Tzipi Livni owes it to the people of Israel to resign from the government and make plain that there’s a comprehensive peace deal to be done with Mahmoud Abbas but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is preventing it, Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz said.

Speaking to The Times of Israel on Wednesday, the left-wing legislator said he has followed the negotiation process with near-obsessive interest — both through meetings with Abbas and other Palestinians and as a member of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee — because it is crucial to the future of Israel. He said he is certain Abbas is ready for true reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

While not all blame for the collapse of the talks should be laid at Israel’s door, Horowitz said, Israel is the stronger party, and the sad fact is that “Netanyahu doesn’t want historic reconciliation.” Abbas, by contrast, “has proved in every possible way that he’s a partner, that he wants to move forward.”

Moreover, Livni knows this full well, he said. She’s absolutely convinced that Abbas is ready for an accord, he said, and owes it to Israel to make this plain, and to resign over it. “That’s why I said she should get up and leave the government. You have to ask her [why she hasn't done so],” he said. “She’s now a fig leaf. She’s Netanyahu’s collaborator. There’s nothing for her in this government… She thinks, ‘I’m a little party [her faction, Hatnua, holds six of the parliament's 120 seats]. What would I do in opposition?’”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni during a joint press conference announcing their coalition deal, Jerusalem, Tuesday, February 19, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hatnua party leader Tzipi Livni during a joint press conference announcing their coalition deal, Jerusalem, Tuesday, February 19, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Horowitz, who was speaking to Times of Israel staffers in Jerusalem, said it had been “a big mistake” by Israel to suspend the talks when Abbas reached a unity pact with Hamas last month. If the new Palestinian government accepts the Middle East Quartet principles — recognizing Israel, accepting previous accords and renouncing violence and terrorism — “then that’s a good thing. It serves our interests. If it leads to the moderation of Hamas, that’s excellent, but we’ll have to see… But the worst mistake to make is to halt the talks over it… We’re only hurting ourselves with this approach.”

He said Abbas was not merely a partner for an accord but for “historic reconciliation.” That’s “much more than a political accommodation with borders.” However, there was no reciprocal readiness in the Netanyahu government. “I don’t see that desire among Netanyahu and most of the ministers,” said Horowitz, “and I say that with sorrow.”

He said it was misguided to mistrust Abbas because he failed to accept former prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2008 peace offer. “Olmert? We now know exactly who and what he is,” said the Meretz MP, alluding to the former prime minister’s recent conviction for bribe-taking. “But even then he was at the end; Abbas would have been signing an agreement with someone fighting corruption allegations” and might have been left with a meaningless piece of paper. “It would have had to be approved, to have gone through the Knesset. It’s not a visa deal.”

Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem, Novermber 2008. (photo credit: Moshe Milner GPO/Flash90)

Then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem, Novermber 2008. (photo credit: Moshe Milner GPO/Flash90)

Horowitz, 49, a former journalist who has been a Knesset member since 2009, highlighted the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation as one indication of Abbas’s bona fides. Seventy Palestinians had been killed in the past year, he said, including two last week — during Nakba Day protests at Beitunia — “apparently not justifiably. Can you imagine what Israel would have said if two Israelis were killed in similar circumstances?” he asked. “The PA police are arresting Islamic extremists. We’ve had years of unprecedented quiet; economic cooperation. Abbas says in every way possible that he opposes violence, that he doesn’t support the ‘right of return,’ he speaks of the ’67 borders with land swaps…”

Netanyahu’s demand that Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state was proof that the prime minister was not ready for reconciliation. “That’s an effort to force Abbas to put on a kipa, sing ‘Hatikva’ and say he’s a Zionist. That’s not going to happen. It’s the same with [Israeli Arab Supreme Court] Judge Jubran, where some from the Jewish Home party complained that he didn’t sing ‘Hatikva’ [at a ceremony in 2012]… That’s an effort to push people into a corner.”

Pressed on his assertion that Abbas has abandoned the demand for a “right of return,” Horowitz noted that the PA president had himself publicly stated that he did not feel he has the right to go back and live in his birthplace of Safed. A formal relinquishing of the demand could only reasonably be expected “at the end, as part of a comprehensive agreement” when Israel too would have to make the necessary compromises on Jerusalem, settlements and other core issues. “To the best of my knowledge, he does abandon the demand for the right of return,” reiterated Horowitz, and he said Livni shares this assessment. “But that is at the end, that’s the issue that defines the Palestinian people. That’s the historic compromise. The Palestinians increasingly understand this. I believe that he will say this as part of a comprehensive agreement. He can’t say it at the start, because he would lose the Palestinian street… When there’s an agreement, borders, [agreement on] a sustainable Palestinian state, then yes.”

Unfortunately, during the nine months of negotiations, Horowitz said, the sides “didn’t discuss anything [substantive]. And it was our side who prevented this.” He said Abbas had told him that although the talks were going nowhere, he didn’t want to abandon them when there was “a fragment of hope.”

The prime minister, though, “didn’t want [to make progress], or couldn’t, you can define why. His politics, ideology, the environment, maybe all of those factors… Maybe he’s afraid. Maybe it’s something in his family. I don’t know… If Bibi signs an agreement there’ll be a majority in the Knesset and in the country. But he doesn’t want it. It’s an issue of leadership.”

Horowitz said Netanyahu feels his government is stable, and the security situation is relatively calm, so why seriously enter a process that would cause him political headaches, and bring opposition from the right? “But the status quo can change. We’re seeing an upsurge in incidents. My fear is that with no political horizon, no sense of hope, there’ll be chaos. Not right away, but over time.”

He said he was convinced Abbas wants an agreement, and that Livni is too. “I appreciate the effort she’s made,” he said. “But I told her yesterday… that in the current situation, after the talks have been derailed, after she made a personal effort and met with Abbas [in London last week] and was humiliated [by her ministerial colleagues over that meeting], she has no place in the government. She should get up and leave. She’s doing damage at this stage.”

He suggested that she was unacceptably reluctant to give up her ministerial position. “Sometimes, it’s hard to give up the seat,” he said. “But enough. It’s over. Not just her. She, [and her center-left Hatnua party colleagues] Amram Mitzna and Amir Peretz, should get up and leave.”

Horowitz said that blaming Abbas for the failure of the talks “makes us feel better. We’ve accused him of everything. Road accidents. Everything. It’s all his fault. But how does that help? We’re evading the issue. There are some people who say, flat out, ‘We intend to annex the territories, to annex the Arabs, we don’t believe in any solution with the Palestinians in negotiations.’ That I can deal with. I know where we are [with these people]. But all these Netanyahu games, all these excuses. So, Abbas went and signed [15 international] agreements [as the talks fell apart in early April]. He signed a treaty on the rights of children. Can someone tell me what’s wrong with that? Wouldn’t it be good if they honored that treaty in the PA?…

“You can’t keep evading the real essence: Reconciliation, and recognition of the fact that when the Jews came here the land was not entirely empty. There is another people living here. It also has rights. I’m fervently in favor of a Jewish, democratic Israel. But there’s another people here.”

‘There’s no future in this land without Jewish-Arab reconciliation’

Horowitz said the Palestinians had made mistakes too, and, referring to the Palestinian 16-year-old who stabbed a sleeping Israeli soldier next to him on the bus in Afula in November, said that “things have to change on both sides.” But “we don’t have the privilege not to reach an agreement in this land. It’s such a small land,” he said. “And it’s such a shame, because there is an opportunity.”

He stressed that while many Israelis speak of wanting to separate from the Palestinians, he believes true reconciliation is the necessary path. “That’s a mistake — to think that we don’t want to deal with those Palestinians, that we can build a fence and they’ll be on the other side and we won’t see them. It’s a bit of a racist approach: ‘I don’t want all those Arabs.’ That’s why I do speak of peace and I do speak of reconciliation. There’s no future in this land without Jewish-Arab reconciliation. Look at this city [Jerusalem]: Half of this city is Arab.”

Horowitz highlighted the importance of Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan as key precedents. “What would our situation be like if we didn’t have peace with Egypt and Jordan? And think of the things people once said about [Egypt's president Anwar] Sadat. People forget the Yom Kippur War and the thousands of fatalities. There were times [during our bitterest wars] when we thought the Jewish home faced destruction.”

He said “the benefits for Israel, the opportunities, are simply unbelievable” if an agreement can be attained. “Our people wandered for centuries. Reconciliation with the other people, this peace, will cement our place in this land… Peace will remove the question mark [over our rights here].”

‘When he goes, who do we think will succeed Abbas? Michelle Obama?’

What he called “the separation barrier” was not routed accidentally, he said. “It more or less reflects our maps [of a permanent accord]. And that’s what will be. Most of them and most of us know it. The only question is how much longer, how much money, how many more people and fatalities before what should have happened long ago happens. Now it’s not all our fault. But I’m not interested in the blame game. I’m looking forward to how we can get it done. And it can be done.”

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Knesset. (Photo credit: FLASH90)

Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni in the Knesset. (Photo credit: FLASH90)

He added: “I sit on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. I see it up close. I see us missing the opportunity. When he goes, who do we think will succeed Abbas? Michelle Obama? Someone much more extreme will come… I don’t say all this for the sake of Abbas, the Palestinians, but for the sake of the State of Israel. The State of Israel has someone who has proved in every possible way that he’s a partner, that he wants to move forward.”

He also blamed Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for not taking a stand on the issue: “Not just her. The second one, too; Lapid too,” he said.

But Lapid is not in the negotiating room, seeing this first-hand, he was asked. “Correct,” Horowitz responded. “I speak to her. I’m very angry with her about what she’s doing. Very angry. She should go.”