With civil war in Syria, terrorist groups like ISIS and new leadership in Saudi Arabia, the political quagmire of the Middle East can seem insurmountable.
But in the power dynamics affected by rapidly evolving threats, Tzipi Livni sees opportunities for new alliances and peace.
Livni, the leader of the left-wing Israeli party Hatnua, advocated for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at a University of Pennsylvania Law School event on Nov. 16. Livni, who has served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Justice and been a designated acting prime minister, was involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in 2008 and 2013.
She spoke about the various issues at play involved in creating an agreement with the Palestinians, such as security, refugees and the role of other Arab countries.
“I know that there are those saying that a good agreement is an agreement where both sides are not satisfied,” Livni said. “I don’t agree. I believe that a good agreement is an agreement that both sides understand that it’s a compromise, that they gave up something, but in the end, they want to sign and accept the full package.”
Rangita de Silva de Alwis, the associate dean of international programs at Penn Law School, introduced Livni by speaking of her accomplishments as a female politician, especially in international negotiations, where women have only made up 2 percent of chief mediators over the past two decades.
“Most women and men would applaud when Tzipi says often, ‘I didn’t go into politics for my parents. I went into politics for my children, that I should leave my two sons with more than a bank balance, that I should leave with them a dividend of peace,’” Silva de Alwis said. “As she has said, ‘This is not only for my own children but for generations to come.’”
Livni said creating two states for two peoples is the only path forward for Israel to remain both a Jewish and democratic state. If Israel annexed the Palestinian territories, Israel would have to give millions of Palestinians equal rights or become an apartheid state.
Her position, she said, is not really about a future Palestine. It is about what she believes is best for Israel.
“This is my national GPS. This is what I put in Waze when I enter my drive,” she said in setting up a metaphor she returned to multiple times. “But I need to stop in a station on the way and reach an agreement with the Palestinians because the other road is to greater Israel, political rights to everybody, and the meaning is losing Israel as a Jewish, democratic state.”
She said she was pleased to hear President Donald Trump speak about how he wants a deal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because in the end, two states for two peoples is the only deal that is just and that both sides can agree to.
In her peace talks with Palestinians over the past decade, Livni has come to several important agreements. One of the most significant involves the matter of security. She said she convinced Palestinians to agree to be a non-militarized state by listening to their concerns on the matter. When she realized that their resistance to the idea came from concern over their sovereignty not being recognized, she pointed out that there were other non-militarized nations.
“You need to understand what is the problem of the other side,” Livni said. “When I understood that it’s a matter of dignity the way it has been described also by us, we found a way to move forward without putting it in a manner that they could not swallow.”
She also spoke about the border and refugees. Using the ’67 border would be unrealistic for a new Palestinian state, she said, though the process of drawing the new border would be very complex. There would need to be land swaps to ensure Israeli settlements are in Israel and Palestinian villages are in a Palestinian state. A border wall would also be necessary, at least at first, she said.
Creating two states would actually solve the Palestinian refugees issue, Livni said. Just as Israel, as a Jewish state, absorbed Jewish refugees, the Palestinian state would absorb Palestinian refugees.
Livni also sees solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the “glass ceiling” to creating relationships with countries throughout the Arab world. With the rise of new terrorist groups in the Middle East, Arab countries are beginning to see them as the enemy, rather than Israel. She wants support from other Arab countries in the creation of a future Palestinian state, to reduce the chance of it failing and becoming another Gaza.
When it comes to Jerusalem, specifically the Temple Mount, Livni said she doesn’t know what agreement can be made there, but still believes strongly in continuing to work toward the establishment of two states.
“We are stuck maybe, but is anybody, when you have traffic jams, are you changing the direction that you want to go now?” Livni said. “You are trying to find other ways to reach the same direction.”
Penn Law Students for Israel co-sponsored the event, along with International Programs and Perry World House. Penn Law Students for Israel presidents Shane Fischman and Adam Poliner said they were especially pleased with the 340 people who turned out for the event.
“Our hopes were that we could have a good, substantive event, lecture, and that it could reach a variety of people, whether it be difference in age or comfort or knowledge of the situation,” Poliner said. “Based on the attendance, we did succeed in that.”
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