Last April, when a retired Israeli Air Force general was scheduled to speak at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, protestors forced the talk to be moved off campus. But when Tzipi Livni, the current Israeli opposition leader, spoke at the Yale Law School on Thursday, the streets were remarkably quiet.
In a lecture sponsored by the Chubb Fellowship, Livni spoke of her vision for an independent and democratic Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel. Livni, the current head of the centrist Kadima Party, told the packed audience of students, faculty and members of the public that she thinks the establishment of a Palestinian state would serve Israel’s political interests by ensuring peace and security in the Middle East.
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“There is a need to divide the land in order to keep Israel’s vision as a homeland for the Jewish people and as a democratic state,” Livni explained. She added that an independent Palestinian state could provide a home for Palestinian refugees, whom she described as “political cards,” scattered across the Arab region.
Laura Wexler, co-Chair of the Women Faculty Forum at Yale, introduced Livni by describing her as “tough, principled, and articulate.” A former lawyer and secret service agent, Livni entered politics in 1999, when she was elected to the Israeli parliament as a member of the center-right Likud Party. In 2005, she formed the Kadima Party with then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other moderates, advocating for an agreement to form a separate Palestinian state.
Livni told the audience that she thinks Israeli and Palestinian leaders must work to establish tangible progress toward a peace settlement.
Part of the solution, Livni argued, will come from working closely with moderate politicians in the Arab world. She said she thinks the longer peace negotiations stall, the greater the likelihood that extremist elements in the region — such as Iran and Hezbollah — will exploit divisions within the Middle East and prolong the conflict.
Livni said her commitment to the two-state solution led her to pass up the opportunity to form a coalition government with right-wing parties following elections earlier this year. Such an act, she said, would require her to “give up the peace process.”
But despite her moderate stance, Livni defended Israel’s security policies. While she said she regrets the civilian casualties on both sides, she said she called for the international community to distinguish between accidental and targeted casualties.
Livni also rejected the common claim that the origins of the Israeli-Arab conflict lies in the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947.
“The creation of the state of Israel did not provoke conflict and was not created as part of the Holocaust,” Livni explained. “[The partition] was the only way to solve the ongoing conflict between Jews and Arabs in the region.”
Reactions to the speech appeared largely positive, and the audience gave Livni a standing ovation at its conclusion.
Professor of Clinical Psychiatry Richard Rubin, said he agreed with Livni, saying that if Israel is to avoid being seen as an oppressor in the region, it must turn to the two-state solution.
“This is a politically ambitious vision, but that is probably what is needed,” Lina Ayenew ’10 said.
Josh Geller, the co-president of Yale Friends of Israel, said he was not surprised by the lack of protest surrounding Livni’s visit.
“In an environment as open-minded and intellectual as Yale, I don’t find it very surprising at all that an event with an internationally respected moderate political figure would pass without protest,” Geller said in an e-mail. “Especially given that Tzipi Livni leads the centrist party of Israel, I think her views are generally met with very little hostility, even by those who disagree with her.”
The Chubb Fellowship was established in 1936 to encourage Yale College students in the operations of government, culture and public service. Former Chubb Fellows include Presidents Ronald Regan and Jimmy Carter, as well as Israeli President Shimon Peres.