Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is the Israeli cabinet minister with the task of finding a way back to peace talks. At the moment, she is one more frustrated negotiator.
Livni was so frustrated that she kicked off the month of July with a speech in which she said that if negotiations with the Palestinians don't start up again soon, Israel will face a worldwide economic boycott. The Jerusalem Post reported on her speech:
"Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned Monday at an accountants' conference in Eilat that lack of progress on the Palestinian track could lead to a potential disaster for Israeli exports.
"'Europe is boycotting goods,' said Livni, head of Israel's negotiating team with the Palestinians. 'True, it starts with settlement [goods], but their problem is with Israel, which is seen as a colonialist country. Therefore, it won't stop at the settlements, but [will spread] to all of Israel,' she said."
This is not what we expect to hear from an Israeli minister. Nor it is usual for a minister to address the youth of her country with this reminder:
"During her Eilat speech, Livni said she was impressed that youth in the country protested against the government decision to export natural gas.
"'I appreciate the fact that they care and are thinking about the future, and obligating us to think about the future,' she said. 'But the time has come for the same youth to ask, to what kind of state do they want to leave the gas reserves? To a Jewish democratic Israel? Or to a binational Arab state? Or to an apartheid state? It is impossible to deal with economic issues and to ignore the important diplomatic issues related to two states for two peoples.'"
Colonialist country? Apartheid state? These are terms rarely attached to Israel by loyal supporters of the government. No wonder the political party, Bayit Yehudi, which is linked to Livni's Hatnua Party in an "uneasy alliance" in the Netanyahu coalition, was quick to respond with an attack on Livni:
"The policy of sowing fear of boycotts is detached from reality. The Israeli economy is innovative and ground-breaking. The entire world comes here to learn from us, and business people are amazed at Israeli technology and innovations. We advise Livni and her friends not to panic."
Political realists who follow the shenanigans of Israel's right-wing government suggest that Livni may be involved in a strategy to jump-start the negotiations. She may also be playing the "good cop" to signal potential European boycotters that Israel does have a few reasonable leaders.
That, however, is an unrealistic rejection of hope in a time of darkness. If Livni, a major Israeli cabinet figure, recognizes the growing danger of a worldwide boycott, the least we can do is take her at her word and see what she and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to work out.
She acknowledged that Israel is its own worst enemy when it refuses to see the impact of boycotts on Israel. It is in this sense that Livni (below) has a much stronger grasp of what is best for Israel than those U.S. religious leaders who still believe in the superiority of interfaith exchanges over working for justice.
Ha'aretz columnist Gideon Levy sees the value in Livni's recognition of the power of boycotts. He gives her a strong endorsement:
"Anyone who really fears for the future of the country needs to be in favor at this point of boycotting it economically."