Livni and Clinton
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in March 2009. Photo by Archive
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Three days after Israel and the United States announced the failure of the talks to extend the construction freeze and just hours before addressing the Saban Forum in Washington, D.C., U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met privately with opposition leader Tzipi Livni. The hour-long meeting was initiated by Clinton and held in her Washington office.

This is the first time Livni has been invited to meet with the secretary of state since the formation of Benjamin Netanyahu's current government. American officials have been careful to meet with Livni only in Israel, so as not to create the impression of meddling in internal Israeli politics.

While Clinton publicized the meeting on Friday with Livni on her official schedule, it remains unclear whether it was intended as a direct message of dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Such a conclusion could be supported not only by the unusual nature of the move itself, but by how the setting and duration of the meeting compare to the meeting Clinton held with Defense Minister Ehud Barak - to whom she spoke for less than 30 minutes, in a side room of the Saban Forum.

Earlier on Friday, Clinton met with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who arrived in Washington to discuss the U.S. proposal to resume indirect talks with Israel with American mediation.

Barak used his Saban Forum speech to edge Netanyahu toward the negotiating table.

"The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty," Barak said, quoting Winston Churchill - Netanyahu's favorite leader and role model. The defense minister went on to say that the prime minister must convert his words about a historic agreement into action, saying that peace is something you make, not just something you talk about or pray for.

There's no vacuum in the Middle East, Barak continued, and without peace he said the Israelis and the Palestinians will return to the cycle of violence and bloodshed, and Israel will move away from its goal of being a light unto the nations.

We must act intelligently, the defense minister said, explaining that the world is changing and is no longer willing to accept, even temporarily, the continuation of Israel's control of another nation. Two states for two peoples is the only way forward for Zionism today, Barak said.