Stephen M. Walt

A question for Tzipi Livni

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a breakfast meeting with Tzipi Livni, former Israeli foreign minister and current head of the opposition Kadima Party, along with a group of Boston-area faculty, journalists, and other interested parties. The session was off-the-record, so I can’t tell you what any of the participants said. I ...

ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images
ABDELHAK SENNA/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this week, I had the privilege of attending a breakfast meeting with Tzipi Livni, former Israeli foreign minister and current head of the opposition Kadima Party, along with a group of Boston-area faculty, journalists, and other interested parties. The session was off-the-record, so I can’t tell you what any of the participants said. I can report that Livni was well-informed, articulate, direct, and engaging, and it was easy to see why she’s done well in political life.

I had a faculty meeting to attend and was unable to stay for the full session, so I didn’t get a chance to ask her a question. I had scribbled one down in my notebook, however, and here’s what I would have asked:

"I would like to know where you think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is headed. I don’t mean where you want the conflict to go or what resolution you think is most desirable, but rather what outcome you think is most likely given where we are today and what the prevailing trends are.

At present, most people say they want a "two-state solution." Barack Obama wants that, and so did George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Tony Blair, Mahmoud Abbas, Ehud Olmert, and you do too. So do I. Even Prime Minister Netanyahu has endorsed that idea at least once.

Yet if current trends continue, a two-state solution will eventually be impossible and we will all have to acknowledge that reality. Indeed, a growing number of people are convinced that this is already the case, either because Israel’s political system is too dysfunctional to change course, because the Palestinians are too divided to make a deal, or because there are too many settlers to remove.

Former Prime Minister Olmert has warned that if the two-state solution fails, then Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is imperiled. I think he’s right, and what I can’t understand is why more Israelis — and their supporters in other countries — aren’t deeply worried about this situation, and aren’t doing everything in their power to get a two-state deal done before it is too late.

So my question is: where is this conflict headed, and what should be done today to avoid the one-state future that many now see as inevitable?"

Like I said, I didn’t get to ask this question so I don’t know how she would have responded. But it still strikes me as the central issue, and one that overshadows the current haggling over a two-month extension of the (partial) settlement freeze, or whatever Iran may or may not be up to at the moment.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. @stephenwalt

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