Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni file photo

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al) clashed on Monday during the Eighth Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade. Earlier, Minister Livni addressed the conference in Qatar on behalf of the State of Israel.

In remarks following the Foreign Minister's speech, MK Tibi called Israel "an apartheid state" and criticized Livni for

Tibi himself is proof that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, she explained.

referring to Israeli democracy. "How can you talk about democracy when you talk about a Jewish state?" he challenged.

Foreign Minister Livni responded by reminding Tibi that he had no objections to the definition of a Palestinian Authority state as "Palestinian." Tibi himself is proof that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, she explained. "The fact that you are a Member of Knesset in Israel who represents 20 percent of the public and can say whatever you please is proof that Israel is a democratic state," she said.

Livni, who arrived in the Gulf Emirate on Sunday, took part in the Doha Forum opening ceremony and, on Monday, delivered a wide-ranging speech on Israeli democracy and the current negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

'We Are All in the Same Camp'

"The road to peaceful relations - just like the road to genuine democracy - begins with dialogue, mutual recognition and the free exchange of ideas," Foreign Minister Livni told the assembled delegates. After defining democracy as promoting "diversity, freedom of worship and freedom of speech," Livni went on to describe "the extremists, who not only reject the genuine values of democracy, but also fight to deprive others of their rights and use violence as a legitimate tool in their battle."

Placing Israel and the Arab states represented at the conference on the same side of "the greatest conflict today," Livni said, "We, the moderates of the region, are all members of the same camp, facing the same challenges posed by the extremists."

According to the Foreign Minister, "It is quite clear now that Israel poses no threat to the stability and the peace of the region. It is equally clear now that the threat comes from the radicals, who refuse to recognize our democratic rights. When I say 'our,' I mean the rights of Israelis, moderate Palestinians, moderate Arab and pragmatic Moslem regimes alike."

Livni went on to note that the forces she termed as "extremists" also make use of the rules of democracy to further their own agenda. "This is true for both Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority," she said, in which the political process has been infiltrated."

She then called the ongoing captivity of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, held hostage by the Hizbullah, and of Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas, "another breach of democracy." Their release, she said, "is a matter of human rights, not politics."

Turning to the Israel-Palestinian Authority negotiations, Foreign Minister Livni called Fatah chief Mahmoud Abbas and his government "pragmatic" and reiterated the Olmert government's position that "Israel is committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state, as a nation state for the Palestinian people and a peaceful neighbor to Israel."

In addition, Livni confirmed, "Everything is on the table, yet nothing is agreed until everything is agreed." She also declared that "any future agreement is subject to full implementation of the first stage of the Road Map, for we cannot afford an additional terror state in our region." In Hamas-controlled Gaza, she noted, "instead of coexistence, we have received terror in return. Gaza is not just an Israeli problem. It has become an obstacle to the formation of a Palestinian state."

Beyond the PA, Livni told the Doha Forum, "The hearts and minds of the entire region must be prepared for this historical process."

Iranian, Lebanese VIPs Cancel Participation

Not all in the region are ready, it would seem, as several Iranian and Lebanese figures canceled their planned participation in the Doha Forum because of the presence of the Israeli Foreign Minister. Among those who dropped out were the Speaker of Lebanon's parliament, Nabih Berri, former Iranian President Muhammad Khatami and

Livni met with her counterpart from the Gulf Emirate of Oman in what was hailed as a first-of-its-kind public encounter.

former Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Saluh.

On the other hand, Foreign Minister Livni's visit to Qatar was her first to an Arab country that does not have diplomatic relations with the Israel. In addition to being a keynote speaker at the conference, Livni was also invited to dine with Qatar's Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khamood Ben Jassem.

In the context of the forum, Foreign Minister Livni met with her counterpart from the Gulf Emirate of Oman in what was hailed as a first-of-its-kind public encounter. Omani government officials, however, played down the meeting. An aide to Oman's Foreign Minister Yousef bin Abdullah said it was "not meant to have a result," but merely to allow Foreign Minister Livni and her counterpart to exchange views, according to the French news agency AFP.

Oman and Israel have maintained low-level diplomatic and trade relations, although the oil-rich state backs Hamas. The Omani Foreign Minister ruled out the possibility of re-opening Israeli trade office in his country, closed after the beginning of the Oslo War in 2000, until the PA is constituted as a state.