At Herzliya Conference, Livni Endorses ‘Linkage’

Matt Duss is reporting from the Middle East. You can also follow him on twitter.

Delivering a keynote address earlier today at Israel’s annual Herzliya Conference, former foreign minister and current opposition leader Tzipi Livni leveled sharp criticism at the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We need to be unified, but I don’t believe in unity based on fear,” Livni said. “I don’t believe in a leadership that benefits from fear.” Israel’s current leadership, Livni continued, “cannot explain its vision, or its lack of vision.”

Referring to the breakdown of direct talks over Netanyahu’s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement construction, Livni said “It’s not a matter of just building a few new houses. We need to choose between that [settlements] and the continuation of negotiations.”

Stressing the need for a two-state solution — “Not because it’s some thing the Americans want, or as a favor to the Palestinians, but as our decision to secure our existence as a Jewish, democratic state” — Livni asked, “How long can we keep telling the world Israel is the only democracy when we continue to live in the territories, where there is a place where the government rules and where the Army rules? We can’t live on in this limbo.”

Notably, Livni also endorsed “linkage,” the idea that the continuing irresolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict generates resentment and undermines moderates in the region, an argument that many on the Israeli and American right reject. “I do not believe Israel is the source of extremism in region,” Livni said, “but the conflict has influenced both existing peace agreements with our neighbors, and impacted our ability to change reality in region”:

We don’t have border conflicts with Egypt and Jordan, but this is a cold peace. It is a cold peace because of the linkage between the conflict and our relationship with these countries… These governments have had to cope with hostile public opinion because of the conflict.

This is Herzliya’s 11th annual policy conference. In addition to bringing together national security professionals from around the world, it’s also become a regular stop for American politicians looking to burnish their foreign policy credentials. Mitt Romney, spoke there in 2007, as did John Edwards. This year, likely Republican presidential candidate Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour will speak on February 9, concluding a panel on sanctions on Iran.