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Israel Justice Minister: U.S. Shouldn't Give Up On Palestinian Peace Process


Now a talk with a Middle East peace negotiator, Israel's Tzipi Livni. She's also the Israeli minister of justice. Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations General Assembly and accused Israel of genocide in its recent Gaza campaign. Yesterday Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made his speech at the UN and held Abbas responsible for what he called the war crimes committed by Hamas.

Tzipi Livni, welcome to the program. And if those two statements are a measure of where things stand, is the peace process just about dead?

TZIPI LIVNI: I don't want to use that word because I believe that peace is the interest of Israel and the Palestinians, and therefore I am trying to revive it each and every day. But yes, the speech of Abu Mazen was quite a horrific speech, if I may say - using these words against Israel, but this is not true.

SIEGEL: Your prime minister's speech didn't seem like the most - the strongest invitation to negotiations either.

LIVNI: Listen, it's not about speeches. It's not a debate contest between Netanyahu and Abu Mazen. And anyway, Netanyahu won this debate. It is more about realities. It is more about leaders making decisions for peace, and realities on the ground are those that would change the future and not just the speeches.

SIEGEL: Here's Israel's situation in the region it seems. You're worried about the very movements and the very countries that worry the Egyptians, the Saudis, the Jordanians, the United Arab Emirates, the Turks, to a great extent - without a Palestinian agreement, though, they can't deal with you as a public ally and partner in the region. Are regional concerns strong enough to lead the Israelis to say we've got to - we have to get a deal with the Palestinians to be above-board players in the Middle East?

LIVNI: This is what I believe in. The world is divided between the good guys and the bad guys. And we, Israel - of course, the United States - the legitimate Palestinian government, Egypt, Jordan are the Gulf States. We are part of the camp of so-called moderates or diplomatics against these terrorists. Now among us there is this ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian that affects...

SIEGEL: Whom you count as a member of the same good-guy camp that you've just described.

LIVNI: Yes, yes, yes, yes - the leaders in the outer world - they understand that we share the same traits, but yet, their public opinion is completely against Israel. So it's difficult for them to sit with us publicly. We can meet them, you know, but, discreetly. And this affects our possibility - Israel's possibility to be public part of this coalition against the evil that we are facing in the region.

SIEGEL: How important is it? How important is it to be a part of all that in the Middle East, as opposed to being some little offshore European country that happens to be located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean?

LIVNI: Listen, the nature of the state of Israel - by definition we are part of this coalition because of who we are, because of our values, because they see us as infidel like they see other more moderate Muslims, Christians and Jews. So we are there. But as you said, it's a pity that we cannot work together.

SIEGEL: Minister Livni, I want to go back to the peace talks just for a moment here, which ended with a failure of Secretary Kerry to get both you and the Palestinians - your government and the Palestinians to agree to a framework for peace.

LIVNI: Everybody needs to understand the fact that we had negotiation after five years of stalemate is due to the fact that Secretary Kerry invested his time and efforts in order to convince both sides to do it, and I highly appreciate him for doing so.

SIEGEL: But, you know, it's often said that this is the peace process. The problem with it is it's often more process than peace - that there are talks, there are meetings, but there's no results. There's no agreement.

LIVNI: Yes, I know those sayings - skip the process and let's have peace. But it was not in vain, these nine months of negotiations, because the United States, Secretary Kerry - they all understand now better what are the specific positions of both sides to all the core issues.

SIEGEL: Would it be helpful for the United States, rather than entering into another round of similar negotiations, to simply publish the framework and say, here's what the United States thinks should be the framework for Middle East peace. And when the two sides agree to it, we'll have peace.

LIVNI: Listen, it's not for me to be the adviser of the president or the secretary of state, but I want to say the following. Both sides need this peace, but this is also an American interest. And by supporting peace, it's not being pro-Israeli against Palestinian or pro-Palestinian against Israel. It's being pro-peace, and I believe that the United States shouldn't give up the peace process or peas just because of what we see now.

SIEGEL: Tzipi Livni, Israeli negotiator with the Palestinians - not that there are negotiations right now - and minister of justice. Thank you very much for talking with us.

LIVNI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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