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Home > News & Analysis > Analysis
Tzipi Livni needs three things
Nadia Hijab, Agence Global, Sep 20, 2008

This article was originally published by Agence Global and is republished with permission.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni, shake hands during their 2007 meeting in Paris. (Omar Rashidi, Maan Images)

Here's one major difference between Tzipi Livni, the new leader of Israel's Kadima party, and her rivals for leadership: There are no war crime charges against her.

In what must be a relief for some in Israel, Livni doesn't have to look over her shoulder in case she gets arrested when she gets off a plane overseas. Kadima leadership contenders Shaul Mofaz and Avi Dichter are among several Israeli generals that face this possibility due to civil suits brought against them for war crimes. Dichter canceled a trip to Britain in 2007 to avoid arrest.

So Livni can travel. But can she deliver peace with the Palestinians? She has on occasion expressed more sympathy towards the Palestinians than others and has led Israel's negotiating team since Annapolis. Her Palestinian counterparts have welcomed her victory.

If Livni can cobble together an Israeli cabinet, she is likely to continue the peace process. But Israeli-Palestinian peace is more elusive today than at any time since the first Oslo agreement was signed in 1993.

There are three reasons why.

The first, and most important is that Israeli political and military leaders can no longer control the settlement movement they launched and supported soon after Israel occupied the Palestinian territories of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza in 1967.

The Israeli establishment's plans have been nothing if not consistent. They have colonized the territories in a way that swallows up the best land and water and maintains sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The peace talks since 1993 have tinkered around the edges of the borders Israel wants -- and that it has tried to cement through its separation wall -- as it has sought a Palestinian leadership weakened enough to accept such a deal.

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But the rightwing leaders of the Israeli settlement movement are too strong to budge. To prove it, the settlers have been escalating their attacks on Palestinians -- and even on Israeli soldiers -- unchallenged by Israel's politicians, military, or courts.

The second reason why a peace deal is not possible at this time is that Israel has indeed weakened the Palestinian leadership. The now comatose former prime minister Ariel Sharon refused to deal with the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Although Israeli and American leaders embraced Mahmoud Abbas as a moderate, Israel did not ease its occupation.

After Abbas was elected as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005, and before Hamas' electoral win in 2006, there was no freedom of movement and goods; no freeze on -- let alone rollback of -- settlements; and no meaningful release of Palestinian prisoners. Indeed, the pitiful number of prisoners released -- a few hundred at a time when around 10,000 remain in Israeli jails and dozens more are arrested each day -- only undermines Palestinian leaders and underscores their powerlessness.

Many Palestinians believe another uprising against the Israeli occupation is at hand though there is little clarity on what shape it might take. And more Palestinians are questioning the two-state solution and speaking of alternatives -- including discussions of a struggle for equal rights in the whole land of Israel/Palestine.

Arafat was the only Palestinian leader that could have brought along the majority of Palestinians behind a deal that would have recovered most of the occupied territories while, at the same time, pushing them to compromise on their right of return. The present leadership has no such power. Abbas stated in a September 15 interview with Haaretz what Palestinian leaders had not yet articulated so clearly, that the leadership would be willing to compromise on the right of return. He now faces growing protests from the rank and file.

The third reason a peace agreement is not on the horizon is the position of the US Administration. It insists on remaining the primary broker in this conflict and limiting the role that might be played by the Europeans or Russia. But it does not do what it takes to push peace.

Abbas is scheduled to visit with US president George W. Bush yet again this month, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice keeps up her visits to the region. These pleasantries are no substitute for real diplomacy. Meantime, both Barack Obama and John McCain have vociferously supported US aid to Israel, and sent the same signals to the settlers’ enterprise.

A Livni cabinet might usher in a different tone in dealing with the Palestinians. But Israel's 40-year colonization of the West Bank has gone so unchallenged by so many for so long that it will take much more than that to deliver peace.

Nadia Hijab is a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies in Washington D.C.

Copyright 2008 Nadia Hijab

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