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Monday, April 14, 2008

Livni in Qatar: Gaza an obstacle to Palestinian state [ by Roni Sofer]

Foreign affairs minister confronts 'apartheid' claim made by Israeli Arab MK at Doha Forum: 'The fact that you are the Knesset deputy speaker is proof we are a democracy.'

Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip not Israel's problem, she says, but rather an impediment to Palestinian efforts to secure nation

"The greatest conflict today is between the moderates and the extremists. This is the challenge faced by the entire region. Gaza is not Israel's problem, Gaza is an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian state," said Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday in her address before the 'Doha Forum' in Qatar.

"We must abandon the outdated perception that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root-cause of extremism and understand that our ability to resolve the conflict depends on the ability of extremists to prevent us from doing so."

But the keynote speech was not without incident.
Israeli MK Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List – Ta'al), who also attended the conference, asked Livni during the subsequent Q&A session how she could talk of democracy when referring to a Jewish nation. "Israel is an apartheid state," he charged.

Livni fielded the question from the podium and answered Tibi: "The very fact that you are an Israeli Knesset member, that you are the deputy speaker of the Knesset as a matter of fact, who represents 20% of Israel's population, that you are here and that you can say anything you please – that is the proof that Israel is a democratic nation."

Livni with Qatari PM Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Bin Jaber Al Thani (Photo: AP)

Prior to leaving for Qatar, Livni's aides said that the foreign affairs minister would raise the matter of Israel's kidnapped soldiers at the forum, which annually draws the participation of the world's senior Arab leaders.

In her speech on Monday Livni slammed the ongoing captivity of the three Israeli soldiers, saying that they were being held without cause and that their captors had yet to provide any proof of life or permit the Red Cross to visit them.

"I seek now to use this opportunity to call for their release. This is a matter of human rights, not politics," she said.

Defending Annapolis
Livni further said in her speech that democracies must retain the right to defend themselves. "That is true for Lebanon as it is true for the Palestinian Authority, where the democratic process was disturbed. In both cases the result is instability."

The minister noted that her participation as a representative of the Israeli government is intended to strengthen Jerusalem's ties to the Arab world. "Our hands are outstretched to our friends in the region. The path to peaceful relations, like the path to democracy, begins with dialogue, with a mutual recognition of each other and with the free exchange of ideas."

Livni said that democratic elections should be encouraged throughout the Middle East, but stressed that the prerequisite to this must be "a decision between terror or politics, but not political terror."

The minister defended the peace process agreed on in Annapolis and based on the US-led Road Map: "Talks are continuing with pragmatic elements within the Palestinian Authority, those who recognize Israel's right to exist and who seek to realize their national rights through peaceful means and not terror tactics. With partners like these the two-state solution can be realized and peace can be achieved."