One time when I met Tzipi Livni, we talked about the latest round in the peace negotiations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (also known as Abu Mazen).
“Look,” said Livni, “as someone who believes in the process, what happened made even me question Abu Mazen’s readiness to reach a settlement.”
“How can you know?” I asked her. “After all, you didn’t offer him anything.”
“Drop it,” she said. “For once, you tell me what you think it’s possible to offer him.”
I told her. Livni sank into thought for a few seconds. “Look,” she finally responded, “it’s possible that with an offer like that, he would say yes.”
In short, Tzipi Livni is to blame – it’s Livni’s fault that there is no peace agreement with the Palestinians. All right, so it’s not, but it was nice to think that one person is responsible for this mess. No matter who the Israeli negotiator was, the final result would probably have been the same.
But still, when you look at the deep conviction of the Jewish public in Israel that Abbas is not a possible partner for peace, you can’t help but wonder how that viewpoint came about.
How did it happen that the most moderate person to emerge from Palestinian society, the person to whose left (politically, among the Palestinians) there is only a wall, the leader who, after Israel killed hundreds of children and women in Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, spoke out publicly against Hamas – how come he is not regarded as a partner? Someone incapable of making the big decisions?
True, this has always been the default mind-set of the Jewish public here. Netanyahu will soon be able to wrap up a decade as prime minister, 10 years in which he never once presented a map showing his borders for the Jewish state. And yet the majority of the Jewish public will pin the blame on someone who’s already said a million times he wants a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders.
Back to Livni.
I know so many people in the center-left camp who would kill to be appointed chief Israeli negotiator in peace talks with the Palestinians. Yossi Beilin would be willing to grow a mustache; Ram Caspi is ready right now to leave a flourishing law firm; Yossi Sarid would stop writing in Haaretz. Livni got the dream job twice. And what did she do with it? It’s horrible. Really horrible.
The first time, she was serving under then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was politically weak but ready for far-reaching compromises. She herself was politically strong at the time, the foreign minister, considered leadership potential, negotiating with a moderate, compromise-inclined side headed by Abbas.
In the course of the negotiations, which included dozens of meetings with Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), she usually said the following:
1. Nothing is leaking from the talks, which proves they’re serious.
2. All the issues are on the table; we’re talking about everything.
After the negotiations concluded, the following facts emerged:
1. True, nothing leaked – not because it was serious, but for the simple reason that there was nothing to leak. The negotiations were fruitless and pitiful.
2. Not all the issues were on the table. That declaration by Livni at the time was rooted in a very specific political context. The ultra-Orthodox political party Shas had stated publicly: We will not be part of a government that negotiates about Jerusalem. Livni supposedly made it clear she couldn’t give two hoots about that political demand, and she was talking about everything. She fooled us. It turned out afterward that she did not talk about Jerusalem. She just wasted a year with fruitless talks.
To conduct negotiations on a final-status settlement without talking about Jerusalem is like trying to sell a house without discussing the price. There were some meetings in which Abu Ala raised the subject and talked about it. Israel’s foreign minister, the representative of the peace camp to the negotiations, just sat silently. Didn’t respond. She wasn’t allowed. It could have been a hilarious skit on the satirical TV program “A Wonderful Country,” but, alas, it was Livni’s “serious” negotiations.
Livni’s circus of illusions continued under Netanyahu. Meetings about meetings. No leaks. It’s serious. An offer to the Palestinians? Have you lost your mind? Present a map? Demarcate a final settlement in Jerusalem? A creative solution to the refugee problem?
Now carefully follow the convoluted logic that tries to portray Abbas as the recalcitrant rejectionist.
All of the negotiations’ energies were focused on working on a paper, which actually expressed the position of the United States. The paper was to include different ideas, not fully baked, for a solution to the conflict. The ideas would not oblige the parties. So why did the Americans need to discuss ideas with the Israelis that did not oblige them and would, in any event, be articulated in the U.S. paper?
Oh, wait. It was on the basis of that paper that the parties would agree to go on conducting the negotiations. So it was serious? Well, not really. The parties (i.e., Netanyahu) were allowed to object to the ideas put forward in the paper. These ideas did not oblige the parties. For example, you could write that the borders will be the 1967 lines, but Netanyahu might say he objects to that.
What did we achieve? Nothing. Other than that the parties must not specify their objections publicly. Do you get it? No one but Netanyahu can concoct things like that, and no one but Livni could agree to sell them. And it was their luck to find a good guy, in the bad sense of the word, in the person of John Kerry, who agreed to go along with this madness.
In the end they devised a paper – “they” being Livni, Netanyahu and Kerry. The Palestinians? They can just wait patiently. When we finish with Netanyahu, and it’s to our satisfaction, we’ll talk to them. But when the blacks – sorry, the Palestinians – arrived, they were offended and didn’t want to play the game. A bunch of recalcitrant rejectionists.
In public interviews, Livni pinned the blame on Abbas. If this is how the supposed leader of the center-left behaves, should we be surprised that nothing remains of what was once the peace camp?
(At this point you’re probably dying to know about the brilliant ideas I suggested to her. Well, there’s nothing brilliant about them. They appear in the 2003 Geneva Initiative and in Olmert’s offer, which was made when he was already a political dead duck.)
Resolving the refugee issue
On the refugee issue, Livni said that Israel will not take in a single one. I once asked her what would be so terrible about doing that. She replied that in an interview she gave to the BBC, the interviewer drew a connection between that readiness and the justification for Israel’s existence. Wow! That’s the way to achieve peace. Would it be so awful if Israel were to include a couple of sentences in the agreement showing empathy for the suffering that was inflicted on the refugees? Let’s say something along the lines of, “In the 1948 War of Independence, Jews were uprooted from their homes in the Arab states and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted from their homes, sometimes against their will.” Will the country fail because of that? Afterward, the problem of the precise number of refugees would have to be resolved.
In backrooms (the refugees committee at the Taba Summit of 2001; Abbas in negotiations with Olmert), the Palestinians spoke in terms of a six-digit number: between 100,000 and 150,000 refugees to return, over a 10-year period. Let’s say Israel would agree to 100,000 refugees (a number that’s come up in diplomatic discussions since the Lausanne Conference of 1949, when Israel agreed to take that exact number) over a 15-year period, as was suggested in the secret talks of the Olmert initiative. Will the country go down the tubes? About 7,000 refugees a year for 15 years, to be defined as “family unification,” with Israel to have the right to decide who enters and who doesn’t. Will they cause Israel’s destruction?
As part of the political agreement, some 300,000 Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem will leave Israel. It’s true that they are defined as residents, not citizens, and therefore can’t vote in Knesset elections. But the suggested solution for the refugees is still something Israel is strong enough to handle easily, especially when the goal is to reach a peace settlement.
Regarding the Temple Mount, does the status quo that allows Israelis a few short hours a day to visit – without praying, heaven forbid – justify the madness? The Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque are not under our control today. We control only the difficult and thankless burden of security. Will it really hurt the existential interest of anyone here if that status quo, with those visiting hours, remains intact, but with security entrusted to a multinational force of some kind and a stipulation in the peace agreement that the site is under Palestinian sovereignty?
I am not belittling the scale of the decisions that need to be made. The most difficult, I believe, involve the evacuation of the settlers and the security arrangements. There will, apparently, be no agreement in which Ariel remains as is – not even Olmert was able to persuade Abbas of that – and there will be no agreement under which we will be able to snatch a wanted person from the Nablus casbah. That’s a major security risk and can be discussed for months, rightly.
But Livni deluded us twice into thinking she was conducting serious negotiations, when in reality she was just wasting precious time that might never return – and that also helped persuade her camp that Abbas is not a partner for a diplomatic settlement. For that, she has to pay the political price.
The writer is political analyst for Channel 10 News.
Published in Haaretz