Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies and his handling of relations with the United States are harming Israel, Justice Minister and head of the Hatnua party Tzipi Livni said Saturday.
“In the absence of a peace process, one must act responsibility. Declarations of construction [in the West Bank and East Jerusalem], fiery statements and provocations must be avoided; they are not the right path. It harms our ability to keep Israel secure,” Livni charged during an interview on Channel 2’s Meet the Press. She was referring to the announcement this week that Netanyahu approved plans for over 1,000 units in East Jerusalem and to reports of plans for a large-scale project in the West Bank including 2,000 units, 12 new roads, parks, student villages, and renovation of the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
News of the plans provoked the ire of the US government, and this was followed by another nasty, public spat between the Netanyahu government and the Obama administration after a White House official was quoted in an article published Tuesday calling the prime minister a “chickenshit.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry has since apologized for the remark, the source of which was not made public.
“The slurs from [officials in] the Obama administration were unnecessary and it’s a good thing an apology was issued,” Livni said.
“But the fact that there was an apology doesn’t mask the rift in ties,” she warned. “Those who want to protect Israel, must preserve ties with the US.”
The strain in relations does not stem from disagreements about security, Livni said, adding that during this summer’s conflict, the US gave Israel its full backing. “It’s because of the settlements and the declarations about construction in the settlements. This is harmful and adds to the mistrust [between the two],” she said.
Livni slammed what she called Netanyahu’s “surrender to the ideological right [in the coalition], those who call for a Greater Israel,” accusing them of harming ties with the US and having the added consequence of harming Israeli security as a result.
“Extremists like [Economy Minister and Jewish Home party leader] Naftali] Bennett, [Likud MK Miri] Regev and [former deputy defense minister and Likud MK Danny] Danon harm how Israel is perceived,” Livni charged.
While the US is trying to help Israel in the international sphere and at the UN, Israel must not sabotage this, she warned. “This is my criticism of Netanyahu.”
The situation in Jerusalem, where violence has been escalating in recent weeks — culminating in the attempted assassination of Yehudah Glick on Wednesday night, and the killing of his shooter hours later — Livni said, was not occurring in a vacuum. She acknowledged, however, that the Palestinians shared responsibility for the escalation.
“The situation in Jerusalem severely deteriorated since the murder [at the hands of alleged Jewish terrorists] of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir [in late June, a revenge attack to the kidnappings and murders of Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Sha’ar and Naftali Fraenkel],” she said. But the tensions were not helped by the announcements of new tenders and statements by various ministers charging that Israel will never compromise on Jerusalem, she added.
The justice minister, who was chief negotiator with the Palestinians during the ill-fated, US-brokered, nine-month peace talks that collapsed in the spring, said she will continue to strive for a peace process and will stay in the government to protect democracy.
As for her former partners in the negotiations, she said the Palestinians were choosing a path that favors unilateral action by turning to the UN for recognition.
“If we see that we can’t return to negotiations with the Palestinians, we must initiate a process ourselves,” Livni said, referring to peace efforts that involve moderate Arab states.
“[Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas can choose where he leads his people and we must choose where we lead ours. We mustn’t let him lead us… Israel must choose its own path,” she said.