In a positive response to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s recent moderate-sounding comments on peace terms, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that Israelis who seek to preserve a Jewish, democratic Israel should appreciate his remarks and recognize that he does constitute a peace partner.
Livni’s endorsement mirrored President Shimon Peres’s immediate praise for Abbas’s comments, made in a Channel 2 interview on Thursday, and contrasted strikingly with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s assessment of the Palestinian leader’s statements as deceptive and empty promises.
Peres was reported Sunday to have telephoned Abbas to praise his comments and encourage him amid the criticism he has endured from Palestinian opponents.
In his comments Thursday, Abbas stated that Palestinians have no territorial claims beyond the 1967 lines and said he personally had no “right” to return permanently to his birthplace in Safed, in today’s northern Israel. He clarified, nonetheless, that the refugee issue would have to be solved in negotiations based on the Arab League peace initiative, via an “agreed basis” with neither side able to “impose” a solution upon the other.
Livni said the positions Abbas expressed in the TV interview matched “what we heard in the negotiations” that she oversaw with the Palestinians in the government led by Ehud Olmert in which she served as foreign minister until four years ago.
Olmert, who, like Livni, is currently contemplating a political comeback, issued a statement Sunday also saying Abbas had set out similar positions in their meetings.
Livni said it had been “brave” for Abbas to make his comments publicly; indeed, Hamas has led a chorus of criticism of Abbas this weekend for purportedly giving up on the long-standing Palestinian demand for a “right of return.” Abbas said in interviews Saturday with the Arabic media that he did no such thing, and was “speaking personally” when he said he had no right to live in Safed.
Livni said the Netanyahu government had unfortunately spent four years telling Israelis they had no partner for peace, when the reverse was true. She said she could hardly blame Abbas for not rushing into new talks with Netanyahu when the Israeli government was so overtly hostile to him. Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, she said, has been “leading a campaign to oust” Abbas (Liberman has called Abbas “a political terrorist”), “which would put Hamas in power.”
Livni said she was sorry that political leaders from what she called her part of the political spectrum had not welcomed Abbas’s comments.
Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich offered a lukewarm response to Abbas, but said Sunday there were two positives in his remarks — his pledge that there would be no new armed intifada, and what she described as his giving up on the “right of return.”
Livni also said she had yet to make up her mind on a possible comeback. She was ousted as leader of the Kadima party earlier this year, and quit the Knesset.
Asked in Thursday’s interview what he considered to be Palestine, Abbas responded that “Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever… This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah.”
Interviewer Udi Segal cut in: “Sometimes your official television… speak(s) about Acre and Ramle and Jaffa [all cities within sovereign Israel] as ‘Palestine.’ ”
“I believe that [the] West Bank and Gaza is Palestine,” said Abbas, “and the other parts (are) Israel.”
Noting that he himself was born in Safed, in what since 1948 has been northern Israel, Abbas said he had visited the town and would like to see it again, but not to make his home there. “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said.
Abbas’s moderate comments contrasted deeply with the bitterly hostile speech he delivered to the United Nations General Assembly a month ago. He also indicated that he represented the final chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. “As long as I am here in this office, there will be no armed third intifada,” he promised, “never.”
“We don’t want to use terror,” Abbas said. “We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.”
Michal Shmulovich contributed to this report.