Livni calls for 2 states and Jewish renewal

'What does it mean to be a Jewish state? What is the next chapter?'

Photos/Mike Lovett

Student Rebecca Klein with, from left, Livni, President Jehuda Reinharz and Professor Ilan Troen of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies.

The leader of the largest party in the Israeli Knesset declared at a town-hall-style forum at Brandeis Oct. 4 that she could not form a coalition government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party because Netanyahu was not sincerely interested in forging a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Tzipi Livni, a former Likud member who now chairs the Kadima party, said Netanyahu did not want her as a coalition partner and that, in any case, “I have nothing to do in a government that is not willing even to say the words ‘two-state solution.’”

About 450 people filled Sherman Hall to overflowing and partially filled the Carl J. Shapiro Theater for a simulcast.

While the news and speculation of the moment focused on Netanyahu’s pending decision on whether to extend a partial freeze on building in the occupied territories, Livni said an extension of a month or two would make little difference. What matters, she said, is for Israel to have political leadership that accepts the need for a two-state solution and takes concrete steps to achieve it.

Livni has become a leading advocate in Israel of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through an agreement in which each people achieves a homeland and makes no further claims on the other’s territories.

Her position is particularly striking to some because she is an ardent nationalist. Her parents both were members of the Irgun. She has deep affection for Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and believes, as did Jabotinsky and her own father, that Jews have a right to the whole Land of Israel – including, as an old song has it, “the West Bank, and the East Bank too...”

“We need to make a political decision” to end the struggle with the Palestinians, she says. “The only way to keep Israel as a Jewish state is…to keep a Jewish majority in Israel. We need not only to accept the idea of two states for two peoples, we need to implement it.”

“Peace is in the Israeli interest. It is not a favor to the Palestinians, or to the Arab world, or to the President of the United States,” she says. “We are going to give up places that I truly believe are parts of the land of our forefathers. But this needs to be done…to keep Israel maybe a smaller place, but the place of the Jewish people.”

Livni is the first woman to serve as foreign minister of Israel since Golda Meir. She has been at one time or another minister of justice, of immigration, of housing and construction, and more.

Livni’s trip to the United States was not primarily about the Israeli-Palestinian situation, or regional events in Turkey and Iran, though that is what many in her audience at Brandeis and at an October 5 breakfast meeting sponsored by the Crown Center for Middle East Studies and the Belfer Center at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government wanted to ask about.

What she said she really wanted to discuss was the state of the Jews, both inside the State of the Jews and in the Diaspora. She said there is need for a dialogue about relations between Israeli Jews and the Jews of the Diaspora, and to encourage greater connection between the two.

Livni entered politics in 1995 out of concern over the split that had emerged among Israelis over the Oslo Accords – a division that has only grown deeper.

“Now in Israel there are two voices -- the ultra-Orthodox, and at the other pole is what we call the seculars, especially young people, for whom being Israelis basically means speaking Hebrew and serving in the army,” she says. “In secular schools, there is not understanding of the need to teach about Judaism, about history, about culture.”

In the Diaspora, she said, the feeling that Israel’s creation and survival was a miracle has dissipated among the young, except the minority who have made meaningful visits with their families, or through such programs as Taglit-Birthright.

“What does it mean to be a Jewish state and homeland of the Jewish people? What is the next chapter?” She said that Israelis and world Jewry need to ask these questions. “We need to confront together what is Israel. Why is there a need for a state for Jewish people? We need to make it clear.”

She was emphatic that talk is not enough. Those inside the state and those outside have to revisit and redefine their peoplehood.

For Israelis, she said, this should mean “when it comes to decisions that can affect not only the future of Israel but the future of the world Jewish community, we need to take the world Jewish community into account. We are not doing this.”

For people in the Diaspora, it means getting a feel for what Israel is. “You cannot be connected to a place you have not seen,” she said. And, she added, Israeli youth have a parallel need. “I want them to feel they are connected to a bigger thing, they are part of the Jewish people,” she said.

At the end of a long Q&A session, she was asked by Professor Ilan Troen, director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, if she wanted to make a concluding statement. She chose instead to let the eight people still standing in line ask their questions – one after another. She took no notes, and proceeded to respond to each question in detail – until the last one.

What about Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by the Islamic terrorist group Hamas four years ago, whose return has become a passionate priority for huge numbers of Jews, inside and outside Israel?

“This represents for me something unique for the Jewish people,” Livni said with emotion, noting that no other state invests such concern and support in a single soldier. “People say it is part of the weakness of the Israeli people; I say it is part of the strength of the Israeli people…I don’t want to say something political about this.”

And so she finished: “Hopefully, we are going to end this conflict with the Palestinians and live – I don’t know happily ever after, but who knows. Maybe. Why not?”

Categories: International Affairs

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