Israel – What most surprised a 12-member delegation of New York State legislators, touring Israel on a behind-the-headlines trip under the auspices of the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, was the string of political developments set into motion Tuesday night when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.

“The political development is unique for us, because we have designated election dates,” said Sheldon Silver, speaker of the New York State Assembly, while the delegation visited with President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday morning “Unfortunately, we’re used to it,” Rivlin responded.

Asked to present an overview of the current situation in Israel and the region, Rivlin said the Israel needs a constitution to protect civil rights.

He explained that the delay in formulating a constitution was due to an inability to reach agreement on how to define Israel. No one really wants to give up on the idea of Israel being a Jewish and democratic state, said Rivlin, but to outsiders, there is a gap between Jewish and democratic.

To the Arab population, he continued, democracy signifies a state of all its citizens.

The Jewish population disagrees with this, because to Jews it is the state of the Jewish people.

The ultra-Orthodox element within the Jewish population can accept the concept of democracy, but not the general definition of a Jewish state, because for them a Jewish state is one that abides by the rules of Halacha, the code of Jewish Law.

Turning to the two-statesfor- two-peoples initiative, Rivlin said that when talking of a Palestinian state, Israel, the Americans, and Europeans intend it to be a demilitarized state. The Palestinians don’t see it that way and regard Israel as some kind of superpower in the Middle East.

“We’re not a superpower,” said Rivlin. “We’re simply defending ourselves.”

He is certain that the Palestinians will not give up their quest for statehood, but wonders what would happen if an agreement is reached to have two sovereignties in the one capital. He is worried about how extremists on both sides would react.

Rivlin deplored the absence of confidence-building measures between the peoples, let alone their leaders.

“We have to live together with open borders,” he said.

“We are in a complicated position and we must start talking to each other.” Such dialogue he said, must first take place inside Israel between Jewish and Arab citizens so that the Arabs will realize that they do have equal rights, but at the same time so that Jews around the world will realize that they have a safe haven, “because this is a Jewish state.”

Rivlin made it clear that “The State of Israel is not a compensation for the Holocaust,” but something for which Jews in exile yearned for 2,000 years.

Relating to ways to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Rivlin said that he does not want to use the word “solution,” because of the painful connotations that it has for the Jewish people.

“We have to talk about bringing an end to the tragedies of both peoples here,” he said.

“It will take time, but we have to be stubborn.”