Qatar's emir urges Israel to lift 'crippling' blockade on Gaza
Livni, in Doha, says Gaza becoming 'obstacle' to Palestinian statehood; calls for acceleration of talks.
DOHA - Qatar's prime minister, Hamad bin Jasim bin Jabir al-Thani, on Monday urged Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to end Israel's "crippling blockade of Gaza due to the difficult humanitarian situation."
Meeting Livni at the 8th annual Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade, Sheikh al-Thani also called for the acceleration of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on a final-status arrangement.
In her speech, Livni declared that Gaza militant groups' ongoing conflict with Israel is frustrating Palestinian ambitions for statehood.
"The situation in the Gaza Strip is not just Israel's problem - Gaza is becoming an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state," Livni said in the keynote address.
Although Israel fully withdrew all its forces from the Gaza Strip, "dismantled all settlements and allowed for Palestinian self-rule in this territory, instead of coexistence, we have received terror in return," she said.
"We are extending our hands in peace. The way to peaceful relations goes through dialogue and mutual recognition," she said.
Livni also called on Arab states not to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the cause of extremism. "We have to understand that our ability to reach peace is dependent on the ability of extremists to prevent us from doing so," she said.
Moments after delivering her address, Livni traded barbs over the nature of Israeli democracy with MK Ahmed Tibi, who attended the conference.
In a question and answer session following the speech, Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) asked for an opportunity to respond to Livni's comments, and told her, "Israel is an apartheid state. How can you speak about democracy when you speak about a Jewish state?"
Livni responded that, "If we return to '47, a Jewish state and an Arab Palestinian state [were on the agenda]. Do you also not agree to this? The fact is that you are an MK in Israel, and represent 20 percent of the public, and can say whatever you please. This is the proof that Israel is a democratic state."
Livni spoke of the abducted Israeli soldiers Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. "We witness another breach of democracy, while three abducted Israeli soldiers are still held in captivity, for no reason, denied access by the Red Cross or a sign of life. I would like to take this opportunity to call for their release. This is a matter of human rights, not politics," she said.
Livni also made a brief reference to the peace talks currently under way with the Palestinian Authority. "We recognize the fact that Palestinians have legitimate rights and aspirations," she said.
The foreign minister added: "We have no desire to run their lives, and we are committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state that will be the national state of the Palestinian people and a good neighbor of Israel's. We have no interest in wasting time or creating facts on the ground that will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Livni held separate talks with the leaders of Qatar and the foreign minister of Oman.
The emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, hosted Livni for lunch at his palace after holding a formal meeting also attended by his prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem.
Omani Foreign Minister Yousef Bin Alawi Bin Abdulla and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also attended the lunch.
Livni told the emir that Israel was interested in enlisting the Arab world, and especially the Gulf states, to help the Palestinian Authority advance in the peace process.
"The region is changing," Livni told the emir. "We must show it to the public ... by exchanging the incitement and hatred messages with messages of hope and mutual recognition."
Earlier on Monday, Livni kicked off the first full day of her visit with morning talks with her Omani counterpart, Bin Abdulla. That meeting, which was open to journalists, was the first of its kind between Israel and Oman since relations between the two states were cut off in 2000, after the start of the second Palestinian intifada. Since then, there have been only covert talks between the two countries' foreign ministers.