By Ari Shavit Haaretz Magazine Section 29 December 2006
Does Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni have a clear diplomatic plan that she is
trying to promote? Livni implies that she does, but refuses to explain. She
speaks of the two-state vision. She talks about the need to divide the
country politically. She speaks of the fact that she has a clear,
high-resolution picture of what can be done vis-a-vis our Palestinian
neighbors in the coming year. However, she does not explain what the plan
really is, the nature of the operative Israeli idea now under discussion.
Apparently the idea is as follows: to promote a diplomatic process by means
of a package of gestures that includes transferring money to the
Palestinians, releasing prisoners and bringing in the Egyptians to help stop
the arms smuggling on the Philadelphi route. Then, to conduct negotiations
with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas about the second stage of
the road map and about the establishment of a Palestinian state within
interim borders. Then, to convene the moderate Arab countries to give him
backing. And then, to hold elections in the PA in which the moderates will
have a reasonable chance because they will be able to offer the Palestinian
public a clear and existing political horizon.
And only then, if the moderates do in fact win, to return to the first stage
of the road map, to deal with the dismantling of the terror infrastructure
and to begin to move forward toward the evacuation of the settlements, a
reduction of the occupation and the establishment of a real Palestinian
state, while ensuring Israel's security needs and receiving international
guarantees that Israel will be recognized as a Jewish state and will not be
asked to absorb Palestinian refugees.
Can this plan be implemented? Isn't it totally divorced from reality? The
foreign minister is very careful not to mention any details, but she
radiates optimism. She is full of self-confidence, is Livni. Energetic. Upon
leaving a meeting with hostile European MPs, she is full of adrenaline. The
challenges with which she presented them. The arguments with which she
surprised them. The way in which she convinced them that they themselves
don't want to return to the 1967 lines. And when she finally sits down in
her armchair and treats herself to some chocolate, Livni tries to overcome
the directness that is gushing from her and to become formal once again. To
become a stateswoman. To be the real alternative to the prime minister.
Palestinians? Two states for two peoples
Tzipi Livni, it's been 10 months since you became foreign minister. Have you
learned anything you didn't know before?
"As a person, I haven't changed. I think I've learned how significant
diplomacy is. I've seen how much the right conversation between leaders can
influence decision-making. That doesn't meant there are no vested interests.
That doesn't mean there are no political constraints. But in the end it's
people. And in most cases these are people who want to do the right thing.
That's why if you identify the common interest but also show them our real
argument, they'll listen to you. You can change things that are
What do you see as the main challenge now facing Israel?
"I'm disturbed by the process of turning national conflicts into religious
ones. And the Iranian issue is, of course, a problem. But my main commitment
is to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. I think that the conflict between
Israel and the Palestinians is a keg of gunpowder that we're sitting on and
for which we have to find a solution. Time is not on the side of the
moderates on both sides. Time is working against a solution of two
And is the two-state solution still relevant? Is the present government
committed to dividing the country?
The practical significance of dividing the country is the establishment of a
Palestinian state as soon as possible.
"Yes. Yes. My vision says that the principle of two nation-states is not
only an Israeli gift to the Palestinian but a promotion of Israel's
And do you believe that the establishment of a Palestinian state during the
term of this government is a possible goal?
"I don't like to set timetables. I'm not talking only about a Palestinian
state but about two nation-states living in peace side by side. And in my
view there is a Palestinian public that considers this goal its own as well.
Up until now, the Palestinians have missed every opportunity. They could
have been celebrating the 60th anniversary of their state - had they
accepted the Partition Plan - and alternatively they could have been
celebrating the sixth anniversary of their state - had they accepted the
Camp David ideas.
"But I believe that today there is another opportunity. The moderate
Palestinians must understand that Islamization and religious extremism are
working not only against Israel, but against every Palestinian who wants a
nation-state of his own."
In effect, do you see the government bringing about a significant change in
Judea and Samaria in the coming years?
"If that doesn't happen, it's because the Palestinians have become more
But do you, for your part, have the determination to bring about this
"Absolutely. And I'm not talking only about a vision. I'm talking about an
operative diplomatic plan with quite a high resolution. I won't reveal all
the details to you now, but I can tell you that I, for my part, know exactly
what must be done."
Do you propose returning to the road map?
"The road map contains stages, not content. It lacks content to a certain
extent. It affirms that in the second stage, a state with temporary borders
and symbols of sovereignty will be established. But what does that mean? I
think that in talks with the Palestinians, I can get into details on this
"I think that I can conduct talks with Abbas that will clarify what they
want to achieve in the two-state vision. On the one hand, I want to anchor
my interests on the security issue, demilitarization and the refugee
problem, and on the other I want to create a genuine alternative for the
Palestinians that includes a solution to their national problem. If we
achieve such an alternative, the moderate Palestinians will have to receive
a mandate to implement it. At a certain point, it will also be necessary to
bring in moderate Arab countries to support the plan. It may also be
possible to formulate some of the basic principles of the final status
agreement, even if it's impossible to reach such an agreement now."
"Anyone who lives in the Middle East and has his feet on the ground cannot
permit himself to be optimistic. But I see a type of opportunity. On the one
hand, we're surrounded by a growing threat and extremism and zealotry. But
on the other hand, precisely because of this threat, moderate countries and
moderate factors in the region understand today that their problem is not
"I think that this opportunity must not be missed. At least we must examine
it. We must clarify for ourselves whether it has a chance."
But meanwhile Qassam rockets are falling on Sderot. What you are proposing
is negotiations under fire.
"Even during Sharon's term of office, I claimed that we shouldn't say that
we won't talk under fire, but that we won't make concessions under fire. We
have an obligation to work to stop the Qassams. As of today, as we speak, I
don't think that it's right to carry out a dramatic military operation for
that purpose. But even if the situation changes and there is no escaping
some kind of incursion, at the end of the operation the diplomatic question
will remain the same. The plan that I am proposing can also be a consequence
of such an operation."
And aren't you afraid that if we leave the territories in Judea and Samaria
in the near future, the Qassams and Katyushas will pursue us?
"The plan that I'm talking about must provide an answer to the problem of
steep-trajectory firing. That is one of the reasons why I prefer a
consensual diplomatic process to a unilateral one. I think that after the
disengagement, it's absolutely clear that we cannot simply throw down the
keys and leave. The separation fence provided a solution for the suicide
bombers and it began the process of partition, but it is not providing a
solution to the present security problems. We have to find an answer for
them in a diplomatic context."
Is the separation fence a reference point for you for dividing the country?
And do you believe that the present government will be capable of evacuating
the tens of thousands of settlers living to the east of the fence?
"The behavior of the Palestinians in Gaza after the disengagement creates a
major problem. But I believe that in the final analysis, if a reasonable
solution is found for the security issues, most of the Israeli public will
support this process."
What you are in effect proposing is a return to the convergence plan. But
your convergence is a convergence in agreement with the Palestinians.
"I didn't use the term convergence a year ago, and I certainly won't use it
But in effect that is your vision. That's what you're aiming for.
"The vision is the State of Israel as a national home for the Jewish people,
which provides a solution for the problem of the Jewish people and for
Jewish refugees, and provides a national expression for each and every Jew,
and alongside it a Palestinian state that is the national home of the
Palestinian nation, which provides a total solution for the problem of the
Palestinian nation and the Palestinian refugees, and provides a national
expression for each and every Palestinian. I feel that I have the obligation
to make that happen."
Syria? I'd remain silent
And Syria? What will happen with Syria meanwhile?
"I'm not ruling out anything. The question is mainly one of timing and wise
tactics. Here, too, it's clear that we want to achieve peace. But when you
enter negotiations, you have to know what you'll do if they fall apart."
Have you undergone the same ideological process in relation to the Golan
Heights that you underwent in relation to Judea and Samaria? As far as
you're concerned, is there no basic deterrent to leaving the Golan Heights?
"Anyone who talks about a future discussion with Syria understands that we
are talking about the Golan Heights."
In other words, there is no basic problem here. You're simply afraid that a
possible failure of negotiations with Assad will increase the chances of
"In the Syrian context, it's not clear what outcome we will have at the end
of the process. There is a package that we call peace. At this point,
entering negotiations will not lead to this outcome, but will enable Syria
to enter Lebanon through the door rather than through the window. At the
moment, I must take that into consideration. Syria knows exactly what it
must do in order to be part of the international community, but it is doing
the opposite. The meddling in Lebanon, the embargo on the Syria-Lebanon
border, Gilad Shalit. There is a gap between Syrian statements and Syrian
Some people in the Israel Defense Forces top brass and the intelligence
community are warning that in the wake of the Lebanon war, the status quo
with the Syrians is over. Now it's either-or. If there is no progress within
a few months, there will be deterioration. Maybe even war.
"Like everything in life, the Syrian issue is also a matter of timing. I
think the statements on the subject do not contribute a thing. Neither the
refusal to negotiate nor the peace festivities contributes a thing."
In that case, you wouldn't openly refuse the Syrians?
"I would remain silent. I don't think I have to reply every time someone
offers me a microphone. There is significance to what a foreign minister
says. There is significance to what a prime minister says."
But meanwhile the impression is being created that we are refusing. The
Syrians are knocking at our gate, begging for peace, and we're slamming the
door in their face.
"I'm not sure that the Syrians are begging for peace. We want peace. They
In that case, the right thing to do is to expose the bluff. But we aren't
doing that because we are obeying the orders of the Americans.
"It's not only the Americans. Many people all over the world understand the
problematic nature of Syria. Many understand that the Syrians must be
What you are saying is that certain Europeans are also cool to the idea of
Israeli talks with Assad at the present time?
"Cool? That's an understatement. Go to France."
But neither France nor the United States will bear the results of this
policy. As before the Yom Kippur War, the government of which you are a
member is waiting for a phone call. Aren't you afraid that in the future
we'll see this winter as the winter in which we didn't prevent war?
"I ask myself that question every day. That's why I think it's proper to
conduct a situation assessment every day. To examine at every moment whether
conditions have changed. As of today, Syria is totally involved in terror.
It is doing as it pleases in Lebanon and is trying to bring down the Siniora
Really? And I thought that the situation on the northern border is
excellent. The declarations of the prime minister convinced me that our
historic victory in the second Lebanon war led to a situation where
Hezbollah was smashed, Nasrallah is in a bunker and the situation of the
moderates in Lebanon has never been better.
"I still think that the situation in Lebanon is better than it was. But the
pressure on Siniora and his government is disturbing."
The war? And I say, boys, stop it
Do you view the war as a success?
"The diplomatic result of the war - UN General Assembly Resolution 1701 - is
a success. It reflects the Israeli interest. But there were failures in the
war. There were failures. Something very negative happened to the public as
a result of the war."
"There was a huge gap between the expectations and the reality. And it's not
that the public got up in the morning and said 'I expect.' This gap was fed.
There was a problematic dynamic of talk and of declarations and of raising
Were there moments when you looked around you and saw belligerence?
Was there an excess of enthusiasm at the beginning of the war?
"Yes. About everything. It was a real heartache. The period that was hardest
for me was the period of euphoria. I wasn't there."
Did you return from meetings with a heavy heart?
"Forget it. I don't want to talk about personal feelings. But did I have a
heavy heart during that period? Yes."
What was the root of the problem?
"I think that from the second day of the war, it was clear that the exit
would have to be political. The military campaign was important to make it
clear that Israel will not conduct business as usual when soldiers are
kidnapped, but the campaign couldn't stand on its own. That's why I thought
that the exit must be diplomatic and immediate."
Did you support a diplomatic exit from the war right from the start?
"From the second day. I wanted us to begin to create it then. That was the
great difficulty. Part of the leadership and certainly the army had a
feeling that the issue was the military campaign itself. Whereas I thought
that the military campaign had to be only an entry point to a diplomatic
process. People expected the military campaign to produce something that it
Did you think that it was possible to arrive at a good diplomatic exit point
at a much earlier stage?
"And that it should be done immediately. After the blow of the first night,
we should have been concerned about how the future would look. And how the
future will look is more than a military campaign."
Did you see male hormones raging around you?
"Sometimes there are guy issues."
Was there a guy problem in the conduct of the war?
"Not only in the war. In all kinds of discussions, I hear arguments between
generals and admirals and such and I say guys, stop it. There's something of
Did the Israel Defense Forces worry you during the course of the war?
"Yes. During those days, the thinking was too militaristic. But I think that
today, in the wake of the war, there's a better understanding that the
strategy cannot be only military. They understand that in the army too. At
the beginning of the war, some people thought that the diplomatic role was
to provide the army with time. That's understandable: In the past we always
achieved, we conquered, we released, we won, and then the world came and
took away from us. The victory was military and the failure political. But
this time it was the opposite."
So what should be changed now? What cannot be repeated in the next war?
"We have to tell the army officers that they're wonderful and they know how
to do wonderful things, but we also have to ask them how. We have to ask
them more questions. To ask the right questions."
And the right questions weren't asked?
"The main question that must be asked is, Then what? Okay, do such and such
a thing, but then what."
Iran? People know what they know
In light of the way in which Olmert, Peretz and you conducted the small war
in Lebanon, do you have confidence in your ability to conduct the major
battle against Iran?
Don't you feel a need to expand the government?
"It's not as though there is someone outside the government who has a magic
solution in his hat."
Can Israeli citizens sleep peacefully when Olmert, Peretz and Livni are
repelling the Iranian threat?
"Yes. There's always room for improvement. But that's not something that is
a function of a different coalition or a different composition of the
cabinet. I feel very confident about what I want to do and what I'm capable
of doing. Nor do I feel any lack of group confidence on this issue."
And the Iranian threat itself - how serious is it?
"The danger of Iranian nukes is more than just the Iranian nuke. The fear is
of a domino effect. Many countries in the region understand that the
combination of Iranian ideology and a nuclear bomb is not something that
they can tolerate. Therefore, if Iran goes nuclear, they will do one of two
things: Either they will compete with Iran or they will join it. Countries
that can develop nuclear weapons on their own will do so in order to compete
with Iran, and countries that cannot develop nuclear weapons will join the
neighborhood bully, Iran.
"For many of the moderate countries in the Middle East, the choice will be
between creating their own bomb or asking for sponsorship. That will have
two consequences: widespread nuclear proliferation not only to countries but
to terror organizations as well, a fact that will change all the
international rules of the game on the nuclear issue, and moderate countries
being dragged toward the extremist ones. The world cannot permit itself a
"My texts are different."
Is the threat dramatic?
"Israel has been a threatened country during all the years of its existence.
We are a country that lived under threats for many years and knew how to
deal with them. There's a problem here. On the one hand, you can hear even
me saying terrible things about the Iranian threat, all over the world. And
it's true. But I wouldn't want the citizens of the country to reach an
almost physical sense of dread. The public today is filled with anxiety and
that bothers me. We are here and we will be here for many years to come. We
and our children and our children's children after us."
The things you are saying are heartwarming. But the feeling is that
Ahmadinejad is continually marching forward and there is nobody stopping
"It's true that Ahmadinejad is moving forward. And it's true that he must be
stopped. But nobody has given up. Neither the Israeli government nor the
Do you see enough determination and ability in the West to stop the Iranian
nuclear bomb? Don't you think that both the West and Israel have failed so
far in a big way in their attempts at stopping it?
"Everyone agrees about the need to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.
The problem is that the attempt to arrive at consensus decisions at the UN
leads to delays in the timetables and to compromises. That's why even the
decision taken this week in the UN Security Council was taken very late, and
deals only with soft sanctions. There is a need to impose harsh sanctions on
Iraq, immediate and unequivocal ones. Most members of the Security Council
It's not too late?
"The important point is the acquisition of know-how. The crossing of the
Crossing the threshold is liable to take place in 2007. Maybe even in the
coming months. "Israeli policy is to lower our profile on the Iranian issue.
And if I continue to answer your questions that won't be lowering our
profile. We have to be aware of the fact that time is working against us.
But we are working. We're in a process. We're maintaining international
awareness of the Iranian threat."
And not only that. We're doing even better, and coming out with a series of
unprecedented declarations that create a feeling that the policy of
ambiguity has changed. Did you like the declarations?
"To be fair, it must be said that a problem has been created. Even in places
where they understand the Iranian threat, they were forced to respond
aggressively on this matter because of inner discomfort stemming from the
fact that Israel is seen as a threat. But a large part of the impression was
created due to media coverage."
Are the media to blame?
"The media are always to blame. By definition."
Is there a change in the policy of ambiguity?
"There's no change. I'm a partner in this context and there is no decision
about a change in policy."
And shouldn't there be a change?
"No. What people know they know."
Shouldn't the change in the situation lead to an increase in the level of
Israeli deterrence vis-a-vis Iran?
"Israel has deterrent power in this area. People know what they have to
Are you aware of the fact that since the Lebanon war there has been a sense
of profound crisis in Israel?
"I see it. People have a feeling of an existential threat. If there is
anything that disturbs me, it's the sense that people feel a need for
physical survival. I think that's extreme. There's no justification for
that. But this process disturbs me because it has internal consequences.
Anyone who can is beginning to think in family terms of bank accounts
abroad, to send the child to study abroad, a foreign language, a foreign
passport. I feel that's wrong both from a Zionist and a social point of
view. Because this is being done by those who are able, and that increases
the distress of those who are unable."
The distress does not stem only from the external threat. It also stems from
the sense that there is a leadership crisis in Israel.
"That's the situation. I can't argue with feelings. Yes. It exists."
Olmert? I'll run if I have to
You were close to Sharon. What did Sharon give the Israeli public and what
was lost with his leaving?
"Sharon provided a sense of security. The public does not expect the
leadership never to make mistakes. The public expects the person who is
sitting there on top to have the right considerations. To consider the good
of the nation and the country over the long term rather than in the here and
"That's why the question is not whether the leadership makes mistakes. It's
natural to make mistakes. The question is whether there is someone sitting
and weighing things in such a way that even if he makes a mistake, it will
not be a dramatic one. And if he makes a mistake, he'll know how to fix it.
That's how it was with Sharon. Slower movement is good."
Do you remember the moment of Sharon's collapse?
"Yes. There was that terrible night. When most of the night you crossed your
fingers. A silent prayer. And then I went to Jerusalem and I had a buzzing
in my head that the public is looking toward Jerusalem and it needs a
government in Jerusalem. Otherwise everything will fall apart. I remember
the feeling that they were looking at us, and now we would either take
responsibility or everything would fall apart. And we had to convey the
message that there was a responsible adult. There are responsible adults.
And that we were together.
"Therefore, when I heard people in the media already talking about the fact
that there were two heads - Olmert and me - I knew we had to cut off a head
immediately, and that was my head. I approached the television cameras and
said that there was a deputy prime minister and that we were standing behind
him and with him."
And when you look back after a year - did you fulfill the assignment? Is
there a responsible adult in Jerusalem? "I know that the public feels
Are you satisfied with the government in which you are serving?
"The fact is that the public feels a lack of confidence."
And what is the source of that feeling?
"The leadership in Israel is a very lonely place, unfortunately. I believe
in teamwork. But in teamwork, you also expose weaknesses. That's why many
politicians in Israel refrain from that. I feel that the problem is one of
an absence of teamwork as it should be."
We all hope that the term of Prime Minister Olmert will continue for as long
as possible. But after the Olmert era, do you see yourself qualified for the
"In terms of qualifications, yes. I did not set my sights on being prime
minister. I really didn't. It's something that was created. A while ago, I
would have answered you differently. But there was a process here that has
So that as far as you're concerned, you've grown and matured and today
you're qualified to be prime minister?
"I'm qualified to be prime minister."
So when the Olmert era is over, you're next in line?
"If I see that at the point when the contest takes place, there are missions
that I haven't completed and that I must complete and I'll be able to
complete by being prime minister - I'll run for the premiership."
Is there a possibility that you would run against Olmert?
"I've told you what my test is. It's not personal. It's not connected to
some identity or other. If I can do what I believe in and receive that same
cooperation that we discussed - I'm happy where I am. If I can't do that,
I'll compete for the place where I can do it, which is the place of prime
I don't hear any outright rejection of running against Olmert.
"I'm interested not in the job but in the issue. I entered politics first
and foremost to further the diplomatic issue. At the point where I am, that
can be done if there is support from the prime minister. Therefore, if I
have such support and I can do what I believe I must, I won't look for the
next slot. If not, I'll run for prime minister."
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