factions throughout the Middle East.
“They feel, like us, that these are the threats, but unfortunately, they feel that they cannot express this understanding, this shared interest with Israel, because we have this ongoing, existing conflict between us and the Palestinians,” Livni said.
Ending hostilities with the Palestinians, she added, will “create new opportunities, new allies and alliances in the region. Because peace with the Palestinians can change the situation in the entire region.”
Livni alluded to Iran’s recent overtures to the West over its nuclear program, as well as an agreement that would see Syria’s chemical weapons destroyed, cautioning, “We cannot afford in our region to be naive.”
“The world leadership is being tested and examined by the extremists in our region – on Syria [and] on Iran,” she said.
On Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden will address the J Street conference — the highest-ranking American official to do so this year — which is focused on attaining peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Martin Indyk, the US special envoy for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, will also address the conference, serving as the keynote speaker for the gala dinner to be held on the same day as Biden’s address.
J Street has repeatedly emphasized that it views this year’s conference as unprecedented in the number and diversity of its participants, among whom are a number of members of Congress as well as representatives of six Knesset parties.
Meretz party chair Zahava Gal-On, who was among the Israeli parliamentarians in attendance on Saturday, termed the conference “exciting” and said that “the hall is packed with about a thousand students… The ball’s in Netanyahu’s court now.”
Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.