Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni, Could You Still Represent Israel to the World?

'I know that Bibi has talked for many years about public relations as a solution to all of Israel's problems, and perhaps he really believes that speaking in fluent English on foreign television stations creates change - but it doesn't.'

This week senior diplomat Ilan Baruch resigned saying that he could no longer represent Israel. Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni previously served as Israeli foreign minister and currently heads the opposition to the Netanyahu government. Yes, she says, the government is making it more difficult for Israeli diplomats to do their job.

Yesterday you said that you understood a long-serving ambassador's decision to resign.

Tzipi Livni - Alon Ron
Alon Ron

I don't want to discuss a specific ambassador. All ambassadors are effectively our fighters on the international front, and the role of leadership is to give them tools to deal with the outside world. We're now in a situation where the tools that could reverse the international tide against us are diplomatic: diplomacy and vision. When you have a government whose only vision - and this is obvious to everyone, outside the country as well - is a kind of survival, an attempt to bridge the gaps between [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu-[Foreign Minister Avigdor] Lieberman-[and the Sephardic religious party] Shas, with fiery speeches, when there's no chance for a peace agreement, then we don't have these tools. Public relations that is not backed up by diplomacy is not a solution. I know that Bibi has talked for many years about public relations as a solution to all of Israel's problems, and perhaps he really believes that speaking in fluent English on foreign television stations creates change - but it doesn't. Especially when all that goes along with it is a government, backed into a corner, criticizing the world, and giving off a sense of suspicion, fear and genuine diplomatic paralysis. This is absolutely clear to all citizens of Israel, and so, the question is not about the act of one specific ambassador but what this government is doing to grant tools to its defenders.

So if you understand why the ambassador resigned, what do you say to the foreign ministers you meet? How do you represent Israel?

This is an issue I learned to deal with when I became head of the opposition: I represent the state of Israel, its values, what it is now and what it can be, even though deep gaps exist between me and the ruling government. And I don't think that Israel has to face off against world Jewry and view all criticism as a kind of new anti-Semitism. It's possible to criticize the government's policies and still support Israel.

So if it's possible to represent Israel, what do you make of the ambassador who is no longer able to do so?

The part that becomes more and more difficult, when it comes to distinguishing between defending Israel and not being able to explain the government's policies, is when the government's actions damage Israel's most basic interests. That is, when we say we're a democratic state that desires peace, but in fact, we are promoting internal [anti-democratic] policies and legislation - which certainly damage Israel's basic interests - then with every passing day it becomes harder to say that, 'yes, this is Israel,' it's just the government that's the problem.

But if you're opposed in principle to [recent anti-democratic] internal legislation, why didn't you rein in your party, for example, when it came to voting on the law that would allow admissions committees to operate in small towns - legislation which drew widespread criticism?

The law I'm very opposed to, the one where we did exercise party discipline, is the law to probe the funding sources of left-wing organizations. The idea that politicians would investigate groups on an ideological basis is simply incomprehensible. And in my confrontation with Bibi about this, I understood that he did not have the slightest understanding, backbone or moral compass, because his solution at first was to investigate both right and left, and then it was OK. This shows that he does not understand the problem at all. I have the same problem with the admissions committee law, which is not only a question of minority and majority, but also one of accepting weaker sectors of Israeli society, including Ethiopian immigrants and others, and so I opposed it. There are those who think that in some situations the criteria adopted in the past by the High Court, along with moves Kadima has made to soften the legislation, have made it more reasonable. So I choose when to impose discipline in Kadima, and when we opt to moderate legislation, to make it more reasonable, giving everyone the right to vote as he chooses.

Yesterday Barak Ravid wrote in Haaretz that Netanyahu had changed his position and now wants to reach an interim agreement with the Palestinians, a state within temporary borders, and to deliberate on a final agreement on borders.

Israel needs, and the absolute Israeli interest is, to end the conflict between us and the Palestinians. Furthermore, when we see what's happening in the area, the response of the government is 'let's wait, we mustn't do anything and then we'll see what we'll do.' This is the intuitive response of an animal caught in the headlights, but the result is problematic. And so Israel must see how, given the wave that swept the region, how it can continue advancing its interests, assuming we can influence the events, because we're not just passive, miserable spectators the way the government tries to depict us. And so, an agreement that would end the conflict is more urgent now than ever, and as I see it, is possible today. Israel needs permanent borders. The temporary borders of a Palestinian state are our temporary borders. And so we need to make a distinction between mini-solutions meant to prevent inevitable decisions, motivated by weakness or political purposes, and execution in stages. Bear in mind that the prime minister refused to say two states when he came into power and then afterward gave a speech he still celebrates in which he promised a final agreement within a year, and after several months or a year, he said that in essence it was impossible to do this so we'll make an interim agreement. If Netanyahu hopes to gain the trust of the world this way, who should they believe? The Netanyahu who promised a permanent agreement, the Netanyahu [who made the speech at] Bar Ilan University, the Netanyahu of interim agreements, the Netanyahu of speeches? It is completely clear now that words won't change [anything]. It's like a movie set, when you see there's nothing behind it, then you understand it's just a movie set.

You speak about the world, but you simply don't believe Netanyahu.

I have passed through every possible stage, including offers I made him before - that if he wants to end the conflict, let's do it together, but my expectations of a prime minister who can't decide even the tiniest thing are minuscule.