Israel Must Renew Talks With Palestinians Before Situation Deteriorates, Livni Says

'We've reached the 11th hour,' Opposition Leader tells Haaretz after meeting with Abbas in Amman, adding that Israel had a partner for peace in the Palestinians.

Israel could resume peace talks with the Palestinians without giving in on its nonnegotiables, Kadima leader MK Tzipi Livni told Haaretz on Wednesday, after meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the first time in three years.

"We've reached the 11th hour," said Livni, who met with Abbas in Amman. "Before the situation deteriorates, we have to restart negotiations."

Mahmoud Abbas and Tzipi Livni in 2011

Since becoming opposition leader, Livni has avoided meeting with Abbas so as not to look as if she were meddling in the contacts between the Palestinians and the Netanyahu government. In the end, she decided to meet with the Palestinian leader to make it clear to him that Kadima also opposes a Palestinian unity government with Hamas that is not committed to the conditions set by the Middle East Quartet: recognizing Israel, abandoning terror, and honoring previous agreements.

"It was important to me that - before a government is formed with Hamas - he understood that the objections to this in Israel are not a matter of coalition or opposition," she said. "Abu-Mazen [Abbas] made clear that any government that would be formed would be committed to his positions and to the Quartet's conditions; and would be made up of professionals who are not politically identified with Hamas or Fatah."

Livni noted that she had informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the meeting in advance, and has asked to discuss the meeting with him.

"My impression from what I heard from Abu-Mazen is that if Netanyahu wants to open negotiations with the Palestinians he can do so, and I don't understand why it's not happening," she said. "It's the 11th hour. They're proceeding with elections whose results no one can predict. I got the impression that there is a willingness to go back to negotiations, and we have to take advantage of this [opportunity] and not miss it."

Reviving the peace process is likely to improve Israel's standing in the region, she said.

"I look around and see all the extremist elements that are gaining strength," Livni said. "Instead of withdrawing into ourselves in despair, there's a possibility to open talks that would restore hope to the Israeli public and to the moderates in the region. Instead of watching the Islamist wave from the sidelines, as an observer, we have the ability to influence [it]."

She said that Abbas had expressed a willingness to accept security arrangements that would meet Israel's needs, and that "Israel's security needs obligate us to renew talks. We are limited militarily, the world is becoming more extreme, and Israel is standing by, looking surprised and doing nothing."

The Likud condemned Livni's decision to meet with Abbas. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan mentioned it in the Knesset plenum Wednesday, calling the meeting "another effort by Kadima to hint to the Palestinians not to return to the negotiating table, but to wait for a government that will be easier on them ... But no such government will arise here soon."