Livni touts normalization, warns of sidelining Palestinian issue  

Israel’s new partners in the UAE ‘are speaking about [normalization] as warm peace — more than we have with other countries that we have signed peace agreements with in the past,’ Livni told JI

Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, vice prime minister and minister of justice, celebrated the strength of the Abraham Accords in a conversation with Jewish Insider on the sidelines of the Aspen Security Forum last week, but also warned of the potential consequences of sidelining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pushing ahead with judicial overhaul plans.

While in government, Livni held discreet meetings with Arab leaders, long before the Abraham Accords were formalized, as well as having served as the lead Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians. She said, based on recent trips to the United Arab Emirates, that the relationships that followed the 2020 normalization agreement between the UAE and Israel are even stronger than expected.

“Most of us used to look at it [through our] shared security interest because of Iran, and this [would be] the reason for reaching [out] and signing normalization,” she said. “But I discovered… that they are speaking about it as warm peace — more than we have with other countries that we have signed peace agreements with in the past.”

“They insist on saying that it’s not about shared enemies, it’s about mutual interest. It’s about how to work together. It’s about peace,” Livni continued — one of the few bright spots she discussed in an otherwise dour interview.

Livni said that Arab leaders’ decision to de-link normalization with Israel from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “created a really new Middle East.” She said that while she celebrates the changes and hopes that Saudi Arabia and others join as well, she also has concerns about the consequences for Israel of sidelining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Even if Gulf states and Arab states decide to change the linkage [of normalization] to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is our responsibility [in Israel] to [address it],” she argued. “It can be an opportunity, if the Saudis will take steps toward Israel [and] Israel will take steps toward the Palestinians — this can be a win-win.”

She noted that the UAE asked Israel to pause annexation plans as a condition of normalization and said that with the U.S. acting as a broker, a similar situation could arise from the Saudi negotiations.

Livni emphasized that she sees a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “a crucial Israeli interest” necessary to maintain Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

“Even if we cannot find a [negotiating] partner [among the Palestinians] now, our responsibility is to keep the road open,” she said, by refraining from steps such as expanding settlements and legalizing illegal outposts.

Livni said that, in addition to military action against terrorists, it’s in Israel’s interests to “strengthen the moderates” among the Palestinians.

“What the government did during the last years is the opposite. Attacking the PA [Palestinian Authority], attacking [PA President Mahmoud Abbas]. That’s a mistake, even if you cannot achieve peace the next day,” she said. “The last thing that Israel needs is to topple down the PA, because we don’t want to take responsibility [for] millions of Palestinians that are living in the West Bank.”

Livni, who has participated in the ongoing protests against the Israeli government’s proposed judicial overhaul, also warned that the reforms could negatively impact Israel’s relationship with the U.S., which she emphasized is “critical for Israel’s security.”

“Every Israeli leader who comes to the U.S. starts his speeches by saying, ‘Unbreakable, unshakable bonds based on shared values,’” Livni said. “It is our responsibility — for the sake of Israelis and the State of Israel — to keep these values in Israel. But also to understand that this is the basis for the relations between Israel and the U.S.”

She also said that she believes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost control of his coalition and the judicial overhaul process.

“When this was established, he gave a blank check to all these partners to write whatever they wanted,” Livni said. “At first, he thought that he [could] control this. And this is what he promised in multiple different interviews in English. But he can’t, not anymore.”

Livni said she believes that she was ahead of her time in her 2019 election campaign in warning of dangers to Israeli democracy.

“My campaign was fighting for democracy, but I was a lonely voice at the time,” she said. “To see all of these hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets, it’s really moving.”

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