Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, speaking before Foreign Ministers of the European Union and others, says that Israel is so anxious for peace that it is willing to enter into negotiations at an inopportune time and with a partner who can't deliver.
"We have proven in the past," Livni told the participants at a conference in Lisbon, including the foreign ministers of Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Libya, "that we extend our hand in peace. We have proven this in negotiations, and in the Disengagement - which we did not have to do - as well as in the negotiations today. The Palestinian Authority is divided, Gaza is ruled by terrorism, and we could have waited until the first stage of the Road Map [i.e., an end to terrorism - ed.] is implemented."
Livni also boasted that "we have removed settlements. I myself made a decision [as part of the Sharon government - ed.] to uproot thousands of people from their homes [in Gush Katif and northern Shomron]. Not one Israeli soldier is stationed today in Gaza, yet Israel is attacked daily."
"People are justifiably presenting major question marks," Livni said, listing the questions without answering them: "Is this the right time for talks, when our nursery children are under fire from Gaza? Is it the right time to talk when the other side is so weak and ineffectual?"
After having admitted that the talks would take place despite the lack of fulfillment of the PA pledge to stop terrorism, she said, "This dialogue is taking place with the understanding that implementation of any agreement will be contingent on our security needs... The way to the establishment of a Palestinian state is dependent upon our ability to transmit the key of self-rule to a responsible element that will be able to control things and promise that there will not be a terrorist state alongside us."
"Both the Israeli and Palestinian publics have to understand that there is something here that is bigger than both of us," Livni said. "Both have to understand that there is a need to compromise."
"We are not trying to evade discussions on the most sensitive core issues," Livni said, referring to Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, the millions of Arab refugees and their descendants who wish to enter Israel, the hundreds of thousands of Jews living in Judea and Samaria, and more. "It is clear to us that the day after Annapolis, we will have to have significant talks, and that these must be accompanied by practical steps in the field."
Majority Justifies Right-Wing
A poll publicized on the Knesset TV channel poll shows strong opposition to the Disengagement, in hindsight. Asked who was right, the residents of Judea and Samaria (Yesha) who led the opposition to the Disengagement or those such as Peace Now who supported it, 54.2% of the respondents said the Yesha residents, while less than half that - 26.9% - said Peace Now was right. In addition, 49.5% said that following the June 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza, the towns of Judea and Samaria should be strengthened; the rest of the responses were equally divided among "not sure," "no," and "partially strengthened."
In addition to Minister Livni, three other senior Israeli figures also commented on the upcoming Annapolis summit. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that the US had not issued invitations yet, "but they should be forthcoming in the coming days, for somewhere during the last week in November." He and Defense Minister Ehud Barak both said they would welcome Syria's participation in the summit.
Barak Seeking Syrian Participation
"We should find the formula that would enable Syrian participation," Barak said, "and if we do, this could, under certain circumstances, lead to the renewal of talks with Syria at the right time." Barak, as Israel's Prime Minister in 2000, agreed to give away practically the entire Golan Heights during the Shepherdstown talks; Syria, however, refused to accept anything less than an absolute return to the June 4, 1967 borders, and the deal was put on hold.
President Shimon Peres, speaking to reporters on Tuesday following a meeting with Olmert, said he senses great optimism and has high hopes for the Annapolis summit, based on declarations being made by Arab nations. "This time, it will be different than Oslo," Peres said. "The Americans were not involved then."