Tzipi Livni: Inept or Dangerous?

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Misrepresenting Israel Abroad

Tzipi Livni is currently leader of Kadima (‘Forward’) the largest opposition party in the Knesset. But if the remarks made by her deputy Shaul Mofaz at his recent Sukkot party are anything to go by (he announced that he would be the next Prime Minister of Israel), she won’t be in this top position long. In a sense, this would be a pity. There is something comically entertaining in observing the constant stream of back-biting, incompetence, personal animosity and wishful-thinking at work.

Of course, this faint enjoyment would be spoiled entirely if these people ever came to power. But working on the assumption that Mofaz is as deluded as his leader, we may be forced to suffer her as boss of Kadima for some time yet. So we may as well make the most of the entertainment value of her speciality: sounding like a petulant, spoilt child in a constant sulk.

Unfortunately, we cannot rely on this. After all, she is a leading politician, supposedly at least, and her views may become important. This is why a TV interview with ‘France 24‘ (October 25) was instructive. Firstly, in surroundings less testing than in Israel and speaking comfortably in English rather than Hebrew, she was able to shed her usual indignant and surly manner. Secondly, with interesting things to say about the political situation, she demonstrated clearly why she must be kept as far from government as possible.

Blaming Bibi

In answer to a question about Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority ‘President’ Abbas (still in this post almost three years beyond his four-year term) she allowed this straightforward error/deliberate lie to stand without challenge or correction. That is, she failed entirely to rectify what has become a standard misrepresentation of Israel’s position and thus she effectively confirmed the false impressions and campaigns that seek to delegitimize Israel.

Without a single word of criticism of Abbas or the PA for refusing to negotiate, she missed a golden opportunity to set the record straight by laying the blame for the lack of negotiations towards a 2-State Solution where it belongs: with the Palestinians. In other words, the leader of the opposition displayed a level of falseness and unreliability as befitting the leader of a disloyal opposition rather than the substance required of the leader of a loyal opposition. This was doubly disturbing as she had the good fortune to be in a gentle and friendly interview in which the usual mindless anti-Israel hostility was entirely absent. In sum, she had a great opportunity, such as Netanyahu could scarcely dream of, and squandered it.

Further, she entirely failed to demonstrate that the lack of progress towards the 2-State Solution is due to the persistent and consistent refusal of the Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state. Instead, they deny any legitimacy of Jewish nationalism and the formula of Two States for Two Peoples, used by President Obama, is rejected.

The rock against which peace crashes

This refusal by the supposedly moderate and sensible PA to accept the formula of two states for two peoples was the rock against which attempts by the Quartet to avoid a UN vote on a Palestinian state and restart negotiations with Israel crashed. Yet without this step, the key ingredient for the continuation of the conflict remains in place and there is no hope for a stable and sustained peace agreement.

As the failure of the Quartet again makes clear, the PA can deal with the Jewish state on various day-to-day matters and can negotiate and agree various interim measures. But to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is a step they cannot take. The reason is simple: they remain fundamentally against the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. This rejectionism has a very important consequence for any intelligent discussion about solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: it means that when speaking about a 2-State Solution it is critical to realize that what the Palestinians understand by the 2-State Solution is something quite different to the standard western liberal view.

In the west the 2-State Solution is widely seen as a liberal, democratic, reasonable and equitable solution which gives each side some but not all of what they want. It is supposed to end the conflict by providing the best possible deal for both peoples. The twin notions of fairness and compromise, embedded in the concept of the 2-State Solution/two-states-for-two-peoples, provide the key ingredient to its wide acceptance in the west.

Unfortunately, agreement from the liberal democratic west is not the key ingredient required to establish the 2-State Solution. No matter what western liberals see as the obvious and fair solution, the really critical factor is what the Palestinians think. Unfortunately for the agreed western solution, the Palestinians are not grounded in western sentiment; nor are they liberal and democratic.

In fact, for them the democratic/liberal concept of the 2-State Solution is neither reasonable nor equitable. Nor do they see it as the end to the conflict (see The Fatal Flaw in the 2-State Solution).
Instead, they consistently and persistently deny all legitimacy to Jewish national rights. They believe that according to history, religion, culture and righteousness they are entitled to all the land.

Theirs is an exclusive nationalism with exclusive rights. This exclusivity is their identity; it is what they are. For them, 2-States cannot be the solution; it would be a betrayal. It is seen instead as another stage in their struggle for control of all the territory ‘occupied’ by Israel. In other words, their goal remains the elimination of Israel. This is why the rejectionism of the PLO Charter remains – despite numerous undertakings to alter it to please the west.

In Israel this PA strategy is known as the 2-Stage solution. But to well-meaning western democratic liberals this is neither understood, acknowledged nor even believable. It stands in total contradiction to what they understand to be a reasonable and just solution. It contradicts all the hopes, trust and emotion they have placed in it. In consequence, fed by an ideological and dishonest media with its pro-Palestinian bias, there is widespread public disbelief in this view.

Imagination vs reality

For example, President Obama thinks (or says he thinks) that the 2-State Solution would satisfy the legitimate national aspirations of the Palestinians and at the same time the legitimate security aspirations of Israel. In fact, neither part of this equation is even close to being true.

For the Palestinians, believing that all the land is theirs, anything less would represent a defeat and a betrayal of their national aims rather than their satisfaction. This is why they are unable to accept a 2-State Solution which involves acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Illusions to the contrary run against all the evidence otherwise. Such illusions conform, however, nicely to the western democratic liberal belief that the Palestinians ought to be satisfied by the 2-State Solution because to the democratic, liberal frame of mind it seems obvious that such an equitable and reasonable compromise is the solution.

In effect, this means that they are unable to think themselves into the minds of those who think quite differently on the basis of radically different traditions, cultures, values and priorities. Yet in the same way that a Europe dominated by Hitler’s Nazis was incompatible with a Europe free of Nazi domination, the idea of eliminating Israel is incompatible with the 2-State Solution.

Without convincing evidence of Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state, a Palestinian state would be extremely problematical for Israel. In fact, far from satisfying Israel’s security needs, as Obama, The Economist and others assert without explanation, a Palestinian state is bound to be a security nightmare for Israel (see The_Fantasy_of_a_Demilitarized_Palestinian_State. In other words, the second half of Obama’s equation also falls.

Getting soft with the PA

From the start of his presidency, President Obama has pressured Israel for concessions and engaged in not so private hostility to its government. At the same time, he has made no demands whatever of the PA. Obama was also instrumental in forcing Israel to weaken its blockade of Gaza. This effectively confirmed Hamas, the genocidal, anti-Semitic, Islamist-terrorist organization whose central aim is to destroy Israel, as the rulers of Gaza.

Now, after pursuing a policy of making friends with the Arab-Muslim world for the last three years, Obama finds himself almost entirely without friends. Consequently, at the UN in September, he found himself in the position of being forced to unambiguously support Israel against the PA/PLO declaration of independence from America. That is, we saw the reassertion of geo-political realities, for the moment at least, against his usual misguided ideological view of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (see Explaining_Obama’s_Mishandling _of_Iran,_the_Middle_East_&_Israel, Part 2).

Yet, even in his pro-Israel speech at the UN, President Obama refrained from openly criticizing the Palestinian refusal to accept negotiations and a settlement on the basis of two states for two peoples. Once again, the refusal to expose this and make it a central feature of diplomacy effectively disguises the reality to be faced; that not a single spokesperson for the Palestinians, not a single

Palestinian political leader and not a single Palestinian political party or militia, within the PA or not, agrees to a 2-State solution in the sense of two states for two peoples which would bring the conflict to an end.

Likewise, neither Obama nor other leading western spokesmen ever pillory, or even mildly criticize, the Palestinians for retaining their central demand for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. For the Palestinians this is considered an inalienable right which is so fundamental that its denial is treasonous. Yet given the unique way Palestinian refugees are defined, quite unlike all others, to include the refugees and all their descendants, this is a recipe for the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state by overwhelming it with up to 5 million supposed refugees.

As a result, the reality is that there is no political momentum or weight in Palestinian society for accepting Israel as a Jewish state and an-end-of-conflict peace settlement; nor is there a willingness to relinquish the ‘right’ of return for their uniquely defined refugees. Yet both issues absolutely poison any possible peace deal along the lines of the 2-State Solution. Without

Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state and without abandoning the threat to Israel posed by the threat from the ‘return’ of the supposed refugees, there can be talks galore, but there is absolutely no prospect of a stable and sustained peace agreement.

This is the core position of Israel: that peace talks should take place without preconditions. But to really achieve a peace agreement, if it is to produce an end to the conflict, the acceptance of Israel and the issue of the refugees are matters that absolutely must be settled. In opposing a peace deal on this basis, these two essential steps are precisely those that Abbas and the PA reject. Along with their perception of the weakness of Obama, this explains why they are attempting to by-pass Israel by seeking to get the international ‘community’ to impose a Palestinian state on Israel.

Palestinian plain talk vs western double talk

Much of this is hidden from public view – at least from the view of the western public – by the widespread assertions that the Palestinian leaders currently most visible to the western public, Abbas and Erekat, are moderate and pragmatic. Accompanying these assumptions is the non-stop non-publication of Palestinian statements which contradict the dominant media conception of the guilty party in the conflict. Yet scarcely a week goes by without significant leaders of Fatah, the PLO and the PA restating these demands that embody a complete rejection of an-end-of-conflict settlement based on two states for two nations.

For example, Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator and Head of Foreign Relations in Fatah, is often considered a ‘moderate’. Despite this, after rubbishing the weakness of the US under President Obama and the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, in an interview with Lebanese ANB TV (13 July 2011), he reiterated the standard Palestinian refrain:

“Two states for two peoples means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this.” (MEMRITV Clip #3046)
In an interview with Al-Jazeera (23 September 2011), his colleague and Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki attempted to put it more elliptically:

“When we say that a settlement should be based on these borders (04 June 1967), President (Abbas) understands, we understand, and everybody knows that the greater goal cannot be accomplished in one go.”

Elaborating on this, he continued:

“If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, evacuates the 650,000 settlers, and dismantles the wall – what will become of Israel? It will come to an end.”

But stressing the need for caution in expressing this, he said:

“If one says that one wants to wipe Israel out … it’s not policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep them to yourself.” (MEMRITV Clip #3130)

Spelling out some of the implications of this, the Palestinian Ambassador to Lebanon, Abdullah Abdullah, amazed some commentators by completely ruling out any automatic ‘right of return of the refugees’ to any new Palestinian state based on the West Bank. At the same time, he rejected any notion of granting Palestinian citizenship to them. Instead, he said, those that originated in what is now Israel must be returned to Israel. To dispel any doubt, he continued helpfully:

“When we have a state accepted as a member of the United Nations, this is not the end of the conflict. This is not the solution to the conflict. This is only a new framework that will change the rules of the game.” (15 September 2011, Lebanese Daily Star)

Standard & commonplace

Statements such as these are not rare aberrations. They are entirely typical, commonplace and standard. They are rooted in the dominant Palestinian narrative in which no concessions are ever made to Jewish heritage, history or national rights. Yet this hardly causes even minor consternation amongst supporters of the 2-State Solution.

Even when similar statements are made by Abbas and Erekat, their rejectionist views rarely appear in the western media. Nor do they make a dent in the legend that Israel is to blame for the lack of peace negotiations or a peace agreement. But whereas such statements can be safely downplayed or ignored in the west by those who don’t or won’t see it, this is the reality of the dominant Palestinian narrative that Israel cannot ignore.

Tzipi’s view of the way Kadima

By contrast, in the France 24 interview with Tzipi Livni, the disloyal leader of Israel’s opposition showed that she can ignore these factors quite easily. Nor did she emphasize the endless flood of anti-Semitic propaganda that dominates Palestinian politics, the media, the mosques and education system. Nor did she refer to the constant incitement against Israel and the glorification of murderers of Jews – including those released by Israel in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Schallit.

Livni also remained silent on a recent revealing choice made by the PA on the occasion of the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN last month. Latifa Abu Hmeid was selected to be the honory leader of a march in Ramallah to present a letter to the UN General Secretary, Ban Ki Moon. That she was honored in this way was entirely due to her production of sons who were fighters for the Palestinian cause. Seven of her sons are currently in prison. Four of them were convicted of the murder of seven Israelis and the attempted murder of twelve others. Another son is a so-called shahid, a ‘martyred’ hero member of Izz A-Din Al-Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas.

Failure by error?

By not even attempting to demonstrate the difficulty – to put it mildly – of reaching a peace agreement with those who wish to destroy Israel, Livni allowed the dominant Palestinian narrative to remain unchallenged. By not challenging ridiculous and damaging ideas about Israel, she permitted the perpetuation of widely held but misleading views that regularly blame Israel for the continuation of the conflict and the current impasse. In sum, the interview was a generous opportunity for Israel and she completely missed the opportunity presented.

But why did she fail so badly? After all, she had every opportunity; the interview was longish; the interviewer was pleasant and Livni was given an easy ride. In fact, she has an easy time in many western European political circles because she is the most favored of Israeli politicians. Her main qualifications for this are that she isn’t the slippery, right wing Netanyahu. Nor is she the brute Avigdor Lieberman. Nor is she a religious extremist. Instead, she endeavors to sound like the dovish Israeli politician that western liberals prefer.

Quite possibly she missed these opportunities because she was inept. While regrettable and unfortunate for a senior politician, she hardly has a monopoly on this. Obviously, there is some benefit to Israel from having a respected and well-liked spokesperson who can present the case for Israel successfully. Yet instead of performing this role, Livni demonstrated that she is dominated by her need to play Israeli party politics on the international arena; that she effortlessly puts her needs above those of Israel; and that she is consequently unwilling to put forward the best case possible for Israel.

Or failure by design?

But why should this be the case? The answer to this question was provided in her final comments of the interview. Following a good answer about the uncertainties for Israel of the so-called ‘Arab Spring’, she maintained that a deal had to be reached with what she termed the pragmatic PA. Further, she maintained that this had to be accomplished before Israel became an election issue throughout the Arab world and peace was made impossible. The implication of this was that such a deal was needed now and that the Netanyahu government was throwing away an opportunity.

That is, against all the evidence, the central point of her strategy is the belief that a peace agreement is currently possible; that the PA wants to make a peace settlement; that it is able to make a peace deal; and that it will be able to make a peace deal stick. Naturally, she didn’t explain why she could possibly believe any of this. Nor did the interviewer ask.

As a result, if there was ever any question whether or not Livni really does share some of the fantasies of so much of the western media, especially in Europe, these comments were enough to dispel any doubts. This may be satisfying for various Foreign Offices in the capitals of Europe and the Obama administration, but for a leading Israeli politician to base a strategy on these entirely wrongheaded assumptions is both stupefying and dangerous.

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