If someone had told Eitan Livni while he was still alive that his daughter would one day write an article for an Arab newspaper stating that the homeland, the "little" land of Israel, the one between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, should be turned into a "homeland for two states, Israel and Palestine," the veteran of the Irgun pre-state underground militia would have sent the messenger for a psychiatric examination. If Ariel Sharon, the foreign minister's political father, had read in Asharq Al Awsat that his protege had converted from belief in unilateralism to preaching negotiations, he would have sent his sons to have a heart-to-heart talk with her.
But Tzipi Livni is very proud of her first piece in an Arab paper with broad print and Internet exposure. She suggests seeing the content of her commentary, which was published on Monday, as the Israeli response to the Arab peace initiative; not just a rote, obligatory response, but rather a specific outline for peace that presents the Israeli positions on each one of the issues addressed by the Arab initiative.
Livni notes that the article was sent to the paper a few days before the military coup that led to the dismantling of the Palestinian unity government. The separation of forces between Fatah and Hamas that eliminated the three Quartet conditions adds weight to Livni's plan. But when Hamas and a gang of thieves rule in Gaza and the West Bank is controlled by the Israel Defense Forces and Jewish settlers it is unclear how her outline can be translated into practice. Given the gloomy political climate in Palestine and Israel, even the declaration of principles (DOP) to promote the Bush vision being formulated in the offices of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is unlikely to suffer the fate of previous such documents and will probably not remain on paper only.
Nevertheless, Livni's article is a keeper. In it, the foreign minister corrects the impression implied in her earlier statements that she is demanding that Arab League members open embassies in Israel (normalization) and leave the resolution of the conflict (withdrawal) for better times. She writes that the Arab and Muslim world can serve as a catalyst for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation by promoting "parallel steps in advance of the regional conciliation that will give the nations of the Middle East concrete indications regarding the benefits to be gained from peace in the region."
Livni explained yesterday in a phone conversation that in order to generate public support for hard-to-digest concessions, the Israelis and the Palestinians must begin tasting the fruits of peace in the early stages of the process. She proposes, therefore, that each step forward in the negotiating process be accompanied by a step toward the normalization of ties.
In contrast to the principle in the Arab initiative stipulating Israel's withdrawal from all territories conquered during the war that began on June 5, 1967, Livni proposes the following formula: "The international border between Israel and a permanent Palestinian state shall be agreed upon through negotiations on the basis of UN Security Council Resolution 242."
Livni argues that it is impossible to turn the clock back to June 4, 1967, because there was no Palestinian state at the time and no link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. From the Palestinians' perspective, the half-full part of the cup is that Israel's foreign minister is willing to begin negotiations on the basis of a resolution that stipulates that Israel is not permitted to retain territory acquired by force. The half-empty part is that Livni's formula returns them to the early stages of the negotiations with Ehud Barak, before the Camp David summit, the Taba talks and the Clinton plan.
Livni is enlisting Res. 242 for the border issue, whereas the Arab League enlisted UN General Assembly Resolution 194 on the refugee issue. She chose to overlook this resolution (which is non-binding) and suggests that the Palestinian state that is to be established in the territories will address the Palestinian people's claim (not right!) to return. It draws a straight line from the Palestinian refugees who need to find a haven in their state and the Holocaust refugees and Jews expelled from Arab countries, who found a haven in the State of Israel.
Since the Arab initiative stipulates that the resolution of the refugee problem must be agreed on with Israel, the Arabs can interpret Livni's statements as constituting consent to resolving the problem within the borders of Palestine and opposition to the refugees' return to Israel.
While emphasizing that there is no alternative to direct dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians (not a word is mentioned about Syria), Livni urges the international community not to compromise with violent and subversive entities and at the same time to support those committed to coexistence. It should be noted that these remarks were written a few days before these two entities got a divorce.
A. is well known to Israeli peace activists, who maintain contacts with whoever remains in the Palestinian peace camp. A. Is also known to Israeli defense officials and American security coordinators. He has never sounded so angry and despairing. A. no longer believes the Israelis' promises to help Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and other moderates. He accuses the Israelis and their U.S. allies of sending off the security forces loyal to Abbas to fight Hamas nearly empty-handed.
"What kind of a motivation to risk his life does a soldier who hasn't been paid in two months have?" A. complains. "For who and for what? What kind of future does he see in his organization, when Hamas pays salaries on time and obtains as many weapons as it wants." He also has a bellyful for Abbas himself: "He sent people to fight Hamas for Mohammed Dahlan [Abbas' national security adviser], who is here and not here."
A. warns that unless all the parties change their tune and formulate a joint security plan, the West Bank's fall into Hamas hands will be a matter of just a few days.
Suddenly everyone wants to strengthen Abbas. Where were they before, when he pleaded for the release of a few prisoners on his behalf and for the removal of checkpoints within the West Bank? Why didn't they think of Abbas when they sent 20 tanks into Jericho to abduct a group of underwear-clad prisoners led by Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine leader Ahmed Sadat?
"Abu Mazen [Abbas] finds himself in a particularly difficult position," wrote outgoing UN Special Envoy to the Middle East Alvaro de Soto in his concluding report. "He complained of this to me and argued that there was no legal basis for Israel's action, as Sadat was tried and punished by the authority, in accordance with the Oslo Accords, which prohibits double punishment."
De Soto wrote that Abu Mazen asked him to urge the Israelis to hand Sadat over to the PA, but the foreign minister and the director general of her ministry were not available to meet the UN official.
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