Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, made the rounds in Boston today. A rising star, she was the subject of a memorable profile in The New York Times Magazine. I caught most of her remarks to a gathering at the Park Plaza organized by the Combined Jewish Philanthropies. She later appeared at the State House and will speak at the Kennedy School later today.
Her speech timed to coincide with Israel’s 60th anniversary, the tone of Livni’s remarks was subdued. Israel faces uncertain borders on at least two fronts — Lebanon to the north and Gaza to the south. “Israel is still fighting for its existence,” she said.
Much, if not most, of Livni’s speech focused on the renewed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, at least the portion of the PA’s Fatah faction that controls the West Bank. Gaza, Livni acknowledged, is run by Hamas, which showers missiles down upon the Israeli cities of Sderot and Ashkelon.
Livni’s central point that the negotiations are necessary for Israel’s survival. “Time is of the essence,” she warned, adding that “more and more changes in the conflict” are coming. Some of the forces that dictate attempting to make a deal now, she said, include anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, Arab League diplomatic action, and potential United Nations resolutions. She went so far as to allude to “international forces” being inserted into the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. I took that to mean that she fears the international community will attempt to place some kind of international peace-keeping body on Israel’s borders. “Time is not working for us,” she said.
Livni also offered a slightly different take on events which followed the failed conclusion of the Oslo discussions between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak at Camp David. “Frustration can lead to violence,” Livni said. “We faced an intifada after Camp David.” The general pro-Israeli view has been that Arafat and his cronies launched the violence or allowed it to start to distract from their refusal to make peace with Israel. It was, for example, not frustration that prompted Nabil Shaath, a key Arafat ally, to say as early as 1996, according to a story in the Jerusalem Post, that when negotiations eventually deadlocked, the Palestinians would return to the armed struggle and “all acts of violence” would return.
Iran, which I heard so much about during my last reporting trip in Israel, merited very little attention in the organized portion of Livni’s comments. “It needs to be stopped when it comes to its aspiration to have a nuclear weapon,” she said.
The job of being both Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians and top diplomat with members of the often hostile world community is not an easy one. She tempered her remarks with realism, even pessimism, in parts. The substance of her comments reflects the indifference and anger Israel faces from the international community, which seems to be grinding Israel’s will down as it approaches its 60th birthday.