Kafe Knesset for June 28

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Interview with Tzipi Livni: As the White House is brushing off reports which indicate that the President might be considering backing off from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, former Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni told Kafe Knesset today she believes that the President should present his own list of core principles on the table and use it to kick off negotiations.

“This is something that Obama did not do – and it is an opportunity for President Trump. Obama hesitated. But all you need to do is present a paper with just a few sentences. Talking about where are we going. Separation from the Palestinians. Two states for two peoples. A demilitarized Palestinian state. They already agreed on it, so why not write it? Pre 1967 border lines plus swaps has already been agreed as a base for negotiations. By putting these simple principles on the table – both leaders – Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, would be forced to make decisions. I respect the fact that the President doesn’t want to force both sides to accept content, but he should force them to make decisions. And in the past Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to negotiate on the basis of these principles.

“I care about the Israeli interest, I am in politics for the future of the State of Israel. But Israel is changing its direction, destination and vision without noticing and without any real decision about it. Since Day One, the whole idea was a Jewish and democratic state. Without noticing we are going in another direction towards annexation. “Annexation” is a word that until two years ago nobody even thought about or talked about in public. This is an idea that I believe is against the nature of the State of Israel as a democracy and the need to maintain a Jewish majority.

“The idea is for President Trump put something on the table. It can use very general words but it will portray the direction that we need to go in. Call both sides to come to Mar-a-Lago and negotiate on this. If both sides say “yes” it means Israel is going in the right direction. And all these ideas about annexation and one state would be taken off the table – not only in Israel but on the Palestinian side, I am worried that in a few years they will start going in this direction.”

KK: Frankly – you know the sides, Abbas and Netanyahu. Do you think these players can make the ultimate deal?

TL: “I don’t know, but I think that it is worth trying now because there is a huge opportunity. Nobody wants to say no to President Trump. And I believe that the moderate Sunni Arab world understands that the real threat to the Middle East is Iran and Daesh and not Israel. They are willing to work with Israel but they cannot do it as long as the Israeli – Palestinian conflict is the glass ceiling of our relationship. They can help Israelis to make any decisions because peace would change the position of Israel in the region. I know that Netanyahu knows that this is something a vast majority of Israelis would accept. We should not miss this opportunity. I am so worried. I see the opportunity and hope it won’t be missed because of political problems. And it should be clear – Netanyahu doesn’t have a political problem because if Netanyahu is willing to take these steps he has a different coalition that will support him. But until now he wasn’t willing to take these bold steps.”

KK: The government gave a “slap in the face” to US Jewry on the Kotel and the conversion bill, but we did see a cross spectrum embrace from the Knesset.

TL: “This is because of the importance of the relations between Israel world Jewry. This is the meaning of being the nation-state of the Jewish people. And as decision makers we need to take into consideration not only our personal political interests but the influence of our decisions on world Jewry. It is not only about world Jewry, it is about how we translate our Judaism here in Israel. When I go to the synagogue it is an Orthodox synagogue, when I go to the Western Wall I go to the women’s part without any hesitation. But it is important for me to respect this who practice Judaism in another manner. Therefore giving the Orthodox a monopoly on the nature of Judaism to the State of Israel is wrong. And giving the monopoly on conversion to the Chief Rabbinate is wrong. And it affects not only world Jewry, but also those who came to Israel under the Law of Return and they cannot get married like any other Israeli.”

KK: The PM knows all of this. He knew these decisions would create such an uproar. So how do you explain his decisions?

TL: “I think that the Prime Minister, in a way, is now crossing boundaries and red lines that he did not cross in the past. I see it in it different forms. I think that he feels that he can do everything. His focus is his own political survival. We can see it with various bills which he puts on the table that change the nature of the State inside. In a way the Likud is the biggest party but the Haredi and settler ideology controls the Likud, and BB is doing whatever they want, and without arguing or trying to find another compromise. How can you just break a compromise that was made?”

KK: Maybe the message is you can’t make deals with the Israeli government?

TL: “I don’t think it is about the Israeli government. The prime minister is problematic in keeping deals.”

KK: Our colleague and former KK contributor Amir Tibon wrote this week that the lesson should be learned by the Trump administration. Do you agree?

TL: “I don’t advise the Trump administration.”

Edelstein makes history: Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein gave a deeply symbolic speech in the upper house of the Russian parliament this morning. Not only was he the first Israeli to do so, but 33 years ago, Edelstein was imprisoned by the Soviet Union and sent to the gulag for teaching Hebrew. Today, he addressed the Federation Council in Hebrew, with a kippa on his head. Edelstein addressed the historic nature of the moment head-on, saying that the revival of Hebrew symbolizes freedom and justice for the Jewish people, and never in his wildest dreams would be have thought this could happen.

The speech did not shy away from the issues – Edelstein called out Iran, Russia’s ally in the Middle East, for spreading terrorism and an “ideology of hatred” around the region and the world.

Life and times of a Refusenik: After the speech, Edelstein visited stations from his life in Moscow. These include the Choral Synagogue, where Refuseniks would meet. His home, where he was arrested. The courtroom where he was sentenced. The jail where he spent 3 months before being sent to the gulag. The tour was clearly an emotional one for Edelstein, who had not been to most of the places in 33 years. At times, he was at a loss for words. Many of Edelstein’s stories revolved around the lengths he would go to for Jewish observance. The secret Simchat Torah celebration in a synagogue, how he lit matches in his prison cell on Hanukkah and hid a siddur between the boards of his bed, or the one time he lost his cool and pounced on a prison guard who broke his tefilin. Edelstein also thanked the courageous Diaspora Jews who visited him and his Refusenik friends in the USSR who smuggled Jewish materials to him.

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