Q& A: Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister

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Sunday, January 22, 2006

I srael's new foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is a rising star in Israel's centrist Kadima party. Although she grew up in a right-wing Likud family, Livni, 47, strongly supported Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's decision to withdraw Israeli troops and settlements from the Gaza Strip as well as his formation of a new party -- which is favored to win the most votes in elections set for March. In an interview in English on Friday with Newsweek-Washington Post's Lally Weymouth, Livni described her relationship with Sharon, her feelings about the role of Hamas in Palestinian elections and her commitment to finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Excerpts:

Is it true that you were the first person Prime Minister Sharon asked to join his new party?

Even before he decided, we had some consultations. He hesitated [to form the party]. The morning I knew he was thinking about it, I entered his office and told him that I thought this was the right thing to do. It was a gamble. But I said I'm willing to take my chances and wait for his call.

What made you make up your mind?

I entered Israel's political life and joined Likud because I thought it should lead Israel in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . But in the last two years, most of Likud leaders couldn't decide. There was the disengagement plan. Some of them voted against it. At the beginning, I thought that the day after the disengagement plan, we could all be united and lead the country again. Then I understood that there is no chance to get the Likud to be a united party because most Likud leaders couldn't make clear statements about the need for Israel to support a process for a two-state solution. Mostly they were arguing about the past, not the future. Until now, every Likud platform starts with the word "no" to a Palestinian state, "no" to the disengagement plan, "no" to this and "no" to that. I believe it's important that a party that wants to lead Israel should have a platform that is about values or ideas and accept the understanding that, at the end of the day, there's going to be two states.

You need a party that puts forward values?

My need as an Israeli and a Jew is to keep a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people, a sovereign, Jewish and democratic state with a Jewish majority. So how do we [do that]? The idea is to divide the land, to give up some of our rights on the land of Israel and to establish a two-state solution.

It is important to understand the real meaning of a two-state solution. Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and embraced all the Jews who had to leave Arab states. This should be also the true meaning of the future Palestinian state. It should be the answer for the Palestinians wherever they are -- those who live in the territories and those who are being kept as political cards in refugee camps. This is the hard core of the conflict. In other words, the establishment of a Palestinian state takes [care of] what the Palestinians call "the right of return."

How are you going to get there? Are you going to evacuate West Bank settlements?

This government adopted the road map to give the Palestinians a political horizon . . . to define from the beginning that at the end of the process, Israel will negotiate with the Palestinians all the final status issues. The road map to get two states was cut into phases. In the first phase there are also some Israeli obligations but mostly it is the Palestinians' obligation to dismantle terrorist organizations, to reform, to democratize. The idea is that Israel will not accept a Palestinian state that hosts terrorist organizations or is a base for terror against Israeli civilians.

So what do you do about the fact that after the Palestinian elections next week, Hamas may become a large part of the Palestinian government ?


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