TZIPI LIVNI opened proceedings on Day 2 of the Annual Herzlia Conference held at the Dan Accadia Hotel. Livni is to hold the Justice Ministry in the new Israeli Government. She is also being given the role of Israeli negotiator with the Palestinian Authority. Here is part of what she said;“There are only two options between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan, or two separate states or one state … just as the Palestinians need to know that there are Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, we need to know that there are Palestinians in the same place…In the negotiation room we need to stop talking about who has the greater right to be here … We have to see how we can create more than just a shared life … we need to see whether we can live together, even though I don’t want to live together, I want a divorce…It is critical for us to reach a final status agreement with the Palestinians. It has been an open wound since 1867 that has to be healed ... Having two states for two nations is the most basic and only interest of the Jewish people. It’s the only way we can preserve the existence of a democratic Jewish state.”
An interesting discussion took place on the panel “Israel’s Right to Self-Defense: Strategic, Moral, and Legal Restraints” where the freedom of a country to act in self-defense was discussed. In Israel, the security discourse is critical. Self-defense and deterrence are two conflicting concepts. If a country wants to defend itself it can, under international law, only repel an attack. If we insert deterrence as an option it could conflict with international law. Issues such as this, raised by the international community, could and have affected Israel’s ability to strike in its self-defense. Israel is a country whose very existence is under attack by regimes that do not recognize its right to exist or even respect Israel’s sovereignty. Up to 1982, the threat against Israel had been by states and conventional armies. Since then, Israel has been coping with non-state enemies. Today, Israel is forced to go to war with non-state actors who use another territory or nation to infiltrate into and attack Israel. Dealing with those threats has placed Israel as a special platform for international law. It is forced to act against the norms accepted in the world. It appears that if its people are shot at from another territory, Israel cannot shoot back, but Israeli citizens, like citizens of any country, demand that their government protect them. It is the duty of any government to protect its citizens. Self-defense, in international law, does not tolerate punitive actions. The ability for self-defense, in international law, exists, but with restrictions. Israel’s appeals that it acts against proxies of other states (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) fell on deaf ears. It was not accepted until the international community acted against Al-Qaida.
The analogy of Pearl Harbour was given where, under international law the Americans did not have to wait until the bombs dropped. It would have been legitimate to attack the planes when they were on their way. But Israel cannot wait for the missiles to be launched. It does not have the luxury of time and distance to wait for an attack.
When Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear facility in a preventative attack the world did not see this as such. In the 6 Day War, Israel did a pre-emptive strike after Egypt closed the Suez Canal, kicked out UN forces, and recruited Jordan and Syria in advance of a war against it. This was considered self-defense.
Professor of Law, Moshe Halbertal, said that in Lebanon in 1980 “the other side lost its right to live when it threatened and acted to kill Israelis.” Wars, he said, should not be fought in hubris or out of arrogance. Lebanon had to do with expulsion of the PLO and the establishment of a new regime. This is wrong under international law. Any war that leads to a change of purpose should not be fought. In Iran, he said, Israel has a justification but must be cautious about an exit strategy.
The international community feels that if Israel has an occasional rocket fired at it, it should not react, but a state has the duty to protect its citizens even if the situation following a response deteriorates. Standing your ground is not about body count on the other side. It starts from the basic necessity of self-defense.
There is a level of double standards being applied to Israel by the international community when it comes to its self-defense. Major-General Dan Harel said “I would rather hear reprimand than have them shed tears over my grave. It’s good to be in the camp of the righteous but the other side doesn’t fight according to Queensbury Rules.” He gave the following scenario; In Lebanon, there are 196 Shiite villages in the south with rockets, long-range missiles, and weapons of up to 100 kg hidden in homes. Hezbollah chief, Nasrallah, give to order “Go!” The IDF commander can be the most moral man on earth but what is he going to do? Warn them? Tell the villagers to leave within minutes before he is allowed to do something? This applies to Gaza. There were targets we did not attack because of the risk of collateral damage, and they used those weapons against us. The right of self-defense can be the sanctuary of the villain. In 1999, NATO dropped bombs from a height of 15,000 feet that hit innocent civilians to create a ceasefire in Kosovo, and that was considered OK.
My question, posed against a scenario of repeated attacks from Hamas with increasingly long-range and sophisticated missiles, that regime removal should also be defined as an act of self-defense was met with several objections by one or two members of the panel. I insisted that, if it was legitimate to remove Saddam Hussein, Gadafi, and Assad, it should also be legitimate to remove a Hamas or Hezbollah regime that officially talks of the destruction of Israel and act on that motivation, out of a policy of self-defense. After all, if this is not legitimate then the removal of Adolph Hitler would have been illegitimate. I was pleased to hear from Moshe Halbertal that a Hamas regime removal would be considered legal under international law, even though her personally thought it would be a “stupid move” by Israel.
Fast forward to an interesting panel discussion on “Is the Israel-Palestinian Impasse Breakable?” Here we saw the type of discussion that is common among Israeli policy and opinion makers. Shlomo Avneri said, “I appreciate Tzipi Livni’s desire for a Two-State solution but I am skeptical that it can be achieved. She was involved with Ehud Olmert negotiating in good faith for two years. Both sides had the most moderate parties at that time. The fact was it didn’t happen. When the sides came to the nitty-gritty there was a big divide over borders and settlements, refugees, and Jerusalem. Palestinians say that Israel has to go back to 1967 lines but there are more than a quarter of a million Israelis living in the West Bank. They don’t sit on hilltops. They are second generation citizens living in large towns. Land swops won’t solve the problem. Ramot and Gilo in Jerusalem, for Palestinians, are settlements. There are 200,000 Jews there, they say, that must be removed. Do you know of any city that is the capital of two states after forty years of war? It is wrong to press for final status agreements. Today, countries like Cyprus and Kosovo do not have final status agreements with their adversaries.”
Michael Herzog asked is a Two-State solution valid? Is it desirable? He thought it was. Without it, he said, would prolong the conflict and lead to radicalism. Is it possible? “Yes, on the ground it is possible. Settlements take up about 4%. There is space for a Palestinian entity. Is it possible to bridge core issues? This is problematic but in theory, yes. Is it possible given the two sides leadership? I am skeptical. This is not very favorable. What does it take to generate a peace process? There is the need for urgency, a leadership decision in words and deeds. The parties need to engage. They have to agree to improve the atmosphere, to create back channels to discuss the issues. We shouldn’t give up. We should try if only to tell the world that we did our best if we fail.”
Yoav Hendel who worked with Benjamin Netanyahu, said “The status quo is bad for Israel. Palestinians keep missing every opportunity given to them. The two sides cannot agree, not on Jerusalem, refugees, or settlements. If we don’t want to status quo we need to set the Israeli consensus. We can enter into interim agreements. After what we experienced in Gaza we cannot build castles in the sky. Settlement blocks are part of Israel. We can give the Palestinians alternatives in land but major settlements will remain part of Israel. We now need to manage the conflict to minimize the friction. After 46 years of conflict we need to think out of the box.”
Danny Dayan reminded the panel that, in Hebrew, the subject matter was not just of an impasse but it also asked was the idea of a Two-State solution still valid. He thought the two questions point to the impossibility of the notion. “There is an impasse because we called for a Two-State solution that is impossible to achieve. It’s like somebody determined to drive to Eldorado. They try taking a left turn, then a right turn, but cannot reach their destination. A Two-State solution is our Eldorado. It’s a nice dream but not a place based in reality no matter what route you take. You cannot reconcile the two national movements. The Palestinian aspirations are real and genuine. However, their desire to live in Hebron as a sovereign state clashes with our rights. Every effort you take is doomed to failure. Olmert was imbued with a religious fever, almost a messianic desire to reach that Two-State solution. Even Tzipi Livni, our new negotiator, said in ‘The New Republic” that it was reckless. His offer was rejected by Abbas. President Obama is coming to the region. He can go along the beaten path. We will get to a new impasse. This obsession for a two-State solution, twenty years after Oslo is impossible to reach. The burden of proof is on the believers not on the doubters. To say that a One-State solution is the only alternative to a failed Two-State solution is a linguistic trick. It is as unreachable as the Two-State failure. We should try a new modus vivendi with the Palestinian Authority with 95% of their population under their own control and with their own security. We should launch a pro-active human rights policy for the Palestinians, an improved status quo where they can freely travel, go to the beaches of Israel, with security as a precondition for everything.”
Shlomo Avneri responded to Dayan. “You are emasculating their national self-determination. They don’t want to visit the beach. They want full independence and self-expression.”
Michael Herzog. “I think the status quo will explode in our faces. I agree there are great difficulties but we must set the steps and start the process. If we fail I would support Israel taking unilateral steps in its own self-interest.”
Dr. Robert Danin of the US Council on Foreign Relations said, “Negotiations are not the way to go. If you want to kill an idea just say ‘We tried that before and it can’t be done.’ The concept of Zionism, of a Start-Up Nation, is that you are great thinkers. You are never satisfied with the status quo – until it comes to the peace process, and then you are not applying original thinking.”
Yoav Hendel. “The only option is to create a process of interim agreements.”
Michael Herzog. “It takes two to tango even for interim agreements. My knowledge is that the Palestinians will not agree to interim agreements until they see an end game. I don’t see the US Administration imposing a solution without taking Palestinian considerations into account.”
Danny Dayan. Is the Two-State solution possible, or not? Negative. If a Palestinian state was established it would not end the conflict. Let’s put it bluntly. The reason there is a ‘moderate’ Palestinian entity known as Abbas is because of the presence of the IDF. The moment that Israel withdraws the clock begins ticking to end Abbas’s political and maybe physical life. To say that Gaza is Hamas and the West Bank is Fatah is an urban legend. There are mornings when I wake up and believe that Bibi (Benjamin Netanyahu) wants Two-States. There are mornings I wake up and think he is bluffing. There are mornings that Bibi wakes up and thinks the same..”
Robert Danin. “Four years ago Obama made a speech in Cairo and did nothing. There is ridicule in Egypt against America. It is not enough to articulate your policy. You have to pursue it.
The opinions of leading policy makers displays the frustrations of a peace process going nowhere.
Zionism in the 21st Century brought us some special words from Rabbi Israel Meir Lau who thought that Aliyah was the greatest challenge for Zionism, Jews, and Israel.“As a motto we have the vision of Isaiah who, thousands of years ago, defined Aliyah as ‘the Ingathering of the Exiles’ Who are these sons and daughters who he said shall come ‘as a cloud or as a dove’? Isaiah lived in the time of the First Temple yet, today, we see people who come as a cloud or as a dove. I came as a little cloud. I came out of the ashes of Auschwitz. My parents were killed. My home destroyed. I was pushed here, as were many Jews, by the winds of progroms, anti-Semitic hatred, the Holocaust, as a wind pushes the clouds. Others come as doves urged with a desire to return to their nest, acting out of a free will to be united with their people.”
Natan Sharansky told a different story. “I married my bride in a small flat in Moscow. There was barely a minyan. We had barely twelve hours together before her flight to Israel and my arrest. We did not meet again for twelve years when they released me to come to Israel. Suddenly, we were part of the history of the Jewish people, the Exodus, that there is a Jewish country ready to send planes and rescue Jews and welcome them into their homeland. I want ot bring Israel to the Diaspora. I want to reconquer the universities, these ’occupied territories’ where I hear ‘it’s better for my Jewish values if Israel did not exist at all.’ We have to tell these Jews that it is cool to connect to Israel. It could be with hi-tech or matchmaking. It doesn’t matter. We need to find a way to strengthen Jews worldwide by strengthening the link between them and Israel.”
Rabbi Lau said we have enough good Zionist role models to persuade Diaspora Jews that “I want to belong to that club.” These people should be sent as representatives, as emissaries to strengthen the ties. “The next Aliyah will be a dove Aliyah. It will be an example to our neighbors that we are a strong people of quality.”