Israel’s insistence on ongoing security precautions in the West Bank does not constitute an insurmountable obstacle to Palestinian statehood and sovereignty, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni told The Times of Israel. But it was always clear, from the start of negotiations, she added, that due to Israel’s security needs a Palestinian state would not enjoy “full and complete sovereignty.”
In an interview ahead of Rosh Hashanah, Livni, who led Israel’s negotiating team in this year’s failed negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, said the collapse of the peace process was deeply disappointing, but that it was “not too late” to restart talks. (The full interview appears here.)
“Always, from the first day of the negotiations, it was clear that any agreement (on Palestinian statehood) would not include full and complete sovereignty,” the Hatnua party leader said. “We are speaking in terms of a sovereign Palestinian state, but it’s clear that the sovereign Palestinian state must accept limitations. Certainly demilitarization. By the way, that’s also what we’re demanding now for Gaza. Limitations and arrangements that will ensure, in the long term, that no threat is created of the kind we have been witnessing.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, she went on, had accepted the need for a demilitarized Palestinian state, “though there’s an argument about what demilitarization entails… That’s why you negotiate. This all has operational expression on the ground: How is it overseen? Who’s at the border crossings? Who deploys along the border?”
Livni was clarifying Israel’s position in the wake of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations this summer about the imperative to maintain Israeli security oversight in the West Bank under any agreement with the PA. “Germany also took upon itself military restrictions after World War II. To this day, there’s a British military base in Cyprus. Sinai is demilitarized in accordance with the Israel-Egypt peace agreement,” Livni said. “Therefore the idea that there is a necessary contradiction between Israel’s security and Palestinian sovereignty is incorrect. They get the state and, by virtue of their independence, they take upon themselves certain limitations. One goes with the other.”
The justice minister also revealed details of what she said was an initiative agreed upon with the Palestinians to foster a “culture of peace” on both sides — a bid to change the tone and content of media, religious leaders’ statements, education, and more — in order to create a climate that would encourage compromise. “We had an agreed text,” she said. “Had we extended the talks (last spring), I think we were going to implement (the initiative) during the extended negotiations.”
Speaking days before Abbas was set to address the UN General Assembly, with an anticipated demand that Israel be required to set a timetable for withdrawing from the West Bank, Livni criticized the PA leader for turning to the UN rather than continuing peace negotiations with Israel. Abbas had taken the easier route of going to the UN and forgoing negotiations, she charged, “because in negotiations you have to pay a price and concede things, whereas when you go to the UN, you can get everything you want.”
“But it won’t give you a state,” she warned. “There’s no state via the UN.”
She also said she was sorry the US had chosen not make public the framework document it drew up “which provided answers on all the core issues” of dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. “It was very fair. It gave expression to both sides… We wanted to advance the negotiations on that basis. Israel essentially accepted this framework,” she said, while Abbas did not. “I have grievances with him — over how the negotiations ended, over his turning to the UN, his joining up with Hamas (in the Palestinian unity government).”
Livni expressed profound concern that the anti-Israel public opinion in the Arab world was also spreading to Europe, and partially blamed the settlement enterprise. “The problem is that what we’ve seen in the Arab world — where public opinion is anti-Israel and it is very hard for the leaderships to deal with — is also happening now in Europe,” she said. “I have discussions with world leaders. It’s very hard for them. They say, ‘We understand why you have to hit Hamas. We’re with you. But the issue of the settlements renders Israel incomprehensible and shorn of credibility when it says it wants peace.'”
“In the eyes of Europe, the European street,” she went on, “the settlement enterprise is a kind of old-style colonialism. Not self-defense, which would be acceptable.
“That mix is not good for Israel,” she stressed. “I seek to ensure that we retain the legitimacy to defend ourselves against those extremist terrorist forces. And Israel’s policy as regards what it wants in these areas (of peacemaking and settlements) is not clear. And ultimately that harms Israel’s security.”
She said that she does not share the ideology “that believes we need to stay in all of the Land of Israel.” And “to the best of my knowledge,” she added, “the prime minister does not share that ideology.”
Regarding international attitudes to Israel over this summer’s conflict with Hamas, the justice minister said, “I don’t expect the world not to judge us. It should judge us — but on the same basis as it judges itself or any democracy. Fatalities on the Palestinian side are accidental, after we have made every effort to prevent them. By contrast, the terrorists are deliberately aiming at civilians. And I expect the world to make that distinction.”
Unfortunately, she went on, “as time passes since the establishment of Israel, what was taken for granted in 1948 is no longer taken for granted. We see ourselves, satellite view, as a tiny state surrounded by enemies. The world looks from the Google Earth perspective, and sees a soldier with his weapon and a Palestinian boy or girl. And that viewpoint is deepening. It is a skewed picture of the conflict. The sorrow over seeing civilians killed, a sorrow that I share, skews the judicial perspective of the reality.”
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