Q&A With Hatnuah Chairwoman

Livni: In Order to Safeguard Israel as a Jewish State We Must Divide It

Hatnuah chairwoman answers Haaretz readers' questions about the unification of Israel's centrist bloc, the renewal of negotiations with the Palestinians, and the possibility of joining Netanyahu's government.

In the fourth in a series of Haaretz virtual meetings with senior politicians in the run up to the January 22 election, Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni answered Haaretz readers' question in real time on Tuesday.

Hatnuah is Livni's newly established political party, which includes several other previous members of the Kadima party. Readers had the opportunity to ask her questions about foreign policy and security, her party's standing in the polls, its election campaign, and more.

If Barak and Olmert didn’t succeed in moving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas despite making far-reaching proposals, why do you think that you’ll be able to change anything in the diplomatic realm? Why not focus on more practical matters, like changing the form of government, closing the spigot to the Haredim, or taxes?

I want to advance a number of things – peace, equal sharing of the burden, changing the form of government, changing the national priorities (including budgetary ones) and in my eyes everything is connected one to the other. I conducted negotiations for nine months and these talks didn’t reach a dead end, but dissipated after the election of Netanyahu, who refused to say two nation-states, and blocked any possible hope for an arrangement. I’ll never put the sole blame on the Israeli side, but two nation-states are a primary Israeli interest and without them Israel will not be the Jewish nation-state but an Arab or bi-national state. We have to find a way to reach an arrangement.

I don’t believe in the negotiation method of pushing the Arab representative into a room, like Barak and Arafat, or putting a paper on the table and saying, “take it or leave it.” Negotiations are a complex art and as even Uzi Arad testified, in the negotiation room I protected all of the State of Israel’s national and security interests.

At the same time, we have to change our national priorities, to transfer budgets from those sectors that receive them as a result of political pressure, whether we’re talking about isolated locations that will not be part of Israel in the future, or about yeshivas that have become places of refuge for those wishing to evade service.

Changing the system of government – we submitted a detailed proposal that was rejected by this coalition because the small parties in the government had veto power – and I will continue to advance it. I believe these things are connected; the absence of negotiations leads to the State of Israel’s isolation, which has a direct connection to the economy and society.

What prompted you to abandon the worldview of the Greater Land of Israel? When did this happen? What is a process or was it some kind of epiphany?

I never abandoned the values that I was raised with. I believe, to this day, in the Jewish people's right to the Great Land of Israel. But, in addition to this right, I believe in the values of equality – for everyone. The Zionist vision in my eyes is the preservation of a Jewish and democratic Israel while these values do not contradict each other, and for this reason we must choose between two possible states: One state is Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and the other is a state between the sea and the Jordan river which will ultimately be an Arab state, not a Jewish one. For this reason, when I entered politics in the end of 1995, I expressed this understanding, while there was strong disagreement between the Greater Land of Israel camp and the peace camp. I chose to enter politics in order to voice the centrist position, which says that we have a right to the land but in order to maintain Israel as a Jewish state we must divide it in a different way that was suggested in the Oslo Accords.

In the talks you conducted, you refused the Palestinians’ demand to withdraw from Ma’aleh Adumim. Is this still your position? Are you prepared to cede E-1 and turn Ma’aleh Adumim into an [Israeli] enclave in a Palestinian state?

My position on this, and I will continued to defend it, is that Ma’aleh Adumim will be part of the State of Israel. Setting the exact border will be part of the negotiations, and I proved that by quietly conducting [talks] in the negotiation room one can protect the places and interests that Netanyahu is eroding and putting a question mark on them.

So it is with E-1; on the day that Netanyahu made his construction declarations I said out loud that this would only cause damage; that it would generate international criticism and that E-1 won’t be built. And in fact, a few days ago, on the Haaretz website, I read that Netanyahu is delaying construction in E-1. This is the continuing gap between declarations that damage [our] interests, and my actions, which protect them.

Do you support dividing Jerusalem? After all, that’s what actually blocked the formation of a government headed by you [in 2008].

What prevented a government headed by me from being formed was the demand by the Haredi parties not to even discuss Jerusalem and to stop all the diplomatic negotiations. Of course, the Likud, as usual, is during this election campaign also turning Jerusalem into an issue of international dispute, knowing that Jerusalem is the very heart of the Israeli consensus, for me as well. With this conduct Netanyahu is actually harming the unity of the city and the ability to preserve it in the future. Either way, I believe that protecting Jerusalem, and particularly its holy places, will be done in the negotiation room.

You are always saying that time isn’t working in our favor and that it’s urgent to sign a peace treaty with the Arabs. But if we had signed a peace treaty with Assad, for example, what would have happened? We all know that Abu Mazen is very weak and unpopular and is also at the end of his political path. Wouldn’t it be preferable to wait until the shakeup in the Arab world finishes and stable regimes are established there before we sign on an arrangement and withdraw from Judea and Samaria, which is the most important security expanse protecting most of Israel’s citizens?

Take Egypt as an example – Morsi, who is a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, is honoring the peace treaty because it is already signed. Otherwise, the chance of reaching an agreement with Egypt would be reduced. That’s why it’s preferable to have an agreement, demilitarization, and international support, than to enter the regional shakeups when Israel finds itself isolated and its positions controversial internationally.

Of course, with regard to Syria, it’s preferable to wait. But with regard to Judea and Samaria – during the negotiations that I conducted with the Palestinians I concluded that the Palestinian state would be demilitarized with security arrangements. My condition for any arrangement was preserving security. I believe that it’s the task of leadership to be concerned about security, but unfortunately security is being used as an excuse for continuing to build settlements and add residents by those whose ideology aims to block us from ever coming to an arrangement. That’s why we must distinguish between security needs and political-ideological settlements.

After the 2009 election you refused to submit to the ultra-Orthodox financial demands and missed your chance to fom a government. I supported that move - we mustn't give in to blackmail. But don't you think the critical state in which the two-state solution is requires some compromise vis-a-vis the Haredi parties? Isn't preventing another Netanyahu government a nobler cause?

I am also worried by the distancing vision of the two-state solution as a result of Netanyahu's problematic, extremist policy in the current government. I also have priorities, and I would be ready to pay the price for peace. The negotiation with Shas stopped when I realized that they are not only asking for funds out of the taxpayers' dollars, but also that I stop the diplomatic process.

How do you think the country should handle the tens of thousands of Africans that have entered Israel during the past few years?

I support the proposal by Metzilah [the Center for Zionist, Jewish, Liberal and Humanist Thought] that sets a policy of “tough on the outside, soft on the inside.” A state has the right to defend its borders and set the terms of entry. But with regard to those who have lived here a while, we have to relate to them first and foremost as human beings. The better we enforce at the border, the less we’ll see phenomena connected to the presence of infiltrators, with all that implies.
It angers me that there’s a party, Shas, that is exploiting the real distress of the residents of south Tel Aviv and the south of the country and the fear of the stranger that parts of Israeli society have – for an election campaign of hatred.

Yacimovich and Lapid claim that you agreed that no details of your joint meeting will be published. Despite this, you published the content of the document that was discussed in the meeting without their approval. Why did you betray their trust? They called you a "liar." Why? They would not have used such strong language unless there was a significant gap between what was said in the meeting and what you published.

I did not betray anyone's trust. The subject is important enough for the public to be informed of what I proposed , and I did not say anything about their personal positions or what they told me in confidence, out of consideration for their request. Because the matter is so important for me, I am not going to conduct a back-and-forth about this, even though I am tempted to ask about which subjects that I presented in the public document were different than what was said in the meeting, because they (Yacimovich and Lapid) did not elaborate.

In order to prevent any misunderstandings, I presented the same points this morning that I presented in the meeting. And the time has come that instead of chattering about what was and wasn't in the meeting, that they address the real matter at hand and explain why they refuse a plan that includes full collaboration in the center of Israel's political map, in order to maximize the chances of replacing an extremist government and set joint conditions for any future decision. For this reason, and because I believe in the public's right to know, I published my words in the meeting – the plan that I presented them. Today it is public, and I did not publish their response out of respect for them. The subject very important and should be promoted – I am not planning on giving up just because of this or that slander.

Follow-up question: After these answers, after the mutual defamation, do you really believe you can collaborate (with Yacimovich and Lapid)?

Arik (Ariel) Sharon said once that restraint is power, and we need a lot of power – and I have it in order to persevere in the goal and establish a moderate front in the face of an extremist front. For this reason I stand by all my commitments and my proposal is still on the table. For now, I will continue to act as Hatnuah chairwoman in order to promote these same goals.

Do you think that Shelly Yacimovich is fit for premiership? If you do, why didn't you join the Labor party? If you don't, why didn't you endorse another candidate?

I returned to politics because there wasn't any other party that represented the policies and vision that I have for Israel. Also, there weren't any other candidates - barring Netanyahu - with sufficient experience and familiarity with high-level decision-making. I'm the personal and ideological alternative to the prime minister in the area of security and diplomacy that I'm familiar with - and despite that I made a vow to endorse a centrist leader after the election, in private as well as publicly. I didn't say it had to be me. They [the other centrist leaders, Yacimovich and Lapid] didn't do the same. Though I still think that a prime minister needs some experience in decision-making that I have and other don't.

Your stint as leader of the opposition was a resounding failure. You didn't vote against laws that infringed on the Arab community's minority rights. You didn't submit a single bill that you initiated, and failed to obstruct government legislation. What were your achievements as leader of the opposition?

I'm still very proud of my decision to take Kadima to the opposition, in order to maintain an alternative to a problematic government. Party leaders are not there to initiate legislation, they're there to lead their party. I killed bills that conflicted with my worldview and paid a price for it in the Kadima primaries. About my voting record, governments don't fall because of the opposition voting against it - they do when one of the members of the coalition chooses to break away. I invite you to look up all my speeches in the house and see how I criticized Netanyahu and his policies.

Yair Lapid said that if you're not pleased with the number of seats your party will get you'll resign again; Laborites claim that Amir Peretz [who defected from Labor to join Livni] said that you'd abandon the party after the election so that he could take over it. Are you intending to serve a full term?

It's another spin that attempts to discredit me and turn voters against me. I'm back to stay - however many seats I'll get - because I'm accountable to the people who put their faith in me. I know how hard it is to fight from the opposition, but I'm back despite that. I see politics as a mission, not as a springboard to a powerful job, and I'm going to stay on and fight as long as I have to.

I have a personal question: Were you insulted by the behavior of Yair and Shelly? What’s your reaction to their accusations from yesterday? What convincing answer do you have to the claim that [the center-left unity suggestion] was mere “spin” that stemmed from [Hatnuah’s] drop in certain polls?

Spin is meant to divert attention from what’s essential and there’s nothing much to it. I presented a plan that could totally revamp the election campaign; that could enable a totally different government, by creating a front of moderates and creating new hope and trust among a public that is desperate to replace this government. All this would have happened if Shelly and Yair, instead of claiming “spin,” had adopted my plan, which I still stand behind and am committed to.

I wasn’t insulted, but it was certainly disappointing to see [their] personal conduct and unwillingness to work together when faced with a very important challenge.

You, who promised a different type of politics, are consulting with someone who was convicted of a sexual offense [Haim Ramon]. Does this contribute to the advancement of women? Do you see it as proper that people who were convicted should return to the same place they have sinned?

I consult with various people and I’m happy to accept good advice and support. In every legal proceeding, I expressed my faith in the legal and law enforcement systems and I will continue to do so under all circumstance, with no regard for whether I know or don’t know the accused in a particular case.

The first, second, and third installments in the series of virtual meetings with senior politicians were Israel's Vice PM Moshe Ya'alon, Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, and United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni.

Tzipi Livni answers readers' questions in the Haaretz newsroom.
Daniel Bar-On
Possible coalition.