At a Wednesday talk, former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni stressed the need for a two-state solution to maintain a Jewish democratic state. However, her presence on campus was met with resistance and protest by some students.
The event was moderated by Bruce Jentleson, William Preston Few professor of public policy. In the days before the event, concerned community members debated about what Livni stood for, with some holding her up as a peacemaker while others accused her of being a war criminal.
Livni, the former foreign minister of Israel and a former leader of the opposition, was the chief negotiator for a two-state solution on the Israeli side for the last two rounds of peace talks. Working first as a lawyer in the private sector, Livni said that the reason she joined politics was to maintain the values of Israel.
“In order to keep values of Israel as a Jewish democratic state with a Jewish majority within the borders of Israel, we need to accept the idea of two states for two peoples,” Livni said.
She emphasized that this “friendly divorce” between the two states and the delineation of the border between them would benefit both Israel and Palestine.
Israel has its own national aspiration to keep itself as a Jewish democratic state, Livni said, and the Palestinians have their own national aspiration to create a Palestinian state, which she acknowledged as a legitimate goal.
However, she emphasized that as a Zionist, she did not represent the Palestinian cause and that it’s not about whether she agrees with the rights of Palestinians—instead, Livni’s goal was to uphold the values of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.
“Since I believe that Israel needs to be with a Jewish majority, I believe in the need to divide the land. The idea of two states for two peoples suggests a solution, how to end the conflict,” she said. “From my perspective, I don't care if the Palestinian state is created or not, if that can solve the conflict, establish legitimate borders and keep Israel as a Jewish democratic state.”
Livni also mentioned the fence in the West Bank—which she argues was built to give Israelis security—as an example of a reason why Israel and Palestine must make peace, in the form of a two-state solution with established borders.
Before introducing Livni to the audience, Jentleson said that the event had stirred “a bit more controversy” than many other American Grand Strategy Program events at Duke.
“These dialogues are always intense, people have strongly held views on political security, human and moral bases, but it’s precisely on issues like this that our dialogue must be civil and respectful of each other and geared toward exchanging views in ways that mutually inform rather than shut out or shut down,” Jentleseon said.
Jay Pearson, assistant professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy, read a statement that acknowledged the potential for disagreement. He also quoted the Sanford School of Public Policy’s encouragement of civil discourse and respectful dialogue.
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Following these statements, Jentleson began asking Livni why she believed the 2008-2009 Israel-Gaza war occurred. Immediately, some students in the audience began to protest, standing up one after another in different areas of the room, with signs in their hands.
The protesting students then all got up and walked out together. After they had left the room, Livni remarked that “it’s a shame we can’t have this conversation.”
She argued that it was the duty of every state in the free world to defend its citizens from terrorists. Hamas, regarded by the international community as a terrorist organization, was hiding among Palestinian civilians, Livni said. Although Israeli soldiers are targeting terrorists, she added that civilian casualties are unfortunately inevitable.
“When we speak about what’s right or wrong, put yourself in my position in the Israeli cabinet. You will decide whether you would let terrorists kill your own civilians,” Livni said.
Indraneel Dharwadkar, a Master of Public Policy student who attended the event but was not among the protesters, mentioned that he thought it would have been more helpful had the protesters stayed to have a dialogue with Livni. He also noted that having perspectives from both Israel and Palestine would have been beneficial to better understand the situation.
“I came in as not having a good understanding of the issue, so it would have been nice to have different perspectives and have both perspectives, not just the Israeli perspective which we heard, but also have a Palestinian perspective on what exactly happened,” he said. “Even with the protesters, probably if they had stayed and had a dialogue, it might have helped inform the audience better.”
In her remarks, Livni also noted the trend of the younger Jewish generation being alienated from and apathetic to the state of Israel. She said that this is occurring because of a gap between Israel’s image and what Israel actually is.
“When we look at the region from a bird-eye point of view, we see Israel as small state surrounded by enemies,” she said. “When they look at the region from Google Earth’s point of view and what they see is the Israeli soldier and the poor Palestinian, we need to bridge these gaps.”
Livni also condemned the current politicization of U.S-Israel relations and support for the state of Israel. She said that relations should be bipartisan, “no matter who is the American president and no matter who is the Israeli prime minister.”