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Tzipi Livni: We must fight, physically, for our values

From left, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, Livni, and Chief of Defence Staff Gen JONATHAN VANCE PHOTO
From left, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Israeli Ambassador Rafael Barak, Livni, and Chief of Defence Staff Gen JONATHAN VANCE PHOTO

Tzipi Livni, co-leader of Israel’s Zionist Union party and former foreign affairs minister, was in Halifax recently participating in the annual Halifax International Security Forum.

Let’s talk about the Islamic State (ISIS) , the Paris attack, the Mali hostage incident, the effect of ISIS on the world.

In 2006, the Dutch cartoons of Muhammad created Muslim outrage in Europe, the Middle East and even the world. Today is real. It is not cartoons. It’s about who we are and what we believe in. The ISIS threat is about what these extremists in our region want to do, not about what we want. We need to understand what we are facing and then co-operate with our neighbours, with the free world to conquer, to win. It’s not just the Middle East. It’s all over the world.

How do you combat this threat?

Terrorism has been there for decades and Israeli policies haven’t fully resolved it but we have to share our experience fighting terrorism with the rest of the free world. We – us and the free world – have to address different conflicts in a different manner. ISIS is the biggest threat today, and if we don’t address it, we’ll see more attacks like Paris and Mali. It’s clear to me, in this case, that to stop Daesh [ISIS], you must be on the ground. Extremists are willing to pay the price for their beliefs. We have to pay the price for our beliefs, too.

Do you think the conference was a step toward solving this?

The conference happened at a sensitive, almost opportune time, after Paris and Mali. It was a wakeup call to the international community that Daesh is not isolated to the Middle East, but is here and we cannot turn a blind eye. As I said before, we have to fight, physically, for our values. They won’t stop until they win. We cannot let them win.

READ: World can’t let ISIS win, Livni tells Halifax conference

I heard more and more voices here saying, “You’re right!” We need to be more bold. Canada’s Minister of National Defense [Harjit Sajjan] promised that Canada will be part of any coalition.

Canada has a new prime minister and a new government. There was such great co-operation between former prime minister Stephen Harper and Israel. Do you see changes with Justin Trudeau?

[Smiling] First, I loved his answer when asked about his 50 per cent female cabinet that this is now 2015. I thought that was a great message for Canadians and world leaders.

[Then in a serious tone:] While in Halifax, I met the minister of national defence and Rafael Barak, Israel’s ambassador to Canada. The relationship between Israel and Canada is state to state, not necessarily person to person. I believe there has to be, will be, open discussion. There are issues to be discussed, but the basis is there.

Rumours of change [in prime ministerial attitude]? I don’t think so. Maybe in tone, but certainly not in substance.

However, the relationship between the leaders of the United States and Israel is not good. In the end, damage has been done and needs to be corrected, but relationships are between the people of the two nations, not necessarily the leaders.

Let’s talk about Israel and the Palestinians. Is the world’s attitude about Israel changing?

The world sees our strong army against the poor Palestinians.  We need to bridge that gap. We have to show Israel’s interest as a Jewish democratic state, living in harmony. We need to promote the idea of two states for two peoples. I prefer to reach an agreement, to have legislated borders. That’s the only way we’ll get support from the international community. But we need to stick to our vision of two democratic states and our interests. We have to show the international community we’re serious.

How important is the United States to all of this?

Is the United States the basis for Israel’s security? It’s not just money and weapons. We want our enemies to know Israel is not isolated. We want them to know the leader of the free world is with us.

If you and your party were running Israel, what would you do differently?

Our vision and our policies differ from the current government. We’re all for two states for two peoples. We’re willing to take steps to prove it. When it’s clear to the world that Israel’s leaders are serious, we can have support for the right of Israel to defend itself. And we’re all for serious negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But the thinking of the Palestinians has to change.

READ: Trudeau government votes against UN anti-Israel resolutions

There’s no hope for peace with Hamas, because they hate us for religious reasons, and that will never change. To them, it’s a religious war, just like with Daesh. But we think Fatah can deliver. For example, we want to re-create a committee on incitement and work for cultural peace. We also think empowering the Palestinian economy is in Israel’s interest, as long as it doesn’t affect our security.

Is there stability among the Israeli people?

Israel is a start-up nation. I’m very proud of it and what we’ve accomplished in a few short decades. But there’s a gap between our understanding of Israel and how the world looks at it. Internally, Israel needs to make decisions. We need a vision. We’re a Jewish democratic state that has to live in harmony within Israel and within world Jewry.

I see a shared vision, a shared understanding of what Israel means. By definition, it’s a home for every Jew. It is there for you, for any purpose, at any time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.